The full-moon night (and day) of the month named ‘Shravan’ is celebrated as Guru Purnima. The dates are given below –
2019 – 16 July, Tuesday. 2020 – 05 July, Sunday. 2021 – 24 July, Saturday
Other observances on 16 July – Sage Veda Vyasa anniversary. First sermon by Buddha.
The first lectures on Yoga
Sapta-Rishi, the seven sages lived at Haridwar. They did Tapasya (prayer and penance) for 84 years. Shiva is also known as ‘Adi Guru’ the first Guru. Then Shiva gave them knowledge of various kinds, including Yoga on the day of Guru Purnima. The 7 sages are represented as 7 stars in the sky and their constellation is known as Big Dipper or Ursa Major. In India, the constellation is commonly known as Sapta-Rishi. When Ganges encountered the 7 meditating sages in Haridwar, she got forked in 7 streams as she didn’t want to disturb them. In the modern times, this is one of the best spot to view and experience Ganges. The following video shows a spot on the place.
Birth anniversary of Ved Vyasa
Ved Vyasa also lived in Haridwar in ancient times. He was also born on the day of guru Purnima. Vyasa wrote ‘Mahabharata’ of which Bhavad-Gita is a part. Mahabharata is a poem many times longer than Iliad and Odyssey combined.
500 B.C.: The first sermon of Buddha
Many (about 13) thousand years later, Buddha crossed Ganges and delivered his first sermon after enlightenment on the day of Guru Purnima.
Importance of the Guru-student relationship
Parents are the first Gurus for a child. It is said that the contribution of parents is so great that a child / person can never repay it in an entire life-time. Yet, in the next birth, there are different sets of parents; the relationship doesn’t continue. The relationship of spouses are considered stronger. It is said that a person gets the same husband or wife, if the love is strong, in 7 births. (This looks like a lot, but remember there are 8.4 million births). Thus, this relationship transcends death. Another relationship that also transcends is of the relationship of man and God, of soul and spirit. There is a couplet by the 15th century mystic poet Sant Kabir –
गुरु गोविंद दोऊ खड़े, काके लागूँ पाँय |
बलिहारी गुरु आपने, गोविंद दियो बताय ||
Guru Govind dono khade kake lagu paay,
Balihari Guru aapne Govind diyo batay.
“If both, Guru and God (Govind) were to appear at the door-way, whose feet will I touch (as mark of respect) first?
It is the Guru’s (feet first), because it is him who points me to the way to God.”
(Image above: art created at AZIMVTH Ashram, titled ‘Binaries and Chromatic-Benisons of Adi-Yogi’)
Remover of darkness
The Sanskrit word ‘Guru’ literally means ‘remover of darkness’. Guru is the teacher, who with her knowledge and experiences, shines a light and enables the student to see the way forward in his quest. The learning is done by the student himself; Guru facilitates it. It is important to note a subtle difference: the luminous Sun’s light illuminates Moon. Moon light shines on Earth. A Guru has her own original light.
A farmer feeds his little boy and a calf maize bread everyday. The little boy eats bread made of maize and grows from being 2 feet tall to 6 feet in due course of time. The same maize is eaten by a calf who grows in to a bull. The maize becomes ‘more boy’ when eaten by the little boy and ‘more calf’ when eaten by a calf. The inner orientations of the two make the transformation happen. Similarly, in a school-class the teacher gives the same education and food-for-thought to all of the students. One student becomes a sportsman, the other a piano player, still another one take to a life of crime. In this sense, the ‘giver’ or ‘what is being’ given has importance next to ‘whom’ it is given. The teacher throws light and helps the students achieve their potential. But this process of throwing light is indeed grand; a good teacher makes all the difference. He can shuffle the hierarchy of importance.
To Sir With Love: I can give you Moon in return
The half-a-century old Hollywood movie, song, and book titled ‘To Sir With Love’ illustrates the nuanced difference between a teacher and a Guru.
The lyrics of the song convey the sense.
“A friend who taught me right from wrong,
And weak from strong — that’s a lot to learn
What — what can I give you in return?
If you wanted the moon,
I would try to make a start… But I
Would rather you let me give my heart
To Sir, With Love.”
A Bollywood movie titled ‘Black’ was based on the life of Helen Keller and shows the important role played by the teacher. In the very first few minutes, the lead character refers to her teacher as an angel.
