Vyāsa Pūrṇimā

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An ode to the Great mind

The creator has spent enormous energy, reserving his best affections for a unique creation — the great mind!

A great mind is not the opposite of pettiness. The opposite of pettiness is heartiness or magnanimity. A small-time crook enters the house of Basavanna in the stealth of darkness, intending to loot something of value. While he muddles around, Basavanna appears, finds something of value, and hands it to the crook. The petty thief is dumbfounded at this magnanimity and falls immediately at Basavanna’s feet. In that fall, his crookedness, and the pettiness of his vocation, also fall. He becomes a good man and resolves to undertake dignified work in society to support himself. We hear such beautiful stories of how the magnanimity and large-heartedness of one kind soul, like Basavanna here, can get the human heart to shed its pettiness and meanness so easily, don’t we?

The great mind is not any of these. We must go deeper.

The inner equipment of the human is characterised by intelligence, compassion, surgical sharpness, decisiveness, sensitivity, talent, goodness, open-mindedness, freedom, unconditionality, or virtue. We use these psychological abilities or natural endowments to distinguish ourselves in this world, don’t we? We identify with them and remain attached to any of these flowing through us. Therefore, when we watch a great quality from a distance, we are prepared to applaud it. But, if we stumble upon the same at close quarters, especially when challenged by it directly, we are likely to mistrust it saying, “No, this can’t be true!” We’re almost saying, “If I don’t have it, if I can’t produce it within myself, maybe it doesn’t exist; it must be a hoax”! The ambition and conceit of the ‘I’ is sure — what emanates from within alone is true and worship-worthy; what is seen out there must be a trick!

Of course, many of us succumb easily, adore any quality shown, indiscriminately. The adoration itself would be quite pithless. I am not referring to such naivety here.

To swim in greatness, you must first meet great minds. To even meet them, you must turn into a worshipper of the great mind.

Why does the ‘I’ refuse to see greatness, as it emerges? Why doesn’t the ‘I’ freely worship or celebrate greatness? Why doesn’t the ‘I’ invite itself to partake of that greatness? If at all anything is worthy of worship or celebration, the great mind alone is. For, the sense of worship and unstinted adoration comes about in you because something out there states itself clearly.

You visit the Himalayas for the first time, see the magnificent rivers and the mighty mountains, you are bowled over, aren’t you? You have no choice but to prostrate to the way the Himalayan setting announces itself to you! You merely acknowledge the majesty of that statement! As you watch the sunrise on a clear morning, sitting on the river bank, bathed in the light of the sun, you are in bliss, aren’t you? Say, you are immersed in the stillness of a dense jungle, listening to the rhythm of the gurgle of natural streams, and, in a matter of a few hours, the monsoon invades the peace of such a forest turning everything topsy-turvy; a mere glimpse of that phenomenon stirs you. If each of us can marvel and respond so well, coming alive to the mighty mountains and rivers, to the beauty of flowers and trees, or the pitter-patter of rain, why can’t we find the true gush within to adore something more vital, something versatile and potent? Why do we fail to recognise the great mind?

The only possible answer is this: we identify with our inner equipment so strongly — obsessively loving what manifests from within us — that we don’t have the sense to step out and recognise greatness. Not just sense, but we lack gumption! Why gumption or spirit, you may ask. Because, when greatness meets us, we must find the spirit to walk out of the attachment to our inner equipment, at once! Instead, we are found muted, as though belittled by it; or, we hate greatness for mocking at our impotence; we dodge greatness because it robs our opportunity for limelight; or, we covet it emptily.

Greatness humbles us. Because, it points out how puerile our obsessions are, how shallow our adorations are! While petty attitudes and behaviours can easily cringe in the presence of magnanimity, greatness exposes your entirety; how you have been fussing over, trusting, and patronising a dull and inadequate inner equipment! Greatness strikes at your roots, while magnanimity merely hits at one facet. ‘How could you be in love with, or feel right about your intelligence, values, virtue, ideals, or quality of action?’ — Greatness would ask. Rendering you incapable of backing yourself in any manner, greatness would make you utterly ashamed of yourself. Not just for possessing a paltry equipment within, but more for being vain about it. Such a shame must release you instantly from the attachment to your inner equipment; that is when Greatness has done what it means to do.

Not only does Greatness destroy the attachment to the inner equipment, but it also demonstrates vividly the possibility of a boundless beyond.

In short, in the presence of greatness, your intellect is hushed in shame — very aware that it knows truly nothing and hence, cannot guide the individual ‘me’ in any manner, nor can it find the right tools to discriminate or comprehend anything. Your heart is not just bent but cringing — because it neither has the hunger nor the appetite for such hugeness, yet, nothing seems ‘righter’ than being around that great mind. Your instinct is silenced and remains undistracted in such a presence. Then alone can your journey begin.

It is a fascinating journey, let me tell you. For, what indeed is a great mind? Isn’t it but a wonderful and true reflection of God himself? If your worship leads to an intimate understanding of a great mind, you are certainly very close to unravelling how God himself lives and functions in and as this universe.

