Guru Purnima - The Master's Day

In the West we lovingly celebrate days dedicated to our parents. These days are known as Father’s Day and Mother’s Day. On these days we go to our parents and greet them. We are expressing our gratitude to them for being the instruments of our birth in a body temple and for facilitating the play of the soul on the altar of the earth. Gratitude is the charm in life that diminishes ego and brings love. The Taittariya Upanishad (I:2:2) declares, matr devo bhava, pitr devo bhava, acharya devo bharva: “Love mother as the Divine, love father as the Divine, and love the guru-preceptor as the Divine.” The guru-preceptor is considered the mother and the father at the same time, because guru is the instrument for spiritual rebirth (dvija) of the person. Initiation is the rebirth, and guru’s guidance and practical instructions are the divine nourishment for our spiritual life.

For several thousand years in India people have been celebrating Master’s Day ― the Guru Purnima. It is a day dedicated to the divine guru-preceptor who has dedicated his or her life to the spiritual evolution of the disciple children. On this day, disciples come to the guru-preceptor and offer thankfulness with love and devotion for what has been bestowed on him or her through the grace of the master and his teachings.

This Guru Purnima, the Master’s Day, falls on the day of the full moon in the month of July. This is the birthday of the great sage Maharshi Vyasa, author of the Mahabharata, (which includes the Bhagavad Gita), the Bhagavatam, the Brahmasutras, eighteen Puranas, and the editor of the Vedas. (For details on the life of Vyasa, please see Soul Culture Vol 7.3, p.20-28.) On the full moon day there is light in the day as well as night, symbolizing knowledge or enlightenment. Just as the light dispels darkness, so ignorance disappears with knowledge. Self-knowledge is the light that makes us free from the groping darkness of suffering and unhappiness in life.

The Mundaka Upanishad (1:2:12) directs, tad vijnanartham sa furm eva abhigacchet samit-panih srotriyam brahma nistham: “For acquiring the knowledge of That, let him only approach, with the sacrificial fuel in hand, a guru-preceptor who is learned in the scripture and established in Brahman.” Here, two qualities of the divine preceptor are highlighted as: srotriya, a person with Self-knowledge, and brahmanistha, one who is always absorbed in God consciousness.

With the Firewood

In the Vedic age, the rishis lived in hermitages usually situated in the forest on the bank of a river or a mountainside where there was an abundance of firewood. Similarly, the disciple approaches the guru-preceptor with firewood for sacrificial fire. The guru-preceptor is a burning flame, burning with the eternal light of knowledge and the warmth of love. This flame can burn everything it touches, including all negative propensities. If a disciple is like dry firewood, free from all ego, he or she will readily catch fire and be purified. Conversely, the student who is full of ego is like wet wood, which only makes smoke. In wood, fire is hidden, unmanifest.

The Upanishad speaks:

tilesu tailam, dahhiniva sarpih
apah stroasu aranisu ca agnih

Like oil in the sesame seed, butter in milk, water in the river stream, and fire in the wood, so the soul is unseen in each person’s life. Upon meeting the guru-preceptor, dry firewood and fire unite. This is a sacrificial fire ― an offering of all negatives with a prayer for purification. When ignorance is offered into the light and heat of love, the offering becomes a holy communion of transformation.

Chaturmasyam, the Holy Four Months

In India, July to September are considered the monsoon months, when there is extreme rain and flooding. In the old times, spiritual aspirants were usually wandering mendicants traveling far and wide, as was the guru-preceptor. They were usually monks, never attached to any place, who roamed and distributed the divine nectar of knowledge. But during the four-month rainy season, the guru-preceptor and the seeker disciples lived in one place and underwent rigorous training. This tradition known as chaturmasya-vratam is found even today. It begins on the Guru Purnima.

Although the lives of the teacher and the disciple are united for life, for truth, these four months in monsoon have a deep spiritual message. After the scorching summer months, tropical, torrential rain brings new life to plants, flooding the river and cooling the earth. Every person is scorched with tri-tapas: adhibhatiaka (material), adhidavivika (psychological), and adtyatmita (unforeseen) sufferings. Through the guru’s grace, the disciple’s mind is freed from hatred, anger, jealousy, ego, and so forth with the outpouring of divine love. This is rain. With showers of love, the tree of life is blossoming and fruitful. Knowledge dawns. Just as the flooded river rushes toward the ocean, individual life consciousness merges in the ocean of cosmic consciousness.

