A guru shows the path of enlightenment to seekers. Gu denotes darkness (ignorance) and ru denotes the removal of that darkness. The word guru has two other meanings. In the first one, gu signifies guna titha (one who has transcended the three gunas) and ru signifies the formless aspect (one who has grasped that). Gur means heavy or weighty, signifying the weight of the guru’s wisdom, which can benefit others. The guru is both a formal teacher and a spiritual preceptor. He or She is a storehouse of spiritual energy, which he can transmit to other. The guru helps the aspirant to purify themselves so that their inner Self can shine forth.
Dakshina in the Vedic culture is the term for the recompense paid by the sacrificer for the services of a priest, originally consisting of a cow. These days it may be service, cash and food items. Dakshina is personified as a goddess along with Brahmanaspati, Indra and Soma in Rig Veda 1.18.5 and Rig Veda 10.103.8, and Rig Veda 10.107. Srila Vyasadeva is the Complier of the Vedic Shastras.
In our modern school system, the role of a teacher is more about imparting knowledge of various subjects like Mathematics, Science, English, etc, to students. However, in ancient India, a teacher or a guru was a spiritually evolved guide. Along with the knowledge of various subjects, he also taught his students how to live a disciplined and principled life. A guru was the spiritual guiding force in the life of his students. In fact, as per the ancient Hindu tradition, one had to live life in four stages known as ashrams.
Considering that a man can live for a 100 years, each stage was divided into a span of 25 years. The first stage or ashram was Brahmacharya, spanning the first 25 years of a person’s life. During this time, a man lived in the house of his guru. The next stage was Grihasta, which was to be lived as a married man and householder. This was followed by Vanaprastha, which comprised of performing penance in a forest. The final one was
Sannyasa, in which a man lived as an ascetic.
It’s the life of Brahmacharya that is most closely connected with the concept of Guru Dakshina. In ancient times, a student lived the first 25 years in the house of his guru, which was called Gurukula. A beautiful thing about Gurukula was that all students resided together as equals irrespective of their social standing. The students learned from the guru and also helped him in his day-to-day life like his own children. It was at the conclusion of this formal education that one was required to repay his guru through a Dakshina.
The Indian tradition of guru Dakshina was meant to serve as a way of showing respect, acknowledgment, and thanks to the guru, particularly after a period of study or the completion of formal education. It is a form of reciprocity and exchange between student and teacher. The repayment is not exclusively monetary and may be a special task the teacher wants the student to accomplish.
However, the guru often received a valuable gift or donations from the pupil and his family as his guru Dakshina. The life style of Indians has changed drastically over the years, yet the reverence and respect payed to the teacher is still as it was thousands of years back.
Questions on the Meaning of Guru
1) What is guru bhakti?
2) What is guru seva?
3) What constitutes true guru -Dakshina?
Here I would like to quote a verse from Siksha Valli in Taitriya Upanishads..
THE Guru bids his disciple farewell and delivers his last upadesh:
“Satyam vada, dharmam cara
SVadhyayan ma pramadah,
Acaryaya priyam dhanam ahrtya.”
Speak the truth; Practice virtue. Let there be no neglect of your daily reading. Give unto the teacher what is pleasing to him.”
SO, HOW CAN YOU GIVE TO THE GURU WHAT IS PLEASING TO HIM?
There are two ways of doing it…
One is to give something ‘tangible’ what is called guru Dakshina. In the olden days, this involved living in the Gurukula system where the disciple lived with the guru, ate with him, helped the guru in all daily activities and in return the guru imparted valuable teachings. This was called guru seva! But, over a period of time, a system of guru-Dakshina evolved where the disciple made concrete offerings in terms of cash, clothing or anything tangible. This guru-Dakshina was simply symbolic – expressing gratitude and appreciation for the teaching the disciple received from his/her guru. Guru Dakshina in any form, even monetary, is one form of energy or another.
The most pleasing (everlasting) gift a guru receives from his disciple is when the student practices the teachings of his guru with sincerity and earnestness- in fact, THE STUDENT IS THE LIVING EMBODIMENT OF THE GURU-
You identify a flower by its fragrance… so in the same way you recognize the greatness of a guru by his disciple… an ideal student is one who leads by example – such a disciple follows all the instructions of the guru to a letter ‘t’. Whom we are descendants—that would be the Dakshina desired by the guru.
