It is only in Hinduism that we revere the Guru. So great is the reverence that the place of the Guru is considered even higher than that of the Lord himself. This statement being so profound is difficult to accept and many atheists feel it is an exaggeration.
In the education field, teachers impart the knowledge of various secular subjects and we respect them for it but do not revere them as our Guru. The scriptures pay such high accolades to the Guru that the uninitiated wonder whether the worship of the Guru is an exaggeration. In any stuti or praise, there is always an element of an overstatement, but this does not hold good in the praise of the Lord, his devotees, a Mahatma, and the Guru. Any tributes to them will always fall short of their true import. Would it be an exaggeration to say that the Sun’s light is like the light of countless glowworms? The light of these glowworms can never match the brilliance of the Sun.
In life, all of us are seeking happiness. Yet why are we all suffering? Is it something we already have and don’t know about? Can it be gained by inference? To know our true nature, which is happiness, none of these means are valid. Only a Guru’s teaching can reveal to us what we are searching for – our true nature! Isn’t it strange that someone has to introduce us to ourselves? That is why, in Dasbodh Swami Ramdas says, “बहुता दिवसा भेटिले आपणासि आपण (After a long time I have met myself. Till now I had not known myself, nor met myself.)”
A man is called a jantu – a creature crawling here and there seeking momentary joys. The Guru in his infinite compassion teaches this jiva and makes him realize that he is the Infinite Brahman – Bliss Absolute! For a Guru who teaches this Brahma Vidya, no amount of namaskars can ever be enough. To repay the debt we owe the Guru is a foolish attempt because we can never be free from it!
Let us examine the word Guru and arrive at its connotations. The teachers who teach us secular subjects or the priests (purohits) who perform samaskars like Upanayanam are also gurus. In the tradition of the path of devotion (upasana marg), the guru gives mantra deeksha to the seeker. But the highest position is that of a Sadguru, who imparts the knowledge of the Supreme, to the jiva who is away from the Lord. In Dasbodh Swami Ramdas defines the Guru as the one who unites the jiva with Shiva. The jiva now becomes the Shiva (auspicious) otherwise, as Adi Sankaracharya says, he is only a corpse (shava).
How can we know the Self? The Upanisads say that the Atman can neither be realized by giving or listening to lectures (pravachan), nor by memorizing prayers in praise of God (stotras). ‘He whom’ ‘this’ chooses, that man knows (the Atman). Who is this ‘he whom’ and what is ‘this’? Dualists (Dwaitins) say that ‘that seeker whom the Lord chooses, that seeker knows’. Adi Sankara says, ‘to that sadhaka, who chooses the Atman alone, the Atman reveals itself.’
Any seeker wanting either worldly objects or liberation must worship a Man of Realization, for only the disciple, whom the Guru chooses, knows the Atman. So the seeker prostrates to the Guru, who bestows both worldly prosperity and spiritual freedom – भुक्ति मुक्ति प्रदाता च तस्मै श्री गुरवे नमः|
The Lord, the Guru and the disciple are all the one Reality manifesting in different forms – ईश्वरो गुरुरात्मेति मूर्तिभेद विभागिने|.
Whether we say the Lord, the Guru or the seeker chooses is of no consequence. The significant word here is ‘chooses’. We have to choose like Nachiketas – ‘That’ to the exclusion of everything else.
To sum up, we seem to be suffering because of the ignorance of the true Self. This ignorance cannot be removed only through self-effort. The one who introduces me to myself is the Sadguru and any amount in praise of my Sadguru can never be sufficient. A devotee has even said, ‘I don’t consider the Lord as great. To me, the Guru is greater’. This is not to belittle the greatness of the Lord, but to stress the importance of the Guru who indicates the path of the Lord by protecting us from the five looters of samsara – our five sense organs. All that we have to do is surrender to the Guru and pray. His grace is bestowed on the devotee who is completely dependent upon the lotus feet of the Guru – गुरु चरणाम्बुज निर्भर भक्तः|
On Guru Purnima we prostrate to the entire Guru Parampara from AdiSadashiv to our own Guru. This day is also known as Vyasa Purnima, dedicated to Veda Vyasa, the propounder of the Vaidic Dharma. Bhagavan Veda Vyasa is a karaka Purusha. He compiled the Vedas, Itihasaas, and wrote the Puranas. Without him, there would have been no scriptures and these were elaborated and commented upon by Bhagavan Sri Sankara. To this great Guru Parampara we offer our prostrations.