Vedantic Wednesday: On Guru Purnima

It’s been a week of celebration. Many of us in a variety of manner have expressed our gratitude to our Guru, on the occasion ofguru Guru Purnima. I too had an opportunity to meet my guru this Monday, the day of Guru Purnima to express my gratitude towards his benevolence and the silent shaping of my thoughts and actions.

In general, Guru is a much needed person in our quest for any type of knowledge. But he gains immense significance when it comes to our spiritual pursuits. In this Guru influences us in two key ways. First he holds our hands as he opens to us slowly and systematically questions that lead us to unravel the mysteries that lie deep within. Second, he holds our hands as we falter in the journey, tend to slip back into the earlier ways or doubt the tenacity of truth. He tells us through silence that he is there for us and with us in our journey.

On this occasion of Guru Purnima, let’s salute the galaxy of sages and masters who have taken it upon themselves to uplift mankind by patiently holding our hands and leading us to the altar of higher evolution. Let’s take a minute to express our gratitude to the graciousness of our guru-shishya parampara that has enabled transferring of the highest knowledge so faithfully across so many generations  – a miracle indeed in itself!


Vedantic Wednesday: The Three Influencers

Many people play a role in shaping our personality.  The process of shaping us starts from the 5_05_31_47_sondara_gurukulam_1_H@@IGHT_215_W@@IDTH_400time we are born and continues almost till the last day of our lives.  Each one’s influence on us and the resultant change varies based on many factors. Mentors, Coaches, heroes etc have their own levels of impact.  But there are three people whose influence is fairly permanent. Their influence shape our basic personality . Each of these three people give us an aspect that makes us who we are.

The first one is our Mother. A mother’s relation to her child is special. This relationship instills purity in us. The importance of purity of thought, action and deed cannot be explained enough especially in today’s world. When we see the atrocities being meted out by one on another, this aspect of purity becomes important. And purity of thought and action is what every child experiences and infers through the love of their mother.

The second person is our Father.  While the mother, creates the child and instills in him/her purity of thought, it is the father’s responsibility to instill discipline in the child. Discipline means self restraint or self control. When temptations and attractions arise in the world, the child learns this by instruction from his father and reinforces it by watching the father practice it.

The third is our teacher.  Ask anyone in the later part of their years, they are bound to tell you the name of atleast one (if not more) teacher who has had a hand in their current success. While in the olden days, the term teacher referred to a single person providing and enabling the child’s learning across various aspects that are required for life, in today’s circumstances it is often a combination of teachers. Even among the many teachers, the teacher who you remember – longest in your life is the one who taught you or instructed you on life and living. This was beyond the subject that they taught. Instructions for life are always best given by and taken from a teacher.

Whose responsibility is it to ensure the child picks up purity, discipline and instructions so as to live a responsible life? Can we blame the mother for a grown up man who misbehaves? Should we blame the father for the irrational  indulgence , addiction? Can we blame the teachers for the un-perfected and selfish social actions of the grown-ups? Or is it the child we blame for not having picked up any of this when it had to?

In today’s fast changing, distraction prone and achievement focused world, if the above three (purity of thought, self-restraint and way of right living) are NOT inculcated in the early years, we could start seeing self destructive behaviors become more rampant , eventually leading to our own extinction. Blame who you want today for what has already been created.  But we need to find a way to ensure these are inculcated early if we want to have a meaningful future.

“Mata – Pita – Guru – Daivam”  a often quoted phrase! I realised there is a reason for this order. It is only with what the mother, father and the teacher collectively give a child, can it realize and live life the right way. And it is on the foundation of this learning can the child on growing up  begin to understand his innate divinity. And it is only with the learning from these three can he even hope to realise SELF – or Daivam!

At some point in time we all would be playing atleast one of these roles in someone’s life. Let us understand our responsibility and do whatever is required to play it to perfection!

Vedantic Wednesday: But why do we need a guru?

