Tomorrow is the day when the world over disciples celebrate the presence of their gurus in their lives. Like you have Father’s Day and Mother’s Day, tomorrow’s Guru Purnima (or Poornima), the Guru’s Day. We have been celebrating this in India since time immemorial.  
There are many legends around Guru Purnima and the most passed on in oral traditions is the fact that Ved Vyasa, the peerless sage, was born on this day. Hence, it’s also called Vyasa Purnima. While Shiva is known as the first guru in Sanatana Dharma and Krishna is given the epithet of Jagadguru (guru of the world), Ved Vyasa’s appearance day is celebrated as Guru Purnima for his remarkable work in writing original, monumental Vedic literature as well as transcribing the Shrutis.
With the passage of time, disciples marked this day as the formal Guru day, so to speak. Other than making it a sort of national festival in our culture, one chief reason was renunciant gurus didn’t really celebrate birthdays back then. Primarily because after an adept or seeker took the vows of renunciation, s/he would drop their name and old identity which included no longer celebrating their birthday on the day they were born. So, Guru Purnima became the day when disciples would come together and worship their master in gratitude and reverence. In Buddhism, it is believed that Buddha gave his first sermon on this day and in Jainism, Mahavira initiated the first disciple.
Do you know what I personally think of Guru Purnima? Wait a few paragraphs for we have an important question to deal with first.
“What is the meaning of initiation?” A lovely person asked me in the ashram once. “What do you give us and what do we receive when we are initiated or when we formally take you as our guru?”
I cracked up when I heard this question. Maybe because I laughed, everyone in the temple hall joined me. Laughter and truth can be contagious. Now, it’s an innocent and legit question. I laughed because I had initiated this disciple just earlier that morning. I thought he knew what he had gotten himself into. It was like someone asking his spouse after getting married, “So, do we move in together now? What did we just do back there with those vows? Are we supposed to keep them?” Humor aside, his question made me think. Have I taken the time to explain the significance of initiation or the role of a guru in a disciple’s life? Probably not as clearly as I should have. Here, in as few words as possible:
Complete initiation means, with the Universe as my witness, I pledge that you as a disciple, are accepted into my orbit of energy. That, the privileges on the spiritual path that I had are now extended to you. It’s like getting citizenship to a new country. And, exactly like citizenship, it comes with rights and responsibilities. The first level of initiation is your tourist visa. The third level, a work visa. The fifth, permanent residency and the seventh is your citizenship. And no, initiation does not mean that your health, financial or worldly problems will go away. You will have to resolve them on your own. Initiation just means that if you wish to seek your own truth, you have support and inspiration.
I have a guru too, but that doesn’t mean everything happens automatically in my life. I work just as hard now, if not harder, than I ever did.
No Guru can make a mealy apple crunchy for you, but s/he 1 may inspire you to make an apple pie. A guru is not a troubleshooter, he may not solve your problems, but he can make the problems look small (by himself becoming a much bigger problem in your life, just kidding. But, hey, it happens, you know). A guru’s wisdom is supposed to encourage you to lead a better and more truthful life. His conduct is supposed to help you in not seeing the petty inconveniences of life as problems.
You take on someone as your guru because you would like to be like him and not so you can idolize him. A sincere disciple will actually live his guru’s teachings and not merely keep a picture of him on his desktop. Otherwise, it’s no different to being a man who keeps his wife’s picture in his wallet, tells her that he loves her and yet philanders at every opportunity.
The whole point of having a guru is to one day go beyond your guru, or at least match him. Merely holding your guru in reverence won’t take you too far.
As Buddha said, “O Ananda, I’m confounded. I point to the moon to show them light and they start admiring my finger.”
Now, what do I think of Guru Purnima? Like most festivals, I feel, it has lost its true meaning. At least, I’m happy that at Badrika Ashram it never was, is, or will be a commercial or extravagant affair. When I first came to the ashram, for the first six years I could avoid celebrating Guru Purnima. Earlier because the ashram was on the other side of the river that meandered with wild abandon in the monsoons, and cut us off from the rest of the world for about three months (there was no road to the ashram back then). And later, even when the road came, I refrained from making anything special out of Guru Purnima. But, many disciples and visitors to the ashram kept up the pressure. So, I thought if it means so much to them, fine, we could do an event around Guru Purnima.
But, deep in my heart, to everyone whom I’ve already initiated or agreed to do so, all I care about is your well-being. And, I thank you for honoring my wish by not bringing me material offerings any time of the year. As long as you are growing emotionally and spiritually in your life, you are celebrating Guru Purnima. If you are grateful, compassionate, sincere, and truthful, you have already offered me everything. On many occasions, I think it’s not Guru but Shishya Purnima that should be celebrated. The amount of love, devotion, and care you have extended to me is beyond human imagination. You’ve made me a part of your lives, thoughts, and families. I never take it for granted. You have offered me a place in the safest corner of your heart, at your altar (phones and laptops too) and in your memories. Truth be told, I don’t even know what I have done to deserve this.
I cannot fix your life’s problems but I want you to know that we are in it together. You are not alone.
Guru Purnima, celebrated on the day of the full moon, perhaps is a reminder that even with a complete guru, like the phases of the moon, our life continues to wax and wane, ebb and flow. The only thing that changes when you accept discipleship is that you now have the awareness and wisdom to know that the transient nature of the world needn’t bother you. This is life, it’s how it’s supposed to be. Guru Purnima reminds us that we can’t have the moon, and that, instead, we are to use its light and beauty to enrich our lives. Eventually, a true disciple transitions from the guru outside to the one inside.
Did you notice: no story today?
Make one out of your life.
And, no joke either?
Don’t make one out of your life.
Let’s celebrate your liberation. That’s the true Guru Purnima in my humble opinion.
P.S. Join me tomorrow at 6:15 pm IST for Guru Purnima on It’s a free event anyone can access.