the Spirit of Mahatma Gandhi lives through every nonviolent action

Importence of Guru in life and Mahatma Gandhi

Dr. Yogendra Yadav

Gandhian Scholar

Gandhi Research Foundation, Jalgaon, Maharashtra, India.

Contact No. -09404955338



Importance of Guru and Mahatma Gandhi


Guru is Sanskrit term. It means who guided anyone in difficulties. Who show the way? Who knows everything? Mahatma Gandhi wanted a Guru who show him path in life. Mahatma Gandhi said, “I have come to India to learn. My revered guru, Mr. Gokhale, gave me a piece of advice: One who had been out of India for 25 years should express no opinion about affairs here before he had studied things carefully. Accordingly, I keep my ears open and my mouth shut.”1

Mahatma Gandhi told, “Following the advice of my guru, Mr. Gokhale, I do not enter into argument with anyone. With the New Year, I must remind myself of this and, since the issue has come up, I shall say that it is a very delicate one and the question cannot therefore be answered without some discussion. I am not partial to anyone.”

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “I consider to be my political guru, has really foundation in fact, but I do believe that there is much to be said to justify it in so far as educated India is concerned ; not because we, the educated portion of the community, have blundered, but because we have been creatures of circumstances. Be that as it may, this is the maxim of life which I have accepted, namely, that no work done by any man, no matter how great he is, will really prosper unless he has a religious backing.”3

Mahatma Gandhi said, “I seek a guru. That a guru is needed I accept. But, as long as I have not come upon a worthy guru, I shall continue to be my own guru. The path is arduous certainly, but in this sinful age, it seems to be the right one.”4 Mahatma Gandhi told, “The true disciple merges himself in the guru and so can never be a critic of the guru. Bhakti or devotion has no eye for shortcomings. There can be no cause for complaint if the public do not accept the eulogies of one who refuses to analyses the merits and shortcomings of his subject. The disciple’s own actions are, in fact, his commentary on the master. I have often said that Gokhale was my political guru.”5



A traditional etymology of the term "guru" is based on the interplay between darkness and light. The guru is seen as the one who dispels the darkness of ignorance. Mahatma Gandhi suggested, “The longer I am in India, the more I see that some people believe I have set myself up as a guru. I cautioned them against this in South Africa and caution you here again. I know uttering such at this meeting an address was presented to Mohanlal Pandya. Caution can itself be a way of seeking honour. Even at the risk of seeming to do so, I shall say that it is not for me to be anyone’s guru. I am not fit to be that. Even in South Africa, when there were hallowed occasions like the present one, I had refused the position and do so today once more. I am myself in search of a guru. How can a man, himself in search of a guru, be a guru to anyone else? I had my political guru in Gokhale, but I cannot be one to anybody else because I am still a child in matters of politics. Again, if I agreed to be a guru and accepted someone as my disciple, and the latter did not come up to my expectations or ran away, I would be very much hurt. I hold that a man should think, not once, but many times before declaring himself anyone’s disciple. A disciple proves his discipleship by carrying out any order of the guru the moment it is uttered, much as a paid servant would. Whether or not he has made himself such a servant will be known only when he shows that he has fully carried out the order. The work I have been doing has brought me in the public eye. It has been such as would appeal to the people. If I have shown any skill in this struggle, it has been only in seeing the direction in which the current of popular feeling was flowing and trying to direct it into the right channel with happy results.”6

Mahatma Gandhi told, “I think it very dangerous, in this age, for anyone to accept another as a guru or be another’s guru. We attribute perfection to a guru. By accepting an imperfect man as our guru, we are led into no end of error.”7 Mahatma Gandhi told, “There can be no jnana without a guru is a golden maxim. But it is very difficult to find a guru, and it would not be proper toaccept any person as a guru in the absence of a good one and so drown ourselves right in the middle of our voyage across this ocean of life. A guru is one who will help us to swim across. How can a man who knows no swimming save others? Even if such swimmers exist in modern times, they are not a common sight.”8 Mahatma Gandhi said, “I believe in the institution of gurus, but in this age millions must go without a guru, because it is a rare thing to find a combination of perfect purity and perfect learning.”9

