People hold peculiar ideas about the guru since they see guru as the enlightened one. Guru is a title given by students to their master, their teacher. However, a guru is and always sees himself as a disciple. Swami Sivananda and Swami Satyananda were called gurus by everyone, yet they lived as disciples. There has been no clear understanding of what the concept of guru actually is and it has become distorted. In the sannyasa tradition, the guru is seen in three ways: first as a teacher, second as an adviser and third as inspirer. These are the three definitions of the word guru.
As a teacher he teaches the student a subject, a topic and a technique. As a teacher he creates the foundation to understand a subject and a topic. As a teacher he gives the basic building blocks and teaches how to build with these blocks. Gurus do not give the building, instead they teach one how to construct it.
They are not condo developers. They do not make the building so that one can simply rent it, lease it or buy it and live in it. No, one has to construct one's own life, one's own nature, one's own personality and character.
The guru can only point the way and beyond that there is no other role. It is one's own limitation, inability and perception if one cannot follow the instructions or not.
In his second role, the guru becomes an adviser. When the student has understood the basic concepts, the teacher advises on the sequence and progression of the student's effort and sadhana.
The adviser does not provide one with solutions to life's problems, such as material, social, economic or personal problems. That is not the role of the adviser. He is not a social or psychological adviser. He is a spiritual sadhana adviser, nothing more than that.
The role of the adviser is to help one reconstruct one's own nature and personality in the best manner possible. However, one has to be responsible for one's own limitations, inabilities and understanding. One has to have the discrimination to know the intent of the adviser without superimposing one's own idiosyncrasies on the intent and instruction of the adviser.
The third aspect of guru is the inspirer. After one has gained the skills to create one's own picture and house, the guru becomes an inspirer who keeps the aspirant motivated to walk the right path.
The inspirer is not the person who provides solutions to problems. The guru does not interfere in other people's lives; he does not tell them what to do with their lives. The guru has nothing to do with one's personal life. He does not dictate how one has to live in one's home, what to eat, or when to sleep. This has to be based on one's own commonsense, routine and daily activity.
The guru is not a social consultant or a problem solver. He does not take responsibility and charge of the student's life and actions, rather the guru inspires aspirants to become responsible for their own efforts and motive themselves to fulfil their aim in life in a positive manner.
The guru only provides the teaching, the advice on how to build one's own nature and personality, and the inspiration. This concept has to be translated into day-to-day activity, without which one cannot live any spiritual discipline or cultivate understanding.
The guru is a person who has to be objective and detached from everything else. His role is to empower one to take responsibility for one's own self with wisdom, clarity and understanding. The guru's role is also to ensure that one follows the path of one's dharma and to guide one on it, provided one is willing to walk the path of dharma.
The guru gives the right tools and inspiration to deal with one's own self, yet how to use these tools depends on every individual. Just as a knife can be used to harm or to save a person, the tools are not responsible. It is the action of the person who uses the tool that decides the proper or improper application.
—21 December 2013, Ganga Darshan, Munger, India