This is the best guru seva or guru Dakshina – I would like to conclude with a verse from Guru ashtakam composed by Adi Shankara…
shhadan gaadivedo mukhe shastravidyaa
kavitvaadi gadyam supadyam karoti .
manashchenna lagnam guroran ghripadme
tatah kim tatah kim tatah kim tatah kim.h ..3..
The Vedas with their six limbs and the knowledge of all sciences may be on one’s lips; one may possess the poetic gift and may compose fine prose and poetry; but if one’s mind is not centered upon the lotus feet of the Guru, what then, what then, what then?
Finally to end a beautiful katha on Ekalavya – the greater archer that would have been.
In the Mahabharatha, Ekalavya is introduced as a young prince of the lowly Nishada tribes. Ekalavya was born to Devashrava (brother of Vasudeva, who was father of Lord Krishna) and was raised by Hiranyadhanus, the leader (King) of the Nishadhas, who was a commander in the army of Jarasandha (the king of Magadha). Desirous of learning advanced skills of archery, he seeks the tutelage of Drona, the legendary weaponsmaster of and instructor of Arjuna and his brothers. Drona, however, rejects Ekalavya on account of the prince’s humble origins.
Ekalavya is undeterred and goes off into the forest where he fashions a clay image of Drona. Worshipping the statue as his preceptor, he begins a disciplined program of self-study. As a result, Ekalavya becomes an archer of exceptional prowess, superior even to Drona’s best pupil, Arjuna. One day while Ekalavya is practicing, he hears a dog barking. Before the dog can shut up or get out of the way, Ekalavya fires seven arrows in rapid succession to fill the dog’s mouth without injuring it. The Pandava princes come upon the “stuffed” dog, and wonders who could have pulled off such a feat of archery. Searching the forest, they find a dark-skinned man dressed all in black, his body besmeared with filth and his hair in matted locks. It is Ekalavya, who introduces himself to them as a pupil of Drona.
Arjuna fears that Ekalavya may have eclipsed him in skill with the bow. As a result, Arjuna complains to his teacher Drona, reminding Drona of his promise that he would allow no other pupil to be the equal of Arjuna. Drona acknowledges Arjuna’s claim, and goes with the princes to seek out Ekalavya. He finds Ekalavya, as always, diligently practicing archery. Seeing Drona, Ekalavya prostrates himself and clasps the teacher’s hands, awaiting his order.
Drona asks Ekalavya for a dakshina or deed of gratitude that a student owes his teacher upon the completion of his training. Ekalavya replies that there is nothing he would not give his teacher. Drona cruelly asks for Ekalavya’s right thumb, knowing that its loss will hamper Ekalavya’s ability to pursue archery. Ekalavya, however, cheerfully and without hesitation severs his thumb and hands it to Drona. For his part, Arjuna is relieved to find that the crippled Ekalavya can no longer shoot with his former skill and facility.
The Mahabharata is clear that Drona acted in order to protect Arjuna’s status as the greatest archer. However, the Mahabharata does not answer the question whether Drona was ultimately justified. The story thus leaves room for interpretation and moral speculation. As a result, a variety of answers have been proposed to these questions.
According to some, Drona wanted to hamper Ekalavya’s archery skills because he feared that Ekalavya would use them against Drona’s employer, the King of Hastinapur (Ekalavya’s father worked for Jarasandh, who was an adversary of the Hastinapur kingdom).
Others have alleged that Ekalavya learned all the archery skills by secretly observing the training sessions of Dronacharya. When Dronacharaya found out, he visited Ekalavya to verify his suspicions. Although Drona could have demanded an even greater punishment under the laws in effect at that time, he asked only for Ekalavya’s right thumb, thus making useless the archery skills which he had learned secretly.
Others still have said that Dronacharya demanded Ekalavya’s thumb because the latter was not a Kshatriya, and in those days only Kshatriyas were supposed to get a military education.
Ekalavya-ism, which is a bhava (ideal or sentiment) in the Mahabharata, is a philosophy of self learning with a meditative mind without physical presence of a Guru something which is technologically possible today. Ekalavya-ism also believes in learning for learnings sake, self perfectionism and the ability to give up power when demanded by a Guru. This closely ties in with the Indian Guru Daivo Bhava philosophy as a Guru was thought to be essential in ones self development. American higher education operates on philosophy of apprentice-ship but the question has been asked whether with newer technology like tele-presence, semantic web and neural augmentation that the Guru is actually needed to guide the student. I would suggest that it depends on the needs of the individual student, and that the physical presense of the guru is more helpful for most students.