Another etymology of the word "guru" found in the Guru Gita, includes guru as beyond the qualities and guru as devoid of form, stating that he who bestows that nature which transcend the qualities is said to be guru". Mahatma Gandhi told, “I am aware, all scriptures and, certainly, the Indian scriptures, hold a guru to be absolutely indispensable, but if we cannot get a real guru, a sham substitute is not only useless but injurious.”10 Mahatma Gandhi guided, “A student used to prostrate himself before the guru and entreat him to guide his steps and stuff his brain with anything that he chose. These days an all-round guru is not available and the question of complete surrender does not arise. However, you need here the assurance that the teachers are leading you along the right path and not otherwise. Many things are bitter in the beginning but beneficial in the long run. With this faith you should swallow a bitter pill. This is my advice as well as prayer to you.”11

Mahatma Gandhi told, “My guru was very particular about this matter and told me that, in the interest of the spiritual effort I have undertaken, I must give up meat-eating.”12 Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “A person in search of a guru is vigilant and in the process acquires merit. So I go along unperturbed. It is by God’s grace that one is blessed with a guru. Therefore, I shall get a guru at the time and place that I come to deserve one. In the meanwhile I always pay my obeisance to the guru I am yet to see.”13 Mahatma Gandhi told, “God is one. I do not understand your difficulty in conceiving Him as formless. That which has a form cannot be all pervading, it needs must be the subtlest. It can therefore be only formless. All must admit the need for a guru but one may not hastily accept someone as a guru. In this age to seek a guru is to believe in one, because to acquire a perfect guide one must perfectly qualify oneslef.”14

Mahatma Gandhi said, “As a result of my statement in Chapter I, Part II of My Experiments with Truth that I was still in search of a guru, numerous correspondents, Hindus, Mussalmans and Christians, have favoured me with long letters telling me how to find a guru. More letters are still coming in. Some tell me actually where to go and whom to see. Some refer me to certain literature. I am grateful to all these correspondents for their solicitude for my welfare. But let them and others realize that my difficulty is fundamental. Nor does it trouble me. It is fundamental because my conception of a guru is perhaps not of the ordinary. Nothing but perfection will satisfy me. I am in search of one who, though in the flesh, is incorruptible and unmoved by passion, free from the pairs of opposites, who is truth and ahimsa incarnate and who will therefore fear none and be feared by none. Everyone gets the guru he deserves and strives for. The difficulty of finding the guru I want is thus obvious. But it does not worry me; for it follows from what I have said that I must try to perfect myself before I meet the guru in the flesh. Till then I must contemplate him in the spirit. My success lies in my continuous, humble, truthful striving.”15

Mahatma Gandhi told, “It is straight and narrow. It is like the edge of a sword. I rejoice to walk on it. I weep when I slip. God’s word is: ‘He who strives never perishes.’ I have implicit faith in that promise. Though therefore from my weakness I fail a thousand times, I will not lose faith but hope that I shall see the Light when the flesh has been brought under perfect subjection as some day it must. I wonder if the kind correspondents will now understand my position and cease to worry about me but join me in the search, unless they are satisfied that they have found Him.”16 Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “A gentleman writes as follows in support of my note explaining the qualities of a true guru: Ramdas Swami has actually said in so many words that man need not search for any guru outside of himself; that one should follow the path indicated by one’s own sense of discrimination born of one’s faith in God, be guided by that sense of discrimination and always work in a spirit of sacrifice. That saint of Maharashtra has said in these few words all that needs to be said.”17

Mahatma Gandhi told, “A man who sets out to find the right guru, should, I believe, become free himself from faults and passions. Being free from faults and passions does not mean being absolutely perfect. It is only modest to feel the need for a guru. A guru need not necessarily be a living person. Even today I regard as my guides some who, though not yet perfect, have reached a high stage of spiritual development. There is no point in trying to know the difference between a perfect man and God. Since it is impossible to get a perfect answer, one must find a reply through one’s own experience.”18 Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “I should like to see a guru who was actually alive today. I have no means of knowing with certainty that my ideas are always good. I am but a humble creature taking every step with fear in my heart. I certainly do not believe that my life will have been wasted if I do not come across a guru before I die. My duty is to work; the fruit is in God’s hands to give, I am not looking for a guru in order that he may resolve my doubts.”19