A great mind is not a conviction, not a vast space, not some sharp well-considered stance, not merely heaps of beauty strewn here and there. It is a brilliant and beautiful ecosystem. Like the Himalayas. It is a huge space indeed; but, the content doesn’t seem to be there just because there is space. One doesn’t know whether space itself expanded to hold the growing content, or whether the content and space emerged together. To the explorer, sometimes it feels as though everything was thoughtfully designed and erected, layer by layer, accumulating content discerningly over time. Each chunk seems to have got nudged into a coherent space, relevant to that content. And, the whole landscape appears to have emanated from a distinct origin. At other times, the girth, the vastness, the intricacy of inter-connection in that ecosystem makes one wonder whether the entire thing just sprung up together, as a lovely whole, just like that!

Why there exist so many heights, one wonders. And, each mountain is skirted by valleys and rivers. If all that the great mind sought was clarity, then there should have been just one huge mountain, one height, one spike, one clarity, with the rest descending from and flowing around it. Like a durbar where the king sitting on a throne defines the height of the assembly, and the whole court cascades down and flows around, isn’t it? But, that is not the case. The ecosystem spawns various peaks. Why so many? It appears each mountain is competing with the other; yet strangely, each height merely enhances the value of the other.


Why would the great mind of Vyāsa regard Kapila’s Sāṅkhya, almost as much as he regards Yoga or Viśiṣṭādvaita viewpoints? Why would he want to serve the cream of philosophy in a battlefield, and that too, to a distraught Arjuna, when philosophy is usually meant for those who have an academic bent of mind, for those who understand everything through words alone? Arjuna is a man of action, isn’t he? Why does Vyāsa want Arjuna to find regard for the highest truths at his worst moment of weakness and sorrow? How can the sorrow of Arjuna, his melancholy and self-pity, find the same regard as the highest truths of the Upaniṣads? And, in the very same context? If you are positioned on the peak of truth, why would you descend and lend dignity to a sorrow river of Arjuna in the same landscape? How can his issues be equally important?

This doesn’t mean that Vyāsa doesn’t believe in absolute truth. Of course, he does. But, truth for him is not just a tall mountain that steps out of the ordinary and walks away into a solitary height on its own. The context, the setting, the landscape for a mountain to arise that way is as much real as the assertion itself. And, the mountains themselves give rise to the valleys and rivers, don’t they? How can the entire landscape be any less important than the truth of each mountainous assertion?

It is difficult for a normal mind like ours to even comprehend the gravity of each assertion of thought or feeling. Someone declares love alone as the absolute; someone else declares humanism alone as absolute. Do you see this? Each assertion appears to be absolute in itself. Which means, if someone trekked the mountain of humanism, they will reach a peak, from where the entire tapestry of life appears sorted in its own way. Climb the mountain of love, and things appear sorted from there too, but differently. Do you get the idea now?

For someone in love with the entire canvas of life, for the one who bathes in every river that each mountain produces every day, the whole setting of life alone makes sense. Do you now get a sense of the spread, expanse, and embrace of the great mind?

Dhārayati iti Dharmaḥ, Avakāśād ākāśaḥ

We are wondering what makes a great mind.

Let’s look at virtue or value! What is a value, exactly?

Say, a student is a habitual latecomer to her dance class. She herself doesn’t like it and intends being on time, but somehow ends up being late most often. One day, the teacher reprimands her severely. That day, red-faced with embarrassment and genuinely angry with herself, this girl wants to hide somewhere. Her teacher is right, she admits, and resolves to get the better of her indiscipline. The next time, the girl doesn’t even sleep the previous night; she is ready before time, and arrives at the class much before everyone else. But, she is so stiff that day that the purpose of coming to class seems defeated; all she had managed to do was be on time. It still upsets the teacher. This sets the girl thinking. “Why can’t I be on time without being told, and be relaxed so the body is able to dance easily?”

A good amount of mulling should lead the girl to command herself with one sentence: “Be punctual. Period!” A simple command from within ensures the end of both laxity as well as over-anxiety! This is how a value gets installed within her. An important lesson learnt! Later in life, it works across many situations. When she has to attend that meeting at an NGO, or that board meeting, or even a programme, she is on time by default. Do you get the idea? How hard earned each value is?

Truly speaking, you don’t earn values. You don’t accumulate them like money or pleasure. They are to be discovered as part of character. You discover them like a root within. When the girl finds that root through the command ‘Be punctual’, she has, in effect, brought in an ethical order that guides that space. The lesson the girl learns is to find that root of virtue and assert it.

Willpower and discipline cannot cultivate virtue. It is a sense within which is to be realised. Do you see it that way?

To illustrate further, if the human body is groomed for athletics right from a young age, it attains a certain shape and a kind of fitness. Gymnastics? Mountaineering? Army life? Very different routine, very different fitness regimes for each of them. How about the daily rigour of a temple priest? The body takes a different shape, allows a paunch, but still has a fitness of its own, doesn’t it?

Do you get the idea? You shape the body according to its purpose. Rather, the purpose you dedicate yourself to, shapes the body, doesn’t it? What you do daily shapes the body for that kind of lifestyle.

