Question: What is the difference between the terms "Guru," "Swami" and "Sri"?

Sri Chinmoy: There are two types of Gurus. One is a very high spiritual Master and the other one is like a mentor. Tagore, for example, did not claim to be a realised soul, far from it. But his students used to call him “Gurudev”, and he used to sign himself “Gurudev”. In Indian villages, each household must have a Guru. My mother had implicit faith in our Guru. A Guru can be a village-type of Guru, or he can be a very highly advanced soul.

The term “Sri” is used when the disciples feel that their Master has reached a very high state of consciousness. Ordinary people are also sometimes called “Sri"; for example “Sri” is sometimes used to address a minister. Usually one who has realised the Highest will be called “Sri,” like Sri Ramakrishna. Sometimes disciples use two, even three “Sris” for their Master, instead of one. “Sri” is used for the highest spiritual Masters who are far superior to Swamis. Vivekananda, for example, called himself Swami. He would not dare to call himself “Sri” because he knew his status. He was infinitely inferior to his Guru Sri Ramakrishna in terms of height, as was another close disciple, Swami Brahmananda. If these men had achieved their highest realisation, whether others had recognised it or not, they could have called themselves “Sri.” However, if a Swami attains a realisation on a lower level, he cannot be called “Sri” because he is still far inferior. There can be so much difference between one God-realised soul and another. Some ordinary Yogis in India are also far superior to the so-called “Swamis” that I see here. So these days the word “Guru” has become a farce; even Hatha Yoga teachers call themselves “Gurus.” Everything has been twisted. But from the highest point of view, “Sri” and “Guru” go together.