Guru — The Death and Destroyer
(Celebrating the Auspicious day of Gurupurnimā)
Bhāratavarsha, the land of light, the land where the Gods feel happy to be born again and again, the land of countless seers and sages, is indeed the greatest land of festivals, fasts and feasts. Every single day here is associated with some celebration. This is the land where people love celebrating everything. This is not any modern trend but the attitude of celebrating life and every occasion in life has been a part of this land since time immemorial. And every celebration is not any merrymaking or mere entertainment, but deeply associated with some Divine cause. Divinity indeed is central to all that is being celebrated here. The idea that all is Divine is the greatest significance of Bhāratīya Samskriti. Therefore all festivals connected with the Sanātana Dharma have deeper spiritual significance. The practice of celebrating everything and every aspect of life from gross most mundane affair to subtle most spiritual, has been an integral part of the Bhāratīya Samskriti from very ancient time. Though the festivals and celebrations have changed profusely in the course of time, yet the essential values of the occasions remain intact.
The occasions or the festivals celebrated by the Sanātanis are also meant to create positive environment in the internal and the external worlds. On every occasion one is expected to maintain silence, maintain hygiene, maintain purity, maintain cheerfulness, remain positive as much as possible. This is how every festival or celebration here becomes an occasion to enhance positivity within and without. Furthermore, the celebrations also strengthen the relationship, establish inner unity, remove much of the shortcomings in the collective life and thus, help in harmonious growth of collective Consciousness.
Among all the various festivals celebrated in India some are major, some minor, some are restricted to particular regions or communities, some are celebrated everywhere, some are celebrated differently in different parts and some are equally celebrated at many places with minimum variation. However, variations add a lot to the beauty and charm of the occasions. Each festival or celebration again is connected with some ancient story related to a particular deity or king or devotee or great personality or event or something or the other. These stories again vary from place to place and take new shape from time to time.
Today (the full moon day of āṣāḍha) is one such auspicious day which is celebrated all over the world by the followers of Sanatana Dharma as Guru Purnimā. This is a celebration in which each individual offers reverence/obeisance to his or her Guru and the whole of the Guruparamparā. Though the occasion is widely celebrated yet there is not much clarity when it started, how it started and who started this and where from it originated. However, one experiences more silence on this day if one is open enough to the light and truth. One can feel the power of silent worship or peaceful celebration on this day. It’s all about paying tribute to and speak about the glory of the Gurus or Guru tradition.
On this auspicious occasion of Gurupurnimā I wish to present a small note on Guru as the Death and Destroyer, the Yama.
We all have heard that Yama is the God of Death, the Lord of Dharma, the controller who regulates birth and death. The word Yama comes from the root-sound ‘yam’ which means ‘to control, to regulate’. The Supreme Reality is also called Yama, as he is the controller and ruler of all. Alternatively, the word ‘mrityu’ meaning death is also used to denote Yama. But in the Veda Yama as a deity refers to Surya or Sun. In the Ishopanishad (16) which belongs to Shukla Yajurveda, the word Yama is used in the sense of Surya in which he is invoked for the protection of Satyadharma. In the Brihadāranyaka (3.7) Yama is also described as Antaryāmi as he lives in all and moves all by rule. In the later Puranic period Yama as a deity became confined as the God of death or mrityu. However, what is fascinating is that both the words Yama and mrityu also refer to a GURU..
There is a Mantra in the Atharvaveda (11.7.14) which says that the Acharya (one of the Sanskrit words for GURU) is mrityu or Yama, the God of Death (आचार्यो मृत्युः ācāryo mṛtyuḥ). Why is a Guru called mrityu or Yama? The mrityu or Yama takes away the old body of a living being and brings him back with a new body. In the same way a Guru or Acharya, like the God of Death, destroys all old samskaras and ignorance of the initiate and shapes him by raising his consciousness to the higher world of light and truth and bliss. As one takes a new birth after death, so a disciple after initiation by the Guru and after living with his Guru has his second birth and is called a dvija (born for the second time). In another Mantra of Atharvaveda (6.133.3) in which a Brahmachari calls himself as the disciple of mrityu or Yama (मृत्योरहं ब्रह्मचारी mṛtyorahaṃ brahmacārī). Here clearly the word mrityu is used in the sense of Guru only. We also see in the Kathopanishad Nachiketa is sent to Yama. Symbolically, Yama is the God of Death as well as Guru.
May all Gurus bless us by dispelling our darkness and bringing an end to our ignorance and imperfections.
गुरुरेव गतिर्गुरुमेव भजे गुरुणैव सहास्मि नमो गुरवे |
न गुरोः परमं शिशुरस्मि गुरोः मतिरस्ति गुरौ मम पाहि गुरो ||
The guru is my sole refuge. I worship my guru and am always with my guru. I offer sincere pranam to my guru. I know, there is none higher than the guru. I always feel I am an innocent child of my Guru and my mind is always in Him. O Gurudeva, do protect me!