What Is Guru? (for Guru Purnima)

The yearly celebration of Guru Purnima approaches, the Full Moon of the Guru (July 30-31). It is determined as the full moon in the month of Ashadha in the Vedic calander, which is always in our month of July. This is a good time to explore the mystery of the Guru, about which the West has deep suspicion and misunderstanding, although anyone who studies the Christian Desert Fathers or Jewish mystics will find the tradition of the spiritual master in the West too.

A real Guru is not your surrogate mommy or daddy, not your financial adviser or marriage counselor, or a ghost you pray to, seated on your shoulder. Don't waste the Guru's time seeking advice about where to live, what job to take, or who to marry. All such dependency is childish, an abuse of the marvelous possibility the Guru brings you.

The Master is not even your beloved, for Guru is not an other. Guru is deeper inside you than anyone you could ever call "I."

In Sanskrit, the root syllables of the word "Guru" describe a process, not a person. It is a process of flooding darkness, "gu," with light, "ru." This is not a mere relationship but an interior transformation activated at the moment of initiation through the touch, the glance, or the whispered word of the external master.

Once the outward Guru ignites this interior process, the Guru-Tattva takes over. Guru-Tattva is the inward teacher who dwells in the core of your heart. The seed of the Guru is already within you, just waiting to be sprouted by a ray of the divine sun.

After initiation there is no need to chase after the external form of the Master, or to keep hanging out in the ashram. As long as you practice the Guru's sadhana every day - the instruction given you at initiation - the process unfolds wherever you are. Even if the Master is ten thousand miles away, you are wedded to the Guru in your heart.

Having a Guru is not a matter of faith or belief; it is a matter of life or death. Guru is a flood of fire that hollows you out, illuminates your emptiness, then consumes you. Guru is annihilation. Guru is Shiva, the Destroyer. Guru dissolves everything except what IS. Guru is the embodiment of pure Presence.

Once I was with Mahesh Yogi in Estes Park, 1970. He was talking to a small group of us about how effortless real meditation is, and he made up this little parable on the spot. His words were so simple, it took me decades to really understand them:
The wave said to the ocean, 'How can I be like you?'
The ocean replied, 'It's easy, just settle down.'
America's do-it-yourself spirituality attempts to maintain the so-called freedom of the individual at all cost: the illusion that each of us is rounded off into a separate "me," a self-impelled soul like a little bullet shooting through time on its "path," competing with other souls to hit the target. But this model doesn't work very well, because we are not separate from each other at all. We are waves of one ocean, a sea of consciousness. Each wave is individualized at its peak, yet merged with all other waves at its base. And the ocean isn't going anywhere.

Drawing the wave back to wholeness, Guru is the attracting power of the depth. The Master who calls to the little wave is not another wave, but the voice of the ocean itself.

Many years later, after Maharishi died, I was with Maharishi's disciple Shri Shri Ravi Shankar on a Guru Purnima course. Shri Shri has now become Guru. (The supreme delight of the Guru is to see his own disciple become the Guru. There is no competition.) On the first night of the course, we sang and celebrated before entering silence. At the end of the evening, Shri Shri gave "prasad," blessings of grace. Usually prasad consists of little candies or fruits. On this night, it was tiny plums from a local tree. Prasad is just a playful Indian custom, or so I thought.

The Guru saw me standing behind several people and he smiled. He threw me a plum, really hard. It was a perfect strike. I caught the plum, and when I got back to my room I ate it. Quite an ordinary plum.

I got violently ill for three days. The sickness hit me almost immediately after eating the prasad. Nobody else got sick from these plums, only me. This was the blessing of grace? Even more excruciating than the illness was my incapacity to attend meetings. It felt like purgatory, or worse.

But after the third night, I was reamed out, empty, and clear. I've never felt lighter. Wave after wave of bliss swept through my hollows. I would never have experienced that ocean of bliss had I not been cleansed by sickness.

Now there was no-thing inside me but Guru's grace. For a time, I was shown my true nature. I became the very radiance of Guru's heart, his smile. Every particle of this body shimmered like the morning sun. All I could feel or think or say was, "Thank you, Jai Guru Dev."

This lila, or play of Guru, taught me a great lesson. Not one of us human beings can avoid sickness, grief, sleepless confusion, withering loneliness, or nauseating despair. But when we experience Guru's devastating grace, we see that all suffering is an opportunity to be cleansed.

In the midst of the most bitter disappointment we can still be aware: Guru is the pure nectar of awareness. Through Guru's grace, we see the mirror beneath the images that dance upon it. We feel the stillness through which this furious world is whirling. A theater of light and shadow flickers on the crystal of pure consciousness, but the diamond Self remains untainted by the conditions it reflects.

An unfathomable silence surrounds even the most furious battle. Blue sky encircles every particle of pain. The Guru awakens that silent spaciousness.

Suffering will pass. Even death will pass. And when it is over, divine Light inundates our immaculately polished darkness.

Jai Guru Dev

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