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From darkness to light

asato mā sadgamaya
tamaso mā jyotirgamaya
mṛtyor mā’mṛtaṃ gamaya


~ Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad, 1.3.28*

Those of you who followed my regular yoga classes (back in the day!) will remember this mantra we chanted at the end of each class. It is known as the pavamāna mantra, or (mental) purification mantra, meaning: Lead me from the unreal to the real, from darkness to light, from (the fear of) death to (the awareness of my) immortality.

Who is going to lead us to this understanding, though?

The Advayataraka Upanishad and the Guru Gita both explain the meaning and importance of the “guru,” composed of the syllables gu, meaning darkness, and ru, signifying the destroyer of darkness. So a guru is one who dispels (spiritual) ignorance, or darkness, with wisdom or illumination (light).

The Guru Gita also teaches us that anything and everything that points to the Truth, thereby awakening our understanding of life, can be considered a guru. One of my teachers used to say that if you are riding a donkey up a mountain path, then the donkey is your guru. Best be humble and learn from it! In the Indian culture, our parents are considered our first gurus.

Due to popular misunderstanding, some people think that guru signifies a corrupt cult leader. As with so much timeless wisdom, the true meaning of guru has been diminished and perverted. Let go of any negative connotations you might be holding around the word Guru, and practice the lessons of its deeper meanings.

The moment we think we have the answer, or consider our opinions as facts, we begin to shrink and close off from learning. Look at the world with the eyes of a child, as the Bible says, or with beginners’ mind, as the Buddha taught. With curiosity, openness, and humility we can learn so much from observing the world around us – more valuable than anything taught in school.

Full moons symbolise the light of consciousness (represented by the Sun) reflected upon the mind (represented by the Moon). The first full moon (or pūrnima) following the Summer Solstice is known as Guru Pūrnima in the Indian tradition, honoring the brilliance of the guru. This year, Guru Pūrnima falls on Sunday July 5th, which also happens to be a Lunar Eclipse.

It is said that Lord Śiva, as Ādi Yogi – meaning the original yogi – transmitted the teachings of yoga to his seven disciples at the time of this full moon. Guru Pūrnima also honours the birth of Sage Vyasa, considered the author of the four Vedas, and is important to both Jains, in honour of their founder Mahavira, and Buddhists who honour Siddharta Gautama at this highly symbolic full moon.

Whether we honour a particular person or a vast lineage of teachers, we should remember that we would be nothing without all of those – named and nameless – gurus who have illuminated our path even before we realised we were on it!

Join me on Sunday evening via Zoom for a Full Moon Meditation celebrating this Guru Pūrnima and exploring the last Lunar Eclipse in Capricorn for the next 8 years. How will the eclipse affect you? Whether you like it or not, ready or not, it’s time to say goodbye to something in your life.

Lean on the wisdom of the guru in these moments. In our rudderless world we need to rely on the illumination of the guru more than ever.

With much love and light as ever,
Susan