“AUM SRI GURUBHYO NAMAHA”
[Obeisance to my Master]
It has been quite some time since I thought of writing this post. There were several occasions when I felt this post would be apt like the day of Guru Poornima, Teacher’s day etc. but none better than this one. The pester power of two of my friends, Venkat and Ravi Viswanathan , has finally won over my reluctance to blog and has been more than instrumental in making me write this post.
The guru-shishya (preceptor-disciple) relationship has been the sacred cornerstone of our religious and educational traditions in general and music education in particular. Our religious and mythological tomes are abounding with stories and themes of guru bhakti, and several instances of mythical characters enjoying the fruits of their guru's benevolence. I am currently experiencing such a situation for I have been awarded with the “Yuva Kala Bharati” award 2004-2005 (An honor for young artists awarded by Bharat Kalachar, a reputed musical institution in Chennai). I cannot see any credentials whatsoever for receiving such a huge recognition other than having my guru’s benevolence in abundance. I dedicate this award at the lotus feet of my guru who is my “everything”. This blog is an honest attempt to understand the concept of a Guru through my own experiences with my Guru, Padmabhushan Madurai Sri.T.N.Seshagopalan.
Who is a Guru?
“Gu” means darkness or ignorance and “Ru” means dispeller or remover. Thus, the word Guru literally means remover of ignorance. According to Lord Shiva in the beautiful work Shri Guru Gita, A Guru is the great one who takes a disciple from darkness (ignorance) to enlightenment (True Knowledge)
Another popular interpretation of the definition of the word Guru goes like this. "Gu" means one who is beyond attributes (gunas), "Ru" implies one who is beyond forms (rupas). Only God can be regarded as one who is beyond attributes and forms and thus Guru refers only to God. People consider a person who imparts knowledge as a preceptor. But most of them are mere teachers, not preceptors (gurus). There is only one guru and He is God.
I feel there is a huge flaw in this latter school of thought because a Guru is definitely necessary to make us understand the formless and attributeless Divinity. It is impossible for a human to understand this formless and attributeless Divinity unless there is someone who “knows” what this Divinity is all about, has seen it and is capable of making the ignorant disciple also see the Divinity that he has seen. The person who performs this role, according to me, is a “Guru”. A true Guru is one who enjoys and confers changeless supreme happiness.
Carnatic Musicians as Gurus
My Guru often quotes that the real duty of a performing Carnatic Musician is to first enjoy the transcendental bliss (Brahmananda) himself and elevate the audience to enjoy this bliss that he has enjoyed. I can vouch for the fact that my Guru gives every audience member the supreme form of such a divine experience in each of his music concerts. He is such a normal, down to earth person before a concert starts and after a concert ends. From my experience of attending his numerous concerts, I can tell you that he gets into a divine trance once he tunes his Tambura (musical instrument that acts as a reference for the vocalists) and within no time takes us into that divine trance.
Let me quote few real world incidents to drive home the point. The year was 1996 (I think) and the place was Rameshwaram and the concert was taking place in the serene residence of my Guru’s godfather. One of the students of my Guru, Mr.Vijayakumar was playing the Tambura for the concert. Mid-way through the concert when my Guru was detailing a Raga (Melodic Scale) by name Saveri (a very beautiful Indian raga), suddenly Mr.Vijayakumar seemed like he was on a divine flight and had stopped playing the Tambura. He had turned into a stone and his fingers refused to pluck the Tambura for quite some time.. When I enquired about this phase of transcendental bliss that Mr.Vijayakumar had gone through, he was found wanting for appropriate words but avowed that it was one of the happiest phases ever in his life.
In another instance, when my Guru was performing at a temple in Chennai, one of the audience members had a visitation when my Guru was improvising on a shloka in praise of Lord Vishnu in the raga Subapantuvarali (considered a very solemn raga) in the higher octave and he started jumping around shouting “Hare Rama Hare Krishna” emphatically and had to be taken away immediately.
In Thiruppoor, the Manchester of South India, there is a Kanjira (A musical instrument used as an accompaniment for Vocal Music) artist by name Mr.Sridhar Kumar. He had the opportunity of accompanying my Guru right from his childhood. He has had very little formal academic education and cannot even write Tamil, his mother tongue. But during his teens he underwent a sudden transformation after which he started composing Tamil poems which have been considered to be in the league of ancient Tamil composer Sri Arunagirinathar by contemporary poets. Mr.Sridhar Kumar personally shared his experiences of accompanying various vocalists. He stated that when he accompanies my Guru he is able to relive the transformational experience that he underwent earlier and is able to compose his Tamil verses at a strikingly increased pace after the concert due to the divine equilibrium that sets in when he gets immersed in my Guru’s music.
According to me, all musicians who can show us the divinity that they have experienced ought to be respected as Gurus.
Roles of a Guru
Precisely defining the role of a Guru is close to impossible. I attempt to do this by quoting a few lines of the Ni Cittamu krithi (song). The song is one of Saint Tyagaraja's Guru krithis (songs), where he praises the ideal preceptor. This is also one of the songs where Tyagaraja hides a wealth of meaning in a lot of colloquial analogies. It is almost like a preceptor trying to give simple examples to explain his concept to students. Of the multifarious roles that Sri Thyagaraja quotes, my Guru says there are 3 that are the most important.
1. “Guruve Bhramaramu” – Guru is the bee. The preceptor protects his wards and feeds them the honey of wisdom, just as a bee trains its young ones to develop into bees.
