Hindu Concepts of Teacher Sanskrit Guru and Ācārya

  • Minoru Hara
Part of the Studies of Classical India book series (STCI, volume 2)


The Sanskrit words ācārya and guru both have the meaning of ‘teacher’. The etymology of ācārya is not certain. It is generally supposed to derive from ācāra, right conduct, or fromācarati, to approach, to go to as for instruction, or from ācinoti, to accumulate knowledge, wealth or merit.2 Guru derives from an Indo-european word for ‘heavy’, its semantic development being from heavy to important, awesome, thus, an elder, a teacher.3 However, it is not with etymologies that we are here concerned, but with the finished product. In Sanskrit commentaries and versified texts the two words are freely interchanged, as though they were exact synonyms.4 However, the two words had separate origins, and to attribute equal semantic value to these apparently synonymous words may efface the subtle nuance attached to each.5 In the pages which follow, we shall examine briefly the passages where these words occur, bring to the light the aspects in which the two words distinguish themselves from each other, and ascertain several distinctive connotations of both words. It is with gratitude and respect toward my guru, who is at the same time a great ācārya in Indological Studies, that I here take up the Hindu concepts of teacher, and dedicate this small contribution to the guru-pūjā-kaumudī of Professor Daniel H.H. Ingalls.


Plural Form Versify Text Final Liberation Synonymous Word Sanskrit Series 
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    E.W. Hopkins, The Great Epic of India (New Haven, 1920 ), p. 380.Google Scholar
  3. 48.
    L. Renou, Etudes vediques et pānineennes 6(Paris, 1960) p. 79Google Scholar
  4. 49.
    H. Jacobi, ‘Über die Echtheīt des Kautiliya,’ Kleine Schriften 1 (Wiesbaden, 1970), pp. 527 ff.Google Scholar
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    J.J. Meyer, Über das Wesen der altindischen Rechtsschriften (Leipzig, 1927), p. 261Google Scholar
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    F. Wilhelm, Politische Polemiken im Staatslehrbuch des Kautalya (Wiesbaden, 1960), p. 4 and pp. 79 ffGoogle Scholar
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    B. Ghosh, ‘Pūrvācāryas in Pānini,’ D.R. Bhandarkar Volume (Calcutta, 1940 ), pp. 21–24.Google Scholar

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© D. Reidel Publishing Company 1979

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  • Minoru Hara

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