The Sacred Ancient Tradition of Guru-Shishya

July - Aug 2003

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The brightest aspect of Indian culture is its tradition of sacred and ever deepening bond of soul kinship between Guru and Shishya. It is through this spiritual medium of teacher-disciple relationship between Guru and Shishya that India once rose to the position of Jagatguru (Teacher of the world). This tradition gave birth to Upanishads. The word Upanishad is spelt as Upa nishad; meaning to sit near and to listen - to absorb. An attentive disciple listened to the teachings and experiences of his spiritual master, assimilated them and then succinctly recorded them systematically in the form of unique scriptures called Upanishads.

Pancagni Vidya has been described in the Kathopanishad in the form of a dialogue between Yama and Nachiketa. This is a unique example of the Guru- Shishya tradition. Another example of this tradition, which removes the opaque layers of ignorance hiding the spender of the individual souls, has been further exemplified through the medium of Aruni Swetketu. Explaining Jivan Vidya (art of living) as "Tatvamasi Swetketu" (Oh Swetketu! You yourself are made in the image and likeness of that Supreme Being). We resolve to dedicate ourselves to the ideals of this ancient tradition, every year on Guru Purnima parva because it has kept the essence of Indian spiritual quest alive- the sacred relationship between the two souls (one enlightened and other seeking enlightment) and the path to achieve the ultimate goal of life clear. If we ponder deeply over this sacred context of Guru Purnima, Vyas Purnima, we will realize that we have inherited this festival as an opportunity of refining our faith and devotion and moving in the direction of spiritual progress; and as an occasion for receiving Gurusatta's blessings.

How blessed is a person who has achieved the proximity of Guru, his blessings and subtle protection; can be appreciated from the following lines of Hindi verse "Guru bin gyan nahin re nahin re; Guru bin jivan aisa hota, jaise pran nahin re nahin re". (Meaning: Spiritual knowledge cannot be attained without the help of the Guru. Life without Guru is like a body without life-breath). In India, from the ancient times, the responsibility of selecting the right disciples, removing their darkness of ignorance, guiding them to achieve salvation and serve humanity has been assigned to a self-realized teacher. One can easily understand how essential it is to re-establish this sacred tradition of Guru- Shishya under the present circumstances when Jivan Vidya has almost disappeared.

If there is anything that can stop today's decline of moral values; it is this tradition of Guru- Shishya based on dedication and total surrender. Who should be the Guru? What should be his attributes? On this aspect, our scriptures say that Guru should be "Vishardam, brahmanishtham, shrotriam". This means that the one who possesses the knowledge of shruti (essence of Vedas known through aural transmission), is an expert in its philosophy; possesses excellent moral character befitting a Brahman, that is, whose life is devoted to God and possesses so much spiritual power that he is able to transfer some of the energy to the disciples for their upliftment; can truly be considered fit to be a Guru.

Sant Gyanesvar has written in Bhavartha Dipika (popularly known as Gyaneshwari) his Marathi commentary on the Gita that one who gets the blessing of a Guru may appear to be an ordinary person but he attains a status equivalent to Lord Siva. Adya Shankaracharya has compared Guru with Paras (touch stone) who not only transforms the disciple into his own likeness but also transfers so much spiritual power to him that the latter becomes paras itself. When such a disciple comes in contact with an ordinary person who is like a crude iron ore, the latter gets transformed into a virtuous person (precious like gold). The relationship between Guru and Shishya has been considered to be deeply spiritual in nature. It is extremely pure, full of dedication and is the ultimate in devotion.

Among the four types of relationships; namely, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual - only the last one endures everlastingly. It is also essential to know what should be the specialty of a Guru? How to identity a Sadguru? And, after this, how should the Shishya present himself before the Guru? Shruti says that he should take Samidha in his hand and in an humble manner go to the learned and accomplished Sadguru, who is the symbol of divine light, and beg of him for impartation of the supreme knowledge. Samidha catches fire. It is inflammable. Therefore, it gives an indication that the disciple should be ready to burn his ego-generated vices and sins by coming in proximity of the fire of Guru.

