Guru Purnima: Honor Your Teachers

On Monday, July 22nd the full moon occurs in the nakshatra Uttara Ashadha meaning “latter victory” or “latter unconquered”. This causes us to focus on gaining strength from doing what is ethically right and virtuous. Uttara Ashada is symbolized by an elephant tusk or the four posts of the bed driving the theme that establishing a strong foundation in truth will grant you victory in your dharma. The deity associated with this lunar mansion is Vishvadevas, meaning all gods or universal gods. The Vishvadevas are the ten sons of good Dharma. They have the power to grant unchallengeable victory over evil. Vishvadevas deal with the laws of karma, right action, the laws of time and universal moral principles.

This particular full moon is the day of Gurupurnima in Yogic Tradition. It is a day devoted to honoring the great teachers in our lives. Guru means remover of darkness or one that brings light to the darkness. The guru is the imparter of Jnana or good knowledge and acts as our spiritual guide. The syllable gu means shadow and ru means he who disperses them. The guru therefore has the power to disperse darkness and illuminate the correct spiritual path.

As an adjective guru literally means heavy, implying heavy with knowledge. The root of the word guru is found in “gri”, to invoke or praise and also “gur”, to raise up or make an effort. It is cognate to the latin word gravis which means serious, weighted or heavy.

The Guru is affiliated with the planet Jupiter, the largest planet, because he has the most moons or disciples.

The guru concept was intruduced in the Upanishads in 2000BC. The Upanishads are a series of stories that embody the foundation of the Hindu religion. They were originally orally transmitted and later inscribed. The word Upanisad means to sit down near. Literally meaning to sit down before a teacher to orally receive knowledge.

Gurupurnima is celebrated in the Hindu month Ashad (July-August) and is celebrated on the birthday of the great sage Vyasa who contributed vastly to the documentation and development of Hindu philosophy. Vyasa is said to have edited Vedas and classified them into 4 groups. He is credited with being the author of the Mahabharata and is also a character in the great text. Vyasa also is said to have edited the 18 Purunas and the Srimad Bhagavata. He was even the teacher of Dattatreya who is considered the guru of all gurus. Vyasa is often considered an incarnation of Vishnu, the preserver in the Indic trilogy of gods who chooses to incarnate himself to illuminate the minds of the people of the earth.

In my opinion, the ultimate role of the guru is to illuminate the fact that the true teacher lies within all of us. As teachers we draw out a path of practice that ultimately leads the student back to himself. We all have the power to dispell darkness inside of us by acknowledging what is not serving us physically, emotionally and spiritually. As physical yogis we process our samskaras on a conscious and subconscious level in our daily practice. We manipulate energy within the body through breathing, bandha, asana and dristi. This process helps to clear out our negative tendencies that cause suffering and separateness in forms of disease in the body and unrest in the mind. The use of asana practice serves as a foundation for our lives because it grants us stability in our bodies and minds so we can relate better to ourselves physically, emotionally and spiritually. That then allows us to relate to others, the world and the universe in the same way. This process brings us out of the false egocentric idea that we are separate beings fending for ourselves in a scary uncontrollable world and brings us back into the idea that we all share energy and are part of one loving source. Therefore our discipline and dedication to the mat practice serves as a platform for illumination and true happiness in our lives. It sets us free.

It is extremely fitting that Sri K. Pattabhi Jois’s birthday falls on this day. Thank you Guruji for creating the tremendously transformative gift of the Ashtanga yoga system which continues to serve as a foundation in my life and teaching.

Celebrate and honor your teachers today. Begin with honoring your mother who is your first teacher and move on from there. It is an auspicious time to begin a spiritual quest. Dive into yourself and be courageous enough to get a glimpse of who you truly are. Take time to acknowledge the beauty that your community helps you see within yourself and in others. This brings you closer to your own personal truth so you can be liberated from separateness and inspire others to be brave enough to do the same.