Teachers have the capacity to burn within us a hunger for knowledge, cultivate latent talents and lift us out of maya (illusion). They also leave us with silly memories.
One of my grade school teachers Mr. B., seemingly loved the cold. In the dead of winter, with snow cradling the ground, us students would shiver in his classroom where the tilting windows were opened - all of them. Occasionally, due to the uncontrollable shaking knees of school girls wearing their uniform plaid skirts, he would close one or two windows.
"The cold is good for you!" Mr. B. would say. We still shook, but I hold that memory as a cherished one from my childhood.
In my life, I have had the extraordinary opportunity to be in the presence of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hahn, Krishna Das, and my guru H.H. Radhanath Swami. To be in the presence of these teachers is frankly mind blowing to me when I think about it. Access to books from other brilliant teachers has been an easy thing for me to obtain. These books are where I met (and subsequently absorbed the knowledge) of Pema Chodren, Yogananda and more. In a world where access to such things is limited, a blessing was bestowed upon me.
Guru is a Hindu word for a spiritual leader who has the capacity to drive out maya that binds an individual. Gu means darkness or ignorance. Ru is the remover of such things. Today is the day to honor those teachers who help to drive out our ignorance, instilling the ability to see with open eyes.
Guru Purnima is a celebration of Buddhists and Hindus alike, honoring and offering puja to their teachers. This annual holiday is on the full moon of Ashadha (Nepali/Hindu month June-July)
For yogis the history of this festival lies in the birth of Adi Guru (the first guru) 15,000 years ago. Through a lifetime's persistence of those around him, he opened the doorway for all of us to undergo a conscious evolution.
For Buddhists, today marks the anniversary when Lord Buddha traveled to Sarnath and gave his first sermon after achieving enlightenment. It was on this full moon day, that he delivered the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta.
To Hindus, today marks the memory of the sage, Maharshi Veda Vyasa (also known as Krishna Dvaipayana). This avatar of the God Vishnu edited and divided the Vedas, wrote the Mahābhārata and eighteen of the major Puranas. To Hindu's, this day marks his birth and the date of the dividing of the Vedas.
Guru Purnima gives us the chance to offer puja and thanks to our teachers - both spiritual and scholarly. Those teachers drove out ignorance for us in various ways. We can also take the time to acknowledge those in our daily lives who through a multitude of actions, provide us with important lessons, as well. Some of them are not easy lessons to learn.
I once heard a story of one of my teacher's guru, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. A devotee had written him letters and Swami loved to have them read to him. When the devotee returned to Prabhupada, another person suggested the devotee read his letters out loud to Prabhupada. When the devotee did so, Prabhupada started talking over him. Again and again this happened.
I remember feeling such empathy for the devotee when I heard the story and anger welled within me for Prabhupada. With time and distance, I recognized the hard lesson. Prabhupada had become for his devotee like a father. Guru's can take on that role for many of us. It hurts us when we disappoint them. It causes our heart to burn in pain when they do not readily give the love we seek. Swami Prabhupada was driving away vanity. It was a difficult lesson!
What if only Prabhupada said "What you are doing is vain!" Would the devotee have listened? Would his mind have reasoned why it wasn't? If your parents said something like that to you, would you listen? Sometimes the tough lessons come disguised in emotional cloaks to drive us deeper into a place beyond our egos.
My life is built up of lessons. The most impactful ones were uncovered through deep, painful, emotional moments. Of course it took time to see beyond my feelings. There were also those inspirational words, but they too generally invoked great emotional response.
For the inspirational and disciplinary lessons I have received from my life's teachers, I offer my humblest gratitude.
Jai Meher Baba! Jai Sri Yuketswar! Jai HH Dalai Lama! And for my guru, Jai HH Radhanath Swami!
Jai to the many teachers I have met in my life and those who teach me daily. Hari Bol!