And finally….honoring our leaders
For several posts, we’ve learned about the broad reach of Yoga, how it remains popular in “celebrity circles”, and how the practice itself has produced some very well-known leaders that have become celebrities in the world of Yoga. This last post is my personal account when I attended a Guru Purnima celebration this summer, to honor some of these leaders.
On July 13, 2014, a wonderful afternoon and evening was spent at the home of Dr. Bijoy Misra, in Lincoln, MA. The purpose of the gathering was to celebrate Guru Purnima, the Hindu tradition meant to honor the ultimate Guru, Vyasa, (author of the Vedas.) This celebration was also dedicated to the guru principle, and to the memory of two revered teachers, Prabhuji Ramalalji, and Dr. Vedula Satyananda Rao.
I was invited because, Bijoy, a professor in the department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies at Harvard University, was one of my own yoga teacher’s teachers. They both studied under Dr. Rao as well. My teacher knew I was writing articles about great Yogis, and thought this event would fit in nicely.
The date was not randomly selected. Purnima means full moon, so the celebration is always planned for the calendar date with a full moon that falls in mid-summer.
As the group entered Bijoy’s library, they admired the beautiful shrine adorned with lovely cloths, flowers, fruit, the small lights for arati, and the framed images of Dr. Rao (“Baba”), and Prabhuji Ramalalji.
The Guru Gita
One of the highlights of this day was the recitation of the Guru Gita. This “Song of the Guru” is part of a larger Hindu work called the Skanda Purana and was written by Vyasa somewhere between the sixth and fifteenth centuries. It is a deep and powerful text that begins as a conversation between the Lord Shiva, and his wife, the Goddess Parvati. She asked him to explain the importance of the Guru, and to tell her how she can become “one with Brahman, the Absolute Reality?”
The Lord answered his wife that he loved her very much, and because of that love, he would answer her. Also, her question had never been asked before, therefore his answer would “help all creation.”
The Lord’s explanation continues on for nearly two hundred verses. Despite being a lengthy text there are significant truths found in this work, not only for Hindus, but for everyone.
Following the Guru Gita was a brief time of kirtan. Several participants sang or led the rest of the group in chants. We heard the “Panis Angelicus”, Latin, meaning Bread of the Angels, a song from the Catholic faith, as well as an Ashtanga chant. Others also led some Hindu chants.
Especially enlightening was the discussion during and after the Guru Gita. Bijoy, who led the Gita, paused after every few verses to discuss the meaning of the text, in English.
And finally, everyone shared a delicious meal together. It was a group effort, with some contributing items such as curried lentils, tabbouleh, rice, and more. I could not identify all of what I ate, but enjoyed it, especially, “the yellow stuff.”
Not so Different After All
I was honored to have witnessed this strange and exotic ceremony. My only regret is that I did not take time to learn the background of these traditions before the event. While I did enjoy the general group discussion, and the other conversations of the day, I have since studied this work a little further, and gained a better understanding of the significance of the Guru Gita.
“With your heart absorbed in nothing but the Guru, let go of attachments to your status as student, spouse, parent, and to your social standing, fame, and cravings for accumulating wealth.”
This is not always easy, but it feels like it should be common sense. I believe many Buddhists follow this path as well.
Verse #8 especially resonated with me,
“Those who offer sacrificial rites, make vows, repeat mantras, or engage in penance, pilgrimages, or charity, still go adrift without knowing the nature of the Guru.”
This same thought is echoed in the Christian Bible in Ephesians 2:8-9,
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God. Not by works, lest any man should boast.”
Different words, but the same principle, you can practice many outward signs of faith, you can commit acts of charity and other good deeds, but they are not enough. You need to have committed faith in your Supreme Creator.
It is not always easy to take part in ceremonies outside of one’s one religious culture, even for someone open minded. There’s a natural trepidation, a concern that we might offend someone unknowingly, or somehow become offended ourselves. However, I found that many of the concepts in the Guru Gita have a commonality that reaches beyond labels.
Yogasync Me! Feeling inspired for some yoga? This is for you: