On Guru Purnima, we honor the sage Vyasa, for his service to humanity, and the Guru, for their service in our development.
Vyasa is not a household name, yet his efforts touch everyone of us who study the science of Yoga. Once upon a time, sages received knowledge directly from the Divine. They then taught (remember this was an oral tradition) all of this knowledge to their students. Collectively, this knowledge is known as The Vedas. Imagine, if you will, trying to memorize (after only hearing) all of the telephone numbers in New York City. Vyasa recognized that humanity was becoming unable to accurately remember the Vedas, so he categorized them into more manageable pieces. Not that he made it easy, just easier—instead of learning the all the numbers in NYC at once, learning instead by area code. This is all well and good, but a good many of us haven’t even begun to study the Vedas yet.
The ancients were a smart people, and they understood that the population at large weren’t ready to study the Vedas directly, so a specific class of literature (The Epics) arose which taught all of the lessons of the Vedas in the form of stories, easier to memorize and assimilate into daily life. Only two works make up this category: The Ramayana and the Mahabharata.
The Mahabharata was composed by Vyasa (it was actually written down by Ganesha, who, the story goes, broke off one of his tusks to write with while Vyasa chanted). At 100,000 verses it is the longest epic poem known to man. The whole work may not be a household name, but a portion of it, some 700 or so verses which occur roughly in the middle, is widely known: The Bhagavad Gita. The definitive discourse on Yoga spoken directly from an avatar of The Divine to Arjuna.
Although Vyasa does not appear in the Gita, he is the reason we have record of it. King Dhritarashtra was blind. He was not able to see the great war between his sons and his nephews (Arjuna and his 4 brothers). Vyasa granted the king’s advisor, Sanjaya, divine sight, so he could see all the action and relate it to the king as it happened. It is because of this gift that the Bhagavad Gita, the conversation between Krishna and Arjuna, was revealed to all of humanity.
This brings us to Guru, who is also celebrated along with Vyasa. A Guru is not the workaday yoga teacher in every studio next to every Starbucks. The Guru is the total driver of one’s spiritual development, whose words are taken with the same weight as the words of the Divine. The word “Guru” comes from “Gu,” darkness, and “Ru,” one that dispels. The Guru is the one who dispels the darkness. The belief is that even though we are all a direct extension of the divine, and carry the entirety of this knowledge with in us, we have forgotten our true nature. It is only by the light of another that we are able to recognize the Truth that we carry with us. The Guru pulls back the veil of ignorance which covers our eyes.
Don’t have a Guru? No problem! Swami Sivananada counsels taking a saint or your conception of the Divine Lord as your Guru—learn and abide by their teachings. It is no so much the physical form that matters, it is the student’s faith and devotion which matters.
David Life writes “The Guru is no one person, it is a force. A force which is operating all around us and in us. It is up to us whether we are open to what it is trying to teach us.”
On Guru Purnima, Swami Sivananda encourages us to:
“Generate fresh waves of spirituality. Lat all that you have read, heard, seen and learnt become transformed, through sadhana, into a continuous outpouring of universal love, ceaseless loving service, and continuous prayer and worship of the Lord seated in all beings…The best form of worship of the Guru is to follow his teachings, to shine as the very embodiment of his teachings, and to propagate his glory and his message” (Sivananda. Hindu Fasts and Festivals pp. 15, 18)
Om bolo sat Guru Bhagavan Ki Jai!