The female lead character was played by the actress named Rani Mukherjee who also played the lead character in another Bollywood movie titled ‘Hichki‘ which means hiccup. Hichki is Indian adaptation of Brad Cohen’s autobiography Front of the Class: How Tourette Syndrome Made Me the Teacher I Never Had.
Gurukul: Living with the family of the Guru
In old times, children from the elites would shift to a Guru’s house and live there for years doing chores and learning archery, philosophy, scriptures, etc. The Guru’s house would be known as ‘Gurukul’ i.e. ‘family of Guru’. An over hundred year old University in Haridwar is named ‘Gurukul Kangri’. AZIMVTH Ashram is located inside a cluster that was seeded by the University.
(Image to left: Postage stamp, showing front of the Veda Museum of Gurukul Kangri University, Haridwar, issued by India Posts. Image to right: Photograph of the front. Video below: Interiors of the building.)
In the modern times, the meaning of the term Guru has become diffused. A Guru could be a teacher, a teaching-assistant, a gym-trainer, a coach, the University guide etc. But truly speaking, a Guru is someone you can credit with having a profound impact on your life. The person doesn’t need to be in a formal academic setting only.
Tuesdays with Morrie: Teacher becomes Guru
In 2003, T was gifted a copy of the book ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’ by some management students of a top-rated MBA institute whom he was mentoring. the sub-title of the book is “An old man, a young man, and life’s greatest lesson”. Author Mitch Albom is a successful sports columnist. After seeing his former sociological professor Morrie Schwartz appear on TV, Albom phones Schwartz who had ALS. Due to circumstances, he started visiting Schwartz every week, on Tuesdays, 16 years after being his student. The book relives all of the fourteen visits Albom made to Schwartz. Schwartz a teacher when Albom was his student. During these fourteen meetings Schwartz’s talks about life experiences and makes references to contemporary events. (Image to the right: Stage play of Tuesdays With Morrie in Mumbai, India. (c) Kia Scherr.)
Thursdays for Guru: Guru as a counsel, adviser, consultant
The term for Thursday in Sanskrit is ‘Guru-vaar’ meaning Guru-day. One can pay respects to her Gurus every Thursday. Thursday is also known as ‘Brihaspati-vaar’ i.e., ‘the day of Brihaspati’. Brihaspati is the name of the guru who is counsellor to gods. Thus, Guru, besides being a teacher, could also be a counsel, adviser, and consultant – all in positive connotations. In a lighter vein, a consultant is someone who slaps you on back and charge you for a massage! Or, borrow your watch, watch it, and tell you the time. A Guru is someone who slaps you on back to discharge your throat choked with emotions. Or borrow all your watches and chronometers like laptop, mobile phone, clocks etc encourages you to have more time rather than time-measuring-devices.
Unrequited Guru-student relationship
Generally, the relationship between a Guru and student is mutual and recognised. Most relationships are like that. If Ms. A is mother of Ms. B then Ms. B is daughter of Ms. A. It can not be that only a one way relationship or identity exists. As Professor Morrie tells Albom – a person may pass away but not the relationship. Usually there would be an initiation ceremony during which a Guru acknowledges a student and vice-versa.
However, the relationship may be unrequited as well. This story from Mahabharta touches upon the idea. Ekalavya was a tribal boy. He wanted to become a disciple of Guru Dron-acharya, but was not accepted. Then Ekalavya made a mud-figure of Dronacharya and worshipped it as his guru. He practiced for years with strict discipline.
(Image to the left: Eklavya cutting his thumb and giving to his Guru. The mud figure of the Guru is seen in the background. (c) Gita Press.)
One day, Arjuna, the star-student of Drona saw a dog who was unable to bark because his mouth was plugged with arrows in a way that the dog wasn’t harmed. Drona was astonished at the skillful archery. They were able to locate Eklavya and Drona asked him the name of his Guru from whom he learned such masterly archery. Eklavya explained that he considers Drona as his Guru. Arjuna became angry with Drona and asked Drona that Drona should have made Arjuna a greater archer. Drona asked Eklavya to pay him in return for being his ‘student’. Eklavya offered anything his Guru wished for. Drona asked for Eklavya’s right thumb. Eklavya dutifully cut it and gave his thumb knowing well that he will loose his archery that he has been practicing for years.