Mahatma Gandhi told, “I am in search of a guru because I am humble and because that search is a scientific necessity for every god fearing man. The search is its own reward and its own satisfaction. Some do get the guru they want. But it is not a matter of such moment if they cannot get the guru during the current incarnation. It is enough if the search is absolutely sincere and equally persistent. It is also an article of faith with me that, if my search is sincere and persistent, my guru will come to me instead of my having to go to him if and when I deserve him.”20



Knowledge was not regarded as a universal right, as it often is today. Access to knowledge via the guru was the privilege of a very small minority. Mahatma Gandhi said, “Nevertheless, I have not accepted him as my guru. I am still in search of one, and so far my feeling in regard to everyone whom I might think of as a guru has been not this. One must have the requisite qualification to come upon a perfect guru, and I cannot claim to have it.”21 Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “If we keep on the search for a guru, we shall always have some wholesome fear in our heart. With the thought of a guru constantly in our mind, it will remain pure. The Gita tells us that, if the divine impulse has quickened in us, we should be humble. One should think, “I know nothing. I want to ask God, or a guru, but how may I see either?” We should, therefore, pray. He who prays with faith in God will one day be saved. He who talks as if Brahman was in him will not be saved. The literal meaning of the verse is that we should be guided by the authority of the Shastras. The derived meaning is that we should be guided by shishtachara. To be shishta means that, in the absence of a guru, we should be humble, and to be humble means to worship our personal God. That is, we should look upon ourselves as insignificant creatures, like bugs and fleas, and worship God. If you are humble, you will be saved. If you are humble and sincere, the veils before your eyes will be lifted one after anoter.”22

Mahatma Gandhi told, “I have no fitness for becoming anybody’s guru, being myself in search of one. After all a person who sets out to become anybody’s guru, if he is a sincere man, must have confidence in himself. The relation of a teacher and disciple is not a mechanical one but it is organic. The only suggestion, therefore, that I can make to you is that if you cannot be satisfied with personal effort and struggle, you can have the guru of your imagination; but then it won’t be my conscious self; for I should be utterly incapable of giving you unerring guidance which a true guru is supposed to give and you may draw what comfort it is possible for you to do from the imaginary picture. I am sorry that I can give you no other or further comfort. The best thing one can do however is to kneel down to God above and ask Him to give the required guidance. He is the only source of light and of peace.”23 Mahatma Gandhi said, “In confirmation of my note on the definition of a guru, a correspondent sends the following interesting information: In connection with your definition of a guru, I am reminded of the beautiful lines of the poet-saint Ramadas. He said: ‘You cannot find a better guru than viveka or the power of discriminating from untruth, right from wrong or good from evil. There is no better disciple than chitta or mind, and no nobler friend than one’s jeeva or soul.’ In fact, Ramadas points out that man need not go outside himself in search of a guru. ‘Be guided by your power of discrimination, derived from your implicit faith in God, keep your mind under control of such a power and nobly sacrifice the self.’ This in essence is the advice of the Maharashtrian saint.”24


Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “In all my life I gave only one person the freedom to regard me as his guru and I had my fill of it. The fault was not his, as I could see; only I had imperfections. Anyone who becomes a guru should possess the power of conferring on the pupil the capacity to carry out whatever task is assigned to him. I had not that power and still do not have it.”25 Mahatma Gandhi told, “I am a believer in guru bhakti. However, every teacher cannot become a guru. The guru-disciple relationship is spiritual and spontaneous, it is not artificial, it cannot be created through external pressure. Such gurus are still to be found in India. It should not be necessary to warn that I am not speaking here of gurus who give moksha. The question of flattering such a guru just does not arise. The respect towards such a guru can only be natural; the guru’s love is also of the same kind. Hence the one is always ready to give and the other is always ready to receive. Common knowledge, on the other hand, is something which we can accept from anyone. I can learn a lot from a carpenter with whom I have no connection and of whose faults I am aware; I can acquire knowledge of carpentry from him just as I purchase goods from a shopkeeper. Of course, a certain type of faith is required even here. I cannot learn carpentry from a carpenter if I do not have faith in his knowledge of that subject. Guru bhakti is an altogether different matter. In character-building, which is the object of education, the relationship between the guru and his disciples is of utmost importance and where there is no guru bhakti in its pure form; there can be no character-building.”26

