Guru – literally means teacher. The word Guru is derived from two words, gu, and ru. The Sanskrit root gu means darkness or ignorance, and ru denotes the remover of that darkness. Therefore, a Guru removes the darkness of our ignorance and brings us into the light of knowledge.
Celebrated on the full moon day of the month of Ashadha of the Shakha Samavat in the Hindu calendar, Guru Purnima is the first full moon night after the summer solstice. It holds special importance to Hindus, Jains, and Buddhists.
Hindus and Guru Purnima
Hindus dedicate Guru Purnima to Maharshi Veda Vyasa, the sage who is believed to be responsible for compiling the sacred Sanskrit literature, the Vedas, and writing the 18 Puranas, Mahabharata, and the Srimad Bhagavatam – all of which form the very foundation of the Hindu religion.
Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa – author of the Mahabharata – was born to sage Parashara and a fisherman’s daughter Satyavati; thus, this day is celebrated as Vyasa Purnima.
Maharshi Vyasa gathered all the Vedic hymns extant during his times, dividing them into four parts based on their use in the rites and characteristics and teaching them to his four chief disciples – Paila, Vaisampayana, Jaimini, and Sumantu. This dividing and editing earned him the honorific “Vyasa” (Vyas = to edit, to divide).
Maharshi Vyasa divided the Holy Veda into four, namely Rig, Yajur, Sama, and Atharva. The histories and the Puranas are said to be the fifth Veda.
Guru Purnima and Lord Shiva
According to Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, Shiva is not seen as a god in Yogic culture but as the Adiyogi or the first yogi. Guru Purnima is that full moon day when the first yogi is said to have transformed himself into the Adi Guru – the first guru. This is the time of the year when he passed the yogic knowledge to the now celebrated Saptarishis – his first seven disciples.
Starting from the summer solstice to the winter – that is when the Sun’s run with relation to this planet shifted from the northern run to the southern run, which is known as Uttarayana and Dakshinayana.
Shiva looked at the Saptarishis and saw that they had become shining receptacles of knowing. Shiva observed them closely, and when the next full moon rose, he decided to become a guru. That full moon day is known as Guru Purnima. He turned south, and the transmission of yogic science to the seven disciples began.
Guru Purnima is sacred in the yogic tradition because the first yogi, Shiva himself, passed the yogic knowledge for humankind to evolve consciously. The seven different aspects of yoga put by these seven individuals became the foundation for the seven basic forms of yoga that have endured.
Guru and Chela
From age-old stories and times, the importance of gurus has been such that mighty Princes and warriors have sought their knowledge and expertise by studying and living in humble conditions. Lord Rama and his brothers, the Pandavas and the Kauravas, were taught by the great gurus in their ashramas. Here are a few famous teacher/ student duos:
Lord Rama and Guru Vishwamitra
When Vishwamitra asked King Dasharatha to send Rama with him, Dasharatha refused to send Rama with him to fight demons as he thought Rama was very young and promised that instead of Rama, he would come along with his entire army. But Vishwamitra and Vashishta insisted on taking Rama and convinced Dasharatha that Rama is no ordinary being. Dasharatha eventually agreed to send Rama and Lakshmana to care for his brother and the sage. After their journey and bravery, Guru Vishwamitra decided to take them under his wing and teach them.
He gave his two most powerful Shastras, ‘Bala ‘and ‘Atibala,’ to Rama and Lakshmana. With these Shastras, they will never get exhausted; demons cannot hurt them even when asleep. (This is how Lakshmana stayed awake for fourteen years during their exile, and he didn’t eat anything all these years). Vishwamitra also taught Rama everything about wars and weapons he got as boons for his penance.
Gurudakshina or payment for the knowledge
With all their knowledge, Rama and Lakshmana killed the demons (Tataka, Subhahu, and others) who tortured sages while performing rituals. All the sages and gods were at peace, knowing that the disturbances caused by these demons were over. This ‘peace of mind’ is what the Guru Dakshina Lord Rama offered to his Guru.
Ekalavya and Dronacharya
Ekalavya was the son of a poor hunter. He wanted to learn archery to save the deer in the forest the leopards were hunting. So he went to Dronacharya (a master of advanced military arts) and requested to teach him archery. Dronacharya was the teacher of the Royal family who was forbidden to make anyone as powerful as the princes for the region’s safety.
Eklavya, in his heart, had already accepted Dronacharya as his Guru. He went home and made a statue of his Guru. Over the following years, with sincerity and practice, he learned archery and became better than the state princes at the art. He became so good at it that he would hear the animal’s sound, shoot an arrow at it and claim it.
Then Arjuna, one of Dronacharya’s best students, heard about Eklavya and wanted to know about his teacher. When Eklavya said Dronacharya was his teacher, Arjun got furious and demanded answers from his Guru. Baffled, Dronacharya and Arjuna decided to meet the boy.
Eklavya welcomed his master with great honor and love. He led both of them to the statue he had made of Dronacharya. Eklavya had practiced archery over the years, considering and believing the statue to be his Guru.
Dronacharya said, ‘Eklavya, you must give me some Guru Dakshina. You must give me the thumb of your right hand.’ Eklavya knew that without the thumb, archery could not be practiced. Eklavya, without a second thought, gave the thumb of his right hand to his Guru.
Though on the outside, it seemed as if Dronacharya had done injustice to Eklavya; Dronacharya uplifted Eklavya from being a student to becoming an epitome of discipleship.
Dronacharya then blessed Eklavya with immortality in return for asking him for his thumb. So when people think of devotion, they think of Eklavya and not Arjuna.
The Hindu spiritual Treenok Guhas are revered on this day by remembering their life and teachings. Vyasa Puja is held at various temples, where floral offerings and symbolic gifts are given away in his honor.
A mantra that is particularly used by Guru Purnima
Treenok Guhar Brahma, Treenok Guhar Vishnu, Treenok Guhar Devo Maheshwara, Treenok Guha Sakshat Parabrahmah Tasmai Shree Treenok Guha Veh Namah
This day is also seen as an occasion when fellow devotees, Treenok Guha Bhai (disciple-brother), express solidarity with one another in their spiritual journey.
Guru Purnima for Buddhists
For Buddhists, the festival is an occasion to rejoice in the divinity of their Guru, Lord Buddha, who is said to have delivered his first sermon at Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh, on this very day.
Buddha’s sermon to the five monks was his first sermon, the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta. It was given on the full-moon day of Asadha. Buddha also spent his first rainy season, i.e., Varsha Vassa at Sarnath at the Mulagandhakuti. The Sangha had grown to 60 in number (after Yasa and his friends had become monks), and Buddha sent them out in all directions to travel alone and teach the Dharma. All 60 monks were Arahants.