Reflecting on the Gurutatwa


S. Ainavolu

12/18/2021 10 min read

Reflecting on the Gurutatwa – Externalizing the internal for facilitating the internal realization

Tradition says father is the first formal guru. At the time of brahmopadesha, it is the father who initiates and it has to be only father, if he is alive. Tradition also says that the real journey is always internal. Today is a special day to ponder over these. Today is a Purnima, the full moon day of the month of Margashirsha. It is a very special day and is observed as Datta Jayanti, the manifestation day of Lord Dattatreya.

Dattatreya, Hayagreeva, Dakshinamurthy, Sundara Hanuman are immediate guru forms we know and many follow these. Datta as Lord Dattatreya is affectionately addressed by seekers, provides the rich and full wisdom to the deserving. The process may be arduous but the outcome shall be perfect. Severe testing on the way happens, all facets and nuances become part of the testing and the journey. But when one stays on the path with all the authenticity, the revealing happens is the firm belief.

Omni-presence of Gurutatwa

Datta tradition is a long existing one. Jai Guru Datta is the greeting commonly heard in the tradition. Dattatreya is considered and treated as the Guru in Datta tradition. The subtle nuancing between God and Guru one needs to know. God can only bestow boons but Guru can make the other too a Guru, his very equivalent. Dattatreya tradition probably is more prevalent and known in West and Central Southern parts of our country.

Respect for the guru is the first thing one learns when one is initiated. Shri Gurubhyo namaha is the salutation in the beginning of any stotra recitation. Thus, one mentions Guru before treading on the path. The famous Kabir’s doha talked of his choice, the choice of saluting his guru first than the lord, as it is guru who holds the light to the lord. What a deeply held belief. Throughout our Upanishadic and Puranic stories, the mention of guru is in abundance. We learn that Sandeepa was the guru of lord Krishna. In Ramayana it was initially Vashista and then Viswamitra who taught lord Rama. He was further helped by Agatsya when he needed the “Aditya Hridaya” stotram on the war ground. Mahabharata too mentions Bheeshma learning from Parashurama who himself was the protégé of Dattatreya. Brihaspati’s son Kacha was sent to Shukracharya to learn the art of Mruta Sanjeevani, again in the guru-shishya tradition. References are many.

Guru and Gurutatwa concepts are widely distributed and omnipresent in one’s serious pursuit. A reflective examination shall help us in appreciating the gravitas of the Guru and help us attain clarity around the importance of Gurutatwa. This shall also facilitate one’s journey by clearing the psychological blockages one may possibly have. Mostly cobwebs exist around externalizing the internally present Guru. This attaining of clarity is a requirement for progressing on the path of realizing the truth internally. Else one fights the battle with oneself. Then instead of having the journey “with the current”, often one nets it against. This affects the pace as it wastes energies and also causes loss of precious time. This writing is a sincere effort of reflecting and should not be construed as definitive by any measure. What is definitive for each is dependent on one’s own specificity of karma and path dependency gets exhibited. In other words, though the goal post is the same, the paths can be different, someone’s may be shorter as he traversed longer during the previous attempt. Assurance to this extent of not having any “wasted effort” is given in Bhagavadgita. Lord Krishna says that the seeker starts in next journey from the place he left in earlier journey.

The inner-directed meaning

Guru word is etymologically treated as gu and ru and interpreted as remover of the darkness. The darkness referred here is the murkiness one has internally but experiences more as one starts one’s internal journey. One becomes more conscious of the internal impurities and imperfections when one joins the path and begins the journey seriously. If one enquires whether Guru is required in one’s life, the answer is, it depends on the intent. If one is contented and fine as one is, and there is no conscious attempt to either reconcile or recalibrate one’s position, then it may be static case. This is akin to “no journey and no guide”. Sometimes this may be the case and one is in pitiable state and is not even aware of it. The inertia itself is bogging one down, and there may not be even an attempt to move from the current position. In other words, the seeking is missing and there is no such intent of seeking for immediate future too. If the internal quest is absent to such an extent, then the self makes the first move and the wait has to be for “externalized internal Guru” to appear to push one out of deep inertness. In the current times, probably above seems a commonly found state. As long as such people won’t disturb or ridicule the pursuing seekers, none may really get disturbed or disturb them. The refrain of the wise often is, when the time comes for these, the flow begins. Often it is the case, after transformational moments, a few become serious pursuers. Life changes afterwards and forever.

