The full moon occurs at 11:40pm PDT on Thursday July 14th. This is Guru Purnima, the annual celebration of the spiritual teacher, and Pattabhi Jois’ birthday. Guru Purnima was originally called Vyasa Purnima, commemorating the birthday of the great Indian sage, Veda Vyasa, author of the Mahabharata, The Puranas, The Brahma Sutras, and The Srimad Bhagavatam. Vyasa is a towering figuring in the Indian spiritual tradition. In addition to authoring the aforementioned books, he is also credited with rearranging the Vedas into four parts (vyasa means to divide)—Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda and Atharvaveda. He was the son of the sage Parashara and Satyavati, the fisherman’s daughter who later married King Santanu. Born as Krishna Dwaipayaana, Vyasa was the grandfather of the Pandavas, the great heroes of the Mahabharata.
The arrival of Guru Purnima roughly coincides with the beginning of the monsoon season in India. Traditionally it is the beginning of a time of intense sadhana that lasts for four months. At no other time of the year is the blessing of the Guru as powerful as it is now. At the full moon, the light of the Sun (the Guru) is reflected by the Moon (the Mind of the Disciple). If we open our minds and hearts with devotion, humility and gratitude, we will be filled with the Guru’s Grace on this auspicious occasion. When I met Pattabhi Jois in 1978, in addition to teaching asana classes, he was also teaching yoga theory classes three times a week. At the end of each theory class, Guruji would lead us in a chant called the Guru Ashtakam. What the chant says, in essence, is that one may have wealth, fame, a beautiful family and a magnificent estate, but without the Grace of the Guru what is any of it worth? What I remember most vividly about this chant is the refrain—“tat te kim, tat te kim, tat te kim’—which Guruji translated as, “What use, what use, what use?’
Guru is a composite of the words gu, meaning darkness, and ru, which means to remove. The Guru is the dispeller of darkness in whatever form it may take. There is darkness of the body (tamas), darkness of the mind (avidya), and darkness of the heart (dukkha). The cosmic synchronicity of Pattabhi Jois being born on Guru Purnima was no accident. He was destined to be a Guru from birth. For seventy years he infused his body, mind and soul into the ashtanga yoga practice as he perfected his teaching methodology, taking what he learned from his teacher, Krishnamacharya, and adding his own unique touches, based on extensive research and years of practical experience. Although Guruji is no longer with us in physical form he has transmitted his essence into the practice, so his presence is still very palpable to all who do this practice. He had supreme faith in the power of practice to dispel any darkness one might encounter. It is a great gift that we have been given by him, what in India is called “the pearl beyond price,” and I am overcome with gratitude to have received such a blessing in this life. In Guruji’s immortal words, “Do your practice and all is coming.” Whatever challenges life brings us, the practice gives us the strength, the flexibility, and the calmness and clarity of mind to face these difficulties to the best of our ability.
In honor of Guru Purnima there will be a Satsang at the Ashtanga Yoga Center, Thursday at 7pm. Offerings of flowers or fruit are welcome.