So is the case with virtue or value. If you are a busy doctor, the discipline and value you practise is of one kind. For a homemaker? The value she practises is of a different kind, isn’t it? Her busy time, rest time, what she stretches for, what she can relax on, what she must always uphold, what she should never give up, what she can forego, what is truly forbidden for her — you see the value structure that the definition of a home-maker imposes upon her? So too for a doctor, police officer, politician or journalist. Each profession, each purpose imposes and shapes your ‘virtue being’, your ‘moral being’. The way you think, the way you draw lines, what you consider absolutely unethical, what you consider progressive and nourish-worthy — changes not from person to person; it changes from profession to profession, across various stations of life. The sense of ethics — right/wrong (in a gross sense, dharma) — is different in each situation, each profession, each culture, each habitat. What is practised by a tribal may not be right for a city-bred youngster.

Today, if you go to a dance instructor, you will learn not just dance, but the discipline that goes along with it. Same with a good scientist or mathematician. Which means, each stream of learning comes with a manual of values and discipline. Picture this. You are an HR consultant by vocation, you pursue dance as your passion, you are a home-maker (by choice), and you offer your services at the local temple every weekend. What is the one value structure or set of discipline you will practise every day that can address the rigour demanded by all these?

Not just each domain or stream of learning. You have relationships. You have a fundamental sense of life and its purpose, of what is non-negotiable about it. You have an inherent sense of duty here, of owing something to God, to the land, to the culture that bred you, to your parents, and so on. You get the vastness of life now? What is that virtue you practise for life, which takes care of every aspect and dimension of your life? Something that provides ready guidance, holds you in place, gives you the right entrance into a domain or relationship or work, that doesn’t allow you to go astray easily. Dhārayati iti Dharmaḥ, it is said. That which holds you firmly and rightly is called Dharma.

So, do we just find that one virtue that holds for all of life? Is such a virtue, value, principle, integrity available? Do we learn it somewhere? Find that one eternal root, and live happily ever after?

No, there is more to this. Let us patiently go through one more dimension before we summarise.

There exists a popular definition for space in Sanskrit: avakāśād ākāśaḥ. Which means: That which gives space, is space! In other words, that which accommodates is space!

Let us go into this carefully now. You are a mother of two and your sister’s two children land up at your house for the summer holidays. You have been dealing with your children in a particular way within yourself all these days. Now, whether it is for serving food, taking them all for an outing, spending time with them individually or together, watch your inner space. You will seek to find an objective space within that accommodates all four kids. Which means, you will keep a certain distance from your own kids — a certain mental distance — so that all the four kids feel they’re treated equally. Now, this is accommodation, isn’t it? Your loving glances, fondness, and affection, sumptuously available to your kids earlier, reduce because each kid has to experience that affection from you, right? Such a thing happens only for about 15 days in your case, and you very well know you can make it up with your kids anytime later.

But, observe what has happened. When you accommodate someone new, you tend to step back from what you are already intimately connected with. Just that small step back! Now, besides accommodating a new child, say, you also have to accommodate a fast-track project at work, and accommodate joining the preparations for your cousin’s wedding; each accommodation distances you from what you are currently involved in, isn’t it? That intimate connection loosens, doesn’t it? Therefore, we see that when people occupy more supervisory roles, they tend to become less first-hand. This is as far as work goes. Even in relationships, when the patriarch is involved in too many things, with too many people, he knows not what each member of the family undergoes; he hardly has any intimate pulse of their lives.

So, to summarise, there is a space called family, and there ought to be a value or principle guiding it. Let us call it virtue, for ease of understanding. One virtue for one space. What is the virtue that holds a family space? Love, affection, mutual dependence, nourishment, prosperity, cohesion, a place where many good things of life flower, and so on. When a father commits to taking care of the family, he means all these in that one word, ‘commitment’! And, because he means so much in that one virtue, these are likely to flower in the family space, isn’t it? Virtue holds the space! Do you get the point?

So, by ‘commitment’, if a man means mere financial support, then that is all that family space gets blessed by. Do you get the point? How virtue is the root that guides any space?

The man in the above example doesn’t cover all aspects of the family but supports it financially alone, which he does steadily, let us say. He appears virtuous on that front, but because he hasn’t covered all possible dimensions of that space, and he leaves out so many significant aspects of family building, the man is found inadequate. Limited!

So, we have two issues here, if you care to see. One is limited coverage — you just don’t pervade that space well. Second, corruption in virtue — you don’t show the required virtue to uphold something in a space. Corruption is when you compromise, isn’t it? What have you compromised here? Suppose the man showed a lot of enthusiasm when he married, but his commitment sagged once the burdens of the family increased. That is a loss of virtue, isn’t it? Corruption!

Limitation in coverage and corruption in virtue — these are the two issues we hope the great mind has found an answer to. The great mind not only learns to accommodate everything but also finds the virtue that truly accommodates. Not only does it pervade all parts of space well, but also finds the true virtue that holds that space.

Please remember: When we say space, we are referring to the space of the entire life here. Everything physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, etc. To find the virtue that remains incorruptible across all strata is humongous, but that very same virtue envelops entirely as well.

