Who or what is a guru?
Many religions honour their founder or great teacher in various ways. Hindu dharma is perhaps unique in honouring the guru or spiritual master as a principle in itself beyond any particular personality, philosophy or revelation.
The true guru is a position of spiritual guidance, the illuminating presence of a higher awareness. The guru is not limited to any physical person, however exalted he or she may be.
The guru is an inner institution, an authority rooted in an experiential wisdom, not in any mere human convention. The guru works to awaken us to our own Divine potential beyond the limitations of time and space, fear or desire.
Great souls who hold the position of the guru have a special honour and immense responsibility that can only be served in a selfless manner. The true guru is not conscious of being a guru to others, but of simply sharing the light of truth to dispel the darkness of ignorance.
The guru is a powerful conduit to the universal flow of knowledge. As such, there is only one true guru in all gurus. The guru is the guiding intelligence of the universal and eternal dharma that assumes many names and forms.
The importance of having a guru resides in being able to connect with the transcendent realm through a human representative. We should emphasise the guru’s teachings, rather focusing on outer appearances.
It is the ability to surrender the human mind and its opinions that makes for a true guru. The true guru teaches a path of self-realisation, giving us back our own true nature, not making us weak or dependent.
Guru Purnima – the full moon of the universal guru
Guru Purnima is the day of the Hindu lunar calendar established for honouring the guru in every form, all the teachers, educators and teachings that help us in life, through various rituals, mantras and meditation performed in their honour.
Yet it is the spiritual master as the cosmic guru that is the main focus. On this day, one should dedicate oneself to following the guru’s instruction and putting it into practice. The guru principle is most active at this time, and we can more easily connect with notable gurus past or present.
Guru Purnima marks the birthday of Veda Vyasa, who structured the four Vedas, composed the epic of the Mahabharata, and created the foundation for the many Puranas, the vast encyclopedias of Hindu sacred lore.
As such, Veda Vyasa developed the foundation for Hindu dharma as it endures to the present day, with its main deity forms, philosophies and yogic paths. Yet Veda Vyasa stayed in the background and never made himself into an object of worship.
Veda Vyasa is said to have used Ganesha as his scribe. What this means is that his teachings were embedded in the cosmic mind, not simply composed at a human level. Ganesha rules over the organisation of all higher knowledge.
Guru Purnima represents the date on which Lord Shiva as the Adi Guru or original guru taught the seven rishis who were the seers of the Vedas. This reflects the fact that Shiva is Omkara and all the higher teachings arise out of Om as the Divine Word and cosmic sound vibration.
In the Yoga Sutras, Ishvara as Pranava or Om is said to be the Adi Guru of Yoga. Lord Buddha was said to have delivered his first sermon on this day at Sarnath, reflecting the power of this sacred time.
India’s most important gift to the world is its many great gurus. Since Swami Vivekananda in the late 19th century, a galaxy of monumental teachers has inspired humanity, and awakened India to its true role as the guru among nations.
Today, a new generation of gurus is arising to continue the process of sharing the universal knowledge in this new era of global communication.
While not all gurus are great, great gurus are always present, particularly in India, some prominent in public activities, others known only to a few.
Guru Purnima falls on 9 July in 2017
This article was first published in the DailyO and has been republished here with permission.