Guru, Swami, and Yogi – The Difference

The words Guru, Swami and Yogi are the indicators of a person’s social and spiritual stage. Most people use these words alternatively. But there is difference among these names. The person should qualify or possess particular qualities and wisdom to be called with these names.


Guru literally means “out of darkness into light”. Guru is one of the most widely used word in spiritual, social, corporate and in many other areas across India and in other countries. The purpose of using the word is different, but the central theme of that word is same in all.

To be called as ‘Guru’ a person must possess the qualities, skills and wisdom. Guru is a perfect person possessing perfect practice and knowledge on a particular subject. He should have the ability to teach or train his students or others as per his capabilities on that subject. He has to have the capability to simplify issues related to his mastered subject so that it is easily understood by others.

Types of Gurus – According to “Guru Gita” in “Skanda Purana” authored by Sage “Vyasa”, there are seven types of Gurus.

  1. Suchaka Guru: The person who is subject matter expert.
  2. Bodhaka Guru: The person who gives instructions relating to religion, creed and caste.
  3. Vihita Guru: The person who show Vairagya (dispassion) in society.
  4. Parama Guru: The supreme guru. Dispels the doubts, removes the fear of birth and death, and teaches and shows the path of liberation.
  5. Nishiddha Guru: The person who invokes god’s power with bad intention or for personal use
  6. Vachaka Guru: The person who initiates one into spirituality by giving a Mantra or Diksha.
  7. Karanakhya Guru:The person who gives Sanyasa Diksha (Monk hood)

A guru may be a swami or yogi or other person. For example, Steve Jobs can be called as tech guru because of his expertise in technology and innovation.


Yogi is a person who masters yoga. There are different types of yoga paths. A yogi who masters in any of them is commonly called a Yogi. If any specific yoga path is added before yogi means he is master in that yoga path. For example, a person mastered in Hatha yoga is called as Hatha yogi, if in Karma Yoga called as Karma Yogi.

Characteristics of a yogi:

  • Practice: Practical knowledge about all the stages of yoga and achieved the final goal
  • Psychological control: A Yogi’s psychological position is stable. Outside situation can impact, but for a very short period of time, he can be able to get back to his calm and natural situation quicker than a normal human.
  • Physical control: Yogi renounces to control desires for satisfaction of his senses like sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. Yogi have those senses but use only for required.
  • Marital status: He is either married or unmarried.

A yogi is basically not a guru. If he wants to teach his expertise to others then he becomes guru. For example, B. K. S. Iyengar mastered Hata yoga practice. So he is a Hata yogi. Latter he decided to teach the yoga postures. So he became a Guru.


A person who voluntarily works for the sake of every being including self, in a way of spiritual and social development is called as Swami. He does not consider any differentiation in the social life such as caste religion etc. to serve.

Characteristics of a Swami:

  • Marital status: A swami should not marry.
  • Prerequisites: A swami is not necessarily a priest, monk, or need not to be religious. The only prerequisite is willingness.
  • Possession: A Swami possesses only the basic requirements to maintain the body. He never tries to earn money and save for himself.
  • Duties: Swami strives for self-realization and liberation for the benefit of the world and for self.
  • Selfless service: A swami helps others in social and spiritual but does not expect anything from his services for self.

A swami can become a guru if he gains knowledge in a particular subject and is interested to preach. But he can become a yogi only when he meets the characteristics of yogi.

Swami Vivekananda, and Paramahansa Yogananda fulfill all the three categories. They taught the public on many issues, they are masters in yoga and both were initiated into swami hood and gave selfless service to the society.

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2 comments on “Guru, Swami, and Yogi – The Difference”

  1. Deepak Chaturvedi says:

    This is an article that makes you think “never thought of that!”

  2. “For example, B. K. S. Iyengar mastered Hata yoga practice. So he is a Hata yogi. Latter he decided to teach the yoga postures. So he became a Guru.”

    Sorry but this statement is inaccurate. Later in his life, he taught Pantanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Postures are emphasized in Hatha Yoga.