Guru Purnima

Offerings on Guru Purnima, Full Moon of the month of Ashadha

व्यां वेदव्यासाय नमः

vyāṁ vedavyāsāya namaḥ

Guru Purnima is a special day in the life of spiritual seekers as we express gratitude to our teachers, mentors and Guru for guiding us in life. It falls on the full moon day usually when the Sun is in Gemini and Moon is in Sagittarius in the sidereal calendar, the lunar month of Ashadha. This day commemorates the birth of the great sage Maharshi Vyasadev, who is the scribe of the four Vedas and many other scriptures such as the Brahma sutras and all the Puranas. He is also symbolic of the tradition of Guru Paramapara or Vedic lineages through which spiritual knowledge is systematically transmitted to the students.

On this occasion I am reminded of a beautiful verse from the second chapter of Mundaka Upanishad on how and when to approach the Guru.

परिक्ष्य लोकान्कर्मचितान्ब्राहमणः निर्वेदमायान्नास्त्यकृतः कृतेन् ।

तद्विज्ञानार्थं स गुरुमेवाभिगछेत् समित्पाणीः श्रोत्रियं ब्रह्मनिष्ठं ।। 1.2.12

parikṣya lokānkarmacitānbrāhamaṇaḥ nirvedamāyānnāstyakṛtaḥ kṛten

tadvijñānārthaṁ sa gurumevābhigachet samitpāṇīḥ śrotriyaṁ

Having examined the worlds which are achieved through karma, a Brahmin should come to dispassion. The unproduced (moksha) is not possible through karma. Therefore, to attain knowledge, he must necessarily approach, with samit (offering) in his hand, a teacher who is learned in scriptures and established in Brahman.

The subtle meaning is that the wise (student), after having discovered the fruitlessness of pursuit of material ends in the manifested worlds and having realised that liberation is not possible through action or some effort, should approach a qualified Guru for higher or permanent knowledge with an appropriate offering in his hand.

Why are material gains fruitless?

There are broadly three defects of being in the material world. Pleasure is always mixed with pain. Life becomes an endless cycle of actions required for acquiring things, holding on to them and dealing with the pain of letting them go. We die with so many regrets and unfulfilled desires. No accomplishment makes us fully happy and we are always looking for the next best thing to satisfy ourselves. These material attachments becomes bonds often leading us to spiritually stagnate.

We have to liberate ourselves from our patterns of thinking and endless desires. There is no other action or huge effort is needed specifically for liberation other than letting go our laundry list and false notion of who we are.

What should we offer the Guru?

The first thing we should prostrate in front of the Guru. By bowing down, we offer our ego. Ego has no place in the world of knowledge and will hinder our development. The word ego is a loose translation of the Sanskrit word Ahamkara and does not mean pride alone, but our attachment to the identity of who we are. When we are studying together in the company of other students, let us forget the inflated perceptions of our self-worth in the material world before we enter the classroom. By prostrating in front of our Gurus we not only trying to get rid of our egos, but we also get his blessings and protection.

One can always take an offering of grains in a clean cloth, milk, sweets or any other item suitable to the life style of Guru and his family. Money can be offered but discreetly in an envelope and should be given with reverence.

Although the supreme amongst all that can be offered, is our dedication and commitment to the Guru and the process of learning. How can we do that? Before starting to commence the study of any spiritual knowledge – Veda or Vedanga which is called para vidya (permanent or highest knowledge) one had to be qualified, not merely in intelligence but also in the right behaviour that enabled the learning to be absorbed properly and to create a harmonious environment in between the teacher and the students. Learning without qualifying is akin to a yoga practitioner doing postures without following the first two steps of the Yoga path – Yama (Don’ts) and Niyama (Do’s). It reduces Yoga to mere physical exercise instead of a spiritual pursuit. A text by Adi Shankaracharya called Tattva Bodha recommends that the students pre-qualify in Sadhana Chatushtaya – four fold qualification before studying the Veda and Vedanga.