I had always wondered how much of an inexplicable bliss a person who doesn’t know/hear Carnatic Music misses. I firmly believed earlier that one has to be blessed to be born with an ear for good music in general and Carnatic Music in particular. When I asked my Guru about the validity of my viewpoint, he clarified that developing an ear for good music need not be innate and is very much possible under a good Guru’s guidance. Music research suggests that out of the million nerve fibers that are inside a human ear, a select few have the ability to respond to musical input. Even when some people have an innate gift of vibrating their musical fibers when subjected to good music, My Guru avows that by subjecting these few musical fibers with divine Carnatic music continuously it is possible to make even the least responsive ear to respond to music. I have been a fortunate spectator to this miracle when my Guru has transformed so many students with zilch musical background/knowledge into competent music listeners and versatile musicians.
2. “Guruvu Chillaginja” – Guru is the Sallaki seed. The preceptor clears the accumulated dirt in his ward's mind, just as the sallaki seed clears water of the mud that is mixed!
Once a music student’s musical fibers get activated, the student would next usually get into a position where he would not be able to not distinguish between good and bad music. It becomes the Guru’s duty to clear the disciple’s mind of this confusion and bestow on the student the discretion to select, hear and enjoy good music.
3. “Gurude Bhaskarudu” - Guru is the sun. The preceptor is like the Sun in removing the darkness of ignorance!
This is the most important and difficult role for a Guru. This is the role that differentiates a Guru and Satguru. Only a Satguru could perform the below given functions which are an integral part of this role. The Satguru is one who takes his disciple from the state of Jivatma (identifying the self with body) to the state of Paramatma (identifying the self with the Supreme Soul), takes him from the state of being a disciple to the state of being a Guru, enables him to experience the supreme happiness by nurturing him with the nectar of the Real-Self, gives him the divine-food of the supreme state by bathing him in the nectar of meditation & true knowledge. My Guru when explaining the significance of this role feels that a preceptor should act as a magnet which attracts distracted iron fillings (the uninitiated student), make the students realize their real self and most importantly make them magnets (Gurus), who can create similar magnets.
The Role of the disciple
Before, the role of disciple is discussed; we have to be clear with the distinction in the meaning of a student and a disciple.
The difference between student and disciple is the difference between somebody who is religiously observing formalities in a class but is not really committed, and somebody who is a Guru’s own child. Being a disciple includes being disciplined and taught, but more importantly, it means having a close, loving relationship with the guru, being a part of his family, and an heir to his spiritual wealth.
A true disciple, according to me, should follow the principle of Sharanagathi towards his Guru. Sharanagathi means unconditional surrender to the Guru. An ideal disciple should realize that God, Guru and Self are identical; the Guru is God in human form as said by Sri Ramana Maharishi and therefore, a disciple should give his everything to his Guru. A true disciple is not somebody who is always trying to proselytize others or who gives lip service to his Guru.
Interestingly my Guru feels that a good disciple should be a thief who steals his abundant wealth of knowledge. This statement sounded absurd to me until I came across this thought by Sri Ramana Maharishi on the Guru-Shishya relationship.
From Sri Ramana’s point of view there are no disciples but from the point of view of the disciple the grace of the Guru is like the ocean. If the disciple comes with a cup he will only get a cupful. It is no use complaining of the niggardliness of the ocean; the bigger the vessel the more he will be able to carry. It is entirely up to him. My Guru also follows a similar philosophy as he never considers anyone a disciple and in fact says he stands to gain a lot from each of his disciples, however small they may be.
The Guru-Shishya Relationship
The Guru-Shishya relationship is perhaps the most important relationship the soul can have in this world of relativity. It is also the most important relationship the ego can have in the sense that it's the one relationship that thoroughly demolishes the ego. The worldly person, however, doesn't see the attractiveness of this relationship; he doesn't like to put himself in the position of subordination to what he considers to be just another person. He feels that his opinion is as good as anyone else's. In the matter of seeking God, he doesn't see the need for another human being to intercede, but thinks to establish his own relationship with God directly.
The relation between the Guru and the disciple can be compared to that between a spark of fire and a conflagration of fire. It is the spark that is aspiring to unite itself with the conflagration, and this conflagration is again a manifestation of that universal fire of the wisdom of God into which we have to dedicate ourselves.
In the immortal anecdote of the conversation between sage Dattatreya and King Yadu, as delineated in the scripture Srimad Bhagavata, Dattatreya's teaching delves deep into the problem of the relation of a disciple to the Guru and advises us the tremendous fact that Ishvara is the Guru, and the Guru is Ishvara. God and the preceptor become one to the student, and in this inner mystic spiritual relation between the Guru and the disciple the personalities are overcome. The bodily relations are slowly transcended and the disciple never feels that he loses his Guru at any time. The Guru only changes his form and he the mode of his working. He works in different manners under different circumstances and at different levels of the students' consciousness. Sometimes he may be visibly working. Sometimes he may be invisibly working. The Guru-Disciple Relationship is Eternal.
To sum up, I have given below a beautiful Tamil poem on Guru-Shishya relationship to best summarize the divine relationship with my Guru.
“My Guru acts as my mother when I wail
He acts as my father when I search for direction in life
He plays the role of my dear friend when I play
He transforms into my child when I take possession of him
He becomes my God when I pray to him
Long live my Guru, who performs all these roles to perfection!!!”
Azhunthorum Anaikkum Annai
Arivilladhu Adi Odi vizhundhorum edukkum Appan
Vilayadum pozhudhu thozhan
Sondhamai Eduporkellam Kuzhandhai
Thozhunthorum Kaakum Deivam
Ippadi ena Ulavum En Satgurunathan Vazhi Vazhi
The Vedic adage, “Matha, Pitha, Guru, Deivam” emphasizes the worship of Mother, Father, Preceptor and God as they are responsible for giving us life, knowledge and sustenance. How blessed am I for my Guru is none other than my father and am able to see in him the Ultimate Reality?