One of the core beliefs of Hindu Dharma is the notion of the guru. The guru and guru-shishya relationship is a very unique feature of Hindu Dharma. Since the Upanishadic era, the guru has played a key role in imparting spiritual guidance and knowledge to the disciple. The guru guides, inspires and also engages the disciple in the rigours of spiritual sadhana and worldly knowledge. Through spiritual disciplines, he aids the disciple in realising the divine within and how to fulfil the four purusharthas of human life.

It can be said that in the 21st century, we have indulged in materialism and become bound by maya (illusion), as there is so much happening around us which can shift our focus away from our guru or Bhagwan (God). For us to break through this illusion, we must take the way forward shown by the guru. The guru must be brahmanishtha (God-realized) and shrotriya (one who knows the true meaning of the shastras) in order to liberate the student. Equally, however, the guru can only impart wisdom to the student when the student is ready. As the saying goes, when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. The student has to be understanding, willing to listen, humble and totally obedient to the guru. Only then can a guru-shishya relationship be strong.

The Hindu scriptures speak of the importance of a guru. In The Bhagavad Gita, we see Arjuna accept Shri Krishna as his guru and listen to his words carefully. In the Ramayana, Shri Rama had Vishwamitra as his guru. Vishwamitra saw that Rama and Lakshman were so obedient that he gave them his most powerful shastras, ‘Bala’ and ‘Atibala.’ With these shastras, they never got exhausted and demons were not able to hurt them even when asleep. Both Rama and Lakshman were grateful and took in the teachings from their guru. With all the knowledge they gained from Vishwamitra, Rama and Lakshmana killed the rakshasas Tataka, Subhahu and many others who were torturing rishis while they were performing rituals. All the rishis and gods were at peace, knowing that the disturbances caused by these rakshasas were over.

In the media today, the guru is being portrayed on screen. We may not hear the term but the guru can be seen. Most recently, I have seen the guru appear in Marvel’s Doctor Strange film that launched earlier this year. The character known as The Ancient One can be seen taking Dr. Stephen Strange from darkness to light, despite his arrogance. Dr Strange is told to open his mind in the film, just like Shri Krishna is telling Arjun to engage his mind in the Gita. The Ancient One enlightens Dr Strange by teaching him how to to unlock his mind and fight against the Dark Dimension: could the modern-day hero be the same as Shri Krishna asking Arjuna to fight and fulfil his duty as a Kshatriya? Just as when we break rules in life, our guru does not give up on us and is present when needed, we see the same for Doctor Strange. He broke several rules, yet The Ancient One still allowed him to break those rules and taught him right from wrong. Therefore, The Ancient One could be called a guru for Doctor Strange as she takes him on his own spiritual journey and teaches him how to become a better person by conquering his own inner demons.

After watching the movie Doctor Strange, there were words that stood out to me which made me think that The Ancient One resembled a guru both in action and in words. When The Ancient One meets Doctor Strange she says this verse:

“You’re a man looking at the world through a keyhole. You spent your whole life trying to widen that keyhole. To see more, to know more; and now, on hearing that it can be widened in ways you can’t imagine… you reject the possibility.”

What we learn from this is how Doctor Strange’s rational and scientific learning would only bring him so close to the keyhole. To see further into the room, he would need to “forget everything he knows” and expand his perspective. These wise words make me think that The Ancient One has the qualities of the guru, as she makes Doctor Strange think and go beyond his normal ways.

— Jaimal Patel, Events Coordinator