The Need for Guru in Sikhism
To help men out of this slough of despair and helplessness a guru (religious teacher) is needed. The Sikh gurus do not believe in incarnation — God does not come Himself but sends His servants from time to time to lead man to the right path.
There is a world of difference between God and the guru and it is regarded by the gurus as a sacrilege to call the guru God. Guru Govind Singh in order to stop this practice of calling guru God told his followers in a clear and strong language:
“Those who call me God shall go to hell. I am a servant of God, and have come to see this play of the world. I am a servant of His; there is not the least doubt in it.”
But who is the guru?
“He who has known the true Person is the true guru. In his company a disciple will be saved by singing the praises of the Lord.”
“Hail, Hail to the true guru, the person who has recognized the supreme Truth and on meeting whom the thirst of desire is quenched and mind and body both get peace.
Hail, Hail to the true guru, who looks with an equal eye on all. Hail, Hail to the guru, who is without malice and for whom praise and dispraise are the same.
Hail, Hail to the true guru, whose mind ever reflects on the Brahman. Hail, Hail to the true guru, who is one with the Formless One, the Infinite.
Hail, Hail to the true guru, who makes men practise Truth. Nānak, hail, hail to the true guru, who bestows on us the gift of His Name.”
“Meet the true guru, the friend in whose mind the ocean of virtues dwells. Meet the true guru, the beloved, who has destroyed his own I-am-ness. Blessed is the perfect teacher, who reforms the whole world by his teachings.”
A soul that has reached perfection and possesses the qualities enumerated above is the guru.
A disciple must put implicit faith in the guru. Religious life, according to Sikh teaching, is an experience which a disciple can have only when he puts himself completely into the hands of the guru. This has been termed a new birth:
“When I was born to the guru, my transmigration came to an end.”
In a certain set of circumstances a disciple is to act not according to his own inclinations, but as is laid down by the guru. Such a disciple frees himself from the clutches of his past karma.
Our past karma influences our present actions through our desires and inclinations. When we cease to be influenced by our own desires and habits and base our actions on the guru's word, these tendencies slowly begin to wear out and then our past karma is destroyed:
“The load of past actions is lifted. We act without desire for fruit. By following the dharma of the guru we have reached the shore of the ocean.”
“Saith Nānak, the soul is subject to the law of karma. It cannot get emancipation without meeting the true guru.”
“A disciple who wants to stay in the house of the guru, must subject himself to the will of the guru. He should give up his own ego and in his mind meditate upon Hari (God).
Only the disciple, who sells his mind to the guru, succeeds in his attempt. He who serves without any desire for fruit, finds the Lord.”
For this it is not necessary to renounce the world or to give up family life, according to the Sikh gurus. On the other hand a Sikh is enjoined to earn his living and share what he has with others:
“Only he who eats what he earns, and gives a portion to others, knows the path.”
Activity based on the ego is the cause of bondage, but selfless activity frees one of all fetters. Hence an ideal Sikh is to lead a life of service without any desire for fruit:
“The mind of one who knows the reality bubbles to do good to others.”
Activity based on the guru's word makes a disciple ethically perfect:
“God resides very near him who does not covet other people's wealth and women.”
“Looking at beautiful women belonging to others, he should regard them as mothers, sisters and daughters. Just as a Hindu shuns beef and a Muslim shuns pork he should shun other people’s wealth.
He should not be so bewitched by attachment to his own wife and children as to practise deceit and tyranny on others.
Hearing calumny and praise with his ears he should never revile others. If he gets into power, he should never cause pain to others through pride. Such a disciple obtains the fruit of peace through the guru. He finds the joy and happiness of a Rāja-yogin.”
Here the Sikh gurus have propounded another doctrine: It is not the body of the guru that is the guru. It is his word that is the guru:
“The word is the guru, the guru is the word, the word contains all the nectars. If a disciple obeys what the word says, evidently the guru will make him cross the ocean.”
Hence obeisance to the guru's body or the guru's darśan does not bring any merit to the disciple:
“Novitiates and disciples all come to worship the guru and sing the most excellent word of Hari. But Hari will accept the songs and audiences of those alone who truthfully obey what the guru orders.”
“Fashion your mind anew according to the word of the guru”
It is a change of heart that is required, not the formal acceptance of a doctrine, nor the intellectual perception of a dogma:
“He who knows the ‘order’,” says Nānak, “will not say ‘I am’.”
All discipline is for the obliteration of the ego, otherwise:
“A man may perform crores of good actions, but if he bases them upon the ego all are in vain, he gets the fatigue only.”