- A guru is an exemplary teacher, recognized for the mastery of his subject, and his ability to transmit that knowledge effectively to others (using any number of techniques). The mastery of the subject is intrinsic. For example, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Ramana Maharishi, Shridi Sai Baba, Mata Amritanandamayi, and spiritual masters from other cultures (like Native Americans, Shamans, etc) are all gurus, without ever having any formal education in adhyatma vidya.
- The guru can effectively put together a path for each student according his or her temperament (in the case of a spiritual guru, a path that it is best suited for the psychological/emotional and spiritual development of the student). In the guru-student tradition, the path is more important than the material itself. If you take a person who is naturally inclined to be a musician, and put him in a class of engineers, it is an act of great violence to the mind of that student (not only will he not be able to compete with those of engineering temperament and aptitude, but can have tragic consequences – such as an inferiority complex). A true guru would be able to take that musician and turn him into an engineer, by tailoring an engineering path that is tuned to the temperament of a musician. This was one of the principles based on which gurukulams operated, catering to different stratas of society, each having its own standards and goals.
- A guru is not guided by nor influenced by any material gains or selfish motives. He keeps the interest of the development of his students above all else.
- A guru is one who makes you into a leader. Not necessarily as in leading others, but the ability to stand firmly and boldly on your own two feet and lead yourself. For those students intellectually inclined it means making them into critical thinkers. For those students devotionally inclined it means opening up bhakti.
- A guru does not make you dependent on him, subordinate to him, nor worship him. He does not keep you chained to his feet. The idea is to make you stronger, not weaker. Not by constantly depending on the guru instead of figuring it out yourself and making progress on your own.
- When people prostrate before a guru, it does not imply subservience. It shows humility and paying respect to the entire lineage of nameless yogis, sages, countless sacrifices, etc. — without which we would not have that knowledge today. Note this is different from prostrating before enlightened spiritual masters (being an apprentice under spiritual masters is far different and more rigorous than from seeking spiritual counseling from gurus, and such humility may be part of the parcel of being disciple under a spiritual master). I’d be cautious of any gurus (who are not spiritual masters) requiring any form of humility or subservience.
- It is not entirely the fault of the guru either if people do have the tendency of guru-worship or project them into enlightened spiritual master or even as “God”. Nor is it the fault of the guru, that people later try to find personality flaws because they don’t live up to the “god-like” standards they set up them to be.
The ability of Hindu culture to consistently produce razor sharp spiritual giants lies in the fact that there is no dearth of intense scrutiny. Like Mata Amritanandamayi said, when she was asked about people being critical towards gurus: criticism is important quality control, just like nations will crumble if people don’t criticize their leaders.
That quality control has been dormant for a long period. Likely because there were not enough gurus to warrant quality control (given that thousands of gurukulams and ashrams were all wiped out in 400 years of Muslim siege followed by 300 years of European Imperialism).
Now that guru’s are making a big comeback, so also there is no dearth of scrutiny and criticism. Though most of criticism is not positive criticism from the gurus students, but come mostly from those who feel threatened or insecure by the rise of gurus — like rationalists, psychologists, doctors, and Christian missionaries).