Finding wholeness, and the incorruptible root that supports it! That is the search of the great mind.

Look at our condition. Even if we find the virtue that provides unflagging sustenance to the family space, even if we rouse all dimensions of that space, we are still corrupt and limited, isn’t it? Because, even though we are rich and virtuous in family-terms, we are not available to other spaces here. And, is it ever possible we can restrict ourselves to one space alone? No, that wouldn’t be possible. I can’t ignore the education standards in the society, saying I am bothered only about my family, right? Education standards out there affect my family too. So, one can never draw a line around limited space like family, work, organisation, nation, etc. One has to envelop the entire space and find the virtue that holds it. You discover how to pervade, as well as the dharma that pervades simultaneously.

Space is not sheer space alone, it is incorruptibility. When space accommodates, it doesn’t merely stretch and lend space, it is a movement in virtue too. I dealt with two kids earlier on a certain basis, and when I have to deal with four kids, the virtue or value itself changes. Which means, I need to rethink on virtue itself. A new virtue is asserted in order to handle the whole again. Do you get the idea?

Space is incorruptible because its accommodation is ceaseless; it discovers a new sense of virtue that pervades the new whole all over again. This indeed is true accommodation, right?

You must first discover virtue, rooted to which, you handle a certain space. But then, you will find the virtue that authenticates how you deal with family differs from that for dance or the workplace. Which means, either you are creating multiple roots, or you are extending one root everywhere. For example, if you believe in cohesiveness in the family, you may seek the same in a dance class, or even at the workplace, which may be irrelevant. You get the point, don’t you?

Man is not corrupt because he has no sense of ethics within him. But, he is corrupt because the virtue that he practises at one place becomes irrelevant elsewhere, and he doesn’t know what to do. Or, a virtue becomes redundant when things have to be scaled up, for which again he feels uprooted.

The Bhagavadgītā is considered a Dharmagrantha by all Hindus. It has held that position for thousands of years now. How did Vyāsa manage to come up with pointed insights, suggestions, do’s and don’ts, friendly warnings, and imperatives relevant to all? How did he bring the land of clarity closer to all of us? To each one of us, actually!

Vyāsa would tell you: Never give up the full expanse of life for doing justice to one specific thing. Never give up doing justice for that one particular thing, in order to expand or accommodate more. And, find the virtue that supports something here. And, when you accommodate and expand, don’t stretch the same virtue. Find a new virtue that accommodates the new bigger space.

Look at the physical space around you. Take an empty landscape. Put a house there, nothing changes of space. The way it related to the empty landscape earlier remains the same, and now it relates to the house in the same manner. Put a street, put a shopping mall, put a factory, space doesn’t seem to take one step away. It never takes that step back. Do you see that? It appears to have instantaneously found the right root within that accommodates!

When you enter a great mind like that of Vyāsa, what you see is that sense of pure space. True virtue and accommodation that hugs everything, puts everything in its place, accords due regard for everything. Not one step taken back, ever! Yet, there is infinite space, avakāśa, for anything new. Even when it appears filled, and something new comes, a unique space is created just for it. And, the new entity is welcomed and as closely hugged as much as the long-term residents.

Namo’stu te Vyāsa viśāla buddhe

Hindu tradition holds that Veda Vyāsa is the one who composed the great Mahābhārata — which contains quintessential pieces like the Bhagavadgītā and the Viṣṇu Sahasranāma, apart from elaborately woven stories and the historical record of various kingdoms across the land of India. He is credited with collating and compiling the various versions and branches of the Vedas from all the extant schools of Vedic learning across India and committing them to a written format for the first time. He is also credited with authoring the famous Brahmasūtrās, referred to as the nyāya prasthāna, the constitution of Hindu and Vedic thought, so to say. He is even said to have authored a commentary on Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtrās. Known as Vaiśampāyana one place, and Bādarāyaṇa elsewhere, the authorship of many Purāṇās are also ascribed to him.

Western scholars, on the strength of their research and analysis, consider such claims of authorship highly credulous. It is humanly impossible for even a mighty mind to have created so much in one lifetime, they say. They do have a point, don’t they? Consider the plot of the Mahābhārata alone. Ask any script writer, or history writer of today, and they would straightaway tell you that it is impossible for one man to have not just collected facts about all of India’s kingdoms, but also known everything so intricately, and come up with an engaging narrative. Remember, the Mahābhārata is a contemporary story as far as Vyāsa is concerned. He wrote as it unfolded.