Initial projection

One of the first shlokas one is taught in the traditional learning is the famous “Guruh Brahma Guruh Vishnu Guruh Devo Maheshwararah Guruh saakshaat PARABRAHMA tas mai ShreeGurave namaha”. Apt and self-evident it may appear when one is on the path of pursuit but in the beginning, it is often more of a perfunctory recitation. There shall be many questions that probably one may seek answers to as one can’t engage in a productive debate with any learned. “Take it as one can’t leave” seems the situation then. Though one might have learnt the functional, specialized roles of the trinity in terms of creation/sustenance/clearing, how these potent tasks can be attributable to the single entity called Guru may not be very clear. To be fair it may even frustrate one too! Reconciliation often is difficult and mere accepting for the sake of “moving on” creates a conscience distortion bubble and clarification is a must to move further. This condition may be best described as the conscience level frustration and perceived as cognitive obfuscation. Matured ones may empathize with above situations subsequently when it happens with others, but to tread the path at that time requires tremendous effort, persistence and faith. Faith moves mountains is the saying but, in this case, faith helps one atleast stand still on the path, before things get revealed in the journey. This faith often is intrinsic and is difficult to create. In other words, it is more innate and unshaken. If one holds on for a small period then things shall get revealed often is the condition. However, many seekers get shaken by the apparently “lack of progress” situation and recalibrate their journey, often not for better.

Dattatreya and the tradition

Returning to Dattatreya jayanthi occasion, a few may see Dattatreya as Godly human and others see him as humanly God, one who is closer to our orbits. This option is based on one’s choice which again is based on one’s conviction. The origin of Datta tradition is housed in the very manifestation or avirbhaava of Dattatreya. The occasion was the point of dispute on who is the Sadhvi of highest order and when someone’s name was taken, the proof was to be through walking on fire. It is known through the Puranic story that the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva go to test the mettle of Anasuya, the rishipatni of Attri. Attri stands for the one who is beyond the three qualities, the qualities of sattva, rajas and tamas. Anasuya is interpreted as the one without “asuya”, the jealousy. In other words, the couple were of pure and higher qualities and probably is the reason for getting considered for the highest test. The trinity’s condition of accepting the invite for the meal was odd and required real ingenuity and lots of out of box thinking. The story ends well with the boon that the sage couple shall be blessed with the equivalent of the trinity. There are two versions, first says that Chandra/Durvasa/Dattatreya were born and second and more inclusive one talks of three-headed Dattatreya manifesting with all the desirable characteristics of the trinity. Three headed means figuratively he was the embodiment of all the qualities of the trinity.

Belief and persistence

Dattatreya within a few years of manifestation is said to have been accepted as the guru in recognition of the wisdom he possessed and demonstrated. Many in the neighbourhood desired to follow him and as the story goes, he entered a lake asking the interested to wait on the bank. Time went by and many of those waiting left, reducing the number. After hundred years, his shakti came out in perceptually misleading format and a few of those waiting outside the lake got misled. They miserably failed the test, inspite of waiting for a century. These too got rejected. Then lord Dattatreya comes out to guide and bless the remaining believers who were patient and hence really deserving. This again is analogous to the laborious task of breaking the stone. There may be hundred blows but till the last one or one before, the proof of the effort manifesting is hardly evident. This discourages one forcing one to revisit the assumptions, also challenges one’s belief and often makes one recalibrate the path. If seeing is believing, then there is no visual proof. The progress is not evident, atleast till the last blow. In case of stone breaking, the internal structural weakness caused by many blows may stay and probably next one or two shall make it into two pieces. However, in the case of the seeker, the inner transformation that has been happening before the full ripening might be lost and ossification of the previous order may reappear, when the journey is prematurely discontinued. Sad, as it appears and sounds but happens. The fall is sudden and steep.

