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guru shishya parampara

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On Guru Purnima

July 13, 2022

To commemorate Guru Purnima, we had a special Vedanta lecture this morning, focused on the meaning and significance of the day for seekers. Subhadra ma’am started with defining the word guru: remover of the darkness of ignorance. Vedanta is the study of the Self, and the Guru is someone who reveals the glory and magnificence of our Self to us. On Guru Purnima we invoke the essence of the guru parampara. We appreciate and acknowledge the efforts of those who have walked this path before us and made it smooth and easy for us.

Subhadra ma’am then delved into the reasons why we study Vedanta. She explained that the study of Vedanta results in self transformation. Through our study, contemplation and understanding, we hope to remove the obstacles that stand between us and this transformation. These obstacles are both emotional and intellectual. She reminded us that as students we must remember that removing these obstacles is a gradual effort that requires constant sadhana and dedication. It is a time consuming process, and transformation doesn’t happen over night or even in the course of a few weeks. This process is also known as the atma katha – the story/journey of our innermost self.

With Shriram, learning kalaripayattu and Acro yoga.

Next ma’am spoke about the greatness of the Guru. The Guru is great is because he has been blessed by the shastras. A Guru’s greatness can be conditional but the shastra’s greatness is ever existent, unconditional; it is this unconditional greatness that is transferred from guru to shishya. The Guru can be likened to a celebrity promoting Brahma vidya/sukha vidya/atma vidya/ananda vidya. Which is why the teachings are always in the form of a dialogue – the seeker has questions and is given answers. In the Bhagawad Gita (the second Vedanta text we’re studying), Arjuna frequently repeats his questions, and the Lord answers him patiently. This is symbolic of how, as seekers, we might not understand an idea or a concept at the first go, but Vedanta is patient and will support our endeavours.

To commemorate Guru Purnima, we worship and pay homage to the entire guru parampara – the parampara commencing directly from Lord Narayana, Lord Dakshinamurthy and the Adigurus, so that we can learn from the shastras. We look at ourselves in the mirror of the scriptures and see the beauty that lies there. We salute the entire lineage we’ve become a part of.

Thankful to my dance guru, Honey Unnikrishnan, for teaching me more than just dance, and being there to answer all my questions with honesty, openness and humbleness.

The guru-shishya parampara pervades all Indian art forms, perhaps because art is a discovery and exploration of Self. My dance teacher, Honey Unnikrishnan took some time out today to discuss the guru shlokas we recite in the beginning of class. The Guru is someone who holds your hand (metaphorically) and leads you to the light, never letting go of your hand on this journey. So the Guru is God in disguise and we must appreciate that. Guru is equal to God, if not above Him. Both my Vedanta and Mohiniyattam teachers emphasised transformation and change and stressed the importance of saluting not only your direct guru but the entire parampara

As I listened to these talks by two of my gurus, I thought about my own transformation. About how this past weekend in Auroville, I easily prostrated myself in front of Ramesan Lakshman, the guru at Kalarigram. A decade ago I believed the practice of touching anyone’s feet was regressive, a tribute to chauvinism, a ritual that had no place in this century. But over the years I’ve searched for and found wisdom, guidance, support and (dare I say?) enlightenment from gurus of classical dance, literature, kalari and yoga. And when I bow down before a guru today, I do so with a comforting sense of surrender and trust in this age old pramapara.

To meet a student where they are is a characteristic of a good teacher. I’ve attend classes with numerous teachers and have been lucky to gain insight and inspiration from the best. @Kalarigram

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Who’s the Teacher?

September 5, 2019

“When the student is ready, the teacher appears.”

I’ve heard this phrase countless times, and even uttered this platitude a few times myself.  But a conversation with a friend of mine (another yoga teacher and owner of a yoga studio) made me take a fresh look at the teacher-student relationship.

When we say this phrase our emphasis is always on the teacher appearing.  That the teacher should know when the student is ready and then magically appear.  But what a student does/is doing while they are waiting for the teacher to be conjured is also important.

I’ve noticed two kinds of students-in-waiting:

  1. Those who have searched for a yoga class or a teacher and haven’t found one.  This is usually because there are no classes in the neighborhood or because they didn’t like any of the teachers available to them.  These students usually throw up their hands and deem that ‘it’s not time yet’.  In such scenarios your teacher may never appear, because a student who sees distance as an impediment isn’t really a student.  Also a student who looks at a teacher as mere commodities are searching for a bar of soap and not a human being who will guide them on possibly the most difficult journey in life.
  2. Then there are students who demand the teaching from the teacher.  They may ask to work on advanced asanas or work towards a specific asana.  These students demonstrate little regard and zero respect for the teachings being imparted.  The desire to learn advanced postures is only justified if it is accompanied by hours and hours of relentless self-practice.

The most important aspect of any practice is the practice itself.  Your yoga practice is your teacher.  If you aren’t visiting your teacher daily then you’re not a student nor a seeker.  Your desire to practice advanced asanas isn’t an indicator of your interest or your passion – it’s actually a measure of how tamasic you are.  You are looking at an external force to help you achieve your goal, instead of putting in your own sweat, blood and tears.

Finally, the teacher-student (guru-shishya) relationship is very much driven by the student.  The student must offer himself up first.  The surrender happens, and then the learning commences.  Until the student is able to turn off his ‘I-ness’, he will forever flail, grasping blindly for knowledge and wisdom which will always elude him.

Pictured below is my 11-12th grade English teacher.  Those of you who know me know that I went to different schools around the world until I landed in Dhaka, Bangladesh.  At the American International School/Dhaka I had the double privilege of not only studying literature but also writing innumerable essays under the guidance of Ms. Spisso.  Here she is with books written by her alumni.  I like to think this is my guru dakshina to her.