Mahatma Gandhi described, “Guru is Brahma, Guru is Vishnu, Guru is God Siva, Guru verily is the supreme Brahman; to that Guru I bow. I am convinced there are strong reasons for the Hindu belief concerning the greatness of the guru. That is why I have been looking for the true meaning of the word ‘guru’ and saying time and again that I am in quest of a guru. The guru in whom Brahma, Vishnu and Siva merge and who is the Supreme Brahman Himself cannot be an embodied man with his humours and diseases. He will possess the powers of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. In other words, He can only be an ideal being. This guru, our desired god, can only be God who is the embodiment of Truth. Hence the quest for such a guru is the quest for God. If we look at the matter thus, the meaning of all that the writer has said is easily understood. One who can show us God is certainly fit to be guru and may be said to be greater than God. We see God’s creatures suffering in many ways. Anyone who can free us from this web would deserve a place superior to God’s. This is also the meaning of the saying: “The servant of Rama is greater than Rama.” The meaning of all these great utterances is so simple that if we examine them with a pure heart we shall not be led astray. Every such great utterance has an indispensable condition attached to it. One who frees us from desire, anger and so on, initiates us into the religion of love, frees us from fear, teaches us simplicity, gives us not only the 1 This is not translated here. The writer had referred approvingly to Gandhiji’s view that no living being should be worshipped and no man could be called well while yet alive but had pointed out that, according to Hindu tradition, God could be reached only by the grace of the guru and therefore one could worship the guru. He gave the instance of a Marwari devotee from Calcutta being received by the crowds in Bombay with drums and cymbals. Intelligence to establish identity with the poorest of the poor but also the heart to feel such identity is certainly, for us, more than God. This does not mean that such a servant of God by himself is greater than God. If we fall into the sea we shall be drowned. However, if we drink, when we are thirsty, a jugful of water from the Ganga which flows into the sea, taking it from near the source, that Ganga water is more to us than the sea. But the same Ganga water is like poison if taken at the point where the Ganga meets the sea. The same is true with regard to the guru. To accept as guru one who is full of conceit and arrogance and hungering to be served is like drinking the poisonous water of the Ganga that carries all manner of filth into the sea. Today we practice adharma in the name of dharma. We cherish hypocrisy in the name of truth and degrade ourselves as well as others by pretending to be possessed of spiritual knowledge and usurping all kinds of worship. At such a time dharma consists in refusing to accept anyone as guru. It is doubly sinful, when a true guru cannot be found, to set up a clary figure and make a guru of it. But so long as a true guru is not found there is merit in going on saying “Not this. Not this.”, and it may one day lead to our finding a true guru.

There are many hazards in trying to go against the current. I have had, as I continue to have, many experiences bitter and sweet of this. I have learnt but one thing from these, viz., that whatever is immoral and must be opposed should be opposed, even if one is all alone in opposing it. And one should have the faith that if the opposition is truthful it will one day surely bear fruit. A devotee who is after eulogy or worship, who is offended if not given honour, is no devotee. The true service of a devotee is to become a devotee oneself. Hence I oppose, wherever possible, the worship of human beings which is in vogue nowadays and urge other to do likewise.”27

Mahatma Gandhi said, “I had accepted many persons in this world as my gurus, but I am not in that position. I have said, on the contrary, that I am still in search of a guru in religious matters. It is my belief, which grows stronger day by day, that one must have especial fitness to find a guru. A guru comes unsought to him who has it. I lack such fitness. I have described Gokhale as my political guru. He had satisfied all my expectations of a guru in that field. I never doubted or questioned the propriety of his views or instructions. I cannot say that of anyone as a guru in religious matters.”28 Mahatma Gandhi told, “I could not enthrone him in my heart as my Guru. The throne has remained vacant and my search still continues. I believe in the Hindu theory of Guru and his importance in spiritual realization. I think there is a great deal of truth in the doctrine that true knowledge is impossible without a Guru. An imperfect teacher may be tolerable in mundane matters, but not in spiritual matters. Only a perfect jnani1 deserves to be enthroned as Guru. There must, therefore, be ceaseless striving after perfection. For one gets the Guru that one deserves. Infinite striving after perfection is one’s right. It is its own reward. The rest is in the hands of God.

