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Theosophical Encyclopedia


A Sanskrit word which is most frequently applied to a spiritual teacher but which literally means “heavy, weighty, momentous, serious,” etc. Such teachers would instruct a pupil (sisya) who would, in traditional times, live in the teacher’s home and do various chores for him in return for his instruction. In theosophical literature, such a pupil is usually called a Chela (from the Sanskrit root cil, “put on clothes,” suggesting that the pupil is, metaphorically speaking, “clothing” for the teacher). The guru was usually thought of as a spiritual teacher, instructing the pupil in such things as Vedic lore, but could also be a teacher of other subjects, such as military matters for students of the warrior class. It is evident from descriptions of the guru that he was extremely highly regarded — almost revered — by his pupils.

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