The Guru Does Not Create Knowledge, but Removes the Obstacles That Stop Us from Gaining That Knowledge

Abhijata Sridhar

This talk for Guru Pournima Day was given by Abhijata Sridhar on July 25, 2010, at R.I.M.Y.I., Pune. Guruji, Geetaji, and Prashantji were in attendance.

Today is Guru Pournima, the day we offer our respects, reverence, and gratitude to our guru. In this Indian month of Aashaad, this day is known as Vyasa Pournima. Vyasa, the ancient sage, is the foremost guru. His teachings are passed on to us in the form of compilation of the four Vedas, Mahabharata, Bhagawat, and the commentary on Patanjali's Yoga Sutras to name some.

In Indian culture, this day has a special significance because it also symbolizes the concept of guru parampara, a beautiful concept. It is not a mere custom. It is the process of handing down knowledge, art, and culture from one generation to another. On this auspicious day, we offer our salutations to Guruji, who becomes the messenger of that knowledge, and thus parampara continues.

The concept of "guru" and "pournima" add a lot of meaning. Pournima—a full moon day. Today the moon reflects sunlight to its full potential. Extending this metaphor, a guru reflects to his full potential the radiance of wisdom, as splendorous as the sun.

When knowledge appears, darkness vanishes, the veil of ignorance is removed.

Today is not Teacher's Day. Let us open the word guru. Keep aside for a moment the traditional definition and notion of a guru. We are conditioned to think that it is just the subject one teaches that decides whether he is a teacher or a guru. So, one who talks about the Bhagavad Gita is automatically a guru and one who teachers guitar becomes a teacher? One who teaches me the Shastras is my guru and one who teaches me drawing would remain my drawing teacher? One who talks about kundalini and kundalini jagrti is considered a guru right away, whereas one talking about quantum mechanics is considered a teacher or, say, a scientist?

I am afraid we are not opening our perspective to this. Who is a teacher? Who is a guru? A teacher imparts information by opening out a subject to us. He makes a subject available to us. He sees to it that we get acquainted and understand the intricacies of a subject deeply. Wisdom, on the other hand, is something that cannot be taught. It dawns. A guru makes that dawn. Teacher plus wisdom engenders a guru.

Traditionally, the word guru is derived as a compound from gu, meaning darkness, and ru, meaning light. Thereby, guru is he who takes one from darkness to light, from the darkness of avidya (ignorance) to the light of jnana (wisdom).

Wisdom is like light. You don't make light; light is. You see it, perceive it, and see with it. Light makes you see what is. A guru does precisely that. He makes you see. He makes you see clearly, transparently, unbiasedly, and totally.

Patanjali says in the second sutra in the fourth chapter: Jatyantara parinamah prakrtyapurat. (IV.2 The abundant flow of nature's energy brings about a transformation in one's birth, aiding the process of evolution.)

As a guru brings about this transformation, as the obstacles are removed, nature's energy can flow in abundance. With this, jatyanta parinama, that is, transformation in the class of life, is made possible.

The human body is made up of pancha mahabhutas, five elements or the five tattvas. If each of these elements came alone, we wouldn't be able to identify it. However, as a compound, the human body is perceivable, the five tattvas are cognizable. So too, Guru tattva is an eternal principle that manifests as a guru. We are not capable now of perceiving this Guru tattva, but we can cognize it in our guru whom we fondly call Guruji.

What and how does a guru teach?

Doesn't this question seem to be a paradox? Does a guru teach? Or does he make you learn? If we think of Guruji as someone who teaches us to improve our performance of asana, we are belittling him, belittling the Guru tattva in him.

"Give a man a penny, you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." Learn Sirsasana. It is nice, but it is limited. Learn through Sirsasana. It is much more, it encompasses a larger ambit. It can be for a lifetime.

A teacher fills one's cup. And this is indispensable in the initial phases of learning. The problem is if we rely on a teacher forever, we are with only that cup forever—the same techniques, the same mannerisms, the same habits. We always tend to be caught up in the past or the future. We deprive ourselves of what nature freshly has to offer us. The past or futuristic thoughts, actions, and results always adulterate our present.

A guru facilitates the process of emptying that cup so that one is free. Once the mind is free, you can be freed from bondage. Yoga is that science of dissolving those knots in the mind. A guru strips you of your past. A guru breaks the kalpana (destiny) of the future. Then, only in the present, wisdom can dawn.

