Gururbrahma Gururvishnuh Gururdevo Maheswarah
Gurursaakshaat Parabrahma Tasmai Shriguruvae Namaha
The above popular shloka is oft recited at many functions or prayers. It is the ultimate tribute to the Guru, the teacher, the Acharya. By reciting this hymn as a part of prayer, we acknowledge the importance of Gurus in our culture and our way of life.
Gurus have been accorded the highest of pedestals in the itihaasa of Bharata Varsha. They are placed even above the Gods in worship and reverence. The Guru is the guide, the dispeller of ignorance and giver of knowledge. The gift of Vidya (knowledge) is the highest gift that anyone can receive and the Guru is the preceptor who gives this ultimate gift to all his disciples or students.
Ancient India’s knowledge foundation was built on the Guru-Sishya Parampara and in every way this parampara or “dynasty of teacher-student” traces its hierarchy to God. It is this Guru Sishya Parampara that has powered the transfer of knowledge from teacher to pupil. Beginning with the sacred Vedas themselves, Upanishads, rituals, shlokas, spiritual mastery, philosophy, logic, statecraft, warcraft, astrology, astronomy, sciences, medicine, yoga and every possible facet of knowledge has been passed down from Gurus or Acharyas to sishyas.
Here’s an interesting point of view, some philosophers state that the entire teachings of the Upanishads are centered around the Guru. The importance of Gurus is expounded in almost all the Upanishads. While the Taittiriya Upanishad states “आचार्यदेवो भव” ( Acharya Devo Bhava ) which loosely means “Be like an individual who treats his Acharya ( Guru, Teacher, Preceptor ) like God.” [ Shiksha Valli, Eleventh Anuvaka, second shloka of Taittiriya Upanishad ].
The Advayataraka Upanishad offers a more comprehensive idea on the characteristics of a Guru and it also offers us the understanding of the word “Guru”. The below are the 14th, 15th and 16th verses of the Upanishad with a loose translation of them.
Characteristics of an Acharya
आचार्यो वेदसंपन्नो विष्णुभक्तो विमत्सरः।
योगज्ञो योगनिष्ठश्च सदा योगात्मकः शुचिः॥ १४॥
A good teacher is well versed in the Vedas, a devotee of Vishnu, unenvious, has knowledge of Yoga and practices Yoga, always has the nature of Yoga.
गुरुभक्तिसमायुक्तः पुरुष्ज्ञो विशेषतः।
एवं लक्षणसंपन्नो गुरुरित्यभिधीयते॥ १५॥
He who is intent upon reverence to his own Guru, who is a specialist in the knowledge of the Purusha and who possesses these qualities is qualified to be a Guru.
गुशब्दस्त्वन्धकारः स्यात् रुशब्दस्तन्निरोधकः।
अन्धकारनिरोधित्वात् गुरुरित्यभिधीयते॥ १६॥
The syllable gu implies darkness. The syllable ru implies the destroyer of that darkness. By reason of the ability to destroy darkness, he is called a Guru.
Guru Poornima falls on the full moon ( Poornima / pournami ) in the Hindu month of Ashada every year. This day is of special significance because it is considered a day when students worship their Gurus and perform Guru Puja. Gurus or Acharyas have been central to the way of life in our culture, itihaasa and our education. They are as timeless as the Vedas themselves and have been the corner stone for the transmission of knowledge through the ages.
There are many stories, legends and tales on why the Poornima day of the Ashada month is Guru Poornima. One veritable fact is that it is the day on which Maharishi Veda Vyasa was born. He is the author of the Mahabharata, the Puranas and in fact he is also credited with having segregated the Vedas into four divisions [ Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda, Atharvaveda ] thereby earning the title Vyasa. This day is also called Vyasa Poornima and many teachers perform Vyasa Pooja on this day to pay their homage to the great sage Maharshi Veda Vyasa. It is also believed that the Great God Shiva started teaching Yoga to the saptarishis on this day. The Hindu Yogic school believes that Lord Shiva became the Adi Yogi on this day.
Many of the divinities also act as Gurus or Acharyas with Lord Brahma being the foremost of them. Mundaka Upanishad says that Lord Brahma who was the first of the Devas passed down the knowledge, the Brahman to his son Atharava. In Vedic astrology, the planet Jupiter is called Guru. Even the Devas and the asuras have their respective Gurus! Brihaspati was the Guru of the Devas and Shukracharya was the Guru of the Asuras. Ancient Vedic lore talks about prominent Gurus such as Angirasa, the seven Brahmarishis, Veda Vyasa, Parashara etc… Recorded history extols Gurus such as Adi Shankaracharya, Ramanuja, Madhava etc… Perhaps the most prominent Guru in our written history is Chankya.
Our history is replete with stories about great Gurus and their sishyas. This unique relationship of the Guru and the sishya that our culture celebrates, is perhaps the very reason for the sustenance and preservation of Hinduism. Hinduism and it’s modern day existence owes a huge debt of gratitude to the foremost vedantist, Bhagavad Pada, Adi Shankara. He has kindled the fire of our culture through the worst of the storms. On this day of Guru Poornima, let us pay homage to this divine personage, a Guru among Gurus. Let us take a moment to reflect upon the Gurus in our culture since the beginning of time. They were instrumental in lighting the darkened recesses of our minds and imparting us knowledge which is the most valuable gift of all. Let us pray to our Gurus, teachers, Acharyas and seek their blessings.
Two beautiful shlokas from the Advayataraka Upanishad sum up the place of an Acharya in our culture ( sampradaya ):
गुरुरेव परं ब्रह्म गुरुरेव परा गतिः।
गुरुरेव परा विद्या गुरुरेव परायणं॥ १७॥
The Guru alone is the ultimate Brahman. The Guru alone is the ultimate refuge. The Guru alone is the ultimate knowledge. The teacher alone is the final aim.
गुरुरेव परा काष्ठा गुरुरेव परं धनं।
यस्मात्तदुपदेष्टाऽसौ तस्माद्गुरुतरो गुरुरिति॥ १८॥
The Guru alone is the ultimate boundary. The Guru alone is the ultimate wealth. Since he is the teacher of the ultimate reality, he is the greatest of all Gurus.
I bow low in humble reverence to all the Gurus of yore. May their knowledge of the cosmos and everything that it contains continue to show us the path to realizing our goal and more importantly our reason for existence. From the beginning of time when Lord Brahma taught the meaning of Brahman to the present day, that is indeed the ultimate knowledge that all Gurus endeavor to impart.
I dedicate this small and humble offering ( of this article ) to my Guru Shri Ramaswamy Shastry who has been my refuge, the source of my strength and my guiding beacon. It is on his shoulders that I have rested during the darkest hours of my life. My million namaskaras to his lotus feet.