Guru, the swaroopa and Gurutatwa

Traditional education was based on shruti (to be heard) and smriti (to be remembered). As the process is laid, one listens, catches the content, and picks up the intonation. One remembers both these to pass on to the nextgen. This is the tradition called parampara. In this method both guru and shishya are important. Guru preserves and spreads the knowledge and shishya takes the flame further. As the sound is important and even the best of the notation can’t help one accurately recreate, the learning had to be in face-to-face mode. The guru has to be pure in intention of spreading the essence with all its details, the shishya had to be sincere in giving all the shraddha (attention) that is required for absorbing that knowledge.

Traditional learning often used to begin by eighth year subsequent to upaveeta samskara and could last a minimum of twelve years. Thus, all the formative years of the shishya are spent in the gurukul and in the company of equally eager fraternal batch of students, and under the watchful eyes of the guru. Gurus were mostly householders and shishyas were the larger family. Upon completion of the education, the shishya used to be given permission to adopt a householder role and continue his lifelong swadhyaya in the place close to or very parental place. The crucial role of the guru in one’s life made the mentorship process very important. Either due to inability of the shishya to pick up the threads properly or in rare case of severe indiscipline, the relation may break prematurely. Otherwise, it was a lifelong relation and was in many cases.

The essence of learning eco-system

It might appear that the syllabus though vast may be definite for each so that one may complete the education by twenties and pursue the life path. The gurukul system survived the test of times. The sponsorship of the ruling class helped the teachers focus on the core without worrying about the mundane. Over the centuries the same patronage is extended by the affording class, often in the interest of preserving the tradition. It may be surprising for a few that such gurukuls exist not far from the corporate hubs in our own Mumbai. Coexistence of tradition and modernity, one may wonder! But it is possible.

On the physical plane it might appear that the guru, syllabus, learning process, examinations and “snaataka” (convocation) are important parts of the process. However, in terms of “beyond the obvious”, the contribution of the guru is immeasurable, beyond any metre. The flame of self-learning that one gains by being in the company of the guru takes one long and very long in one’s pursuit. There shall be no respite in the pursuit till the “real goal” is reached. Often the pursuit proves longer than the life span of the seeker too. What drives the processes so deeper and longer, one may wonder. The intrinsic belief on the existence of the end goal, lived example of one’s own guru, the milestone based encouraging feedback one is gaining along the way, and the reflective reinforcements one is gaining in life journey keep one firmly on the track.

Culminating with Sublimation

The moment shall come, sooner than expected in a few cases. Probably the wait and the process are longer for others. When it happens, it is that moment for which the entire journey was worth. It is internalizing the external and experiencing the absolute reality. Is it relative or absolute one may ask? If it is the truth, the truth is one and no relativism can stand. The pacific fathom one experiences, the unperturbed state one gets in and the ability to connect the internal and external dots, make one become anchored, anchored for this life and beyond. The wait ends and the realization that the journey was the goal, the process was the product makes one wonder and ponder with all the humility. Then one realizes there is nothing to be learnt, felt or experienced. As one sees one in all and also sees all in oneself. Advita comes in action and it is the realization. Words can at the best inefficient.

Perceivably one’s quest and journey have come to an end with the realization. Then what else exists? Whether the excitement is over? What is the purpose of the residual period? What is the path forward or the ideal path forward from such a state? Tradition answers and convincingly that bounded actions come to an end but action continues. The fruits of the karma and attachment are unaffecting. This is possibly the jeevanmukta state given by Adi Shankaracharya through the shloka in Mohamudgara stotram. It reads, “Satsangatve nissangatvam, nissangatve nirmohatvam, nirmohatve nischala tatvam, nischala tattve Jeevan mukti”. The immediately preceding condition for the most desired state of Jeevan mukti is “nischala tattva”, unperturbed, balanced, rippleless, aware existence. The early one realizes the futility of the ripples or the mundane turbulence, the quicker one’s journey begins and possibly better is the possibility of reaching the goal. When sufficient journey is over, transformational milestones are attained. For this to happen, one may begin with all the earnestness by externalizing the internal as the Guru and pursue the path to internally realize the external. When individuals grow up, all the peace shall prevail and the sustainability shall become natural. Deep desire of Lokah Samasta Sukhino Bhavantu becomes the reality then. As the saying goes, the collective journey begins with one, and each one matters.