Thousands across the world observed Guru Poornima yesterday – a day in solemn tribute to the Guru. I asked myself ‘What’ or ‘Who’ is a Guru and why must any human being, with all the limitations that come thereof, be worthy of absolute veneration. A question, whose answer, I was to learn, would infinitely overwhelm; I was flatly moved to tears and, frankly, I still was when I was writing this.
I will try to paint my understanding in your mind and I hope you stay with me through this thought process.
I’m presently studying Ādi Shankarāchārya’s Dakshināmoorti Stotram, a hymn to Shiva who is appealed to in the aspect of the divine teacher. The hymn is a philosophical and poetic masterpiece. In its very first verse, the Acharya, with a suggestive vocabulary that is uniquely his, salutes Dakshināmoorti as “He who experiences at the time of realisation” (यः साक्षात्कुरुते प्रबोधसमये). This is a phrase that I find is pregnant with remarkable meaning. At the time of experiencing knowledge – the experience that overcomes us at the moment of ‘realising’ something – the differences between the ‘experiencer’ (me), ‘the process of experiencing’ and the ‘object of experience’ vanish in our minds. The sensation of ‘I, the experiencer, who is experiencing something’ simply doesn’t exist. The experience, here, fully captures the moment and at this point (the point of realisation), our existence merges with the knowledge at hand. This phenomenon is what Shankara salutes as the Guru. This is a very deep idea. One may want to pause and dwell.
I was reflecting on this concept today, while walking on the street and, very unexpectedly, I was overcome by a startling understanding and my eyes started growing moist. I was in the company of my sister, niece, nephew and a few curious strangers. They were all highly amused, I suppose. At any rate, let me tell you of the understanding that overwhelmed me: every moment in my life, with people, alone, in circumstances, in every situation, happy or sad, pleasing or ghastly, I was learning something, I was consuming a unique experience (whether I acknowledged it or not). My life, I was able to see, is defined by a series of conscious experiences. Sitting on this fact, my mind turned to the trees, the whispers of the wind, the stranger, the enemy, the beloved, the descent of gloom and the thrill of joy, each of these, with the experiences they give, manifest in me as the ‘Guru’ that Shankara had referred to in his salutation. All things around me, with the subtle education implicit in them, become my Guru. Wonderful. When I then look at myself and observe in silence and in the very process of introspection, I further realise that I, myself, become my own Guru. My ego, thoughts, emotions, perceptions, memories, all of these, are bursting with suggestions that are uniquely their own. And when I consider this idea in its whole, the entire universe and my experience of it – everything – is my Guru. I am the Guru. Hmm. This idea comes alive in one final fact: the teacher, by teaching, causes the student to be enriched. Knowledge is the most profound gift and the possibilities it offers us are infinite. Nothing, really, is more valuable than knowledge. Now, when I look at the entire universe and myself in the perspective just described, I can see that my very life is nothing but an experience of supreme compassion. Think about it. Through life and its numerous experiences, good or bad, one is continuously learning. And this learning is provided at no cost. There is no fee, no obligation. When one realises the depth of generosity being alluded to, one sees that life is surrounded by infinite, unconditional grace. Whose grace? If grace is being conveyed, who is the conveyor of it? What a fascinating question. I simply have to find out.
This is my first Guru Poornima. All the others, over the years, were only dates on the calendar.