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 Brahmavit 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.
Guru Purnima is also referred to as Vyasa Purnima in recognition of the vital role played by Vyasa in the preservation of Vedanta. Vyasa was the one who codified the Vedas. The seat from which any spiritual or Vedic teaching is imparted is referred to as Vyasapeetha in acknowledgement of Vyasa’s immense contribution to Vedanta. All teachers bow to Vyasa before taking the seat. He is revered as the first guru although the guru-sisya parampara started long before his time.
Vyasa was the son of the sage Parasara and a fisherwoman Satyavati, and the grandson of the renowned sage Vasistha. He personified the combination of sagely wisdom and the practical approach of the fisherwoman. It is essential to cultivate both to excel in life. Vyasa was born on the full moon day (Purnima) of Asadh (a month of the Hindu calendar). ‘Purnima‘ denotes illumination and Vyasa Purnima points to spiritual Enlightenment.
Vyasa is considered to be the incarnation of Lord Visnu. There were supposed to be 28 such Veda Vyasas of which he was the last. The saying is that we have been promised a 29th Vyasa who is yet to come! Apart from codifying the Vedas Vyasa wrote the epic Mahabharata consisting of almost one lakh verses. It is referred to as the fifth Veda. He also composed the Puranas and Brahma sutras.
In writing the Mahabharata he had as his stenographer Lord Ganesha. Ganesha had stipulated the condition that the dictation had to be in a continuous flow, without a break. Vyasa accepted the challenge but put down his own condition that Ganesha had to understand every word dictated. So the saying goes that whenever Vyasa wanted a break he would dictate a verse that was very difficult to understand. This gave him the much-needed respite!
The Mahabharata is not only a work of art, poetic excellence and entertainment, it has inspired generations of Indians right through the ages with its useful instructions on life and the immortal message of the Bhagavad-Gita.
Oliver Goldsmith’s saying
“And still they gazed, and still the wonder grew that one small head could carry all he knew.”
is an apt description of the great sage Vyasa to whom we offer our respects on the day of Guru Purnima.