What is a Guru? — A meta-story of internet research, gurudom and a six hour twitter storm

Nov. 27, 2015

Here at TransferGuru Towers I’ve pitched a lot of different blog topics. TransferGuru’s remit covers quite a lot and there are some great starting points — gender issues, inequality and fairness are all really important.

And there is more to come. But I want to get something out of the way first.

It’s been a big part of our project from the start, and something that, to be honest, I have been crowbarring onto every social media site without ever considering the meaning of. So it’s only right that we dig into it a little more.

What the hell is a Guru?

Trouble was, I pitched it to everyone as a quick write-up — ten minutes of research and I’ll let everyone know what a guru is. Behind the Guru in TransferGuru. How hard can it be?


What Is A Guru?

An odyssey of internet research, charlatanism and information overload.

Gurus are as numerous as lamps in every house. But, O-Godess, difficult to find is a guru who lights up everything like a sun.

Kula-Arnava, 13.104–13.110, Translated by Georg Feuerstein

Ever heard the one about the legal dispute over whether a guru is dead or in a state of “intense meditation”.

…in a freezer.

Let me tell you — 8 caffeine pills, a packet of cigarettes and a whole sunrise later — it only gets stranger.

So, internet, what is a guru?

Let’s throw out some definitions, get a cool photo, we’ll be done here before you can say gu-wha’?

Ok — Some rifling. Some searching. A lot to rule out.

  • The Source’s 30th best lyricist of all time — Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal. Nope.
  • The GuRoo robot — a humanoid robot being developed to … win the Football world cup by 2050! (Hold on while I just file that under future blogs — there’s relevancy somewhere.*)

*(No seriously, write to me at talktous@tguru.org if you know anything about a super robot football team. Or what a guru is)

  • 4 villages in Iran

Welcome to Guru, Iran


Let’s try again.

“Definition of guru.”


Who knew Chinese buddhists hosted the biggest encyclopedia on the web. Probably.

Guru. Is actually a sanskrit term for a teacher or master. So says theAdvayataraka Upanishad. Teacher or master.

That’s a happy connotation — for a minute there I was starting to wonder if we’d made a horrible mistake with our name.

But there’s more.

Gu means shadows, Ru he who disperses them.

“Because of the power to disperse darkness, the guru is thus named”.


Excellent. Now to just type…

Guru ALSO means.

Heavy or weighty.


We can work with heavy.

Heavy with –

Oh come on please, please, please…

“Knowledge, spiritual wisdom, realisation, a wealth of knowledge, good qualities of scripture”


All the good qualities of scripture — you can’t fight it

Now just to…

“Guru also means.”

Oh come on.

It’s sanskrit roots link it to the act of raising up. Or making an effort.

Raising up savings, budgets, fairness? Not unworkable.

Now I’ll just put these three in a nice little…


“Another etymology includes gu as beyond the qualities and ru as devoid of form”.

Beyond the qualities! Devoid of form! Get the cheapest deal for remittance!

And there’s more. Concealment? Annulment? TransferConcealment?

So we’re tapping into a rich tradition of wisdom, knowledge… annulment?

Ok, what if I pick one? Guru covers a lot, we can sort it.

A good day’s work

Dum dum dum

Deh dum de dum



Wait wait wait

Wait wait wait wait wait

— –

Something was bugging me.

And it wasn’t just a fear of insensitive branding.

(You can never have too little rigour:http://www.theguardian.com/media/gallery/2015/nov/18/racist-sexist-rude-crude-worst-20th-century-advertising-in-pictures).

The world’s biggest encyclopedia couldn’t even agree on what the word guru meant. Was there more to this than etymology? (Mystery!) Was I going to find some horrible meaning that rendered our name useless? (Stakes!) Was there some great truth about the guru tradition that I could share with the world?(Passion!) Did I just have nothing better to do?

(Stakes again?)

In a haze of coffee-fueled whimsy and password-free guest wi-fi euphoria, I pressed on.

But did the Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia have anything more to offer?

Stupid question.

According to the “biggest encyclopedia in the world” (Hey, it’s on their facebook) it looks like in Indian culture someone without a guru was once “looked down on as an orphan”.

That’s a little strong for a fintech site, but let’s see where this goes.

“Knowledge was not regarded as a universal right. Access to knowledge via a guru was the privilege of a very small minority.”

We can do better than that…

“It was the norm to transmit knowledge in the erudite language of Sanskrit without translation. Mastery of Sanskrit was therefore essential”.

We’re doing pretty well out of this. All the wisdom, none of the…purely sanskrit-based communication. Anything better?


No seriously. Ker. Ching.

What a memo this is going to be.

It’s fiery stuff.

