Today is the full moon for July, and marks Gurupurnima. This holiday is a “limbo of great importance” to me. The source of importance is obvious to anyone familiar with the day. Purnima correlates to the full moon. In Hinduism, many holidays fall either on the full moon, or within a certain number of days before or after it. The “limbo” part of this, for me, is due to not having a dedicated guru -something else of high importance within the Dharma. With that in mind, in this post I’ll try to detail a few of the most influential gurus in my life.
The first guru worshipped in Hinduism is Sage Vyas. It’s said that Hinduism is the only major world religion without an actual founder. Sage Vyas, however, comes close. He’s known to have lived in ancient times and according to his personal sadhana, had attained a number of siddhis. Aside from being a masterful rishi, he is most noted for compiling/editing the Vedas, which are the foundational body of scripture for Sanatana Dharma. I think he’s also known to have composed a number of other Scriptures holy to Hindus. I adore Sage Vyas for obvious reasons and some reasons which are less obvious. His influence, the karma-phala of his efforts, reaches from modern Hindu religion so far back into history few can conceive. Additionally, a well-known story about the recording of scripture involves Sage Vyas dictating to my very own ishtadevata, Ganesha. Sri gurubhyo namaha!
The stage being set by Vyas thousands of years ago, my parents were 900% my first living guru. Truth be told, my birth mother hasn’t proven herself to be worth the flawed genetic material she managed to pass on, let alone anything of greater value. My father, on the other hand has truly beautiful karma. Part of that karma was that he’d eventually meet and marry my step-mother. The two, together, make an amazing, albeit typical pair and without their guidance my life wouldn’t have amounted to half of what it has. And while I’m still able to discern parts within my own makeup that are surely inherited from my birth mother, I’m honored to report that by far I’m the sum of the two that actually cared enough to raise me. I have the level head and generosity of my father, and like my step-mom, eternally insist on perfection in all the right areas of life, have some pretty decent reasoning skills, and also would likely have made a fair living as a lawyer (AKA I can argue just about anything, always have the higher good as my goal, and no matter what you say, you can be sure I’ll find a flaw in your logic and will end up winning the debate.) If gurus come into our lives (or vice versa in this case!) to help guide and shape us for our betterment, my parents could sit on their rumps for their next ten lifetimes and still succeed in this regard. Because of this, when I’m at temple and we sing the shloka, “Twameva mata cha pita twameva…“, which translates as “You (God) are mother and father…“, I’m filled with adoration and love for these two primary human figures in my life. Below is a picture of my parents and a younger brother (at his wedding, we’re not actually Christians for the most part).
Another guru influence in my life is that of Paramahansa Yogananda. If Vyas-ji was technically a first among gurus, and my parents were the second, then Yogananda-ji was certainly the third. I came to know of him actually in the most unexpected of ways, which I’m hesitant to share. But here goes:
In my early twenties a relationship I had been in came to an end. It had lasted about seven years and when it dissolved, you can imagine, I was still very inexperienced at life. On my own for the first time ever, I was mostly doing just fine. During this time, though, I had been approached by a man from my city’s south side who was seeking models. You see, he sold clothing items online… he ran some kind of website that was fetish-gear-oriented. I’ll spare you the details of exactly what garments I modeled, but the idea is that he was no longer young or lean or unwrinkled and needed a tighter, younger body to show off these things, which folks would then buy from him. Before anyone takes this info and runs with it, believe me when I tell you that the shadiest part of all this was that all photography was shot in his home, as opposed to an actual studio. But none of that is important except to lead me to tell you that this man happens to be a devotee of Yogananda. I had an Om or something on my necklace which caught his attention and started our conversation on all things Hindu. Both of us being caucasian, we commiserated at being the only non-indian Hindus we knew of in the entire state. From then on the modelling was entirely secondary (indeed stopped) and our dealings were mostly in the context of spirituality. He took me to the temple for the first time and gave me my first copy of Yogananda’s autobiography, which as so many others will verify, is life-changing. He also gave me my first copy of the Bhagavad Gita, a translation by P.Lal. Of all the different Gitas available, this simple version remains my favorite.
Since learning of Yogananda, I’ve been drawn to his teachings and have a large number of his books, as well as a book or two written by Yogananda’s own guru, Sri Yukteshwar. I love that Yogananda was so connected with western Christianity. He does well at showing dharma in the Bible. I’ve fallen just shy of joining his “sampradaya,” The Self Realization Fellowship for a couple of reasons, namely that it’s suffered a great bit of internal conflict which has veritably split the group, and it seems to be in decline. All that aside, this is to say nothing about Yogananda or his teachings which are truly liberating. And for that, he’ll always remain a dear teacher to me. Kriya Yoga might not be my best fit, but I’m not nearly done with him, and it’s my hope he isn’t nearly done with me.
Next of gurus influential in my life is Mata Amrtanandamayi Ma. She’s an avatar of Sri Durga. Known around our planet as “The Hugging Saint, and to myself and fellow devotees as Amma (Mother). Her life has been incredible and it’s apparent that She is mahashakti personified. Born into a working class family and pretty much forced into familial slavery, Her upbringing was rough to say the least. Virtually from Her birth she was a kind of lunatic for the Lord, constantly seeking union with Sri Krsna, and even today demonstrates what is known as devibhava for the benefit of others. Today She’s the founder of humanitarian organizations and Her own sampradaya which is truly unique, as well as Amrita Yoga. She’s written many great books and She’s also the creator of the Brahmasthanam. She spends hours and hours (easily 12-16hrs in a single day) seated and receiving Her “children” as She hugs them. The Mother never tires of this. She never stops for breaks for sustenance and offers Her love, freely, until all present have received. These hugs are known to be transformational. She also offers diksha/initiation as well as a unique meditative practice. She’s helping to clean up the current state of bhakti yoga, which She says should instead be called kamya yoga, because too often what we think is bhakti is actually desire-fuel devotion. As often as I’m able, I attend local satsangs and worship Amma for multiple hours on end. I also have a very personal story about a healing I received from Amma soon after coming to find Her. Amme Sharanam!
Someone else, who is also a modern-day guide, deserves recognition. I’m not sure this soul is someone many consider a guru of the level of Amma or Yogananda, but she is no less a spark of Brahman than they, and like them does her best -every chance she has- to uplift and educated and help. She can be found on Facebook and on Youtube. She and I belong to the same (gay) community and our hearts are more similar than not, although I’m no nun. It’s actually because of this siddha-yoga jiva that I own my first copy of the Guru Gita. Her name is Sister Unity Divine, and I find in her inspiration, strength, wisdom, and encouragement. My heart is truly glad to know of her and also to be benefitting from her life’s expression.
As I’m nearing the end of this (very, very, very long) post I want to lastly give consideration to the inner Guru within each of us. It’s this Guru that all the others are merely an outward, seemingly separate expression of. You, at your deepest, most inner level, are non-different than the Source all other gurus lead you to. Any soul you may choose to follow, who indicates anything diffrently is… False. Believe it. Your truest Self is all that has ever been, all that will ever be, and all you’ll ever need. All else is only meant to help you experientially realize this.