The need for a Guru is an often debated concept in recent times. Since much of the material is available and accessible to most of us, the need for someone who is required simply to explain these materials is confounding. When self-learning at a pace that suits and a regime that is comfortable is gaining popularity, spiritual path still stoically demands the presence of a guru. Some reasons why a Guru becomes indispensible in this journey:

a. Self-knowledge has to be revealed: It is important to know that the ‘self’ is not like the other objects that we recognize through our sense organs and then understand them. Since the self is the subject and not the object, it has to be discovered or revealed. This can be done only by a person who has experienced it, apart from knowing how to enable it for another person.

b. Guru is the proof of this knowledge: Since this knowledge is subtle, most of us find it difficult to comprehend and persevere along the path to realizing the self. Hence during these times, the Guru who has realized this truth becomes the beacon of light. He is a constant reminder that this knowledge is the truth since he is living it in front of our eyes. Hence the Guru becomes the inspiration and the teacher leading the way. He provides the needed proof that the goals of self-realization and liberation are attainable goals.

c. Knowledge of Sanskrit is insufficient: Reading the Upanisads and other prasthana-trayi may be possible if one has the knowledge of Sanskrit. But this does not help since it will become only a mere intellectual exercise. Even for one who is adept in the language understanding becomes difficult since the texts are full of contradictions. While many people may dismiss it as prattle by the inexperienced, only a ‘srotriya-brahma-nistha’ Guru can help you see the message hidden behind the words. Hence we need a Guru to elaborate and help us imbibe the concepts and also help us to live it as we learn.

Based on the above three reasons, it becomes obvious that it will fairly impossible for one to go through the learning of the subject of ‘self knowledge’ without a Guru, thus making him or her indispensible in this journey.

Vedantic Wednesday: Role of a Guru

A spiritual Guru is often referred to as a teacher. The word teacher however is very loosely used in the day to day conversations to denote an instructor, facilitator, trainer etc.  By comparing the Sanskrit word ‘Guru’ to the English word ‘ Teacher’ we have grossly misunderstood the true essence of the Sanskrit term, reducing it to a more theoretical or skill based interaction.  There are many references in our Vedic texts that explain the choice of this word Guru. Etymological origins can be traced to the two syllables – ‘Gu’ (meaning darkness) and ‘Ru’ (meaning dispels or shatters). Guru then is that person who dispels our spiritual ignorance.

In the spiritual journey of a person, having a Guru is the most essential of requirements. The spiritual development of an individual is like the foundation of the building. It has to be well laid so as to hold the structure for a long period of time. While the building may be modified and rebuilt a number of times, the foundation is rarely altered. 

While doing such a fundamental and critical learning, it becomes essential for a seeker/student to find the right Guru. This search has to be continued till the right relationship is struck. Once the relationship is firmed up, the student should truly devout himself and allow being led by the Guru.  The Guru’s role is to show direction and explain the significance and clarify doubts.  In the absence of a Guru we could lose our way in the learning process. This will create both disinterest and disillusionment.

While it is very important to have a Guru by our side, the Guru fully knows when he has to drop holding our hands.  Unlike in any other pursuit of knowledge, where experience of the teacher can be translated through theories and formulas, experience of one in the spiritual journey is just information for another.  The realization of SELF comes through the single minute of deep connect that one has to individually experience. The Guru helps us prepare ourselves and become available for that connect. The reason why masters of realization do not talk about their experience or of god is because it reduces it to information. This is also the reason why a true seeker is always advised to go off the path of knowledge after a while. More attention and focus is given to the acts of contemplation and introspection.  

A Guru is one who at the appropriate times will disturb the student’s tendency to get caught up in the process of accumulation of knowledge. It is only through experience that enlightenment or SELF realization is reached. No amount of knowledge in quantity or quality can ever replace or substitute the experience. It is therefore important to have someone who can constantly disturb our understanding and goad us to go back to feeling like a seeker at the starting point – bereft of any bias. This one act of the Guru is probably the greatest service they render that enables one more student to reach the state of enlightenment.

Every teacher’s aspiration is to create a student who goes beyond him in the journey of learning. This makes the relationship between a student and a teacher highly sacred.  A ‘Guru’ is that teacher who will lead and equip you for the journey into the unknown.  

Having said this, it is a challenge to find one’s ‘Guru’ . The search for the ‘Guru’, demands patience,  humility, commitment, perseverance, complete belief and surrender from the part of the student.  But without this ‘Guru’ it is very difficult to attain wisdom!

