Last week, the eastern world celebrated a special occasion. Like each year, Hindus, Jains and Buddhists in India, Nepal and all over the world, observed ‘Guru Purnima’, which is the first full moon night after summer solstice, in the Hindu month of Ashadha (June–July). This festival is traditionally celebrated to express gratitude and respects to mentors.
On ‘Guru Purnima’, Hindus pay reverence to ‘Maharshi Veda Vyasa’, the sage who is held high among the tradition of Gurus (mentors) and Sishyaas (disciples) and who is believed to have incarnated on this day. Buddhists celebrate ‘Guru Purnima’ to mark the occasion of Buddha’s first sermon, which was delivered on this day. ‘Guru Purnima’ is considered an auspicious time for those who are embarking on spiritual learning of any kind.
On this sacred occasion, I am dedicating this post to the Gurus, masters and mentors, in every walk of life.
Personal success depends on a lot of factors. Among them, I consider as the most powerful factor, the influence and guidance of a mentor (Guru). If we look at the history of successful people, almost all of them have invariably been led to their success path by their respective Gurus.
In fact, in many spiritual traditions, Guru is revered as the sole reason for the success and enlightenment of a disciple. ‘குரு லேக எடுவண்டி குணிகி தெலியக போது‘ (No one, however virtuous he may be, without the grace of a Guru will know how to cut through the forest of mental confusions!)’, declares Saint Thyagaraja, who was a one of the greatest composers in the South Indian Classical Music Tradition.
In our own lives, we come across many people who teach us various things. Are all of them our Gurus? Is there a difference between a teacher and a Guru?
Anyone who imparts knowledge to us that helps us achieve our goals in life, is a teacher. In that sense, those who coached us in schools and colleges, were teachers.
A teacher shows us a way.
A teacher’s role is informational.
A teacher gives us methods, techniques and tools.
A teacher hand-holds us and helps us practise what we have learned.
… But all of them are not Gurus.
A Guru is one who enlightens. The word ‘Guru’ has its roots in the Sanskrit language, in which the word means ‘removal of darkness’. ‘குருட்டினை நீக்கும் குரு‘ (the one who removes our intellectual blindness), says Thirumoolar, who was a mystic, saint and poet in Tamil (the classical South Indian language).
A Guru opens up closed gates in our mind, so we start perceiving as obvious, things that were non-existent before.
A Guru provides an inner experience, which gives us an ‘Aha’ moment.
Here are some more distinguishing features that set a Guru apart from a teacher or a coach.
A coach teaches HOW. A Guru makes us see the WHAT.
As an enterpreneur I had to acquire many skills. I worked with coaches who trained me on many skills and aspects of my business, but it was ‘Dan Kennedy’ who made me realize WHAT the most important skill that I needed to acquire, train and master, was. His advice ‘… the ability to sell is THE number-one most important, all important personal skill. If you are uncomfortable or ineffective at selling yourself, your ideas, your products and services, etc., you are severely handicapped.’, was a life-changer.
A coach helps build our SUPERSTRUCTURE. A Guru helps us acquire a robust FOUNDATION.
A cricket player known to me, has many coaches who have trained him on specific batting techniques and styles, but he considers one of them as his Guru, who gave him his foundational learning viz., importance of fitness, consistency of practice and the discipline of showing up for training every single day.
A coach helps you UNDERSTAND. A Guru removes FALSE NOTIONS that cloud UNDERSTANDING.
From childhood, I have come across teachers and trainers who taught me various meditation techniques like observing my breath, focusing between eyebrows, being mindful about the ambient sounds alone, chanting a mantra, visualizing a deity, praaNayaama (roughly translated as regulating my breath) etc. But it was the Guru who revealed the simple truth that ‘meditation is not an act’ but rather ‘meditativeness is a state of being’. He made me see the point that I can never meditate but can only be meditative. The search stopped.
A coach imparts LEARNING. A guru opens the right door to the LEARNING.
When I started my programming career about 3 decades ago, I learned, from bosses, trainers and books, the grammar, techniques and tips of various programming languages. But it was my senior colleague, who made me realize that each language had a specific way of thinking that was intrinsic to it and unless that was mastered, the code written in that language would never be optimal; for instance, coding in SQL would be optimal only when the business logic is thought through in terms of sets, tables and relations.
A Guru’s role and influence in our life is transformational and changes us in a way that we no longer are the same persons as before. That is why, among the many forms in which, God is invoked, the form of a Guru is the most sought after. In Yoga tradition, God is considered to be the first (or the Adi) Guru of the universe. Saint Arunagirinathar, concludes his devotional outpourings with the appeal to Lord to appear before him as his Guru (குருவாய் வருவாய், அருள்வாய் …)
From legends, mythologies, history and up to the modern professional times, there have been numerous examples of Gurus (mentors) and Sishyas (students) in all fields of learning – the oldest known Guru being ‘Adi Guru’ of the Yoga order and the recent one being ‘Kobun Chino Otogowa’, the Guru who gave the ‘Steve Jobs’, as he was, to the world.
On the occasion of ‘Guru Purnima’, I respectfully remember all the Gurus, who have set me on the right track, who have helped me remove the veils of ignorance and misunderstanding and who by their nudges and hammer blows, have caused transformational change in my life for the better.