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Some Words on Guru Pūrṇimā

2019 July 13, Saturday Conference Notes

ॐ Namo Buddhāya Gurave

The full moon in July is known in India as Guru Pūrṇimā - a day akin to Fathers’ Day, but for the Teacher. On such occasion, we should - in addition to giving gratitude to all those great teachers past & present who have given positive shape to our culture - we should reflect on the meaning & significance of Guru.

Firstly, the word guru literally means heavy. How does this relate to being a teacher? The one who knows the subject is heavier than the one who does not. That is to say that the teacher - because of experience, knowledge, expertise - has more influence over the student than the student does over the teacher. So just like the sun has a heavy enough presence to draw the planets into orbit around itself, the teacher directs the learning & development of the student (according to the teacher’s capacity & field).

There are two ways of understanding this: externally & internally. Externally, Guru refers to the people we regard as teachers or as significant guides in our pursuit of enrichment. We could be pursuing music, math, science, engineering, emotional balance, religion, spirituality, yoga, enlightenment, etc. There is no end to this list. Whenever we venture into a new or unknown realm, it is much easier if we have a guide. A guide helps us to find our way & to succeed more easily by helping us to avoid common mistakes and to show us new things that may have taken us a long time before finally stumbling upon by ourselves. So a guide is certainly helpful. This is the external meaning of guru.

The inner meaning of guru is none other than our highest sense of wisdom & knowing. This inner potential is expressed by various traditions: The Buddhists say that everyone is a buddha or posses the buddha nature. The Bible states that man was made in the image & likeness of God - meaning that our true nature is pure & boundless. Yoga says that this is the source of all intelligence. This pure state exists like the sun. It is always there. No matter what obscurities the sky may posses darkening our vision of the sun, the sun remains utterly untouched and continues to shine without fail. Attachments, fears, ideas, notions, prejudices, all the various falsities the mind clings to, obscure our innate divine nature. The more we are able to settle our restlessness, to quiet & calm our minds, the more this inner-guru-presence can shine forth in our experiences.

Because this inner-nature is unaffected by all of the coloring & projecting that the mind engages in, our true-inner-nature is heavy; hence, it is guru. We do not influence it. It influences us, and - whenever we open ourselves to its silent voice - it guides us towards the path of life.

So this mantra, “oṁ namo buddhāya gurave,” can be read with both outer & inner meanings. One who is awakened (buddha) can teacher others to also become awakened (here guru meaning spiritual teacher). It also means that inner-boundless-purity is our ultimate guide & teacher, and it is this inner sense that gives deep lasting meaning to our practice. Practices often become identified with culture rather than with principle & purpose. We identify with the brand of yoga or religion that we practice. We become engrossed in the cultural practices of our particular sect, our nationalism, social status, etc. all types of things that keep us stuck on the surface and in saṁsāra. But, if we juxtaposition the inner meaning of, “oṁ namo buddhāya gurave,” to define our practice of yoga, then practice essentially becomes any & all of the efforts, intentions, actions we make that bring us closer to experiencing & expressing our inner-boundless-purity.

Anything that develops our connection with the source of all knowing is practice. We bring our attention to our posture and our restlessness begins to subside. We bring attention to smooth even regulation of breath, and we become yet more present. We bring the light of our attention to our eyes, and then, really we begin to behold ourselves more clearly. This coming to presence within ourselves and where we stand in this vast universe - when we become conscious of this shift in perspective - then we have truly gained an invaluable understanding of the power of these yogic tools.


[ image credit ] Soles of reclining Buddha’s feet in Rock Temple, Dambulla, Sri Lanka.


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