They say when the student is ready, the master appears. The master can appear in any form; it’s the longing of the soul that causes the master to appear in front of the student. And when that spark is ignited, there’s no turning back. In Sanskrit, the master is called a Guru. The literal translation: “connotes someone who is a ‘teacher, guide or master’ of certain knowledge.” “Gu” means darkness and “ru” means light. Therefore “Guru” literally means “the one who brings you from darkness to light.”

I was raised in a family that believed in the Guru concept, so growing up as a child it was not something I questioned nor felt awkward about. It wasn’t until I was older that I began to hear negative stories about Gurus who were famous for conning people into giving them money, sex and brainwashing them. It gave the word Guru a negative connotation and it wasn’t something that I was comfortable speaking about in my younger days.

This morning as I had the first sip of my morning coffee, the thoughts came to my mind as to how grateful I was for having had the fortunate blessings of amazing masters crossing my path. In essence a Guru is a form of a teacher. A teacher who takes you on a journey to find yourself. That self that has been lost and needs to be found. And my experience growing up with a Guru has been just that. It has paved the path for me as I walk through this journey of life and has been there with me in every stage of my life.

Two examples of how a spiritual teacher’s presence helps

There were two life events in particular where I really owe gratitude to my spiritual teacher. One was the death of my father and the other was the recent surgery that I had with my ankle causing me to be non-weight bearing for three to four months.

Although there was no physical proximity to my teacher, the teachings that I had received helped me face both life situations. Death can leave one so broken and it can take a lifetime to get over the loss of a loved one. It leaves an imprint in your heart forever and if one is not provided with time for grieving and support, it creeps into all aspects of your life. Having my teacher by my side gave me the courage to face the loss, and more so helped me to become less afraid of death and normalize it. When I write “by my side” I mean through gatherings, devotional singing, readings of scriptures—all of which helped my family face the death in a peaceful way.

Similarly, a sickness or a medical condition can leave one weak, scared and question one’s ability to recover.  With the presence of the Master, I was able to turn inward to work on my own healing. Instead of feeling resentment and anger, I began to shift perspective and trust that all was happening according to plan.

A simple teaching of the Master that helped me move through this difficult phase is”shukur” (thank you). A simple devotional song that I sing over and over again has helped me forget fear. A simple teaching from the Master on learning to focus on my breath to move through pain helped me to work through pain without the use of medication.

Detachment from form

This is not to say that there is attachment to a form. In fact, that’s the beauty of this journey with the Guru—to lead me to be detached from the form. The beauty of the Guru is that the Guru comes with tools: He/She provides us with a toolkit that we have in us—we just don’t realize it’s there. He/She turns on the light and we can turn to this powerhouse in times of troubles, despairs and even in good times. The teacher can help us become more aware of our inherent resources. We can then begin by turning the most despondent situations into beams of light. We can learn to be grateful even if to the naked eye life may seem unfair.

Universal message, different paths

I’ve had the fortunate opportunity to come in contact with many of these great masters and I’ve found their messages are all the same: universal love. But the way each sends their message is unique. In Hinduism there are various paths to reach the divine—one can choose the path of service, one can choose the path of devotion, one can choose the path of jnana or knowledge.

The student chooses their path and the teachers that come to us in various forms remind us of our spark. The teacher doesn’t have to be someone in an orange robe, or someone who stands on one foot and practices austere yogic practices. The teacher could be our spouse, our child, our colleague, our boss, a soulmate. As long as we’re touched deeply in the core of our soul it can leave us changed forever.

As the season of thanksgiving and the holiday season is here, I’m reminded of that quote by Albert Schweitzer, “In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.” To my masters, teachers and mentors I am eternally grateful!

Read more on this topic: THE GURU SEARCH: Do we really need a spiritual teacher?

image: purple lotus flower via Shutterstock