“Politicians, business consultants…they’ve tapped into a Way of proclaiming themselves (Deep breath) teacher, trainer, instructor, master, tutor, director, coach, don, professor, lecturer, reader, prelector, prolocutor, preacher, chalk talker, pastor, schoolmaster, dominie, pedagogue, abecedarian, schoolmistress, dame, monitor, expositor, preceptor, guide, mentor, adviser, pioneer, apostle, missionary, propagandist, and munshi. (Hopefully not all at once) By taking on such titles, people listen to them, respect them — and PAY them for their Wisdom.”

Oh jeez. Yeah that does seem problematic.


Are we sure we aren’t associated with them?

“The Modern Guru has the self-assurance of the door-to-door salesman of Magic Food-Chopper II and the suave stage presence of Rodney Dangerfield. And rightly so, for she is “selling” something just as important in this materialistic world as toothpaste or a new foreign policy.”

(Toothpaste, foreign policy, business strategy — the triple evils of global capitalism.)

Turns out there’s a real backlash to the use of the word Guru. Eccentrically word-arted websites aren’t the only ones raising the point. And it’s not hard to see why.

Rather than bastions of wisdom and knowledge people are posing as gurus to sell strategy and advice under the pretence of timely wisdom.

Looks like I’ll have to dig a little deeper — are people really buying it? And isn’t anybody calling them out?

— –

At the stage my internet history was still pretty sane:

And it included this fantastic twenty minutes…

The noughties was a big decade

But it was time to ramp it up.


That’s when it got weird.

Turns out the guru has some bigger problems than snake oil salesmen.

How big?

Let me show you.

To start with, there’s quite a well documented group of men posing as gurus to commit all manner of crimes.

Ok scratch that — there’s a rediff top 10 most controversial gurus page which comes up as result number one. And It. Is. A Corker.

A little taster: Contempt of court, murder (they led with contempt of court for some reason), attempt to murder, inspiring violent clashes, rape, rape apologism, land-grabbing, tax evasion, demanding that sex education be replaced with yoga to prevent the spread of AIDS and using magic tricks. That was anti-climactically arranged. To reiterate. They wanted sex education to be replaced with yoga. To fight AIDS.

(And contempt of court!)

True? No idea. By now the caffeine tablets were starting to convalesce in my stomach and the words on the screen wouldn’t sit still for long enough.

But sex, murder, corruption.

I was hooked.

— –

Sadly, this was not a night of easy answers.

Even your usually reliable comparison sites were red herrings. I had just finished checking out GuruRatings.org (I encourage you all to, at length — we’re applying soon) when I found a disclaimer that it was actually a an ideological tool of a “mafia-like war” waged by the followers of Osho for 40 years.

(Have I mentioned we run a great comparison site that is in no way involved in a “mafia-like” war)

We play a lot of chess

And that’s not the last mention of Osho either. He has been described by the Hindustan Times as the most original thinker India ever produced and by a Western observer as “bagwash”, in that listening to him is akin to watching “your tattered underwear revolve soggily for hours while exuding grey suds”. Is this an issue of cultural misunderstanding? Western arrogance? Or was Osho a genuine “rebarbative dingbat”?

Judgements of the late Guru range from “sublime” to “intellectual confidence trickster” — but there’s certainly something jarring in the diagnosis of Farrukh Dhondy that Osho was targeting disillusioned Westerners who wanted to “have their cake, eat it (and) claim at the same time that cake-eating is the highest virtue according to ancient-fused-with-scientific-wisdom”. And all that’s just offWikipedia.

— –

Still reeling from a small stomach colony of unabsorbed caffeine pills, and with my only source of food now locked inside the office…


…I was beginning to wonder — Just how deep does the mystery go?

And what the hell is a guru?

— –

I started to get desperate. The inflammatory stuff kept coming. But then I found a lifeline. A brief torch in the guru dark.

I met Ken Wilber.

Turns out Wilber, a philosopher described on (his own) amazon page as one of the leading thinkers in America, heavily influenced by Buddhism, and with links to Al Gore and Bill Clinton has-

-very strong feelings about gurus.

Wilber declares that they all, without exception, have “feet of clay”.

(Which means that they are fatally flawed — whatever the consistency of their body, their feet are made of clay, so they will topple over)


I mean, the guy is the perfect lovechild of Superman and Lex Luthor. Who wouldn’t believe him?

But if that seems like the definitive judgement of gurus — well, we need to look again at Ken Wilber. He’s an interesting guy, lauded by academics and politicians, and with amazon reviews that all start with “This book changed my life” and “New Vistas”*.

But that’s not the whole story…

Ironically, Wilber inspired a small cult industry around the issue of, yes, whether Ken Wilber is a guru or not. Sadly, by Ken Wilber’s own definition: probably.

The first alarm bell was this link to cult-hunter Elliot Benjamen — he quotes Geoffrey Falk, an academic who describes Wilber as “narcissistic”, “childish” and prone to fleeing criticism like “vampires flee from the sun”.

