Guru Purnima is the day when we pay homage to the Gurus who have touched our lives directly and indirectly. It also happens to be sage Veda Vyasa’s Jayanti.
The importance and value of a Guru is brought out so well by this couplet which many of us have been chanting since childhood:
गुरुर्ब्रह्मा गुरुर्विष्णुर्गुरुर्देवो महेश्वरः
गुरु साक्षात् परं ब्रह्म तस्मै श्रीगुरवे नमः
Gurur Brahma Gurur Vishnur Gurur Devo Maheshwaraha
Guru saakshaat param brahma tasmai Sri Gurave namaha
Guru is given the exalted position of the Trinity – Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, and going one step further, the Guru is equated with the very Para Brahma, the Supreme Being.
Those who have studied Hindi in middle school would have learnt this well- known doha of Sant Kabir.
गुरु गोबिन्द दोउ खडे काके लागूँ पाँय
बलिहारी गुरु आपने गोबिन्द दियो बताय
Guru Govind dono khade kake lagu paay
Balihari Guru aapki Govind diyo batay.
Sant Kabir says that if both God and Guru were to appear before him at once, he would have no hesitation in touching the feet of his Guru, because without him, there was no way he could have learnt about God.
Clearly Guru is an exalted being.
Coming to the meaning of the term, at the elementary level, a guru can be called a teacher. According to the Oxford online dictionary a teacher is a person who teaches, especially in a school.
Taken in this narrow sense, teacher only partly describes a guru, as there are so many more facets to a Guru.
Guru literally means large, weighty, long, extended, important, prominent. Other synonyms include arduous, difficult, intense, venerable, best and excellent – all of them apply to an evolved spiritual master or spiritual guide who is known in the religious and spiritual traditions of India and the East as Guru. (I found this link very informative).
Incidentally the dictionary definition of a Guru is a Hindu spiritual guru, though the synonyms are closer to the actual meaning (mentor, sage, guide, leading light, etc.) Today we use guru to mean an expert in any field as in management guru.
Given the dictionary meaning of the word, it would surely alienate a large number of people who associate it with Hindu Dharma, which, to my mind is doing a great disservice to the tradition of gurus who have enriched Indian culture through the ages. All the religions of the East – Hindu Dharma, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism – have a tradition of guru-shishya parampara.
It would pertinent here to quote Swami Sivananda who has emphasised the contribution of this parampara in preserving our culture:
“…. many precious factors in our ancient cultural heritage have been rejected and set aside as superstition. The hoary and the most precious spiritual conception of the
Guru is one such factor that has come to be misunderstood and misinterpreted in the present age.
The traditional concept of the Guru is a unique and wonderful gem in the cultural treasury of Bharatavarsha. It is our most precious possession. For, it is this conception that is to a large extent responsible for the safe and unbroken perpetuation of some of the most precious aspects of this great nation’s grand spiritual heritage.”
A spiritual guru guides us to connect with the Brahman within us by making us see the inner light and basking in its glow. Sri Aurobindo has explained how the guru awakens the shishya by three methods in: Teaching, Example and Influence.
I can’t think of a better example for a Guru than Lord Shiva, who as Dakshinamurti is the Cosmic Guru.
मौनव्याख्या प्रकटित परब्रह्मतत्त्वं युवानं
वर्षिष्ठांते वसद् ऋषिगणैः आवृतं ब्रह्मनिष्ठैः ।
आचार्येन्द्रं करकलित चिन्मुद्रमानंदमूर्तिं
स्वात्मारामं मुदितवदनं दक्षिणामूर्तिमीडे
Loosely translated, the verse means that the guru, himself young and smiling blissfully, through profound silence and the chin mudra (the hand gesture denoting knowledge of the Brahman) – is awakening the Brahman within his disciples who are older than him in age.
What a wonderful way to teach one’s students without external words!
And who can forget Lord Krishna, that wonderful Guru who gave the entire life’s secret to his disciple Arjuna and that too in the battlefield of Kurukshetra? The Bhagavad Gita is a treasury of knowledge which, if deeply and properly imbibed will help any human to navigate this life?
In Indian and other eastern cultures, Guru refers to everyone – regardless of their age and position in life – who take us one step higher on the spiritual ladder, with the experiences they put us through. Thus even a child can be our guru if he or she awakens our consciousness in any way.
There is a legend in Skanda Purana, which brings out this truth. It also has Lord Shiva in it – this time as a student, with the teacher being his son Lord Subrahmanya.
The legend goes that Lord Subrahmanya taught his father the meaning of the pranava mantra OM – perched on Lord Shiva’s shoulder – because a teacher has to occupy a seat higher than his student. Shiva being the highest of every being in the Universe, he had to lift his son on his shoulder (so that the Guru might be on a higher seat) to imbibe the meaning of OM whispered by Lord Subrahmanya in his ear. He thus became Kumara Guru and Swaminatha. Read this legend here.
In our culture, we hold all those as our gurus who teach us something of value, not necessarily in academics, not necessarily in schools – but even outside it. In fact, if we humble ourselves enough to accept all those whom we come in contact with as our gurus, we would not only benefit immensely but also gain knowledge and a better insight about the world, humanity and ourselves. For often it is our reactions to people and situations, no matter who or what they are, whether or not they love/like us that teach us these lessons. The lessons could be big or small, pleasant or otherwise – but they are all of some value in our spiritual growth.
And that is the first step towards the realisation of the Brahman within us, isn’t it?
May the grace of the Guru be us all on this Guru Purnima! #GuruPurnima
In her comments on the original post, my friend Beloo had shared this beautiful passage from Sri Aurobindo, which I am adding here:
“As the supreme Shastra of the integral Yoga is the eternal Veda secret in the heart of every man, so its supreme Guide and Teacher is the inner Guide, the World-Teacher, jagad-guru, secret within us. It is he who destroys our darkness by the resplendent light of his knowledge; that light becomes within us the increasing glory of his own self-revelation. He discloses progressively in us his own nature of freedom, bliss, love, power, immortal being. He sets above us his divine example as our ideal and transforms the lower existence into a reflection of that which it contemplates. By the inpouring of his own influence and presence into us he enables the individual being to attain to identity with the universal and transcendent.” ~ Sri Aurobindo (Synthesis of Yoga)
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