Non-Human Gurus and the Forces of NatureNon-Human Gurus and the Forces of Nature
The human guru, though not necessarily physically alive, is the primary guide on the spiritual path of Yoga and Vedanta. He or she is part of a tradition or parampara, with gurus before and a specific line of teaching This is the long standing tradition. Yet this is not to exclude other forms of guidance or types of gurus or guidance from different creatures or the powers of nature.
In the Yoga Sutras, Ishvara, the guiding Cosmic Intelligence is said to be the Adi Guru or original teacher that we should follow. Our human yoga guru should work through this higher power. Hindu Devatas or deities as forms of Ishvara fufill this role, whether the trinities of is Brahma, Vishnu or Shiva, or the Goddesses as Sarasvati, Lakshmi or Parvati, extending to Rama, Krishna, Kali, Ganesha, Skanda, and Surya and other Devatas, in their many different manifestations. This extends to all the numerous deities in the Hindu tradition.
One of these deities usually becomes our Ishta Devata or chosen deity to worship. The Ishta Devata becomes our link with the Ishvara principle or the guiding cosmic awareness.
Non-human Beings as Gurus
Other creatures that can function as our gurus include Devas or beings of higher lokas or Rishis who represent cosmic creative powers Yet we can learn from every creature. Such non-human gurus include animals like the hamsa bird in the Upanishads, the sacred cow, the tulsi plant, or the ashvattha and banyan trees. They include sacred mountains like Kailas and sacred rivers like the Ganga. In fact every creature in this universe of consciousness can provide some degree of wisdom for us to take in.
In the Vedas, Agni or fire is the first guru, extending from the fire that people maintain in their homes, to the pranic fire, to the fire of Consciousness itself (Chidagni). Yet all the light forms of nature are looked to for their guiding powers including the Sun, Moon and Lightning. The Vedic Purusha that is the goal of Yoga is most commonly defined as the Purusha within Aditya or the Sun.
Most notable in this discussion is the figure of Rishi Dattatreya, looked upon as an incarnation of Bhagavan Vishnu, for whom all of nature (Prakriti) and its 24 tattvas, as explained in Samkhya and Vedanta philosophies, were honored as his gurus. He was said not to have any human guru. That is why those who do not have a living guru often pray to Dattatreya for initiation and empowerment of mantras.
The Upanishads teach Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma or “Everything is Brahman” and everything is the Self. So everything can teach to us the higher truths of our cosmic being if we look to their inner essence. In fact our true Self is said to be more like a force of nature than a product of the ordinary human mind.
The Vedas say that everything in nature is a manifestation of the Divine Word and has a special message and power to guide us. If we can learn to read this book of nature we can learn through everything. In fact the book of nature is the true scripture that we must follow, not a text in any human language. The greatness of the Vedas is that they reflect nature as the Divine Word in their deities and teachings.
The Guru as Knowledge
Similarly, the human guru is a manifestation of the cosmic guru, not simply a human personality to emulate. The inner being of the guru can also teach us through other creatures and forms of nature, as the true guru has other manifestations in forms beyond the human.
Along with the concept of guru is “pramana” or what provides us with true knowledge. It is the inner knowledge that liberates and enlightens us, not just the presence of the guru, however helpful that may be. The guru is a means of right knowledge, direct perception and inner experience. That inner knowing itself becomes the guru.
In Vedic thought the highest pramana or means of true knowledge is samadhi or samyama, the unitary consciousness that reveals the essence of reality, extending to the highest “nirvikalpa samadhi” or pure consciousness beyond the fluctuations, disturbances and fantasies of the mind.
So let us honor the human guru, the cosmic guru, the guidance we receive from other creatures and all the forces of nature, which also dwell within us as our true Self. That is a comprehensive honoring of the guru. Let us recognize the need for a human guru but the many other forms of guidance as well. The goal is Self-realization in the whole of life, not simply following one guru or another.
Dr. David Frawley