Viveka – Discrimination

Viveka can be translated as discrimination or judgement between the qualities of nitya and anitya – that which is of nature of permanence and impermanence. Permanence exists over space and time. What can be considered permanent does not go through the six modifications of existence (is), birth, growth, maturity, decay and death. Most things we know in the world perishes in the world. Yet we spend our lives chasing after impermanent things for security. A wise student becomes aware of this vicious cycle in life and the futility of
seeking permanence from impermanent things. He approaches a Guru to seek knowledge to break this cycle. Without understanding and awareness of this principle a student cannot absorb the knowledge that are in Vedas and Vedangas.

Vairagya – Dispassion

Vairagya means dispassion and detachment in our attitude to results as we go about doing our actions in the world. This does not mean renouncing the actions in the world, but renouncing the expectations of reward or fruits of action. This is the crux of Bhagavat Gita and is summarised in the verse 2.47 which talks about the principle of renunciation of the fruits. We are deeply ingrained in the philosophy of being rewarded or recognised for our actions like a dog that needs a biscuit after every trick. Success is often associated with visible and gross things and we always look for validation from an external source – society, parents, loved ones. The first step towards this is simplifying our life as we get older and wiser. Unless we cultivate Vairagya we cannot evolve in the spiritual ladder.

Shatka SampathiSix fold qualification or Discipline

Sama is mastery over mind so that we are not overwhelmed by our emotions. The emotion in our mind clouds the judgement about a situation. Sri Krishna in Bhagavat Gita advises us to stand still in in praise and in humility to achieve this inner tranquillity of mind. We should seek to control the mind instead of endlessly satisfying it. Mind is fickle like the weather. Control does not mean repressing it but waking up to the higher purpose in life and realising the fickleness of the mind. This is important for spiritual progress.

Dama is the control the mind extends over of the external organs of perceptions such as eyes, ears and mouth. This is most difficult in this age of internet and media. We read gossip and watch violence mindlessly. Austerity in speech and conduct is expected from students of spiritual pursuit. Certain amount of withdrawal from society is necessary to achieve this successfully. Fasting encourages Dama whether it be food or speech called Mauna Vrata. Pratyahara, one of the steps of Ashtanga Yoga is a good technique to achieve this.

Uparama is being conscious or the strict observance of one’s dharma or duty towards oneself and others who we are responsible for. There must be integration of the knowledge we gain from scriptures and the life we lead. The Vedic path recommends that we should be conscious of duties in five areas at all times – universe and higher realms, ancestors, preceptors and teachers, the immediate community and the environment.

Titiksha is tolerance or acceptance of life without grudge or a sense of failure. We need considerable inner strength to meet the challenges in life with patience. Stress happens when the mind is unable to accept the situation as it is and we want to different outcome and we lose balance.

Shraddha is faith in the path we take, in the words of guru and in the scriptures. We have to let go our pre conceived notions, our intellectual arrogance and keep an open mind. If you don’t believe in your doctor, the medicines are unlikely to work for you.

Samadhana is concentration or focus of the mind on certain thoughts on a particular subject of interest. This is necessary for proper assimilation of knowledge. There are three steps in assimilation of knowledge Shravana, Manana, Nidhidyasanam – hearing, reflection and contemplation. The key to success in all these steps is focus. In yoga this is equivalent to Dharana and Dhyana.

Mumukshatvam – Desire

Mumukshatvam is the intense yearning for liberation from the cycle of birth and death. This implies that the student is aware of the real purpose in life is liberation and all that we are trying to achieve materially is secondary to this goal. This is fundamental to the study of spiritual sciences and at a very basic level when we become aware of this and start walking the path, we are rid of tyranny of our emotions and desires.

Being aware of the requirements is a first step in the path of spiritual progress. The more qualifications we gain, the better will be the assimilation of knowledge. On this special day of Guru Purnima let us be mindful of all these qualities and we can take any one or more of the specified qualities to practice as a sadhana as our offering to the Guru.

ॐ तत् सत्

OM TAT SAT

Reference – The article is based on the teachings of my Vedanta guru Swami Paramarthananda of Arsha Vidaya Gurukulam on Tattva Bodha, Bhagavata Gita and Mundaka Upanishad.

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