Thus, though I could not place Raychandbhai on the throne of my heart as Guru, we shall see how he was, on many occasions, my guide and helperT6. Three moderns have left a deep impress on life, and captivated me: Raychandbhai by his living contact; Tolstoy by his book. The Kingdom of God Is within you; and Ruskin by his Unto This Last. But of these more in their proper place.”29

The importance of finding a guru who can impart transcendental knowledge is emphasized in Hinduism. One of the main Hindu texts, the Bhagavad Gita, is a dialogue between God in the form of  Krishna and his friend Arjuna., Not only does this dialogue outline many of the ideals of Hinduism, but their relationship is considered an ideal one of Guru-Shishya. In the Gita, Krishna speaks to Arjuna of the importance of finding a guru: Acquire the transcendental knowledge from a Self-realized master by humble reverence, by sincere inquiry, and by service. The wise ones who have realized the Truth will impart the Knowledge to you. In Hinduism, the guru is considered a respected person with saintly qualities who enlightens the mind of his or her disciple, an educator from whom one receives the initiatory mantra, and one who instructs in rituals and religious ceremonies. Mahatma Gandhi told, “There is peace only in being faithfully engaged in a worthy endeavour. There is no way to knowledge except through service and contemplation. The awareness of being in the abode of guru is valid. But the abode of guru is in one’s own heart; therefore it is necessary to purify the heart, which is possible only through ceaseless service.”

“The cause of the attachment and aversion we see in the world is people’s habit of observing one another’s defects. That whose only aim is enjoyment in life is bound to be filled with such feelings. I should, therefore, like to see a bond of friendship between husband and wife, instead of one of sensual enjoyment. I know that it is difficult to cultivate such a relationship, but nothing is too difficult for determined effort. The vow requires the bride to say that the bridegroom is her guru and her god. I had wanted this time to alter the vow in this regard, but refrained from doing so for fear that that might confuse people’s minds. I intend to omit the words ‘guru’ and ‘god’ in future, because it is not right that a husband should regard himself as a guru or god. Anyone who serves another does become a guru or god without his claiming to be one. This, however, does not mean that today’s vow is not binding. Rukmini has accepted you as her guru and god, understanding quite well the meaning of the vow. You should, therefore, be worthy of her trust. Take care of her as you would of a flower. Tolerate the differences in outlook and manners which may arise from the fact of you two belonging to different provinces. May the bond between Marwar and Gujarat which has been formed grow and bear happy fruit. May your relationship become an ideal for others?”31

Mahatma Gandhi told, “I got your letter. A good book too can be a revered guru. But God is the only true guru. When we learn to feel His presence in our heart, we shall have met the revered guru whom we seek.”32

Some Hindu denominations hold that a personal relationship with a living guru, revered as the embodiment of God, is essential in seeking moksha. The guru is the one who guides his or her disciple for it. Mahatma Gandhi described, “Guru (teacher) is Brahma, he is Vishnu, he is Mahadev, he is the great Brahman itself. I bow to that guru.”33 Mahatma Gandhi told, “This refers of course to the spiritual teacher. This is not a mechanical or artificial relationship. The teacher is not all this in reality, but he is all that to the disciple who finds his full satisfaction in him and imputes perfection to him who gave him a living faith in a living God. Such a guru is a rarity at least nowadays. The best thing therefore is to think of God Himself as one’s Guru or await the Light in faith.”34

In Indian culture, a person without a guru or a teacher was once looked down on as an orphan or unfortunate one. The word anatha in Sanskrit means "the one without a teacher." An acharya is the giver of knowledge in the form of instruction. A guru also gives diksha which is the spiritual awakening of the disciple by the grace of the guru. Mahatma Gandhi told, “A guru is one who guides us to righteousness by his own righteous conduct.”35 Mahatma Gandhi told, “The guru must possess the virtues of a sthitaprajna. I have not come across such an embodiment of perfection. But I have found a few people in all countries who possess varying degrees of these virtues.”36