The sheer physical act of writing it would have taken some years. How about the conception? How about the charged political drama? How about pearls of wisdom like the piece of advice that Draupadi gives Satyabhāmā in the forest? The Viṣṇu Sahasranāma is a brilliant piece in itself. Just this piece demands tremendous contemplative work. How about the connections between each set of stories? All the characters are so well-etched, they have achieved a reality within us even today. Bringing to life such a web of well-etched characters is a feat that could not have been achieved by one mind, western scholars muse. Because, this is not a movie like Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi, you see. It is said that the research that went into the making of that movie took nearly 10 years! And, it is the life of one man; other characters keep coming and going. Whereas, in the Mahābhārata, at various points in time, you are left wondering whose story it is, after all. Is it the story of India? Is it the story of Kṛṣṇa? Story of the Pāṇḍavās and Kauravās? The failure of Bhīśma? There are myriad sub-stories having their own heroes, villains and setting. It is dynamic. When it is the story of Bhīśma, then the whole thing appears one way. When the story turns to the Pāṇḍavās and Kauravās, the setting is different. Karṇa is a story by himself. So is Kṛṣṇa! So many characters, and the sheer intricacy of their interactions! It appears as if Vyāsa not only knows things inside out, but also outside in, and hence there comes about extraordinary coherence. If it was pure history, then, one must marvel at the amount of research done and the extraordinary degree of comprehension. If it was a tale, erected by creative imagination, using some facts as the base, even then, it is an extraordinary feat of visualisation and perspicacity.

And now, consider the Bhagavadgītā. There is hardly any scripture produced on par with it post that period. The expanse of the landscape, the language of instruction or teaching employed there, the brilliance of laying out the entire tapestry of Hindu thought, value, and sense in such a succinct form, is unprecedented and incomparable. You could view it as a condensed philosophy laid out by Vyāsa — like a bee that has sucked the nectar not just from the flower but the entire inflorescence of every thought-tradition that existed then. Or, you could view it as life of that day speaking!

Philosophers and poets are of two kinds. There are those who seek purity of thought or feeling, or bareness of existence. Having discovered that purity, they apply word to it. You are likely to put Śaṅkara and the Buddha in that category. Then, there are those who want the life, the very soul of a culture to speak, and speak coherently! Vyāsa was of the second kind; he was probably the first to give voice to a live culture through the writings of the times! While he did appreciate the terseness and precision of philosophical works, he seemed more interested in how the human heart and soul understands it from its own grain. This is why the culture had to speak for itself!

Hence, nothing of life could be left out. Its ugly side, its hidden idyllic lands, its daily monotone, its highs and lows, its potential and hope, its overhang from the past, its beautiful traditions, its tendency to decay and corrupt gradually and then erupt like a volcano in a fit to cleanse itself, its sentiments and pining wishes, its superstitions and the power they have over the mind, and the final benediction — none of these could be ignored.

Coming back to the debate about single authorship, it remains unresolved whether one man accomplished all this, or were there many Vyāsās. Or, whether one man had an army of enlightened students — someone like a Jaimini, for example — and hence, was able to churn out this humongous output in a short time. Whether Vaiśampāyana and Bādarāyaṇa were two different people belonging to two different time periods, one doesn’t know. But, whatever has been achieved has a sense of greatness to it indeed.

The sheer endeavour of collating and compiling the mantrās of every Vedic school that existed then is colossal. They have become immortal gifts to humankind! As we know today, the Vedas are divided into four — Ṛk, Yajus, Sāma, and Atharva. And, it is said that during Vyāsā’s time, these four Vedas were nourished and taught in various schools across the country. Just like today, the trivedīs — Ṛk, Yajus, and Sāma descendants — thought poorly of the Atharva school. And hence, all the four couldn’t be brought onto one platform. This is what is popularly known, and hence Vyāsa had to indulge in quite some political diplomacy to bring the four schools together and get them to co-operate in this noble work of compiling the Vedas.

To introduce the GST required confabulation and debate amongst all sections of the business community in India, amongst the different state governments, and so on, didn’t it? Almost 10 years of work, so much back and forth, and finally we have a GST in place, don’t we? You could imagine a similar exercise being undertaken in those days. Please remember that we had no universities or colleges during that period. The Vedic schools and its various branches were indeed the only schools and colleges we had.

And, a single Vedic school meant many dimensions. Firstly, there were the mantradraṣṭāra Ṛṣis, to whom mantrās occurred as revelations, who were purely contemplative. Many of these Ṛṣis were also gotrapravartakās, which meant that they created new lineages. Some of them were celibate lineages, handed over to the student from the Guru, but most of them were family lineages, inherited by the sons from their illustrious fathers. The gotrapravartaka Ṛṣis may have been the most powerful and influential people in the Vedic community during those times. Furthermore, you had the academicians and scholars who were well-versed with the various sections of the Vedas, who not only researched, but also learnt the right understanding and usage from the original Ṛṣis. The practising ritualists constituted a huge part of the scheme of things. They alone were skilled in the prayogās and knew the various aṅgās of the yajña ritual; they also knew how to organise sacrifices at the required scale, for the required purpose. They were the ones who married the vision and purpose of the ritual, as envisaged by the mantradraṣṭāra Ṛṣi, with an end goal and benefit. Besides, there were many teachers, who taught several students every day, who created batches according to age and learning ability. And, of course, there were the students, who came from families, who probably were practising ritualists themselves. So many students stayed over at these āśramās, pāṭhaśālās, and gurukulās. Some of them returned home after a short stint, some after many years of study and service, a few returned for a brief while and went back to re-join, to continue Vedic work! To support this elaborate learning infrastructure, so many patrons existed, including kings. And, indeed, there was a huge well-wisher community.