One who has removed the dampness of ego in the Samidha of his personality; will burn without giving any smoke; its flame will be bright and go high in the air. Therefore, a person who has refined himself to the extent of becoming a true brahman, can only qualify to become a disciple (rhetorically called, sitting near the Guru with a Samidha in hand). Only such a person is worthy of getting the grace of Guru. The Guru, who knows the secrets of human-divine consciousness, is capable of transforming and illuminating the consciousness of the Shishya. The Guru comes as a representative of Divine for the benefit of the world. He is on look out for true disciples, tests them properly, endows them with supernormal powers for the upliftment of society.

Thakur Sri Ramkrishna Paramhans, who is considered divine incarnation par-excellence, came to this earth with such a mission. He met many people; some of them were curious listeners or else serious Sadhaks; but he found a true disciple only in Narendra Nath. Thakur could see the dormant spiritual urge embedded within Narendra Nath who at the time of meeting the master was an atheist (due to his westernized education); though he was deeply interested in philosophy. Thakur could sense that one of the souls of Saptarsis (seven sages) had taken birth as Narendra for fulfillment of a specific mission. Therefore, Paramhansa moulded Narenda like a potter.

He later became world famous as Swami Vivekanand and was successful in spreading the essence of Sanatan Dharma in the entire world. Vivekanand himself used to say - "Alas! People could know what I have accomplished!" Here is a shining example of Guru- Shishya tradition at its best. Hundreds of treatises have been written about the lives and mission of this unique pair of Guru- Shishya tradition, who have been a guiding light and source of inspiration to million of seekers of truth over the past hundred years. Another pair namely, Swami Virjanand (Guru) and Mulsankar (Shishya) who later came to be known as Maharshi Dayanand, also belong to this historical tradition. It is through the medium of this pair that the foundation of Aryasamaj was laid. The spread and expansion of Vedic religion and culture and the Herculean task of social reformation in Hindu society was accomplished through Maharshi Dayanand.

There are hundreds of such examples. However names of some of them are worth mentioning. They are Sant Eknath, disciple of Janardan Pant; Sant Gyaneshwar,disciple of his own elder brother Nivrttinath; Adya Shankaracharya, disciple of Govindpad; Kinaram, disciple of Kaluram; Tailang Swami, disciple of Bhagirath Swami; Chatrasal, disciple of Prananath Mahaprabhu; Chhatrapati Sivaji, disciple of Samarth Ramdas; Rajjab, disciple of Dadu, Pusyamitra, disciple of Maharshi Patanjali; Gopinath Kaviraj, disciple of Swami Visuddhanandji; etc. In our divine culture, Shraddha has been logically explained as the power of concentrating the mind and moulding it towards greatness with single pointed devotion.

The science calls this process as the integration of mind. It is through this process that the disciple surrenders himself totally to the Guru and then becomes one with him. The same thing has been described by Lord Srikrisna in Gita (8-12) as follows:

            Mayyeva mana adhatsva mayi buddhim niveshaya! Nivasishyasi mayyeva, ata urdhvam na sanshayah!!

Oh Arjun! You concentrate your mind and intelligence on me. After that you will dwell in me only. There is no doubt in it. On the auspicious occasion of Guru- Purnima (July, 13), let each one of us introspect ourselves as a good disciple: "Is there any lack in our devotion?" Revered Gurudev Pandit Sriram Sharma Acharya and Vandaniya Mataji Bhagavati Devi Sharma sowed the seeds of virtues and also arranged for the manuring and irrigating the fields of our minds. Parijans who possessed even a little fertility of good impressions, got the opportunity of getting their love and affection and their blessings, too.

This festival is an occasion of self-analysis for all such parijans. On this Guru Purnima Vyas Purnima, let all of us take an oath that we will work together with full devotion towards the attainment of the goal of ushering in the golden era of truth. We will not let our faith in our Araddhya Satta (revered Gurudev) or his abode Shantikunj waver. Our Gurudev always rewarded us for whatever meager Guru-Dakshina (offerings) we offered to him and we should have full faith that in future too, his blessings and protection will be with us always. Samidha - wood for yajna.

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