Ever notice the translation given for some mantras use the word "guru" or "by guru's grace"? If you have to ask for translation of the mantra "ek ong kar sat Gur prasad", using one of the foreign words in the definition isn't likely to give clarity enough. At least, that's how I used to feel about the assumption that I understood this concept.
At my first Summer Solstice Sadhana in New Mexico, a friend told me the concept of "Guru" in Sikhism was like the Christian concept of the Holy Spirit. Now if that's helpful for you, you could stop reading right now. However, it seems I knew much the same amount about Christianity at the time as Sikhism.
Often we are told Guru is the catalyst that takes us from darkness into light. Again, not very helpful unless you understand the paradigm you are working in.
So here goes... The Sikh concept of the world is that our physical and emotional "reality" in an illusion called Maya. (Funny enough, this is a rather popular girl's name. Coincidence?) God has created this Maya, this world of textures, colors, houses, animals, deceit, coziness, sweetness, hatred... You name it, it's God.
For Sikhs, there is no "hell" beyond the mindspace we create for ourselves when we believe this Maya is all there is. In short, when we forget God. So "darkness" is a faith in illusion. We believe our shoes define our status, our wrinkles make us old, our husband is annoying, our children belong to us. This can show up in so many ways and we are all guilty of it much of the time. The real "spiritual" people just have a more rigorous practice of remembering God.
When we are in "light" we remember that we are not our body, our money, our children, our pain or our glee. We are part of an infinite energy force that runs through and around EVERYTHING!
So, Guru can be anything that shifts our myopic understanding of our finite limited self to our TRUE nature of infinite and unlimited. Too new-age?
How about this: Guru allows you to transcend the anger you feel at your neighbor and experience the unconditional joy of your breath. Yoga can be Guru. Sometimes a person can act as Guru by pointing something out our soul has been longing to hear... In those moments when someone says the exact perfect thing at the exact right time. That was Guru.
It's not the yoga or the person per se who IS the guru. It's that the guru is working through them to bring you into awareness of your truth, your essence: the real reality, which is that nothing is happening randomly or to hurt you. It's all an unfolding of your spiritual development, if you choose to receive its gift. If you choose to learn the lesson the guru is teaching you in that moment, you experience gratitude and you "pass" that pop quiz life handed you. You won't have to repeat that lesson again. Go you!
This, I believe is Guru's Grace: the "YES I will accept this lesson" moment.
If you fail your pop quiz, have no fear. Guru is all about make-up tests!
Enjoy this game of life.
By Guru's Grace we may just master it.