Guru-gram means the village of Guru. The Eklavya incident is said to have occurred in the suburb of Delhi. The suburb is named after Guru-gram since ancient times. In the great war of Mahabharata, Drona uses Brahmastra, a divine weapon, on common soldiers. See this act going against the norms of warfare, Sapta-Rishi (the seven sages to receive first knowledge of Yoga from Shiva on Guru Purnima) appeared in the firmament and admonished him making him recall the weapon. Drona was later killed with trick rather than a normal combat. Despite his handicap of the severed thumb, Eklavya became a great warrior and rose to a level that Krishna himself fought him. There is a temple dedicated to Eklavya in Gurugram.
Matryoshka dolls: Guru-student-guru…
Matryoshka dolls are made in Russia. They are a set of women’s figures that may be opened at the top. They are in varying decreasing sizes: one can fit one into another so that after arranging they all become one. A true teacher wants his student to be like a doll bigger than him. And expects that the student in turn takes some one else as a student and follow his vision. This way, the stature of the Guru, and the field of knowledge, keeps on increasing, through the teacher-student tradition.
The child is father of the man
In his poem titled ‘The Rainbow’, poet William Wordsworth says, “The child is father of the man.” Deviating from the intend and the present meanings of the sentence and the poem, we can draw our interpretation in the context of Guru Purnima. Even an elder person may learn something from a younger one. And that positions the latter in terms of Guru. Let’s look at some instances.
A little girl who has just started learning her alphabets one day entered the kitchen with her father and says with wonderment, “Papa, look there is an ‘f’!” The father couldn’t see any ‘f’. Then the child takes her father to the sink and points to the curved water-tap whose shape indeed is like the English alphabet f. He never thought that ways. The father learns that there could be many perspectives. On another occasion, a child asks, “Papa why does my shadow not have an eye? But when I see myself in the water-bucket, I see an eye?”
A child walking along with her father in a slum area comes across an over flowing sewer gutter. The father wishes to step fast away from it. The child says, “Look Papa! There is a rainbow!” She was pointing to a bubble in the sewer water that had rainbow colours. The father learns that one can celebrate positive aspects even in a bad situation. Most Yoga sessions end in a closing ode. The third line of the wishing-well mantra is –
“Sarve bhadrani pashyantu”
“May you find auspicious (good) ness.”
You can make a choice of looking at good aspects; it is not necessary that there need to be evident goodness all around you. like the beautiful lotus flower rises above in stagnant water. One can read more here.
Guru-dwara and Thoughts as Guru
One would have seen in India, and also in the West, some Indians — boys, youth, and old men — having flowing beards and long hair tied in a turban. They are a community called ‘Sikhs’. The word Sikh comes from Sanskrit word Shishya which means student. They are followers of ten Gurus — with the first being Guru Nanak and the tenth being Guru Gobind (of Kabir’scouplet given earlier — Both the guru and Gobind (God) are standing…). Guru Gobind formally bestowed the Guruship to their scripture ‘Guru Granth Sahib’ which became the eleventh and the final Guru for the Sikhs. Writings/teachings/thoughts of Kabir and Namdev, and many others, including the ones by the ten Gurus collectively became the scripture. So, it is clearly seen that thoughts can also become Guru.
A temple of the Sikhs is known as a ‘Guru-dwara’ which means the door to the Guru just like Hari-dwar means door to God (Hari – Vishnu). When Guru Nanak visited Haridwar, the famous incident of offering Ganga water by him happened at a place near Har-ki-paidi.
AI as Guru
Thoughts and book of scriptures are Gurus and so could be their mass propagation. The online technologies and MOOC programmes enable that. Artificial Intelligence (AI) would play a big role in future. Author Yuval Hariri in his bestseller book ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” and its sequel touches upon the subject.
A rural school in the Indian state of Maharashtra (of which Mumbai is the capital) is using Amazon’s Alexa as a Guru.
(Image below, (c) The Times of India, retrieved on 10 July 2019.)
The main Guru Mantra is given below.
गुरुर्ब्रह्मा गुरुर्विष्णु र्गुरुर्देवो महेश्वरः
गुरु साक्षात परब्रह्मा तस्मै श्रीगुरवे नमः
Guru Brahma Guru Vishnu, Guru Devo Maheshwara,
Guru Sakshat Param Brahma, Tasmai Shri Gurave Namah.
Guru is the Creator, Guru is the Preserver, Guru-Deva is Salvation-giver,
Guru is the absolute supreme of supremes, Salutations to that Shri Guru.
There are several other Mantras pertaining to Guru. But the above given one is the most potent one. This Mantra is part of the scripture ‘Guru Gita’. A scene from the Hollywood movie ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ ((c) Elizabth Gilbert) is shown below. Here she refers to ‘Guru Gita’.
