Most people while trying to understand the Guru Shishya Parampara (tradition) tend to put it within parameters of the known. Some look upon it as an ordinary Teacher-Student relationship while others are puzzled about it. Most people often misunderstand the Guru Parampara, especially the westerners, but numerous modern educated Indians as well. In most Hindu traditions, the very basis of the tradition is the Guru Shishya Parampara (Guru Disciple tradition/ relationship) which is a specific kind of tradition that exists only in the Hindu spiritual system and its offshoots.
The superficial restriction of Human understanding is that we try to place all events, phenomena, relationships and problems within the space of different brackets, boxes or files that exist in our minds based on our experience. However, when we face something new or different, we can be quite confused. Sometimes, we make the mistake of placing that new event within the confines of old paradigms. This leads to great misunderstanding.
Most modern people think of Democracy all the time and are used to trying to decide things in a democratic manner where they can exercise their free will. In the Spiritual Hindu tradition- the Guru Parampara, it is the shishya who places a self imposed restriction on his free will by surrendering to the will of the Guru. Perhaps, the only time in the relationship that one can exercise free will is when one decides to learn by following the Guru’s instructions or to leave (which is usually not considered a good optin). Beyond that, it is considered that the shishya is obliged to obey the Guru’s instructions. However, that does not mean that one has no freedom. The Shishya can put forth his questions, problems and worries in front of the Guru to seek a solution. Often, these may even be of a personal nature. One has freedom to act, but within the rules and understanding of dharm. The Guru’s function is to guide and to help the aspirant control and quicken spiritual progress, it is not to confine the aspirant. The process works well when one decides on one’s own to surrender to the Guru and to do as directed. It cannot be forced upon anyone.
Here, it should be noted that the most prevalent social relationships, namely the institution of marriage is based on the premise of voluntary restriction of free will and compromise at many steps. When one chooses a partner, the choice of other partners is naturally excluded. Whereas the Guru Shishya Parampara cannot be compared to the partnership of marriage, but much in the same way, when one chooses a Guru and a definite spiritual path, the choice of a path of free will and uncontrolled desire is automatically excluded.
The Guru Shishya parampara is not a Democratic institution for it cannot be democratic. Imagine, even in the case of an ordinary teacher with 10 students, if the students get to decide what to learn and how to learn, what will be the outcome. That doesn't go anywhere. One could well say ‘I understand that a teacher in a school too has to teach according to the syllabus and the rules of the school’. However, the terms ‘Guru’ and ‘Teacher’ cannot be used interchangeably, for the Guru is not a mere teacher, as the teacher comes to a place of education, he is paid for teaching according to the hour; he does his job and goes on with his life. The teacher has to be qualified to teach. That qualification is based on his educational background and merits. The Guru is much more than an ordinary teacher, definitely a far superior teacher but for the lack of another word in any other tradition, only the word Guru is used. The biggest difference between a Guru Shishya relationship and a Teacher student relationship is that while the teacher transfers knowledge about worldly and material aspects of life, the Guru imparts a change in consciousness of the shishya. The Guru is a perfected spiritual master who has agreed to bless the shishya by teaching him, to take him on a path that is towards enlightenment and liberation. It is not a school or college education that is aimed at giving an exam to get marks, to get a qualification or a degree. Instead, this learning is about changing the very person to evolve into a superior human being. The Guru should be qualified to teach the student, but the shishya too has to be qualified to learn. An unqualified shishya cannot be taught spiritual material, practices or philosophy.
In the Guru Shishya Parampara-- the Guru does the talking, the Shishyas listen. The Guru tells them what to do and how to do-- they obey. They can ask questions but with Humility. They are not supposed to disobey but they could however, fall short of the expectations of the Guru.
The tradition cannot be termed as autocratic or dictatorial for it is not a political system but a spiritual system aimed at evolving the disciple to atleast the level of the Guru who may well be an enlightened and Liberated Master. Neither is the Guru a dictator seeking to subjugate the world, instead he tries to help subjugate one’s own mind and to evolve into a spiritual being. The Guru doesn’t seek favours in return for the spiritual experience and education; he doesn’t seek to manipulate the student to serve a political goal or some material purpose. However, according to the tradition, it is understood that there should be commensurate offerings by the Shishya to the Guru; but the offering depends on the capacity of the shishya. In the Hindu tradition, it is said that the obligation of the Guru can never be repaid completely.
The idea that one has to surrender to one person who is larger than life and obey all his instructions and commands can be rather terrifying to the westerner and to the western educated Indian. From among several reasons, one reason lies in the previous experience of people who trusted a leader and underwent terrible suffering at the hands of political leaders or religious institutions. Such leaders were often political with a material aim in life. But in the Dharmic spiritual systems the Guru is an evolved being, highly disciplined, very compassionate, full of knowledge, willing to share, working for the benefit of all beings. There is another deeper reason. Ordinary teaching is focussed on knowledge of the subjects, their memorization and reproduction. This modern education is not based on the Dharmic principles of character building and of taming the mind, to make the mind your instrument, entirely under your control, by controlling one’s desires. Therefore, the idea of rejecting a material life can also be quite terrifying for some, and even more difficult for those used to acting on the whims of their minds, is to put one’s mind under control. It is always easy to fall but quite challenging & hard to rise. Changing one’s character and personality is tough work.
Unlike, in other religions, Hinduism follows the principles of Dharma which must be well understood before one compares eastern spiritual systems and practices with western religions. In fact, most Hindus will not term Hinduism as a religion, for Hinduism is defined as a basket of different spiritual philosophies and practices. So the basic understanding of the system itself differs from anything that westerners have experienced, the method of learning, of practice and of the philosophy.
These days it has become rather fashionable to speak of the inner Guru without fully understanding what that means or who can completely connect. The tradition does not accept the inner Guru within the average human being, for these are voices of confusion from within an unperfected individual. A person with little or some learning is not a vehicle to be able to hear the voice of the inner Guru as there are numerous voices. An imperfect Man cannot show the way for he does not know where the path he walks on will lead, as he has no experience. But a perfected master can show the correct path for it is based on Experience, Logic, Scriptures, the confirmation and Guidance of the Guru parampara. And even beyond that, the person has surrendered to god and the teaching is based on direct personal experience of the spiritual path. To such a perfected spiritual master, the inner Guru reveals himself for he is one with god, then all actions are based in god and in the will of the Guru which can also be termed as inner Guru. The inner Guru is revealed by spiritual perfection, not otherwise.
The Guru is a benevolent force who seeks to help the disciples reach perfection, to become independent, to think for themselves, to go out into the world with a strong resolve and an unshaken belief in themselves so that they may change the world to be a better place and help others in turn develop and evolve. The Guru is a force, that same force of God or Shiv that is called anugrah shakti or grace. This infinite grace of god projects itself through a person who becomes the carrier of the tradition, the Guru with a physical form - as a person.
Since the Guru Shishya Parampara is distinct for from all others traditions and applies to a different level of learning and existence, therefore, the Guru Shishya Parampara should be understood as it is, distinct from all other systems, based on a spiritual, peaceful, harmonious, joyful relationship that leads to personal development, towards perfection & self realization.