In Indian Culture
Why do we celebrate Gurupurnima Day?
Just as you have Father's Day and Mother's Day, Gurupurnima is Guru's Day. This is also called vyasa-purnima, the anniversary of Bhagavan Vyasa who occupies an exalted place in the hierarchy of teachers. Although there were gurus for Veda Vyasa, we look upon Veda Vyasa as the link between teachers we know and teachers we do not know.
On this particulr day, the sannyasins take a vrata, a vow, to any in one place for two months and teach. Gurupurnima occurs at the beginning of the rainy season in India when there are many small insects on the ground. At the time of taking sanyyasa, one takes a vow of not hurting any living being. In order to avoid killing even small insects on their path, the sanyyasins do not travel during these two months, starting from Gurupurnima day. Even though they usually travel from place to place, they stay in one place during this period and teach. Traditionally, the place they choose is located in a river and a stream. They move within the area, without crossing the river or streams.
The vow is called caturmasya-vrata. A masa is a month or a fortnight, pakso vai masah iti. So, a vow for two months is called caturmasyam, four fortnights.
On this day of Gurupurnima, the start of the caturmasyam, they invoke the lineage of teachers, guru-parampara. All the gurus in the parampara, tradition, especially in mathas, traditional monastic places of learning, are invoked.
There are many mathas, including the sankara-mathas. The head of each matha is like a pontiff, and has a certain following. Each one of these heads performs a daily puja to invoke the gurus in the hierarchy. There are at least 16 gurus in the parampara, and the grace of each is invoked in a vessel containing water. That is the ritual aspect.
Guru Purnima is a day when we pay obeisance to the lifeline of this great, unbroken civilization of India -the guru-sisya-parampara or mentor-protege lineage.
India achieved excellence in every field of endeavor because of the Science of Self Management kept alive by the unbroken chain of teacher and student. The word 'guru' means 'one who dispels darkness'. The guru removes the pandemic ignorance that is prevalent and gives us the light of knowledge. Knowledge of who we are, how to relate with the world and achieve true success. Most importantly, how to transcend the world and reach the abode of infinite Bliss which is the hallmark of excellence.
On this day we re-dedicate ourselves to human Perfection. To study, assimilate and live Vedanta so that we may be able to pass it on to future generations as our forefathers did. It is an acknowledgement of the importance of Vedanta in our lives. Vedanta makes us rajarishis – kingly without, sagely within. Minus the rishihood even material success eludes us.
The combination of the teacher’s wisdom and the energy of the student go towards making a vibrant, progressive society. Today students tend to undervalue the teacher and this day helps restore the balance. It stresses on the importance of the guru in every walk of life. A sportsperson’s natural gift and skill acquire direction under the expertise of the coach. A musician’s talent is honed by the dedication of the mentor. In the spiritual path it is the enlightenment of the guru that removes the ignorance in the seeker’s mind.
The teacher-student relationship is accorded paramount importance in Indian culture. The guru occupies the same pedestal given to God. Spiritual growth is impossible without the help of a guru who is Brahma it and Brahmajna – established in the state of God Realization and has the teaching skills to impart the subtle spiritual concepts. Rare is the person who meets with these stringent qualifications. Yet India has been blessed with outstanding sages who have appeared in every generation to keep this unique tradition alive. It is to this singular endowment that we pay our respects. And as a mark of gratitude we offer ourselves as guru daksina and pledge to continue the tradition for generations to come.
For this pranipata or total surrender to the guru is one of the foremost qualifications of a student. This does not imply blind following. The seeker must question, probe and analyze the truths taught so as to understand, absorb and transform his personality to the higher realms – prasna. And finally an attitude of service or seva is the hallmark of an outstanding student.
We invoke the Lord in Guru.
The guru is a human being. When the guru is praised, however, as in the following verse, the human element is not taken into account.
gurureva param brahma
tasmai srigurave namah
The guru is Brahma, the guru is Vishnu,
the guru is Maheswara (Siva), the guru
is the self-revealing limitless Brahman.
Salutations to that revered guru.
Only the truth element is taken into account because the guru teaches that you are Brahman, you are limitless. When he teaches, 'you are limitless,' he does not mean, "I am limited; you are limitless." In fact, you are limitless and he is limitless. The limitless is Brahma, the limitless is Visnu; the limitless is Rudra, or Siva, and the limitless is you.
Everything is this limitless Brahman. So, when you praise the guru, the human element is just completely absorbed in the total. You either relegate the human element to the background, or you absorb it into the total. It is the total that is worshipped. In that way, the guru, the person with a human body who teaches, becomes a kind of an altar of worship, but what is being invoked is the Lord.
When you worship the form of Sri Daksinamurthy in the temple, it is not the form you are worshipping, but the Lord. You invoke and worship the Lord in a particular form. Similarly, when you praise the person who teaches you and for whom you have sraddha, it is not the individual person you praise, but the teaching itself, for what he teaches is not separate from him.
Praise of the guru is praise for the truth of the teaching.
akhandamandalakaram vyaptam yena caracaram,
tatpadam darsitam yena tasmai srigurave namah.
My salutations to that guru who showed me
the abode of the one who is to be known,
whose form is the entire universe and who
pervades all that moves and all that does not move.
Tasmai srigurave namah, unto that guru; my namaskara, my salutation; tatpadam darsitam yena, by whom that pada, that end or abode, was shown very clearly darsitam. And what is that pada? Yena padena caracaram vypatam, by which pada the whole universe is pervaded. Here, pada is Brahma. Yena, by which Brahman, this entire universe, akhanda-mandalakaram, of living beings and inert things, caracaram, is pervaded, vypatam. My salutations to the teacher who has shown me the Lord (the vastu, the reality) in the form of the great universe.
The gaining of any knowledge is the greatest miracle. How is the mind able to grasp a new fact or concept? If you are ignorant by nature, you cannot know and if you know by nature, you need not be taught. The fact is that you cannot see more than you know, yet you keep increasing your existing knowledge; you keep on shedding ignorance. It is because under certain conditions you are able to see. The teacher is the one who creates those conditions. He does so by using reason and by citing your own experiences. In that way, he helps you see. In fact, the teacher creates an inner environment in which you cannot but see. That is what teaching is about. It is a miracle, an impossibility that happens. You cannot see more than you already know; yet you always do. That is how you know more and more. How can that happen? The answer is very simple: you are all-knowledge.
We say that the Lord is all-knowledge; that all-knowledge is in the Lord. Yet, who is this Lord? If the Lord were to say, "I am the Lord," that 'I am' is not going to be any different from the meaning of your statement, 'I am.' When you say, 'I am,' it is exactly the same as the 'I am' of the Lord. There is one limitless consciousness. Consciousness cannot be limited because it is one, and it is formless. The Lord is a conscious being, and the limitless consciousness is the same for the Lord and for you. I am limited only with reference to my body, mind and sense organs. As consciousness, I am limitless. The Lord is also limitless consciousness. Being limitless, there s only one consciousness. If the Lord is all-knowledge, that all-knowledge rests in the consciousness that is one, that is limitless, that is you. This means that all-knowledge rests in you.
Sources: (1) Eassay on "Gurupurnima" by Swamy Dayananda Saraswati &
(2) Article by Smt. Jaya Rao.