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 that 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 on Tuesday, July 19th. 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 scriptures 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 Vedic history. He is the author of the Mahabharata and the progenitor of the Kuru race.
Vyasa systematically organised the Vedas, Upanishads and Puranas, and 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 was the relationship between a guru and his disciple worshipped as it was in Vedic India. The relationship between a Guru and his disciple was considered sacred, above and beyond material considerations. It was purely spiritual and totally selfless. The Guru gave to his disciple all that he knew and he expected nothing in return. The student accepted his Guru’s teachings with humility and reverence. The Gurukula was not a school. It was regarded as a sacred abode, in which the Guru and his disciples lived together as one extended family. The term ‘Gurukula’ itself means ‘Guru and his family’. For years, the Guru and his disciples would live as one, until the Guru deemed it fit for the student to take his place in the world.
The student, before taking his Guru’s leave, would offer him Gurudakshina, in acknowledgement of his gratitude for his Guru. No Guru asked for money or for objects of desire, and no student was expected to insult his Guru’s teachings by offering him money as recompense. The Guru usually asked his student to perform a task for him, as did Dronacharya when he asked Arjuna to capture King Drupada. Arjuna promptly set forth, defeated Drupada after a mighty battle and presented him before his Guru. Drona generously gave back Drupada his freedom but retained half his kingdom, not for personal gain, but to let Drupada know 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 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.