a question for the traditionalists among us

Jan E.M. Houben jhouben at RULLET.LEIDENUNIV.NL
Thu May 11 09:20:08 UTC 2000

Concerning Steve Brown's question:

>>i am curious about the methodology of finding a guru in classical
>>hinduism...How does one look?  when does one know he/she has found

and concerning the replies given so far:

I think that for anyone interested in the phenomenon of "master-pupil"
relation (for either theoretical or practical reasons) in classical and
modern and neo-hinduism the following book is a MUST:
Guru-sisya-sambandha: Das Meister-Schueler-Verhaeltnis im traditionellen und
modernen Hinduismus, by Ralph Marc Steiner, Stuttgart: Steiner 1986
(Beitraege zur Suedasienforschung ... Heidelberg, Band 109).
For those put off by the German title: it contains an extensive, 17-page
summary in English (which mostly reads like a self-contained argument). Part
I (chapters 1-4) deals with The Tradition (both the "Great" Sanscritic
tradition and the Tamil tradition as example of a "Little" tradition are
taken into account). Part II (chapters 5-8) deals with the Modern Age: the
guru institution of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries between tradition
and modernity [with, for instance, the discussion of two extreme examples in
chapter 6: S. Agnihotri 1850-1909 who insisted that his followers (of the
Dev Samaj) adored him like a god, as the one and only Dev-Guru Bhagvan; and
J. Krishnamurti (1895-1986) who at a grand world-meeting of the Theosophical
Society (in Ommen, the Netherlands, must have been in the twenties) publicly
rejected the guru-institution in general and his status as world-teacher --
for which he had been selected and carefully educated by the Society -- in
Part III (chapters 9 and 10) is devoted to Typology and hermeneutic

For the modern predicaments chapter 8 will be most interesting; it deals for
instance with "The common features of Neo-Hindu guruship such as alienation,
levelling process and commercialization ... "
"The conclusion is drawn that the modern master-disciple relationship
appears to be largely dissociated from its traditional background and that
on the whole neither the guru nor his followers fulfill the requirements for
the path to salvation in the traditional spirit as they are chalked out by
the Hindu tradition."
The author is not all negative about modern Hindu guruship: "A definite
assessment of the modern guru movements is, however, thought to be premature
... these movements also make a considereable contribution to the overcoming
of technocratic civilization and positivistic thought together with its
belief in material progress."
The Guru-Sotra (extremely popular in India and several neo-Hindu movements)
with German translation, and the Acarya-laksana ("characteristic signs of a
[N.B. Visnuitic] teacher") with an earlier published English translation of
Feuerstein, 1974) are given in Appendices.

The work contains numerous references to previous relevant publications; one
could quarrel about some of the author's categorizations, choices,
translations; but his general evaluations seem still largely valid after
almost 15 years.

[Is anyone aware of publications in which Steinmann's research is carried
further, or is this one of the so many excellent Indological works which is
widely neglected after its publication?]

I hope this information contributes in either helping or curing Steve Brown
in his desire for a sadguru, whom the guru-stotra equals with all primordial
affectual relationships: "you are mother and you are father ... etc.".

Jan E.M. Houben,
Kern Institute, Leiden University,
P.O. Box 9515, NL-2300 RA   Leiden
jhouben at RULLET.LeidenUniv.NL

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list