As I begin to write, a large salmon-colored moon is rising in the southeastern sky. It is Guru Purnima.
Guru Purnima is referred to in the Indian epic, the Mahabharata and other texts as the day to worship our Guru, especially “Sat Gurus”, those who teach us about the deeper, spiritual lessons in life. It is said to the most auspicious day to be with your Guru. It was originally called Vyasa Purnima, after the sage and author Veda Vyasa, but with th passage of time has been changed to Guru Purnima.
It occurs on the Full Moon day in the Indian month of Ashada (July – August in the Gregorian calendar system). This is the day when our mind (Moon) can most easily “feel” the Guru, and greater imbibe their wisdom.
Today I played Krishna Das’s very moving “Mere Gurudev,” and took time to honor those who have taught me the highest.
Mere Gurudev, charanon par sumana shraddha ke arpita hai
Tere hee dena hai jo hai. Wahi tujha ko samarapita hai
My Gurudev I offer these flowers of my faith at your feet
Whatever I have, you have given to me, and I dedicate it all to you. (via allthelyrics.com)
It was at the very first Anusara workshop I had attended, with Ann Greene, that I learned about the “guru principle.” It was right before the festival, which fell on the day of my regular class. Learning that it was custom to offer sweet fruit to one’s teacher, I brought a mango to class and left it on my teacher’s mat before she reentered the room. It was kind of a yogadork move, I suppose.
This past weekend, it was again at a “playshop” that I was reminded of the festival. I learned some new things and reminded of others. For instance, I was reminded of the idea that regardless of the difficulty of one’s relationship with one’s parents as a child or as an adult, that they are one’s first gurus. I remember this idea also from having read Ramesh Menon’s beautiful prose in, The Ramayana: A Modern Retelling of the Great Indian Epic (2003). There was a lot of “taking the dust” from the feet of parents, mentors, sages and others. Unbeknownst to all, including himself, Ram was an incarnation of Vishnu, and yet here he was giving respect to his parents. It makes me think of the scene “The March of the Siamese Children” from “The King and I” (1956).
While the film portrays this as a question of the father-king’s authority, it may be that the cultural practice was indeed related more to a similar acknowledgement of the role of father-mentor. Indeed, in this scene, the children also show respect to the English teacher to whom they are being introduced. I have also heard recently that the bow or pranam is not one of self-abnegation, but the humility is of awe. As G.K. Chesterton said, “If man cannot pray he is gagged; if he cannot kneel be is in irons.” To observe this day, I spent some time today connecting with gurus.
In the course of my Spring cleanse, I became aware of how discriminating I can be while choosing fresh produce. Indeed, I owe these skills to my mother, with whom I used to go shopping as a child. Today, I learn from her the importance of maintaining good relationships with my siblings, despite our geographic dispersion.
My abiding awe for nature I get from my father. In particular, he often took me fishing, during which time it was important to be quiet (“you’ll scare the fish”), watchful and patient. These skills come in handy when one is trying to appreciate abundance, and the wonder that pervades all living things. I also learned from him the importance of supporting community, even when one may be at odds with it. I remember the countless days he volunteered to paint in one of the buildings attached to our parish. Today I am edified by how both this reverence and support combine in his mysterious urge to protect fragile sea turtles in coastal South Carolina.
I also remember my professor Joe Fahey, still at Manhattan College, about whom I have written in the “celtic soul” series on this blog. It was my intent, in his honor, to finish today the series with a post that is mainly about his view, Part Four, “A Pelagian Optimism,” but I spent some time responding to a discussion about the ideas of another important teacher of many of us. Suffice it to say for now that I learned a great many things from Fahey. Among them, what often sticks with me is the admonition to “never be closed to the possibility of conversion,” conversion being one possible outcome of nonviolent struggle, in which an opponent has a change of heart. Of course, he advised not to depend on this, but not to close oneself to the possibility, either. This turns out to be one of the features of Gandhian nonviolence that Johann Galtung says “builds in” conflict resolution.
I recall today my first yoga teacher, who “normalized” yoga for me. Before I even met her, she replied to an e-mail I send that all I needed to bring to the first class was a t-shirt and a pair of shorts, and an open mind. Later, when I had a thirst for more philosophy,
she loaned to me a copy of Judith Lassater’s very practical Living Your Yoga: Finding the Spiritual in Everyday Life (1999).
Earlier today, I acknowledged the profound influence of my first Anusara yoga teacher, who introduced to me so many ideas, fellow seekers, and teachers. Her instruction echoes in my head when I struggle with asana, her command of the philosophy yet inspires, her growing knowledge of ayurveda still informs, her positive attitude remains infectious, and her fire continues to kindle.
Lastly, I recognize the teacher who most recently reminded me of this festival. I have completed a cycle of a year’s worth of workshops with her, and hope to take my Anusara immersions with her, the next time it comes up on the guitar.
These are among the many “weighty ones” who have encourage me to seek the highest, but they are the most salient for me at the moment. It is not my intention to give these others short shrift, but seeking the highest often means adequate sleep, and if the universe allows, the practice continues tomorrow.