When knowledge appears, darkness vanishes, the veil of ignorance is removed.

As wisdom dawns, it dawns in totality. A guru makes you completely available to the present kshana, the present moment. A guru makes you aware.

This brings us to the concept of awareness. Awareness and consciousness are two words often used synonymously. All living beings are conscious. Consciousness is that principle which keeps us sentient. However, man can be aware of being conscious.

Let us consider the difference between consciousness and awareness. Think of your beginner days. You are being taught Trikonasana. We performed as the teacher conducted. Stand in Tadasana. Brings your palms in front of your chest. Bend your knees, jump, and spread your legs apart. Turn the right leg out. Exhale and go down on the right side. Stretch your left arm up. Legs straight. Turn the chest, stomach, and abdomen towards the ceiling. Inhale and come up. Turn the foot in. Jump the feet together. This is Trikonasana.

As newcomers, we were all consciously moving our limbs and trunk in Trikonasana. But were we aware of each movement? Understand this transition from consciousness to awareness at play in Trikonasana. And not to mention as the asanas become difficult, like Urdhva Dhanurasana, Sirsasana, Natarajasana, we become less and less aware and more and more conscious!

When there is awareness, one can read one's own mind clearly. Awareness thus becomes a tool to acquaint us with our own thinking, with our own minds and our being.

This applies to even our emotional states. Consider the emotion of anger. We hear anger should be given up completely. But we seem helpless when infected by it. When I am angry, I am driven by only that. If I can become aware that I am angry while I am angry, there is potential to quieten; however, the dislike for the cause of anger still lingers. Say somebody's behavior has instigated my anger, I do not think, Why did that person behave that way? Our awareness is often one dimensional. I rarely become aware of the incident from another point of view, say, What exactly in me is angry? My mind? My intelligence? Is my anger justified? Being aware of all this will change my entire response phenomenon. This expansion of consciousness makes us aware of simultaneity in happening. When there is awareness, one can read one's own mind clearly. Awareness thus becomes a tool to acquaint us with our own thinking, with our own minds and our being. This internal reading makes us confront our mind, our intelligence. Saint Jnaneshwar refers to this awareness when he talks about sva samvedyata—one being aware of oneself. When I can become completely aware, my ego can fade. Where there is ego, awareness is dormant, and where awareness is bloomed, ego subsides.

Patanjali says in the second chapter: samadhi bhavanarthah klesa tanukaranarthasca. (II.2 The practice of yoga reduces afflictions and leads to samadhi.)

Yoga reduces afflictions. As the afflictions dissolve, as avidya goes, darkness vanishes.

Guru is one to whom we are open, open enough to allow him to play with our egos. This can lead to transformation. If this tampering is not allowed, obstacles to knowledge can never be removed. Guru is a murti (embodiment) of awareness.

Awareness has the ability to fully bloom in man. Where it is fully bloomed, there Guru tattva manifests. Where that happens, wisdom dawns, wisdom shines. We as students can see, perceive, and learn better with the light of that wisdom.
Yoga is the art and science of cultivating this awareness, of expanding one's consciousness. Awakening awareness and making one continuously aware of this awakened state are the qualities of a guru. After all, a guru does not create knowledge, but removes the obstacles that stop us from gaining that knowledge. In that sense, a guru is indispensable to us.

For us, Guruji is our light.

Having said so much about a guru, understand that a guru does not exist independently. Birth of a child signifies birth of a mother. Every bloomed flower has in it its bud. So too, the presence of a shishya, a disciple, is essential to bring a guru to existence. Thus, we need to become shishyas to have a guru. Maybe we have to wait for many more full moons before the concept of shishya pournima is opened.

Guru is one to whom we are open, open enough to allow him to play with our egos.

Arjuna took to Lord Krishna as his guru and his guru taught him various things. After all the philosophical discourse, Krishna told Arjuna to now go and fight the battle. Krishna, the jagatguru, just released Arjuna from the bondage of his own mind. At the end, Krishna asked Arjuna if his moha (delusion) had gone. Mind creates. Mind divides. Mind entangles. Mind traps us in moha. Guru liberates the shishya from these entanglements.

On this day, on behalf of all the students worldwide, Guruji, please accept our love, gratitude, and best wishes.

Om sri gurava namah.