In Indian traditions, we have never had the concept of a teacher. Teaching, as it is understood nowadays, is like ‘operating’ on someone.
The ‘taught’ is assumed to be a receiver. And this ‘teaching’ is almost a transactional act – someone providing a service for something in return. There is a service provider and a service receiver. The debit and the credit cancel each other out. And the bottomline is always zero.
This is the western concept of teaching. No harm in this. It serves its purpose. There are, and have been, some great teachers in the West and they do a perfect job sticking to this concept.
However, Indian traditions have had their own unique concept of a Guru. This concept of a Guru is so very unique to India. Guru is someone who stays with us for the entire lifetime. He or she is part of our life, like parents, and keeps guiding us and providing us solace whenever we need him or her. We are always indebted to our Guru. The debit side is always infinity and the bottomline is never zero, even after having paid Guru Dakshina like Eklavya.
It is not for nothing that ‘Guru’ is also the root word in ‘gurutwa’ or gravity. It also means greatness, something of great importance.
We also have had different levels of Gurus. Parents too teach us and they are our first gurus. Then, there are those persons who have imparted some skills to us, our professional teachers, elders, anyone who helps in learning any skill or specialty.
And then there are spiritual gurus and guides, those who mould our life and keep providing us light, whenever we feel darkness around us.
Guru does not mean a master. A disciple is not a slave.
There are times when one is allowed to argue against a guru and even fight against him, if the need arises, for protection of dharma.
After all, Arjun did fight against Dronacharya, showing utmost respect. No slavery of mind here.
Guru liberates you. He or she does not enslave you.
Think of it – there is a reason why we call our leading lights our Gurus – from Guru Nanak to Guru Govind Singh ji.
It is sad that thanks to repeated foreign invasions and marauding of ancient seats of learning, and later scheming occupation of our mind by Macaulay and ilk, we have lost our rich Guru-Shishya parampara as well as our great Gurukuls.
However, in modern times too, we can retain the old values in newer forms.
Let us try turning our teachers into our Gurus. Maybe not all will fit the frame. But there is nothing that stops us from showing them a little more respect.
This teachers’ day, let us thank all those who have taught us something.