The scriptures tell us that if you see your Guru and God together, then fall at your Guru’s feet first. This is because your Guru shows you the way to God. And this is why the word ‘guru’ means ‘remover of darkness’.
The 15th day of the month of Ashada is celebrated as Guru Purnima, and this year, that day falls upon Saturday, July 12. In Buddhist tradition, this was the day on which Gautama Buddha delivered his first sermon at Saranath, after he attained enlightenment. Since Gautama set the wheel of Buddhism in motion with this discourse, it is known as the Dharmachakra pravarthana sutra.
This day marks the birth of Veda Vyasa, revered in our mythology as the Guru of all Gurus. Vyasa was born to the sage Parashar and a fisherman’s daughter, Satyavati, the same Satyavati who later wed King Shantanu, father of Bhishma.
Veda Vyasa is one of the most important personalities in Indian mythology. Vyasa is the author of the Mahabharata, and is also the progenitor of the Kuru race. For it was he who fathered Dhritharashtra and Pandu, the sons of Vichitravirya. Vyasa played a central role in the key events of the Mahabharata.
Vyasa systematically organised the Vedas, Upanishads and Puranas into various sections, that made it much easier for ordinary people to appreciate our ancient scriptures. After splitting the Vedas into four sub-Vedas, Vyasa first imparted that knowledge to four of his disciples, thus creating the guru-shishya tradition. This system of teaching is unique to India.
Nowhere else in the world is the relationship between a guru and his disciple worshipped as it is in India. The relationship between a Guru and his disciple is considered sacred. It is above and beyond material considerations. It is purely spiritual and totally selfless. The Guru gives to his disciple all that he knows, and he expects nothing in return. The student accepts his Guru’s teachings with humility and reverence. The Gurukula is not a school. It is regarded as a sacred abode, in which the Guru and his disciples live together as one extended family. The term ‘Gurukula’ itself means ‘Guru and his family’. For years, the Guru and his disciples live as one, until the Guru deems it fit for the student to take his place in the world.
The student, before taking his Guru’s leave, offers him Gurudakshina, in acknowledgement of his gratitude for his Guru. No Guru asks for money or for objects of desire, and no student is expected to insult his Guru’s teachings by offering him money as recompense. The Guru usually asks his student to perform a task for him, as did Dronacharya when he asked Arjuna to capture King Drupada, as his Gurudakshina. Arjuna promptly set forth, defeated Drupada after a mighty battle and presented him before his Guru. Drona generously gave Drupada back his freedom but retained half his kingdom, not for personal gain, but to prove to Drupada that he was his equal in all ways.
More often than not, Gurus in ancient India took nothing at all from their students. They would consider their students’ success in the world as their Gurudakshina.
Even in modern times, our reverence for our teachers remains. Even in the age of the Internet and even with all the on-line educational courses available today, there is no substitute for the guiding presence, the motivation, the inspiration, the dedication and the selfless love that a student gets only from a real teacher.
So this Guru Purnima, do not forget to seek your teachers’ blessings – and to show them your gratitude.
“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” William Arthur Ward, 1921-1994.
Cheers … Srini.