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A matter of synonyms?

From: sudarshan madabushi (
Date: Sun Aug 08 1999 - 10:27:12 PDT


Is there a difference between "guru" and "AchAryA"?

My son posed me this question yesterday and while I vaguely explained the 
difference to him I was wondering if any of you have a neat definition 
bringing out the sharp difference between the 2 Sanskrit words.

Specifically my son wants to know from me why the word "AchAryA" cannot be 
substituted as synonym for the word "guru" in the common couplet:

"guru-brahma guru vishnu, guru dEvo maheshvara ;
guru-sAkshAt para-brahmha tasmai sri guruvE namaha".

I told him that usually a "guru" refers to one's individual mentor while an 
"AchAryA" is "everyone's guru". He turns around and asks me why if "guru" 
does not qualify to be "everyone's mentor", why the Sikhs call their common 
mentor as "Guru Gobind Singh"!

Then I tried another clever explanation: I told him that usually there can 
be one superior "AchAryA" for several "gurus" but seldom is it that we have 
one "guru" being the superior for several "AchAryA-s". My son promptly 
turned back to me and asked,"If "guru-s" are in some ways inferior to 
'AchAryA-s" why do you then refer to them as "guru sAkshAt parabrahmhA?! We 
should then be saying "AchAryA sAkshAt parabrahmA" instead!".

At this point I gave up trying to clarify his queries.

I didn't tell him that I was having enough trouble as it is with 
"bhakti-list" members clarifying the issue of "sandhyAvandanam" and 
"sOmbhars" that I didn't have any appetite for more lofty debates on 
doctrine or dispute... but on deeper thought I got the feeling that the 10 
year old's question was intriguing enough to be put on the "list" for other 
learned members to ponder over and respond!

So if any of you could please suggest a proper answer that I can convey to 
my son, I would be very grateful. (Of course, please avoid being "verbose" if you know what I mean!")


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