On the role of the guru, Swami Shivanand asked: "Do you realize now the sacred significance and the supreme importance of the Guru's role in the evolution of man? It was not without reason that the India of the past carefully tended and kept alive the lamp of Guru-Tattva. It is therefore not without reason that India, year after year, age after age, commemorates anew this ancient concept of the Guru, adores it and pays homage to it again and again, and thereby re-affirms its belief and allegiance to it. For, the true Indian knows that the Guru is the only guarantee for the individual to transcend the bondage of sorrow and death, and experience the Consciousness of the Reality." Mahatma Gandhi said, “I suppose you also know that I am all the time in search of a guru. I don’t know when I will meet him, but I am striving to deserve one. The game is in God’s hands. In any case that Guru of all gurus is always there. I dance as He pulls me.”37 Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “The couplets composed by you concern a guru and his disciple and that too when they are residing at the same place. Neither is I a guru nor is you a disciple. I have never made anyone my disciple. I hope you know this.”38 Mahatma Gandhi told, “I have no guru. If I discover a guru, I shall bow before him. My religion teaches me the need for a guru and how to honour one. But today my heart is my only guru.”39 There is an understanding in some forms of Hinduism that if the devotee were presented with the guru and God, first he would pay respect to the guru, since the guru had been instrumental in leading him to God.





  3. SPEECH ON ‘ASHRAM VOWS’ AT Y. M. C. A., MADRAS; February 16, 1916
  4. A STAIN ON INDIA’S FOREHEAD; After November 5, 1917
  6. SPEECH AT KATHLAL; June 28, 1918
  7. Navajivan, 29-12-1920
  8. Navajivan, 6-2-1921
  9. VOL. 24 : 22 JULY, 1921 - 25 OCTOBER, 1921 Page- 371
  11. VOL. 30 : 27 DECEMBER, 1924 - 21 MARCH, 1925 Page-89
  12. Navajivan, 28-6-1925
  14. LETTER TO KASAMALI; June 13, 1926
  15. VOL. 35 : 2 APRIL, 1926 - 7 JULY, 1926 Page- 374
  16. VOL. 35 : 2 APRIL, 1926 - 7 JULY, 1926 Page- 375
  17. Navajivan, 27-6-1926
  18. LETTER TO MOTILAL; June 29, 1926
  20. LETTER TO LALTA PERSHAD SHAD; October 2, 1926
  21. VOL. 36 : 8 JULY, 1926 - 10 NOVEMBER, 1926 Page- 469
  22. VOL. 37 : 11 NOVEMBER, 1926 - 1 JANUARY, 1927 309
  24. Young India, 24-6-1926
  25. VOL. 41: 3 DECEMBER, 1927 - 1 MAY, 1928 Page-  471
  26. Navajivan, 3-6-1928
  27. Navajivan, 10-6-1928
  28. VOL. 43 : 10 SEPTEMBER, 1928 - 14 JANUARY, 1929 Page- 5
  29. VOL. 44 : 16 JANUARY, 1929 - 3 FEBRUARY, 1929 Page- 157
  30. A LETTER; October 10, 1929
  31. VOL. 48 : 21 NOVEMBER, 1929 - 2 APRIL, 1930 Page- 368
  32. LETTER TO RADHA GANDHI; November 16, 1930
  33. VOL. 51 : 6 JANUARY, 1931 - 28 APRIL, 1931 Page- 60
  34. VOL. 51 : 6 JANUARY, 1931 - 28 APRIL, 1931 Page- 61
  35. A LETTER; May 16, 1932
  36. LETTER TO BALWANTSINHA; February 5, 1933
  37. LETTER TO GOVINDBHAI R.PATEL; September 24, 1934
  38. LETTER TO ISHWARDAS; August 17, 1935


  1. VOL. 84 : 27 JANUARY, 1944 - 1 OCTOBER, 1944 Page- 135



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