So, Vedic schools were a massive set of institutions in those days, and to get them all on board must have required tremendous patience, a great vision, a wonderful ability to negotiate and reach consensus, and a great heart that withstood the pain of pettiness. As a result of the sustained push by one man, today, 5000 years later (or is it more?), you and I have the Veda mantrās in our hands, to read and study!

And… one of the greatest works of all. The Brahmasūtrās. Who would have even thought of the requirement of such a work? Why would anyone even think of coming up with a constitution for Vedic study? Primarily, Upanishadic study! And, to take up the various schools of thought there, reconcile them, takes enormous love and patience. It is as though you hear several court petitions, one after the other: sometimes, each one differing from the other by a huge chasm and at other times, differing by a mere hair’s breadth but still maintaining uniqueness! You find the regard for each of them, and then seek a natural reconciliation, or a clear negation.

If a period of time comes about where the cream of society finds ways to collaborate and achieve an extraordinary produce, give a new direction to the community, inaugurate a new culture which has shed the past of disdain and disinterest and woken up to a grand new beginning of regard and reverence, thereby invoking the finest enthusiasm and bringing all of them together in one glorious community effort — an extraordinary synergy grips those times. And, since those periods in history are so rare, the effect of those periods remain for thousands of years later. Like the work done by Vyāsa remains with us, even after so many years, doesn’t it?

Vyāsa and Kṛṣṇa were contemporaries. Were they of similar ages, one doesn’t know. Much of what Kṛṣṇa attempted politically, at least the outcome of his mission, was a failure. His efforts to clean up the house of the Kurus, for example, didn’t find much response. The Kurus seemed intent on self-destruction. Kṛṣṇa had thought, and rightly so, that the Kurus were best positioned to inaugurate a new era of good rule, compared to all other kingdoms. In the end, even though the Pāṇḍavās did come to power, the scenario of the country itself had turned quite bleak. The kingdom the Pāṇḍavās ruled unchallenged towards the end had lost much of energy. So, there was no period of glory which truly reflected what Kṛṣṇa had worked for, that became a beacon of light for future kingdoms. Kṛṣṇa’s direction and actual vision seemed to have been lost forever.

In contrast, Vyāsa was focussed on religious and spiritual work. And, one does see a great produce over time, spearheaded by this wonderful visionary. Politically, the nation headed southwards, while surprisingly reaping tremendous gains in terms of spiritual vision. In fact, whatever remains of Vedic India today is more due to Vyāsā’s contribution and foresight, rather than the legacy of the Kuruvanśa! In other words, what a powerful royal lineage could hand over to the next generations in terms of best practices — administrative, legal, social, infrastructural, educational, serving the underprivileged — in short, the ‘heirlooms of power, prosperity, and rājadharma’, was more or less wiped out. What Vyāsa has bequeathed for us alone remains.

That makes Vyāsa more alive as an entity today, when compared to Rama or Kṛṣṇa. Vyāsa can speak directly to all of us today, crossing more than 5000 years of history. Imagine you and me. We are unable to make sense of what unfolds in today’s world. We are neither on top of it, nor do we seem to even understand what unfolds. To not only comprehend what unfolds right when it is happening, but remain relevant 5000 years later, and to speak of the same wisdom to a new generation, albeit in a different language — isn’t that marvellous in itself? The depth of the subjects covered in Vyāsa’s Bhagavadgītā or the Brahmasūtrās can give a run to any modern wisdom and Guru, and easily outwit them! Isn’t it truly something? To be so untouched by forces of obsolescence? To yet remain a beacon, shining brighter than ever?

Therefore, one is left with no choice but to bow down to the great mind which manifested in the form of Vyāsa, which chose to bless all of us, and continues to do so.

The Guru

The creator is possessive. Careful too. He takes it upon himself to handhold and guide the best students to the land of truth.

In true corporate accountability style, someone may land up at a Śaṅkara maṭha and ask, “Ok, in the history of over 1200 years, how many Śaṅkarās have you produced?” Or, shoot a question to the Pope at the Vatican, “Father, with due respects, it is more than 1800 years since the Church was established, and now it has spread everywhere. So many hearts and minds must have been transformed by the message and teachings of Jesus. Amongst them, how many actual Jesuses have you been able to produce?”

Remember: The creator doesn’t outsource the blossoming of his best buds to other Suns!

Well, the Gurus of this world, however compassionate and effective they be, are left with poorer manifestations of creation as students, to shape and mould. Since they are not presented with the cream of creation to handhold, they are rarely challenged to deal with higher issues or the first throbs of the mind. They end up dealing with evolutionary problems.

For instance, it would be of vital interest to know how Govindapāda understood, guided, or even dealt with a student like Śaṅkara. When faced with a far greater visionary and better student than oneself, what would a Guru do? For secular learning like Math or History or Language, the Guru need not be better off or more endowed than the student. The student has other options to learn and imbibe, serving his drive to learn. But in a case where the student seeks the highest, and if the Guru himself is, at best, a pious soul who has great regard but no actual insight or experience, then, the interaction becomes interesting.