The four months training enable a disciple to be equipped with the fourfold qualities of discipleship (sadhana chatustayay) and purify or even eliminate the fourfold inner instruments (antah karana catustaya).

The fourfold qualities of the disciple are:

1.Viveka ― discrimination to know what is good and bad, to know what is real and unreal;

2. Vairagya ― no attachment, to live a life of inner detachment;

3. Shrama damadi sat sampati ― the sixfold wealth of mind control, control over the senses, love for a higher purpose of life, faith in the teachings of scriptures and teachers, forbearance, and balance in life;

4. Mumuksutvam ― desire for liberation.

The four inner instruments are:

  • Mind
  • Intellect
  • Ego
  • Memory

The Guru and the Disciple

The relationship of the guru-preceptor and the disciple is divine, aiming only at Self-unfolding. They serve each other to their own ability, and the goal is always spiritual. During the four-month training period, the disciple through service and humility, learns the spiritual lifestyle under the direct supervision of the master. The master works to transform the life of the student by removing ego and ignorance.

There is a beautiful story about Sage Vyasa and his disciple Jainini. Jainini was a great scholar and a sincere disciple of Sage Vyasa, but he had some ego regarding his own intellectual knowledge. One day Sage Vyasa was dictating on a scripture and Jainini was taking notes. Sage Vyasa composed a verse making the point, valavad indriya gramam panditan apakarsant: “The senses are so powerful that the man of knowledge also sometimes commits mistakes.”

Upon hearing this, Jainini thought, “It is not possible. If a person is a man of knowledge, how can he be overpowered with the temptation of the senses? Rather, he will overcome them.” With this thought, he modified the verse to say, valavad indriya granam panditanapakarsanti: “Even though the senses are powerful, the man of knowledge is free from mistakes.”

Omniscient Sage Vyasa did not impart anything. He wanted to teach the disciple the truth of life in a different way. That afternoon, Sage Vyasa told Jainini that he must leave for some urgent work to a distant place, and he might be absent for several days. He entrusted Jainini to take care of the sacrificial fire. Then Sage Vyasa left. That evening after prayer Jainini retired to the room of the sacrificial fire to meditate. There was a storm and rain outside and very strong wind. Jainini heard someone knocking at the door. He opened the door and saw a pretty, young woman. He inquired what he could do for her.

She said, “I am on the way to my village, but because of the rain and storm I cannot go. Can you please give me shelter for the night?” Jainini, out of hospitality, allowed her to come inside and spend the night in the cottage. The young woman said that it was not good for a brahmachari (celibate) to be in the same room at night. So, Jainini went out and tried to sleep outside.

Now, the play of delusion started. Jainini sat silently, but his mind was running toward this youthful woman and her beauty. He thought to himself, “It would be good to spend the lonely night conversing with her.” So he knocked on the door and told her that it was cold outside, and it would be nice to be inside.

She protested, but Jaimini insistently entered anyway. He tried to talk with her and was constantly looking at her, which she did not like. Slowly his senses were growing powerful and clouding his conscience. He went close to her and touched her and told her that he wanted them to be together for a while.

She said, “You are a brahmachari, you should not think like this. It is not good.” Being blinded with passion, he touched her feet and asked for her approval. She at last agreed with the condition that he should bend down and walk like a horse, and she would sit on his back, and he should make seven rounds near the sacrificial fire. Then he could have her. Jaimini agreed.

While Jaimini was trying to walk like an animal with the woman sitting on his back, she started murmuring the verse that Sage Vyasa dictated in the morning that Jaimini had modified, “Even though the senses are powerful, a man of knowledge does not commit mistake.” When Jaimini heard this, he realized his own weakness. He stood up to leave her, but her two big arms clasped him and held him. They were not the tempting arms of the maiden, but the arms of his loving guru, Sage Vyasa.

Thus Sage Vyasa taught his disciple the truth of life and how to be always careful and watchful in every step of life. The guru transforms the life of the disciple to make it more spiritual and precious.

Let the blessings of God, Sage Vyasa, and all divine masters shower the life of each spiritual seeker and empower them to reach the goal of life. With abundance of peace, bliss, and joy on the auspicious occasion of Guru Purnima, the Master’s Day, let us all offer the flower of devotion and love at the Divine feet of the Master and seek their divine guidance in every step of our lives.