Enough to write Wilber off? Who knows — It’s not for us to judge Wilber’s output in a short blog, but childish?


In one stirring defence against his critics he retorts with:

“It’s gotten to the point that one critic cringes when I simply use the word “simply”, because it means something horrible is going to follow…But simply still, I simply cannot stand this simple criticism of simply anything, let alone “simply,” so simply s*** my d***, whaddaya say?”

Wait, what?

And since then — Well, he later gained notoriety by claiming that a holy teacher could make crops grow twice as fast by “blessing them” — apparently based on images he had seen. On the internet.

*(I spent a lot of time on his amazon page — Disclaimer: I now own all his books)

— –



Pining for a bagel.

I start to wander round Tguru towers in a daze.

Could I trust anybody who wasn’t a guru?

Could I trust the actual gurus?

Could I even trust Amazon reviewers any more?

And that’s when I found something that made it all worth it.

“The family and followers of one of India’s wealthiest Hindu spiritual leaders are fighting a legal battle over whether he is dead or simply in a deep state of meditation.”

The greatest guru legal dispute of them all.

Turns out ‘His Holiness Shri Ashutosh Maharaj’ was sitting on an estate of about £100 million — and quite a few people wanted a cut of that. (Pure conjecture)

His wife and son, naturally, wanted to have the body released for cremation — so they could claim their inheritance. But his disciples were refusing.

And apparently winning… on the grounds that he is still alive.

In fact they were so sure he was still alive that they’d put him in a freezer to preserve his body for whenever he returns from…wherever enlightenment is to be found.

But that’s not even the best part.

Local government officials have declared it a spiritual matter! They explained that they can’t force the gurus followers to believe he’s dead, so they can’t do anything until he either comes out of his deep state of meditation (just to remind you, he’s almost certainly dead) or, we suspect, they come to an arrangement re his property empire. (Also pure conjecture)

Either way, they’d better find a new place to store their frozen produce for a while.

— –

But it was no use. My battery was wearing down, my bagels remained locked behind an inch of glass, and my gut was churning.

Were we associated with this contested phrase?

Are people being turned off by Gurus?

Should I tell someone?

Some people just don’t want to hear the truth. They’d rather sleep.

— —

My odyssey continued. There were a lot more definitions.

I’ve deleted 4 pages of definitions.

You are welcome.

But I’m going to tell you anyway.

First, I tried synonyms. Everyone loves synonyms.

They included “cognoscente”, “crackerjack” and “dab hand”. (TransferDabHand was a working prototype, and I think we may have to revisit TransferCrackerJack).

I consulted an astrologer (something about Jupiter), a guy on Linkedin (one of his skills was “deepest knowledge” — and endorsed by over 5 people!) and a tamil blogger who insists a better translation of guru would be “English Gravel”.

TransferEngli… Oh you get the idea.

(If you ever run into me at a party and want an in depth discussion about something — guru definitions — that’s where I’d start.)

— –

And then, I found it.

The source of all the answers. The holy grail of Guru Information. The sun was coming up, the first of the morning’s workers were starting to arrive, my eyes were seeping out of my head. But I had discovered…

The spiritual science research foundation.


Why didn’t I think of it before — there’s always a research foundation.

And these guys don’t mess around.

Right at the top of their page. The difference between a guru and a saint (fun fact — “every guru is a saint but the reverse is not always true”). Obviously!

There’s a lot — but they’ve provided a chart.

(Are TransferGuru Perfect Saint-Guru number 6? We’ve written to them.)

So we just need a good spiritual level, a dedication to truth and some sort of membership fee with the spiritual science research foundation?

That’s all good and well but what’s the difference between a guru and a saint. Where’s your handy chart for tha-

(To clear some of these up — Service means service unto the absolute truth (100% physically, mentally, intellectually, financially and socially). Manifest energy is physical energy, as opposed to unmanifest energy like ‘serenity’ and ‘bliss’*.)

Ok, there’s our tagline. It has all been worth it!

You thought saints were a big deal?

Gurus have twice as much love for others (and that’s as a % — give up now naysayers), better service, an increased willingness to sacrifice, a higher quantity of writing, and a faster rate of spiritual evolution.

And they need less manifest energy because they are “more one with the unmanifest form of god”.

How do we put that on the website?

*(Wondering how we measure manifest energy? Well they provide some helpful signs.

-Bright, glowing eyes

-Sharp hand movements

If you’re still unsure This cat is absolutely brimming with manifest energy:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ls-eakMAP7k )

Those aren’t even the best charts!

(Note: We’ve updated it a bit. Not all findings confirmed by the spiritual research foundation.)

That settles it!

Wow. Imagine if it was this hard to find the right answer for money transfers.







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