Will a Govindapāda find the energy and excitement or better still, the dire necessity to pursue the truth along with his student, Śaṅkara? Will he use Śaṅkara as an ally and derive a new-found zest seeking the truth himself? And, if he is unable to move, will he find the heart to introduce Śaṅkara to the best living teachers out there, imploring them to guide him? “Here is a young boy of extraordinary purity and intense burning to know the truth. Can you take him under your wings and show him that land? I am very affected by this boy’s earnestness, and I am impelled to protect this rare child of God. I want to do everything possible to ensure that the boy sees what he ought to see. I feel a great urge to protect his path, but I don’t know the path myself. I have neither the wherewithal nor the intensity or purity to go along with him. And, I fear my mediocrity may burden his young shoulders, a load he should never take. He must stay on course, undistracted, and find what is to be found!”

The creator seems to trust the mediocrity of every Guru here more than such a rare benediction in the heart of the Guru. God takes care of his most precious child by himself.

Nevertheless, the Gurus do have an important job here. The Gurus indeed serve the hearts and minds that graze at the secondary or tertiary levels of existence. Instil faith, bring in discipline, turn the gaze of the student to greater possibilities, get them to be less selfish, promote humanitarian tendencies, and open up a sense of God, divinity, and grace — this is what a good Guru pushes his students to discover genuinely within themselves, while dealing with his own mind afflicted by the vagaries of life. Devotees throng such Gurus, students comply with their rules and formats, match their expectations, seek their approval, and do manage to move a few inches in their evolutionary progress.

But, the real movements of the soul are left to be dealt with directly by God, the boss himself! Take Śaṅkara, the Buddha, Ramaṇa, or anyone of that order. The deepest stirrings of their soul, those clinching-insight-movements, if one may describe them that way, was not a product of any school of thought, nor was it handed down from a Guru they served. It wasn’t even from a current interpretation of a scripture. In other words, it wasn’t the known wisdom of the age and time that guided them to where they had to go. It was an urge to move from within, blessed, and handheld by the Lord himself. This is why these men show enormous trust and faith in the inherent process of creation for wisdom. They talk to you as if it is the most apparent thing, don’t they? Like the way a mother would speak to her daughter, while she is on the verge of her first child-delivery.

Gurus come with personalities. So, if you seek a Guru because you are keen to understand something of the higher, and plan to hive off light and insight alone, ignoring the personality, you will be disappointed. You will have to learn to reckon with the person there. You can’t keep it away; it shall come and stare at you repeatedly. Of course, as it happens between lovers, there could come about an instant chemistry between the Guru and Śiṣya. A biological instant connection is very much possible. But, that won’t last long, or penetrate deep enough, if either the Guru or Śiṣya is serious about life. If the mutual want is just to maintain a ‘spiritual connection’, then ‘biological or chemical’ forces would be enough. The connection between a true Guru and Śiṣya is not made in the heavens, nor is it the handiwork of destiny. Even if you do meet someone like that, what destiny brings, it shall take away too. Because, destiny has plans different from yours; much beyond merely bringing two souls together.

The search for spiritual truths must be far more serious, grave, and pure. Because, what goes on usually in the name of spirituality, whether in the traditional maṭhas or the neo-spiritual organisations, is just cosmetic stuff.

Śaṅkara does talk of being loyal to the Vedic tradition, he upholds it totally, including the Guru-Śiṣya relationship. But finally, he composes the Dakṣiṇāmūrti stotram, which eulogises the Guru as a universal force, inherent in creation.

The Guru is genuinely discovered in your heart. In the very depths of your soul. He appears to be a mystical hand above you sometimes, at other times, in a physical form whose very presence makes your heart prostrate with reverence daily; or, he appears as a purer you within. The Buddha doesn’t guide you through a book or monastery, or through some spiritual methods alone. You have to discover him within you. So must you discover Śaṅkara or Vyāsa.

How does one celebrate Guru Pūrṇimā then? What is the way to pay your respects to the Guru?

You begin with a willingness to learn; isn’t that the simplest way to start? At your workplace, you don’t shirk learning. At home, be it about how to run the house or about relationships, you are willing to learn. As regards the customs and traditions you inherit, you merely learn to understand them better and continue. One who is willing to learn, who is earnest, never resigns into pre-fixed attitudes.

Be a student always. Willing to discover more the emotional, the physical, and the intellectual. Stretch your personality for the sake of learning, knowing, feeling, understanding. Let there be genuine enthusiasm to feel and understand things first hand. This doesn’t mean empty curiosity, but a real awareness that perceives things correctly. As they are. Feel, know, and experience! Give everything a fresh chance, again and again. Don’t laze into a stasis. Dullness is when the momentum of soul-learning turns to zero. Dullness is not a state of mind, but the absence of learning momentum right now. Begin learning thus, and you shall see all the dark circles that enveloped your brain and heart start vanishing.

