Today is Guru Purnima, and also a total lunar eclipse, apparently the longest eclipse of the 21st century.
When a total lunar eclipse occurs – the moon turns an interesting shade of red; thus, it is called a “blood moon.” In ancient times, the eclipse of the moon was thought to be a terrible omen or some kind of demonic energy coming to earth. Conversely, in this New Age, it seems that the attitude towards an eclipse is that it is some kind of a transcendent event that opens us to a higher level of understanding, and enhances our efforts towards spiritual evolution.
I find it very fascinating how our ideas as a culture or species are largely informed by current attitudes and superstitions, and that most of our dearly held beliefs will evolve. There is some comfort in the fact that Change is at least one thing that remains always constant.
Guru Purnima is a day celebrated mostly in India to honor our spiritual teachers or 'Gurus'. It is a special time to express gratitude to those who have guided, and helped to elevate our consciousness.
Now, I’m not sure about you, but I’ve been thinking a lot about “gurus” this past year, and have been attempting to sort out my feelings around this concept. I have degrees in Philosophy and Religious Studies, and through this training I was educated to think critically about such concepts. I was taught to analyze ideas from all different points of view, to make arguments and counter arguments, until I could come to some kind of resolution. So in my own quiet way, this is what I have been continuing to do.
Today, while thinking of all the many times that I had the good fortune to be in Mysore, India to celebrate Sri. K Pattabhi Jois’s birthday (which coincides with Guru Purnima) I couldn’t help but feel a deep sense of appreciation for all the days of practice and learning that I had with him and Sri R. Sharath Jois. Almost immediately, I felt disheartened that not everyone was able to think back and remember Guruji with the fondness I had. These two mixed emotions brought me back to thinking more about the idea of what it is to have a Guru, how this connection is formed, and then transformed, and how we can honor each other within this context.
Ultimately, the Guru Principle, is the answer to the prayer found in the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad:
asato mā sadgamaya
tamasomā jyotir gamaya
From ignorance, lead me to truth;
From darkness, lead me to light;
From death, lead me to immortality
A Guru is someone or something that can remove the ignorance, darkness, and negative habits within us, and point us in the direction of truth, light and abundant life. In India, it is said that your first Guru is your Mother. All mothers in India, are held in high esteem due to this belief in their status as a Guru and first teacher to the future generation.
In my mind, when you take someone to be your Guru, it is actually a lot like falling in love. You become blinded to his or her inadequacies, faults, or even outright transgressions. You hold this person up in such a bright light that you cannot even imagine how other people might not also be completely enamored. Therefore, it is very difficult to understand or accept how your Guru, your beloved, might in reality, be something other than what you perceive him or her to be. When you are in the throws of love, it is almost impossible to see that your lover might actually be just another human being with weaknesses, addictions, and insecurities (just like the rest of humanity).
Another way to look at the guru-shishya (teacher-disciple) relationship is similar to a child and parent; in India, this is very much the case, as often this connection is established long before the student becomes an adult.
Young children see their parents as Super Heroes. A parent is like a god to a young child, and it is impossible for a child to comprehend how her Hero might actually be a total phony to other adults.
We continue to hold this person up on a pedestal until either the relationship or ourselves mature. “Love is blind” after all.
Then one day, we see our Teacher with new eyes, from a view quite different than that of our previous self, colored by an understanding that has dawned through experience gained. We will inevitably encounter how this once irrefutable individual was never exactly as we perceived him or her to be. Eventually, everyone will disappoint our expectations if we've held them up to the status of an Enlightened One or Übermensch.
Just as a child cannot remain a baby forever, and within the very nature of romantic infatuation is imbedded the tragedy of diminishing love, it is the destiny of the student to grow up. If this relationship can transform into something of mutual respect, acceptance, and openness; holding the other in balance with all his or her imperfections, then the longevity of the connection can continue and withstand time’s tests.
Now, here is the paradox, in the same way that your parents are your parents, whether you like them or not, and when you’re truly in love, you are fully immersed in the obsession, whether you want to be or not; once you have experienced that kind of deep surrender to another human being, to the point where you have made him or her your Guru, I would argue that it is almost impossible to stop feeling that inner connection in some way, even if you can see and acknowledge the dark underbelly of too much power, or the overcasting shadow of the pedestal dampening the brilliance of their light.
Arguably, you can simultaneously still love someone without actually liking them.
The whole idea of "Guru" then, needs to be elevated from being attached to a physical person or embodied being, to its association with the principal of enlightenment itself. Like Buddha Nature or Christ Consciousness, the Highest Guru, the Teacher of all Teachers, is accessible to all of us at any time, wherever we might be.
The “Lotus Feet of the Guru” is an ancient symbol that represents the presence of divinity on Earth. It is a reminder that the real benefit of spiritual practice is that it gives us a way to see God in All Things.
Sadhana becomes a method for physically doing something to symbolically lay down our prayers, offerings, grievances, and ego at the feet of something else that is greater than ourselves.
Who or What those feet belong to really isn’t the important part.
The concept of a “Guru” is only a tool to help us cultivate humility and devotion to something beyond any physical form - the Natural Law of the Universe - The Tao – The Infinite.
There is a famous shloka in Sanskrit:
Guru Brahma, Guru Vishnu
Guru Devo Maheshvara
Guru Sakshat Parabrahma
Tasmai Sri Guruve Namah
The Guru is Brahma, The Guru is Vishnu
The Guru is the Maheshvara (Shiva)
The Guru is the Supreme Reality (Parabrahma)
We bow to that Guru
Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva represent the ongoing cycle of creation, preservation, and destruction that make up the Ultimate Formless Reality. This is the law that governs all things. Ṛta - the principle of “natural order” that regulates, coordinates, and operates the entire Universe and everything within it; and it is to this Force alone, that we are to experience ourselves in right relationship with.
So, today, on this unique Guru Purnima with it's Full Moon Eclipse, I bow to the Supreme Force that shines through so many people I have met over the course of my life thus far: family, friends, teachers, students, children, lovers, even abusers and antagonists… Every single person has played a roll in the evolution of my consciousness and I am grateful, in some way, for all of it.
At this point, from where I stand, it really couldn’t have been any other way.
Om Sri Sarve’bhyo Brahmane’bhyo Namaha
I bow too that state of consciousness that fully
contains everything without being altered in
any way from its natural state.