Guru Purnima

On Guru Purnima, we remember our personal mentors, whose cumulative efforts enable learning. Alternatively, we may chose to remember Maharishi Ved Vyas [1] or the more recent bhakti saints like Tulasidasa or Ramakrishna Paramhansa, who, through their words, still make it possible for us to think about the Divine. Or we may simply request the Supreme Being to connect us to a human being who may further guide us in spirituality.

Like many other bhakti saints, Kabirdasa has shared some of his devotional feel for his guru in his poems. Though offering gifts to the guru is recommended on Guru Purnima, Kabir finds himself incapable of offering anything to the guru, for the guru has already gifted him with Ramanama, which can not be weighed against any other gift in the universe [2]. He further says, “I’ll try never to forget my guru, association with whom has enlightened me” [3]. He convincingly finds the guru and the Divine to be the same, who only differ in their form [4].

Happy Guru Purnima!

[1] Guru Purnima is the birthday of Maharishi Ved Vyas. Being the author of all the puranas, the Mahabharata, and the Vedanta-sutras, he has probably had the utmost impact on Hinduism.
[2] rama nama ke patatare, debe ko kucha nahin
[3] gyana prakasa guru mila
[4] guru gobind to ek hai

Ayurveda

It is believed that during the Samudra Manthan, a mythological tale where the great ocean was churned by the shared labor of the divine and evil forces to gain divine riches from nature, Dhanvantari, the physician of the gods, appeared from the ocean holding a pot containing ambrosia, which could confer immortality. Though the recipe for immortality could be consumed by the gods alone, as per Vishnu’s wish, Dhanvantari had something for all beings: Ayurveda, the science of life.

The principles of Ayurveda map the five elements, from which we all are created, to the three doshasvata, pitta, and kapha. An imbalanced ratio of these three humors is responsible for our poor health. Ayurveda aims at taking the refuge of Mother Nature when our material nature (five elements and the mind) is out of balance, mainly due to our own karma, to reach our natural state of perfect health. While the current focus of this alternative system of medicine remains primarily on medication (herbal) and hatha yoga, mantras were also prescribed by the physician in the older days as a remedy along with plant extracts to bring the body and mind in harmony with nature again.

(Text is excerpted from Devotional Hinduism: Creating Impressions for God; iUniverse Inc, 2008.)

Pipal: The celebrated Hindu tree

For Hindus, trees are living beings entirely permeated by the Divine. While Bargad, Amla, and Kadamb have immense spiritual significance, the Pipal (Ashvattha; Sacred Fig) is particularly distinguished. Because many Hindus see their Lord in the Pipal tree, they offer it lamps, flowers, and circumambulation (parikrama), treating the tree like a deity. This behavior demonstrates the magnitude of care that Sanatana Dharma nourishes towards the environment. Moreover, the Pipal gets admirable mention in the Bhagavat Gita, where Sri Krishna calls himself the Pipal among trees (10:26) and compares the world to an upside-down Pipal tree that is rooted in divinity.

Planting of trees near water bodies is labeled as an incomparable good deed by scriptures. The Padma Purana specifically tells us that planting a Pipal tree is as auspicious as thousands of yagnas. Because birds and other beings routinely feed on its fruits, this pious karma is considered as meritorious as feeding numerous humans. Even a single tree is said to provide heaven and eternal glory, if not salvation. In addition, Vedic culture understands that it is necessary to not only plant new trees but also protect existing ones. The Mahabharata, while imparting trees the status of our children, says that an individual should protect a tree as if it is his or her own son.

Even if we don’t plant a tree right away, seeing a Pipal tree grow through a cemented brick wall (commonly observable in rural India) can give us an important message: Like the Pipal tree, we too should steadily overcome all impediments that try to slow us down as we develop our virtuous side and prepare to renounce the world.

What does Hinduism expect from an Ideal Advisor?

While nothing less than realization of our eternal connection with Brahman is expected from a satguru — the spiritual guru who is trusted to guide our soul — the Indian culture has some guidelines for advisors and teachers of all subjects. Besides enough knowledge to clear a student’s doubts (jnana) and the yearning and energy to orally (and truthfully) communicate (vak-shakti), two major qualities that are repeatedly stressed include: fairness and optimism.*

Fairness is such a huge term that it can mean “equanimity towards all beings,” but let us limit it to “equanimity towards all disciples” for our purposes. Because oral communication of knowledge under the student-teacher relationship has been the strength of the ancient Indian knowledge society and the process continues in many fields to this day, mentors preferring to teach their own kids or a “favorite student” are responsible for the continual loss of knowledge in the world. To balance out their karma, serious seekers have to spend lives rediscovering lost treasures. Is selfish prioritization of goals by mentors a contributing factor in the tumbling of popular interest in areas like Indian classical music?

Optimism includes encouragement of new ideas and the ability to transfer good wishes to the classroom. People who seek amusement in communicating but say, “No!” to every idea that originates in a student can never become advisors, for advising is about opening new channels for growth in a student’s life; it is not about blocking the existing ones. While information is transferred from a guru’s mouth to a disciple’s ears, optimism is the positive energy (good wishes) that is transferred from a heart to a heart. Revealing knowledge is not mere mechanical data transfer that needs some intellect for processing, but it involves positive thinking which the ideal advisor uses to ‘donate’ knowledge-energy to a deserving student, who accepts it in an optimistic mind with gratitude.

Fairness and optimism are not theoretical attributes for an endorsed advisor alone. Whenever we communicate with our family and friends, we can assess if our speech embraces these qualities. As we learn to pay attention we will find that chatting is easy, but advising is difficult.

For your contemplation:
In spite of his expertise in the chosen field of study, what went wrong with Dronacharya, the guru of archery, in the Mahabharata? Why are Sage Vasishta and King Janak recognized amongst the best gurus of ancient India?

*Just as a fun fact, fairness and optimism (along with education) are signified in the horoscope by Jupiter (Guru), the planet known as “the advisor to the gods” in Vedic Astrology.

Namaste: Is this Indian greeting still relevant?

Namaste has been the traditional Hindu greeting to both family as well as strangers. However, with cordiality escaping from our hearts, the use of the term is becoming more like a burdensome ritual, and at some instances the greeting is considered an inferior version of “Hi!” The biggest evidence comes from the fact that many Indians do not bother to reply back to a Namaste with a Namaste. Some would just nod, while others may simply ignore you. Though the ideal response to Namaste in Indian culture involves repeating the same term with folded hands, even if the initial greeting comes from a child or a financially disadvantaged person, some hesitate to use the greeting for even elder relatives. Because Namaste means “I bow to the Lord in you,” the few that do respond may not mean it when they utter it. In such an environment, has the greeting become obsolete?

While this greeting is physically spoken to a human being, it is actually directed towards God, who resides in all. And when your communication (or any other karma) is for the Lord, whether the person you communicate to reciprocates with a good wish should never be a concern. You can assure yourself that the Divine, the real spectator for a “Namaste,” always lovingly accepts your greetings. With God as the focal point of this salutation, Namaste, like the alternate traditional greeting, “Rama, Rama,” remains a perfected, eternal greeting from a timeless culture.