The Significance of Guru-pūrṇimā

Everyone is born in ignorance. Therefore, everyone is blind without a teacher to guide him. A mother is the first teacher of a child. The child learns from its mother by observing her and by hearing her instructions. Later when the child grows up, the guru becomes his or her second mother. The śāstra proclaims that a human being is born twice, first by the union of the father and mother, and second when he is accepted by a qualified guru. The guru then acts as the father and delivers him with the personification of Vedic knowledge, the dīkṣā mantra, and also acts as a spiritual mother.

It is the guru who teaches us the meaning and purpose of our lives and how to achieve it. It is by following our guruthat we become human beings. Before we have taken dīkṣā, we are just a human doing—living a life to pursue our desires by acting on the impulses of our mind. Therefore, there is a great importance given to guru in Indian culture. Our scriptures order us to approach a guru—tad-vijñānānartham sa gurum evabhigachchhet, samit-pāṇiḥ śrotriyam brahma-niṣṭham (Kaṭhopaniṣad 1.2.12), “To know the Absolute Reality, one must approach a guru with offerings in one’s hand. The guru must be learned in scriptures and must be fixed in the Absolute Truth.” In the past, if one did not have a guru, he was considered an outcast and people avoided social interactions with such a person.

Unlike in modern times, where teachers are treated more like friends, traditionally in India, the guru was honored and respected by his students. Just as Western countries celebrate Mother’s Day and Father’s Day to honor their parents, in India the day of Guru-pūrṇimā is specifically dedicated to the worship of guru. It comes on the full-moon day of the lunar month of Aṣāḍha (July-August). Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains honor their gurus on this day. The full moon, pūrṇimā, signifies completeness, serenity, peace, and beauty—guru makes one complete.

This day is also known as Vyāsa-pūrṇimā because it is the appearance day of Śrī Vyāsadeva. Srīla Vyāsadeva is an avatāra of Viṣṇu and holds a unique place as a propagator of Vedic literature. Originally, the Veda was one. But Śrila Vyāsadeva divided the original Veda into four so that it could be understood more easily. The four Vedas are Ṛg-Veda, Sāma-Veda, Yajur-Veda, and Atharva-Veda. Originally, the Veda could be studied only by those initiated into the Gāyatrī-mantra. To give the knowledge contained in the Vedas to the rest of humanity, Śrila Vyāsadeva wrote the eighteen Purāṇas and the Mahābhārata.  To synthesize the meaning of the Upaniṣads, the philosophical portion of the Vedas, he composed succinct aphorisms—the Vedānta-sūtra. The amount of literature he produced is thus incomparable.

Indeed, the Mahābhārata contains approximately one hundred thousand verses and comprises of more than two million words. It is eight to ten times larger than Iliad and Odyssey combined. The eighteen Purāṇas are then four times the size of the Mahābhārata. In Mahabhārata, Vyāsa writes that whatever is found in the book encompasses the entirety of literature, and what is not found in it is not to be found anywhere. This statement demonstrates that there is no knowledge related to the four human pursuits of dharma, artha, kāma, and mokṣa outside the scope of Mahābhārata. Thus, there is a popular saying in Sanskrit, vyāsocchiṣṭam jagat sarvam—the entire world feeds on the remnants of Vyāsa. Therefore, to honor Śrī Vyāsa, the people of India worship their guru, who represents Vyāsa, on Vyāsa’s appearance day, while also expressing their gratitude to their gurus.

One might still ask that out of all the pūrṇimās, why is this particular one dedicated to the guru? There are certain days in the year when many sages and saints have attained enlightenment, and different points in the earth’s orbit around the sun tend to have certain qualities. The great sages and saints did not become enlightened simply because of those days; they were engaged in their sādhanā and were assisted by the particular day of pūrṇimā. On Guru-pūrṇimā there is a certain alliance between the moon and the planets, which creates a receptivity in the mind to attain the grace of guru. The moon is the presiding deity of the mind, which is the key instrument in spiritual upliftment.

Besides in India, the festival of Guru-pūrṇimā is celebrated in Nepal, Bangladesh, and other countries of Buddhist and Jain influence. On this day, people belonging to a particular spiritual culture and tradition visit their gurus, worship them, and offer them gifts. In holy places like Vrindavan, Benaras, and Rishikesh, large crowds of devotees visit the temples and āśramas of their gurus. Most devotees observe a fast on this day to show their respect to guru.

This is the most important festival in the life of a seeker; the guru is the manifest form of God and so the worship of one’s guru is also worship of God. Participating in Guru-pūrṇimā preparations and celebrations provides spiritual seekers unique opportunities to serve and please the guru and thus to progress spiritually.

No spiritual seeker, irrespective of religion or path, can attain perfection on their spiritual path without the grace of guru. Just as a youth strives to win a girl’s heart by constantly contemplating what he should do to please he, so we should strive day and night to do everything to please Śrī Guru, so that he considers us his own and bestows his grace.

Human birth is very rare and important. Human beings have the special capacity for realizing the Absolute Truth. But for this, one has to make conscious effort and that effort has to be made in the proper direction. If you seek in a haphazard manner, then you may land in the wrong place or may not land anywhere.

For instance, Columbus wanted to come to India but landed in America. It was an unplanned route. Simply by accident, he landed on the American continent. There have been thousands of sailors who set forth but never reached anywhere. If you take an unplanned route without guidance, this may happen. But since Columbus landed in America, it became easy to travel from Europe to America. Why? Because Columbus’ journey there has allowed the route to become a well-worn path. Similarly, the spiritual seeker goes to guru and follows him. The guru has already reached the destination and therefore, it is easier for the seeker to also reach the destination if he or she follows guru.

Yet, this seemingly simple requirement to follow the guru’s guidance is almost an insurmountable hurdle for the modern-day spiritual seeker, because it requires surrender. Surrender means that one has to try to understand the guru’sheart, and match one’s own heart with the guru’s heart and thus serve him selflessly. Usually, the ahaṅkāra gets in the way and plays tricks on the sādhaka to deter him from truly surrendering. These include thinking that you are the humblest and most surrendered servant or that you are serving the guru when really all you are doing is taking service from him. Therefore, one must approach the guru with the utmost humility. Seeing the guru being honored by other disciples also incites humility in the heart of even an arrogant disciple. Not everyone lives with one’s guru physically. Guru-pūrṇimā gives the opportunity for disciples to obtain the physical association of their guru and also to meet other disciples. There is an atmosphere of one big spiritual family.

Therefore, Guru-pūrṇimā is the most significant day for the human race. It was previously celebrated as the one of the most important festivals of India. Wealth was not the most important thing; rather, knowledge was awarded the highest value. For this reason, guru was considered the highest person in society. Since India’s independence in 1947, this traditional knowledge system has largely been neglected. Hence in the last seventy years, Guru-pūrṇimā has lost its special significance as the Government of India does not pay attention to this important day. It is not a national holiday. Most modern Indians do not even know the date of Guru-pūrṇimā. Only those sheltered under a guru have the opportunity to truly learn, understand, and celebrate the importance of this day.


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Comments ( 1 )
  1. sailesh

    Jai Sri Gurudeva!

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