Guru as god-like
‘Guru Devo Bhavah’ is a common expression which means — Guru is like god. This is actually targeted at the student. The student must have high regards for Guru as he should have for God. But this is not meant for the Guru himself. Just because a student has pious emotions for his Guru shouldn’t make a Guru think that he is actually God-like. The full Mantra (from Scripture Taittriya Upanishad) is –
Matri-devo bhava, Pitri-devo bhava, Acharya-devo bhava, Atithi-devo bhava
This means treat (and respect) like God (Devo) – Mother (Matri), Father (Pitri), Teacher (Acharya), Guest (Atithi).
Many years ago, the Ministry of Tourism of the Government of India had a popular and successful campaign titled ‘Atithi-devo bhava’, the last of the above given 4 part Mantra.
But, what if I don’t have a Guru?
Like a modern mobile phone continuously, whether in use or not, keeps on making a ‘hand-shake’ with a nearby tower, our terrestrial soul is in an intimate union with the celestial spirit. The hunch and the inner-conscience act as our default-Guru. And the mantra given above expands our reach.
An Ishta-Deva can be determined for every person as per the Hindu Astrology. For this, the three circumstances of birth viz. time, date, and place of birth are the determining factors. More information is available here.
The fortnight following Guru-Purnima
Guru-Purnima heralds the onset of the Kanwar Pilgrimage. From that night, for a fotnight, till the no-moon-night, about ten million pilgrims visit Haridwar. They come from hundreds and thousands of villages and towns, mostly in northern India. At Haridwar, they pray and collect and carry back the holy water of Ganges in pots balanced at the two ends of a stick. This device is called ‘kanwar’ giving the name ‘Kanwar Yatra’ to the pilgrimage. They may arrive by any means but they go back on feet to their homes hundreds of miles away. Walking for a fortnight, they have to arrive back to their homes by the no-moon-night. On return, they go to their local Shiva temple and proffer and make libations of the water from Ganges on the Shiva lingas.
A video of the Kanwar Pilgrimage in 2018, shot about a hundred metres away from AZIMVTH Ashram is shown below.
More information is at the following links within AZIMVTH website.
- Guru Purnima: The Guru at Full-Moon
- The Art in Kanwar – 1858 and 2017, Stanford University
- A River on Shoulders: Kanwar Pilgrimage
- A River on Shoulders: Circa 1823, 1858, and 2017 AD in Haridwar
- Kanwar Yatra: Ganges travelling from Haridwar, on shoulders, with prayers
- Charaiveti Mantra: For Walkers, Joggers, and, Movers & Shakers
- Walking is Meditation: Foot Pilgrimage of 5000 km from Istanbul to Haridwar
We have explored and examined the various aspects and facets of the ‘Gurudom’ – counsel, consultant, adviser, teacher, coach, instructor, etc. Another meaning of Guru in Sanskrit language is ‘heavy’ or substantial. Any source that has made a profound or substantial positive impact on a person may be considered as Guru. Money should not have been the key motive in the relationship.
How to celebrate Guru-Purnima
There are several tracks or ways to celebrate the joyous as well solemn occasion that is Guru-Purnima. It is not a festival as common as Diwali, Dussehra, or Holi. Those who are in pursuits of spirituality, mindfulness, conscious-living, Yoga, people living in ashrams and akharas, and those committed to long journeys of classical music and dance observe the festival with more enthusiasm.
Ritual – There are elaborate rituals, chiefly incorporating the above given Guru-Mantra. One offers fragrance, lamp/light, sweets, rice/tilak, and flowers to Guru or his symbol.
Spiritual – This could be a modern innovation. One may devise her own spiritual method. For example, one may sit in a clean and quiet place in solitude with a pen and paper. Write the names of parents and siblings and what have you learnt from them. Stage 2 could be to think and write, on a separate sheet of paper, anyone else who has been a source of learning till the age of 6. Stage 3 may involve thinking about the period of age 7 to 18. Stage 4 for age 18 to 40. And perhaps, lastly 40+ . Besides these, one may recount other sources like key events, experiences, beings of the animal kingdom, inanimates, and nature that have helped in your individual growth. Learnings are made of good as well as bad experiences. For the Guru-Purnima observance, try considering only those sources that were/are positives. Not all of them would be Guru. This exercise should lead to expressing gratitude and respects to the positive forces in life.