Authority, Autonomy and Accountability: Being a Guru

Authority, Autonomy and Accountability: Being a Guru

The term ‘Guru’ is used in ways that its meaning has become fudged over the past few decades. Someone who happens to sell a certain "philosophy" or a method to the others (albeit in a commercial sense) is called a Guru. They are considered to be experts in their fields, and, by this virtue, worth emulating or being listened to. Thus, we have Sales Guru, Management Guru, Tech Guru and so on. Simply put, the term ‘Guru’ in these cases is used as a synonym for ‘specialist’ or ‘expert’ (even if it is of a field which might be valid only for a fleeting period of time).

In the case of Bhāratīya Knowledge Systems that have gone abroad (and taken a different form, many-a-time appropriated, mostly convoluted and invariably always commercial), the name Guru is used for the one who promises something for the adherents or the clients. We have Yoga Guru, Spiritual Guru and so on. In these cases, ‘Guru’ simply means ‘instructor’.

The above were stated in order to eliminate these along with the confusion that they may bring with them due to the misuse of the term. We shall now turn to the Bhāratīya context. In our society, though we have some sense of what Guru stands for, in the changing context, there is need to get some clarity. This is especially important when we speak of educators in the contemporary institutionalised set-up.

School and College educators play an important role in the life of the student. However, things fall acutely short of expectations: students are not assured of expert teachers, there are low expectations in terms of individualised attention and mentoring and a teacher is rarely – mostly never – referred to by the student during self-introduction. These happen because we expect educators to play the role of the Guru that, very unfortunately, does not happen.

This article does not, in any way, undermine the humongous amount of effort and energy that our educators are expending on students. What we shall see will show the limitations that they are subjected to which prevents them to take on the role of being Gurus. First, we shall highlight the requirements for the making of a Guru.


A Guru has ALL the three following traits:

Authority: An authority is one who has extensive and thorough knowledge of a subject. This is not exhaustive, but the Guru is very aware of one’s abilities as well as limitations. Next, through this authority, the Guru knows to identify the śiṣya's actual needs and to direct him/her to another Guru with the specific authority in order to acquire the required knowledge.

Autonomy: A Guru has autonomy to decide how to prepare a student; what and when a śiṣya must learn. This means that the Guru literally ‘moulds’ the śiṣya psychologically, mentally/physically and in all other ways to bring out the best inherent potential. A Guru decides when the śiṣya's education is complete.

Accountability: A Guru is accountable for what he does. A śiṣya introduces himself by his Guru’s name. A Guru’s reputation and fame depends entirely on the quality of his ‘product’ in the form of his śiṣya.


In the case of educators in the institutionalised setting, none of the above is a pre-requisite.

Authority is determined by certification by institutions which are face-less. The exact educator’s name is rarely used to certify one’s ability. Unfortunately, these paper certifications hold more worth than the knowledge acquired (which might be through non-institutionalised sources).

Autonomy is almost nil in the contemporary scenario. A one-size-fits-all method is used, and students go through ‘batch-processing’ as if they are industrial outputs. The educator has no say in determining the preparedness or in honing the ability of the student. Standardised syllabus and testing are dictated and keep the teachers busy.

Third, Accountability is also primarily to the institution and not to the student(s). Students identify themselves by their institution and not by their teachers. Thus, we find that any institution has educators of varying abilities; this is merely to keep the positions filled. This hugely impacts the student.

Due to the circumstances that we have defined through the Education System that was introduced by the British (and is still sanctified by Bhāratīya society), often, we see that the educator community does not even attempt to acquire the above three. Thus, there is a dilution of purpose, ability as well as self-worth in the educator community. This translates to how they are perceived by the society. While we know that a Guru is to be revered as a path to attain one's true self and realise the highest, the value of teachers is diminishing in today's society.

Educators can be Gurus when they are expected to have all the three traits and the environment enables them to so. This must be our way forward to transform the (inherently) weakening Teacher-Student relationship into the (inherently) strengthening Guru-Śiṣya relationship. With some initiatives in policy and implementation on field, this can be made a reality to ensure our transformation to a knowledge society, just like how Bharata used to be. Then, Bharata will be Viśwaguru.

Jai Hind!