The real student of life has much to learn. Because, the canvas of life is so vast. Someone may ask, ‘where is the end to learning?’, almost implying, ‘no point in learning’! You see the decadence there? The very point of learning now is not merely to answer the question ‘whether there is an end to learning’, but to take it forward and ask the fundamental question, ‘if there is indeed an end to learning, then there must be an origin to the entire life-canvas. Is there a way to know or touch it?’ In fact, the sense of infinity about understanding and learning doesn’t allow you to resign into settled convictions and opinions. ‘It just doesn’t allow settlement’, a true student discovers. Because, whether there exists an end to this movement of understanding everything truly or not, the movement itself unhooks you of all forms of jāḍya or inertness. Like moving water; so long as the water flows, it doesn’t stagnate. And, when water stagnates, all life there comes to a halt. The movement itself is sacred. Hence, at no point do you give up exercising your brain, heart, and the body.

Let us approach the point of learning differently.

Being successful in this world essentially means meeting the challenges that you face, effectively. Failure is to either dodge, escape, or succumb to the situation. Failures occur because one doesn’t have an effective answer to the situation, demand or challenge posed, isn’t it? What is an effective engagement? If courage is required, you show it. If endurance is needed, you muster it. If patience alone helps, you stay patient. If something needs to be done, you move immediately, with no hesitation or laxity. If a faculty is to be invoked, you deploy it and do what is to be done. If you don’t know something, you accept your ignorance at once and then figure it out. If thought needs to be applied, you spend time and energy, understand, and then take a call. If a situation demands empathy, you offer it. If something there needs to be connected to, and only then it talks to you, you go ahead and do that. Because, not everything here is a natural give and take; so much of what we engage with requires us to first connect and feel, for the other to respond.

Real success is indeed the power and sensitivity to effectively respond. When you have responded exactly, correctly, in the right measure, you have done the right thing. Isn’t that the sense or feeling?

Suppose the situation demands that you show courage, and stand up for something, but because you are timid, you have always wished someone else took the lead and you merely followed; then, there is something to learn from the situation. ‘Why respond with cowardliness if the requirement is courage?’ Exactly the opposite, isn’t it? Why? That is because of the pre-disposition towards pusillanimity; can you recognise this right in the situation? The lesson is not to become courageous always; but, when courage and uprightness is demanded of you by the situation, you must be free within to give it that.

I’m in a complicated situation that requires some amount of thinking, let us say. Exactly when the demand is for me to think, my faculties switch off, don’t they? Like a bulb! If the demand is for a 15W LED bulb to shine in that situation, I am blessed with the luminescence of a 3W LED from birth, and even that tends to switch off! Do you get the scenario? To move from 3W to 15W luminescence, and to find out how to do that, is indeed learning. Suppose I declare, ‘I was never so intelligent. But, I can play football. Ask the intelligent guys whether they can play football, let us see!’ I am implying, ‘I’m born to play football, and not for understanding something because I am blessed with just a 3W bulb’. Isn’t this escapism?

Then, why would the creator send that kind of a situation to me, in the first place? Doesn’t he know me better? Doesn’t he know I am born with 3W luminescence? Isn’t he being compassionate when he sends a situation that requires me to stretch?

There exists a situation out there, and it demands an adequate response from you. Not only are you unable to respond, but you also don’t have the humility to accept it. You come up with escapist philosophies of how each of us is born limited and incapable. But, isn’t that the very point of learning?

If you are born with inherent capabilities, and you use them for execution alone, and harvest rewards and bounty from the world, can you call that learning? You were born with so much ability to sing, and you merely seek opportunities that showcase that much ability alone, is it? Just execute what you were born with? Then, you shall remain the way you were born. The very point of learning is to change what you were born with. To transform it. And, this is why one finds a regard for the situation. Because, if the situation hadn’t demanded it, I would not even have known my inadequacy. I would not have stretched myself. So, I am glad that the situation shows my incompetence; it shows trust and urges me to work on that alone.

Look at how situations challenge you. They don’t come and throw extreme statements like, ‘you are useless totally, and nothing can be expected of you’! They urge you to stretch right now. The learning assignment given in that situation is custom made, and achievable, if you care to observe. If you not only respond effectively but also learn what is to be learnt from the current situation, then you are in a mode of learning continuously; it becomes a part of life. You don’t get extra rewards for it, but you have moved far away from the land of mental inertness and psychological fatigue.

Such a healthy individual picks vital lessons of life every day. The whole picture of life shall get unravelled; it is only a matter of time. The ultimate questions of life, the path of truth, shall open up to such a non-cavilling heart. There is light indeed at the end of the tunnel.

The Guru is waiting to bathe you in light.

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Sudheendra Chaitanya

Sudheendra Chaitanya is a Hindu monk based in Bangalore, India. After completing Engineering, he studied the scriptures at Chinmaya Mission in 1991, and continued with Mission work until 2005.

He now chooses to spend time with himself, observing life—people and happenings—keenly, and his insights flow out as writings. As a serious investigator into the core issues of life, Sudheendraji connects to people and subjects of life alike…with intimate directness. He has also authored several books. Notable among them are Blooming in the Open, The How, What and Why of I and God and Personal Worship. In a lucid narrative, his writings deliver fundamental insights, ruthlessly searing through conditioned thoughts and beliefs, but nourishing the soul with care.

Sometimes nourishing, sometimes revealing…