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 is one who removes the darkness of our ignorance and brings us into the light of knowledge. Gurus are believed by many to be the most necessary part of life.
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 summer solstice and holds a 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 editing the sacred Hindu text, 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 also celebrated as Vyasa Purnima. Veda gathered all the Vedic hymns extant during his times, dividing them into four parts based on their use in the rites, characteristics and teaching them to his four chief disciples – Paila, Vaisampayana, Jaimini and Sumantu. It was this dividing and editing that earned him the honorific “Vyasa” (vyas = to edit, to divide). “He 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
In the yogic culture, Shiva is not seen as a god, he is seen 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 his attention fell upon 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 in this tradition is known as Uttarayana and Dakshinayana, Adiyogi looked at the Saptarishis and saw that they had become shining receptacles of knowing. They had done some simple preparation for 84 years and he could not ignore them anymore. He 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.
It is on this day, for the very first time in the history of humanity, that human beings were reminded that they are not a fixed life. If they are willing to strive, every door in the existence is open. So this day is the most significant day for the human race.Guru Purnima is held sacred in the yogic tradition because the Adiyogi opened up the possibility for a human being to evolve consciously. The seven different aspects of yoga that were put in these seven individuals became the foundation for the seven basic forms of yoga, something that has still 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 not merely by studying but living in humble conditions. Lord Rama and his brothers, the Pandavas and the Kauravas, were all taught by the great gurus in their ashramas. Here are a few famous teacher/ student duo:
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 that Rama was very young and promised that instead of Rama, he will 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 also Lakshmana to take care of 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 both Rama and Lakshmana. With these Shastras, they will never get exhausted and demons cannot hurt them even when they are asleep. (This is exactly how Lakshmana stayed awake for fourteen years during their exile and he didn’t eat anything all these years).Vishwamitra also taught Rama about everything about wars and weapons that he got as boons for his penance.
Gurudakshina or payment for the knowledge
With all the knowledge they gained, Rama and Lakshmana killed the demons(Tataka, Subhahu and others) who were torturing sages while they were performing rituals. All the sages and gods were at peace knowing that the disturbances caused by these demons are over. This ‘peace of mind’ is the guru Dakshina 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 that was being hunted by the leopards. So he went to Dronacharya (a master of advanced military arts) and requested him 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 safety of the region.
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 sound of the animal, shoot an arrow at it and claim the animal. Then Arjun one of Dronacharya’s best student 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 all 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, actually Dronacharya uplifted Eklavya from just being a student to becoming an epitome of discipleship.
Dronacharya then blessed Eklavya with immortality in return of 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 a 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 on 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 their solidarity to 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.
The sermon Buddha gave to the five monks was his first sermon, called the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta. It was given on the full-moon day of Asadha. Buddha subsequently 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.