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Guru Purnima: A Guru is Always Heavy

Guru Purnima is the celebration date of gurus and teachers. Some of you might know the common translation of the word Guru as that “which guides one from darkness to light”. But you might not know that Guru, in Ayurveda, also means the quality of heaviness. And it is one of the main characteristics of the Kapha dosha.

Heaviness is what keeps us in place. Thanks to the magnanimous mass of the Earth and its consequent gravitational pull, we are right now able to be sitting, reading these lines. Heaviness also gives strength and a sense of base. Like a great wrestler who relies on heavy muscles, bones, a healthy dose of fat, and a strong grip not to be shaken by opponents. 

The opposite principle in Ayurveda is lightness, in Sanskrit Laghu. It is predominant in Vata dosha. Being light can be useful sometimes, but might also mean that you are dragged here and there, but not by choice. “Gone with the wind”, as we say. But wind, in these Eastern philosophies, has always been correlated with the mind. Not only the body will be light, but also the emotions, thoughts and perceptions will be fickle, unreliable, and confusing: like trying to watch for your path during a windy storm.

The Guru brings the blow of heaviness that smashes the idealistic realm of the windy mind. Ideals set the direction, but the reality of experience has to be felt in an embodied way. Buddha was a great practitioner, to the extent that his first teaching after enlightenment was not an explanation of the origin of the cosmos, an ideal plane of metaphysical existence or a destination to be strived. His first teaching was about the unsatisfaction – or suffering – that life will continually present to us. 

This seems quite “heavy”, and definitely not a good marketing strategy in today’s world. But maybe he was not interested in being light. He was trying to bring the quality of unshaken stability. If you know what suffering is, its presence won’t be frightening, and the possibilities of finding ways to reduce it will be more visible. The heaviness of suffering is also as universal as gravity, it has no distinction of race, country or even species. 

We are collectively going through a very heavy moment. We could, in an unfortunate way, say that we are experiencing a World Guru moment. Because now we have to reevaluate our premature assumptions and guidelines. This has always been the role of the teacher in the spiritual paths of the ancients, to destabilize in order to reform the structure in a stronger (and heavier) way. 

Buddha didn’t leave those that were listening with only the thought of suffering. He also guided, as all compassionate and light hearted teachers should, on the direction to alleviate suffering. The way to do it is to change the standpoint of selfishness. But that is another story.

On the Hindu tradition, we have the beautiful story of Dattatreya, a legendary monk, venerated as an incarnation of the divine. He teaches us the possibility of learning even on the absence of formal teachers. During his wanderings as an ascetic, he met his 24 Gurus, all due to his observations of nature and encounters with people. Among them we have the Moon, which waxes and wanes but doesn’t change its true nature; Pigeons, who suffer in the hands of hunters; a Hawk, which has freedom from other birds only if shares some of its hunt; a Snake, who lives in any hole and drops it’s skin when needed; and an Arrowsmith, a Caterpillar, a Fish, a Deer, a Child, and a Prostitute, among others. 

The month of July, Guru Purnima time, reminds us of the importance of heaviness in life and all those that serve us by bringing us “back to our feet”. Be them our parents, children, spiritual guides, friends, or… nature.

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