Books and Me: Living with the Himalayan Masters

Book Name: Living With The Himalayan Masters

Author         : Swami Rama

 Of late, the number of books by people taking the spiritual has increased. From a very pure economic stand point of law of supply and demand it is rational that the number of spiritual masters keep pace with the volume of seekers. Hence number of books related to the lives of these masters and their experiences is an obvious fall out.  And there are many gems hidden in the available set of literature. The uniqueness of this genre is establishing connect with a book is a highly personalized experience of the reader.  And when a book connects – the reading becomes a journey!

As a lover of books and one who enjoys reading art in literary form any book in this genre seem equally enticing for purchase.  One book that I did purchase recently was the “Living with the Himalayan Masters”  by Swami Rama. The book’s title did intrigue me, and I must admit that this was one book of this genre that I completed reading in a fairly short duration of time.  I did not mark a single line in the book to make notes; but I think that this is a book that I may want to reread again later, maybe multiple times.

The book is worthy of one’s time for a number of reasons.  One; if you like stories. Two; if you like deciphering mystery. Three; if you would like to get a glimpse of the majestic Himalayan range. Four; if you like to read travelogue. Five; if you like reading works written in the first person.

But the real message of the book in my view lies hidden beyond the words.  It seems like an honest account of a seeker’s journey. It has all the doubts, emotions, questions and thirst of any inquisitive individual. The beauty of the education is through the journey itself.

Few things that the book makes clear are

  • the approach to learning is unique to the individual
  • most of such journey requires a teacher to steer the path
  • it is not one but a bouquet of experiences that shape the individual
  • the influence of meeting enlightened masters
  • keeping the company of like minded companions
  • allowing every  experience and every person to be viewed as a teacher
  • building and sustaining trust in your guru
  • learning the skill of constant contemplation 
  • maintaining stead-fastedness during the long journey.

The book also discusses a number of subtler aspects of Sanatana Dharma. It also refers to a number of technical aspects with respect to paths of enlightenment and discusses a number of religious systems as well.  Some aspects of India’s cultural and spiritual traditions are also referred in the book.

If not for any of the above, the book can be read simply for knowing the intriguing stories of numerous, unknown sadhus who live in the mystical mountains, the Himalayas!

On Teacher’s Day!

As per Hindu Mythology “Guru” or “Teacher” is to be worshipped even before “God” himself. That is enough to highlight the importance of this position and its role. It has been a wonderfully different experience this teacher’s day.

While it has been my agenda on teacher’s day to pay tribute to my teachers and guide(s), for the first time I had number of students call and wish me “Happy Teacher’s Day”. Now this has brought a totally different connotation to life, rather added one more dimension this year– the role of a teacher.

Teachers have always caught my imagination from childhood and I have always sought out to reach to faculty and continue to seek them more often in my journey today, or advice and directions. My personal inclination towards academics and teaching has constantly kept me in close contact with this community and its changing trends. Today I am also happy to be a part of this noble profession.

Today as I received text messages, calls, FB messages and e-mails, it dawned on me that I need to carry myself with greater care as I may be an influence on a growing group of younger minds. It brought to my mind some thoughts on teaching as a profession and teachers as people. I present some of them here:

  • A teacher can have profound impact on the student community which looks up to him / her
  • A teacher can be the real alchemist
  • A teacher can never feel poor as all he has to do is give
  • A teacher will always be happy since everyday he / she can have students walk up to them and make their day
  • A teacher should be proud to have got the opportunity to serve the noble cause the role demands without pride

I repeat what I tweeted some days back “For a good student the world is his teacher, and for a good teacher the student is his” – this is a relationship which can create Arjuna’s for the world.

On this wonderful day I wish all my teachers (so far) and the many who I am going to meet in the days to come “Shree Gurubhyo Namaha” or “Salutations to the Guru” OR popularly “Happy Teacher’s Day”.

As I close out this rambling I would like to quote from one of my e-mails sent to me today by a student of mine (thanks Milan):

“Those who educate children well are more to be honored than parents, for these only gave life, those the art of living well.” – Aristotle