The Guru Gita says
that the Guru is Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Verily,
the Guru is the Supreme Brahman itself.
But what is a guru in practical terms? 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 our darkness. It
is one whose mere presence emanates so much light, so
much love and so much divinity that every darkness
within us 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. Similarly, no darkness can last in the Divine
presence of a true guru.
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 diference between a
teacher and a guru is that while teachers can explain
concepts and give you verbal information, they cannot
actually take you to the realms of which they teach.
An astronomy teacher can tell you about other planets,
but cannot take you there. A science teacher can
explain life on the bottom of the ocean, but cannot
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 also gives
As I mentioned, 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.
HISTORY OF GURU PURNIMA
Guru Purnima is the day on which we pay our reverence
to the Guru. It is a day filled with devotion,
love and 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 one who classified and arranged the
four Vedas, and as 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 Great Guru. It is he who
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.
THE GURU QUENCHES OUR THIRST
In India, the summer is followed by the monsoon season
when the skies themselves seem to open , pouring down
sheets of water upon the parched land. After the long,
hot, dry months of summer in which innumerable people,
animals and crops may have perished, the rains finally
come, quenching our thirst and bringing us life. And,
in India, when the rains come it is not a mere
drizzle. Rather, the rains are downpours of heavenly
nectar, completely saturating the dry land.
Similarly, on this day of Guru Purnima as we find
ourselves dying of thirst for knowledge, understanding
and peace, 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, love, light and 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.
However, the monsoon comes only once a year. The
ground and soil are graced only one season a year with
the divine flow of rain. However, the Guru is always
with us. His grace is always showering upon us. There
is only one �monsoon season� but if we allow the
Guru�s grace into our lives, then every season is
the season of the Guru.
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.
The most important quality in a disciple is humility
and surrender to the Guru. If we are filled with our
own ego, then there is no room for the Guru�s grace
There is a story of a man who had done many years
of scriptural study but he hadn�t attained the
height of spiritual progress which he was craving. He
had heard that there was an enlightened master who
lived on a mountain in the Himalayas. So, he traveled
the great distance to find this master.
When he finally reached to the Guru�s cave in the
mountains, he was filled with excitement at being so
close to attaining what he had always wanted. When he
beheld the Master, he bowed at the Master�s feet and
started to tell the Master everything he had studied,
practiced and learned. He explained where he felt that
he was stuck on his spiritual path, and all of the
obstacles he faced. The Master was quiet. When the man
finished talking, the Master calmly said, �Let us
have a cup of tea.�
�Tea???� The seeker exclaimed. �But Gurudev I
have travelled weeks on foot to find you. I have spent
years and years in the quest for enlightenment. I am
now at your holy feet waiting for you to bestow your
great wisdom upon me. I don`t want tea! Just bless
me with Divine Liberation.�
�First we will have tea,� the Master said calmly,
and laid out two cups for tea. The Guru then
began to pour tea, from a kettle into each cup. As he
filled the seeker�s cup, the man watched as the Guru
poured and poured even though the tea reached to the
rim of the cup. Then, still, as the cup overflowed and
tea spilled onto the floor, the Guru kept pouring.
�Gurudev,� the man said. �Stop. It is enough.
Can you not see that the tea is now spilling out on
the floor. There is no more room in the cup.�
The Guru smiled and stopped pouring. �You are like
this cup, my child. Just as the cup is so full that it
can hold no more tea, so you are so full of your own
ego, your own learning, your own stories, your own
explanations, that there is no room for anything else.
You cannot hold what I can teach you. Until you empty
yourself of your ego, your preconceived ideas, your
own book knowledge and your own explanations of how
everything is there will be no point in me teaching
you at all. You cannot hold anything right now.
There is no room.
Similarly, if we really want the grace of the Guru to
flow into us and transform our lives, we must become
empty vessels. Only when we are empty of ego can He
fill us with His divine light.
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 took the folded leaf
carefully in his hands and began his journey across
the river. He was walking successfully on the water
when suddenly he was overcome by curiosity and doubt.
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
got the best of him and he began slowly to open the
leaf as he walked, careful lest any of the secret
formula should spill out into the water. As soon as he
unfolded the last piece to unveil the secret, he
suddenly sank into the water and drowned. 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
The key 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
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 answered,
�What could I do? You never did let go.�
That �letting go� is 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
CHOOSING A GURU
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 should 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, emotion or vanity and
later regret it.
Let us realize that we are, as it is, acting in
obedience to a master. Therefore, let us 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, and a master who will never give us an
order we will later 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,
desires and senses.
It is through the teachings of the Guru and through
the grace of the Guru that we become masters of our
minds, thoughts and senses. Only then can we truly be
The Guru Gita tells us: �Meditate with concentration
upon the Guru�s form. Worship with devotion the
Guru�s feet. Take the Guru�s teachings as sacred,
perfect mantras and recite them diligently. Only
through the Guru�s grace will you attain
THE QUALITIES OF A DISCIPLE
People sometimes make the mistake of putting all of
the responsibility on the Guru. We expect that we can
continue to live our lives exactly as we want -- along
with our own egos, greed and vices -- and yet the Guru
will come, wave a magic wand and grant us instant
peace, prosperity and enlightenment. It is not like
that. The disciple must be dedicated, committed,
faithful and assiduous in his/her sadhana.
A good disciple:
1. Always tells the truth to the Guru and
never hides anything from the Guru.
2. Practices the teachings of the
Guru with faith, discipline and regularity.
3. Follows the instructions of the
Guru without argument. Questions, of course, can and
should be asked when there are doubts or confusion in
the disciple�s mind, but prior to asking any
question the disciple should first deeply introspect
to see whether the question really warrants the time
and attention of the Guru or whether the question is
simply to satisfy the ego or desires of the disciple.
4. Continues to grow and develop
each day, making a commitment each morning to be more
pure, more holy, and more divine every day.
5. Vows to live as a beautiful
example and representative of the Guru. Disciples are
the reflection of the Guru. So, if we truly love,
revere and adore our Gurus we must pledge to live our
lives as shining examples of their teachings and as
pure reflections of their Divine lives.
6. Is humble in front of the Guru,
accepting the Guru�s words (and sometimes
reprimands) with surrender and humility.
7. Is ever ready to serve the Guru -
any time of the day, any day of the week, any week of
the year. Seva given by the Guru and performed for the
guru is a rare and precious jewel on the road to God
Realization. In fact, selfless, dedicated seva
for the Guru is one of the straightest and clearest
paths to ultimate moksha. We must never give up an
opportunity to perform seva for our Gurus.
THE GURU OF NATURE
Another beautiful aspect of Guru Purnima is
represented by the teaching of Dattatreya, who himself
is regarded as a Guru of Gurus and even as an
incarnation of God Himself. Dattatreya said that he
had 24 Gurus, all manifestations of nature. From each
of nature�s creations, he learned a different
lesson, ranging from the selfless service of the
fruit-bearing tree to the persistence of the rain
Let us, too, on this day, look around us at God�s
natural creation and ask what we can learn from Mother
Nature. Rather than look upon Her as a commodity to be
used and abused, let us look upon Her as a Guru from
whom we receive countless lessons and blessings.
I pray that God may bestow His blessings of health,
happiness, peace, prosperity and spiritual upliftment
upon you all.
With love and blessings.
In the service of God and humanity,
Swami Chidanand Saraswati