Guru Purnima was celebrated on July 5. The period Chaturmas (four months) begins from this day. The full moon day in the Hindu month of Ashad (July-August) is observed as the Guru Purnima day in memory of the great sage Vyasa, originally known as Krishna Dwaipayana. Sage Vyasa is described as the son of sage Parasara and Matsyagandhi was born on this day.
Sage Vyasa did yeoman service to the cause of Vedic studies by gathering all the Vedic hymns extant during his times, dividing them into four parts based on their use in the sacrificial rites, and teaching them to his four chief disciples. It was this dividing and editing that earned him the honorific ‘Vyasa’ (Vyasa means to edit, to divide) title. He is also said to have written the 18 Puranas, the Mahabharata and the Srimad Bhagavata. Vyasa even taught Dattatreya, who is regarded as the Guru of Gurus.
‘Guru’ is an honorific designation of a preceptor and is regarded as a vehicle of divine power, and hence entitled to receive the most implicit obedience from his disciples. The Gurus, in general, rank as the first and most distinguished order of society in ancient India. In Vedic tradition, the Guru is looked upon as one no less than a God. Basically, the Guru is a spiritual teacher leading the disciple on the path of ‘god-realisation’. In essence, the Guru is considered as a respected person with saintly qualities who enlightens the mind of his disciples.
On the Guru Purnima day, all spiritual aspirants and devotees worship their Gurus from whom they got diksha. The spiritual Gurus are revered on this day by remembering their lives and teachings. They also conduct poojas in the name of Vyasa in honour of his divine personage. Traditionally, spiritual seekers commence their spiritual sadhana from this day. They believe that the Guru is the only guarantee for the individual to transcend the bondage of sorrow and death, and experience the Consciousness of the Reality.
In olden days, wandering spiritual masters and their disciples used to settle down at a place to study and discourse on the Brahma Sutras composed by Vyasa, and engage themselves in Vedantic discussions. The Vishnu Smriti and Manu Smriti regard the Acharya (teacher) as the most venerable Guru of an individual, along with the mother and the father. In the Guru Gita, it is stated that the Guru’s form should be meditated upon; the feet of the Guru should be worshipped; his words are to be treated as a sacred mantra; and his grace ensures final liberation.
It is advised that the spiritual aspirants should wake up at the Brahmamuhurta (4 am) on this day and meditate on the Guru and chant his prayers. They should pray to him for his grace. One can also observe the vow of silence and study the books or writings of one’s Guru, or mentally reflect upon his teachings. The best form of worship of the Guru is to follow his teachings and to propagate his glory.
The Upanishads have underlined the role of the Guru. The Mundak Upanishad says that to realise the supreme Godhead; one should surrender himself before the Guru who knows the secrets of the Vedas. The Kathopanishad speaks of the Guru as the preceptor who alone can guide the disciple on the spiritual path.
Gradually, the institution of Gurukula, where disciples learnt at the feet of the Guru for long years, was evolved. The ancient universities at Takshashila, Vikramashila and Nalanda evolved from these gurukulas. It is believed that at the Nalanda University, there were more than 1,500 teachers teaching various subjects to more than 10,000 students and monks.
From generation to generation, the institution of the Guru has evolved various tenets of Indian culture and transmitted spiritual and fundamental knowledge. The Gurus formed the axis of ancient educational system, and they enriched various fields of learning and culture by their creative thinking.
According to Brahmanda Purana (1.4.21) sage Vyasa divided the Vedas into four, viz. Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva and the Itihasas and the Puranas are said to be the fifth Veda.
The relationship between the Guru and the disciple is considered very sacred, and is purely spiritual in nature based on gyan (spiritual knowledge) and sadhana (spiritual practice). A guide is needed in one’s spiritual journey and he/she needs to be an authority in a particular field. A person who is an authority in the field of spirituality is known as a Guru. He is someone, who has already walked the spiritual road under the guidance of His Spiritual Guide and has access to the Universal Mind and Intellect.
The Guru guides his disciples according to their spiritual level and the capacity to imbibe knowledge and helping to develop skills such as perseverance, dedication, tenacity, compassion etc. All these skills are intrinsic to being a good seeker and vital to sustaining our spiritual journey.
(The author is a social activist and can be contacted on [email protected])