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Qualities of a Guru

Regarding the role of a guru, Shri Ramakrishna Paramhansa said, “He [the guru] brings man and God together, even as a matchmaker brings together the lover and the beloved.”
This was experienced by Swami Vivekanand (1863–1902), when, as Narendra, he first met Shri Ramakrishna Paramhansa (1836–1886) in November 1881. Overwhelmed by doubts about the ex-istence of God, Narendra met Shri Ramakrishna at the Kali Temple in Dakshineshwar. Immedi-ately, the bold Narendra asked a question to which he had never previously received a satisfactory answer, “Sir, have you seen God?” Without hesitation, Sri Ramakrishna replied, “Yes, I have. I see him as clearly as I see you, only in a more intense way.” This emphatic declaration convinced Narendra, who accepted Sri Ramakrishna as his guru. Expressing this conviction, Swami Viveka-nand stated, “The guru must be worshipped as God, he is nothing less than that. As you look at him, gradually the guru melts away, and what is left? The guru’s picture gives way to God Himself. The guru is the bright mask which God wears in order to come to us. As we look steadily on, grad-ually the mask falls off and God is revealed.”
Qualifying the eligibility of a guru, Swami Shivanand (1887–1963) explains, “Mere study of books cannot make one a guru. One who has studied the Vedas and who has direct knowledge of the atman through anubhava (experience) can alone be enrolled as a guru.”
Gunatitanand Swami has also described three yardsticks by which to measure the calibre of a guru, “Before accepting him, check the guru’s purity in three ways: first, check his own behaviour; second, check the capability of the one he has served (i.e. his guru); and third, know those who have attained (knowledge) through his company (i.e. his disciples).”
Another revered Hindu sadhu, Swami Muktanand (1908–1982) describes the universal comfort provided by the guru, “On the one hand, he (the guru) is adept in spiritual matters and, on the other, he is exceedingly shrewd in his worldly dealings. Those aspirants who live under the protection of such a master pass through acute crises with ease and meet the most unfavourable circumstances fearlessly.”
For the guru, exterior circumstances do not control his life, since his wisdom, strength and se-renity are derived from within – due to communion with God.
The interplay between guru and shishya is well illustrated by the Gunatit guru parampara estab-lished by Bhagwan Swaminarayan. Each guru serves as disciple to his guru and is also mentor to his successor and countless other devotees.
The tradition was set by Bhagwan Swaminarayan himself, who first served guru Ramanand Swami and then, as founder of the Swaminarayan Sampradaya, led people to experience the bliss of God. He himself was revered as God and so, Gunatitanand Swami, the first guru, served him as both God and guru. Gunatitanand Swami renounced home at the wish of Bhagwan Swaminara-yan, performed austerities and physical service, and served in the demanding post as Mahant of the Junagadh mandir built by Bhagwan Swaminarayan.
Under Gunatitanand Swami’s guidance, Bhagatji Maharaj experienced the highest state of God-realization. It is often said that Bhagatji Maharaj unquestioningly obeyed every command of Gunatitanand Swami, without concern for his own self or social status. Bhagatji Maharaj, for example, went to call Mt. Girnar, even though he was ridiculed by many claiming that he lacked discretion. Bhagatji Maharaj’s reply, “I have obeyed the command. Now it is up to Girnar whether he comes or not,” reveals the absolute subservience which had earned him Gunatitanand Swami’s inner blessings.
Bhagatji Maharaj, in turn, nurtured Shastriji Maharaj, who boldly proclaimed the true under-standing of the Akshar-Purushottam philosophy despite much opposition and hardships. 
Shastriji Maharaj, as guru, formally established the Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS). He guided Yogiji Maharaj, who served with immense vigour to help in the construction of the initial BAPS mandirs and other foundational activities.
Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the fifth guru of BAPS, had served both Shastriji Maharaj and Yogiji Maharaj. As a newly initiated young sadhu, he served under Shastriji Maharaj, engaging in arduous physical services which were the priority at the time. Also, initially under the guidance of Shastriji Maharaj, he expertly and efficiently shouldered the administrative responsibilities of the Sanstha. Then, under the guidance of Yogiji Maharaj, he continued to manage the Sanstha’s administration and also significantly contributed to the rapidly growing Satsang activities.
Pramukh Swami Maharaj had presided over a period of phenomenal expansion of the Sanstha: the number of devotees, sadhus, mandirs, Satsang Centres worldwide, as well as, the wide range of spiritual, cultural, social, educational, environmental, medical and other activities increased manifold. Yet, amid all this, he remained unburdened by it all and attributed everything to the grace of God and guru.
The present guru, Mahant Swami Maharaj, implicitly served Yogiji Maharaj and Pramukh Swami Maharaj. He now helms the BAPS worldwide satsang and humanitarian activities.
Thus, through this uninterrupted 200-year-old Gunatit guru parampara, we see the true ideals of the guru-shishya relationship in its perfect form.
To conclude, the guru who guides the genuine spiritual aspirant on the path to God is a unique contribution of Sanatan Dharma to world spirituality. This many millennia-old guru-shishya system is so profound that it continues to flourish even today.

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