Anybody practising meditation, yoga, and worship or following the teachings of inherent oneness in all, owes the knowledge, being received to the sage Veda Vyasa and the subsequent generations of sages and teachers who have preserved this oral tradition of teaching, in India and now the world. Every year in July, a special day celebrates the birthday of the sage Veda Vyasa, who codified the existing four Vedas containing the Upanishads, knowledge of the absolute reality, first revealed to the rishis, seers who preserved these teachings, by what else but teaching.
Sage Veda Vyasa is symbolic of the Guru shishya parampara (the teacher-student tradition). The word ‘Guru’ in Sanskrit etymologically stands for the one who removes ignorance. Ignorance about what? Ignorance about oneself. It is therefore not without reason that India, year after year, age after age, honors and celebrates anew this ancient concept of the Guru, adores it and pays homage to it again and again, and thereby re-affirms its commitment to it.
But, many amongst us resist a Guru. Really speaking, the five reasons we resist a Guru are the very reasons we need a Guru.
- The fundamental human problem is not understood:
The ancient Masters tell us that the reason we experience sorrow is not because we have psychological problems. The human problem and experience of self dissatisfaction and of feeling’ I am not good enough’ is based on the conclusion that I am a limited being, limited to the mind and body. The limitations of the mind and body ‘are’ our limitations and hence the long drawn struggle to overcome limitations through organic food and the varied feel good pursuits. These Masters tells us that the fundamental human problem is born of ignorance, of that one spiritual being taking himself /herself to be limited. finite. Knowledge of oneself is the solution. But then another wall of resistance comes up as the next reason.
- Illusion of I-can-figure-out-anything phenomenon:
Access to information at the click of a button has fostered the illusion of I-can-figure-out-anything. While much of it is empowering, in matters of spirituality, this paradigm just does not work. In the ancient Indian scriptures, we are instructed to seek refuge in a bonafide spiritual master. Further, unless one has a spiritual master he/she is not qualified to study the scriptures. But we don’t care. We want things on our own terms, when we want and how we want. I have met several people who voraciously read books on spirituality but gained more confusion and less clarity and have sworn off anything to do with spirituality. Some insights are possible but to put the pieces of the puzzle together, one needs the vision of the reality of oneness, details of that vision of nonduality and the ability to resolve apparent contradictions. Only a teacher who has been a good student can do that. But, something else comes up.
- Inability to trust:
By the time one is an adult, the capacity to trust has diminished. A genuine guru-student relationship requires basic trust and understanding of the following: a. The teacher knows the truth because he/she had a guru who also had a guru and so on. b. The guru is committed to the student’s self growth and self discovery. c. A traditional guru encourages questions and does not expect blind belief. d. Teaching of the Absolute reality is not a belief because a belief is subject to verification. Teaching is not a result of introspection nor inference nor a e. A teacher-student relationships is much like the therapist-client relationship involving much validation, handling of transference but more importantly working through one’s issues which prevent one from seeing the truth of oneself as nothing but absolute happiness. Most spiritual texts are in the form of illuminating dialogues between the one who knows and the one who wants to know. A traditional guru does not expect subservience and does not seek to dominate the student. If you find a guru trying to do this, run.
- Buffet approach to spirituality:
The individualistic disposition of customised, made to order everything from food to clothes to educational programmes has led us to have a pick and choose approach to everything, only intensifying our likes and dislikes. The sages say that this colors our thinking contributing to our subjectivity and us having a selective vision. We ‘choose’ to look at what we understand and experience as reality and not reality, per se. The Guru may objectively think that certain spiritual practices are helpful for our growth and enough reason may be offered but we cannot look beyond our binding likes and dislikes. This is much like the silkworm that loves the security and conditioning of its own cocoon and does not want to come out, losing out in the process.
- Misunderstanding of surrender:
Many new age books talk about surrender. Surrender really means giving up one’s fears, suspending one’s notions and being receptive to examine one’s life in the light of clear vision. The Sun lights up everything. What was not seen and banged against in darkness is seen clearly. The vision of Advaita Vedanta is that we are complete and free as we are. Hence surrender or giving up really means old conditionings that limit one ‘s perception of oneself which cause struggle and sorrow.
In this day and age, when vintage wine and monuments are appreciated and praised for the number of years ( a few hundred years perhaps), we are indeed blessed to be a part of an oral timeless tradition of teaching.
If I am the limitless, why would I want to settle for less?
Prayers and wishes to all on this glorious day of Guru Purnima.
~ Swamini Brahmaprajnananda Saraswati, a traditional teacher of Vedanta, Sanskrit and Vedic chanting currently living in Mumbai. Before embracing the monastic order, she practised as a psychologist and worked in the area of international development. Original artwork created by Jamuna Inamdar on this auspicious day of Guru Purnima.