While in the West, the term has taken on myriad, frequently derogatory connotations, the true meaning is pure and simple. In Sanskrit, “gu” means darkness, and “ru” means one who removes. So, a “guru” is one who removes your darkness. It is one whose mere presence emanates so much light, so much love, and so much divinity, that every darkness within you is alchemically changed into light. And there is no darkness too dark for a guru. Their light can shine through and transform even the darkest darkness. Even the darkness of midnight would last but a second if the sun decided to rise 6 hours early. This is the power a guru has.
Unlike a “preacher” or “minister” or “rabbi”, a guru does not necessarily have to be a religious figure, nor does it have to be a person of a specific religion, gender, age or ethnicity. It is simply someone who holds the light for you if your path becomes shrouded in darkness; it is someone who will carry you if you get tired; it is someone who -- after you have been in his/her presence -- you are not the same. You are lighter, freer, more filled with joy. It is someone in whose light you want to bask forever.
In the West, guru is frequently defined as “teacher.” Yet, the crucial difference between a teacher and a guru, is that while a teacher can explain things and give you verbal information, they can not actually take you to the realms of which they teach. An astronomy teacher can tell you about other planets, but can not take you there. A science teacher can explain life on the bottom of the ocean, but he can not take you there. A geology teacher can explain the properties of diamonds to you, but he cannot fill your hands with the precious gems. In contrast, a guru not only teaches you about God, but rather, He takes you to God. He not only teaches about peace, He gives you peace.
In Sanskrit, the word guru means one who removes our darkness. Yet it is not merely the darkness of ignorance. It is not simply that we go to our guru with a question, ask him, he answers it and then our confusion is cleared. Rather, the mere presence of the guru in our life removes all darkness – all anger, all pain, all confusion.
Guru Purnima is the day in which we pay our reverence to the Guru – it is a day filled with devotion, with love, with piety. On this day, Indians across the world pay their deepest reverence to both their personal guru, as well as to Sri Maharishi Vyasji. Vyasji is heralded as the editor of the four vedas, and the author of the 18 puranas, the Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita. Having brought such an immeasurable treasure chest of wisdom to the world, Vyasji is worshipped as the Guru of Gurus. It is he who has brought forth this ocean of divine light to dispel the darkness of humanity. Therefore, on this day we also pay our deepest respects to Sri Vyasji.
Guru Purnima is celebrated on the full moon day of Ashadha and the four month period of Chaturmas (the holy time of year in which the monsoons come and the saints refrain from movement).
After the long, hot, dry months of summer in which innumerable people, animals and crops have perished, the rains come, quenching our thirst and bringing us life. And, in India, when the rains come it is not a mere drizzle which lasts for 10 minutes. Rather, the rains are downpours of heavenly nectar, completely saturating the parched land.
Similarly, on this day, as we find ourselves dying of thirst for knowledge, as we find our hearts and minds have become dry due to ignorance, anger and darkness, the Guru comes, pouring forth upon our lives the rain of wisdom, of love, of light and of life. Just as the flowers which have wilted and yellowed in the never-ending heat of summer, suddenly stand erect and succulent as soon as the rains come, so we, who have become ignorant and “dead” to the divinity within us are immediately born anew due to His grace in our lives.
Yet, just as the soil must allow the rain to penetrate its depths in order to reap the benefits of this life-giving nectar, so we must become porous vessels into which the divine nectar of the Guru can flow.
Guru Purnima is a day of renewing our faith, our shraddha, in He who bestows the light upon our lives. It is a day of re-opening our hearts, our souls and our lives to His divine presence and letting it penetrate and saturate every aspect of our being.
There is a beautiful story told about a man who wanted to walk on water. He begged his guru to give him a secret mantra or a special boon so he could complete this remarkable feat. The man was extremely pious and devoted, and he had been in his guru’s service for many years. Therefore, the guru gave him a leaf, folded many times until it was very small. He told his disciple, “Within this leaf is a secret formula which will enable you to walk on water. However, you must not open it because the formula inside is a secret.”
So the man agreed, and he takes the folded leaf carefully in his hands and begins his journey across the river. He is walking fine when suddenly he is overcome by curiosity. What could be this secret formula? Is there really a secret inside? Is it a powder or a stone or some holy mantra printed? Where did his guru get it? His doubts get the best of him and he begins slowly to open the leaf as he walks, careful lest any of the secret formula should spill out into the water. As soon as he unfolds the last piece to unveil the secret, he suddenly sinks into the water and drowns. Inside the leaf was written the simple word, “faith.”
It was not the leaf, nor any secret powder or mantra that enabled the devotee to accomplish a miracle. It was the strength of his faith in his guru and in the “boon” his guru had given him. As soon as that faith wavered and doubt crept in, his life was lost. This is the power of faith.
At this time of Guru Purnima, we must look at what really makes up the Guru-Disciple relationship – what makes it so special, so unique, so powerful and life-transforming?
That answer is faith. Faith can work true miracles and without it, much of life is futile. The guru might be of infinite power, knowledge and compassion. Yet, without the faith of the disciple, the guru can do very little for him. There is a beautiful poem that says:
As children bring their broken toys with tears for us to mend
I brought my broken dreams to God, because He was my friend.
But, instead of leaving Him in peace to work alone,
I hung around and tried to help with ways that were my own.
At last I snatched them back and cried, "How could you be so slow?"
"My child," He replied. "What could I do? You never did let go."
That “letting go” is the faith. If we can surrender to the guru with complete faith, he will transform our lives. However, if we “hang around” and doubt and think that we know better than he does, then we gain nothing.
A guru should not be chosen haphazardly. Most people say that they “just knew” as soon as they met their guru. That is the way it should be. Our hearts should fill with joy in his presence. Our entire beings should feel like they are bathed in warm sunlight. We should instinctively know that he can take us where we need to go.
So, in the early stages, before we take a mantra, or before we officially make someone our guru, that is the time to watch and reflect: “Is he (or she) really the one?” However, once we know, deep in our hearts and souls, that the decision is right, then we must not look back. We should offer ourselves with full abandon at the feet of the guru and our lives will become magic.
Many people today, especially in the West, are hesitant about what they see as “blind obedience” to the Guru. They feel that somehow they will be lesser people if they become obedient to a master. They don’t want to feel like “slaves.” I hear this so frequently by people who have been over-indoctrinated by the Western ideal of individuality. And yet, we must realize that we are living our lives as slaves of our own egos and vanity. We live in blind obedience to the call of our senses and desires. We have blind faith in that which our minds and hearts tell us and we act accordingly. Yet, these false “masters” so frequently lead us astray. We act out of impulse or emotion and later regret it. Our egos and our vanity cause us to engage in actions we later regret.
Let us realize that we are, as it is, acting in obedience to a master. Therefore, let us at least choose a master who will lead us to the light, not the darkness, a master who will lead us to wisdom, not ignorance, a master who will lead us to peace instead of pieces, a master who will never give us an order we will live to regret. Let us live our lives in obedience to the divine orders of our guru instead of in slavery to the volatile callings of our egos, our emotions and our senses.