Tvameva maata cha pitaa tvameva
Tvam eva bandhu sakha tvam eva
Tvam eva vidya dravinam tvam eva
Tvam eva sarvam mama deva deva
Tvam eva sarvam mama deva deva
You alone are my mother..You alone are my father..
You alone are my relative.. You alone are my friend
You alone are knowledge You alone are my wealth
You are my all, my Bhagavan ..
These words of the Guru stotram were and continue to my living reality, when I think about my beloved gurus.
These words don’t mean that one’s biological mother or father or friend are not valued. Of course they are. But there comes a time in one’s life when mumuksha, moktum iccha, desire to be free from a sense of limitation becomes so intense that the guru becomes the most important person in one’s life.
A guru reveals that reality about you which can never be dismissed or negated. And hence one engineers one’s life in such a way that one wants to pursue Vedanta fulltime. The heart has been tempered through different life experiences and nothing or no one can hold you back – no worry about the future, no anxiety about how you will manage in the gurukulam..nothing. That is how you find yourself in a residential intensive course in a gurukulam.
This episode is based on the most valuable years of my life in Arsha Vidya Gurukulam, Anaikatti at the feet of my beloved guru, Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati ji.
What does it mean to live in a Vedanta gurukulam? I offer a glimpse.
Different kinds of residents – Gurukulam literally means the family of the guru. And that is how we live, like a large family. It is unlike a University where the faculty keep changing. The Guru and a few Acharyas stay. The students come and go.
On the other hand in a University the students change as well as the faculty. Students enrol because of their interest in the subject matter, the ranking of the University and their grades for eligibility.
Different kinds of students apply to live in a gurukulam. There are the antevaasi-s, the ones who live with the guru, vidyarthi-s, students desiring to study Vedanta and Sanskrit as a subject like other subjects, and shishya-s the one who are sheeksha yogya – worthy to be taught. However, no student can enrol into a gurukulam on one’s own. They have to be considered as having sufficient adhikaritvam for Vedanta by the Guru.
In time the hope is that the antevaasis and vidyarthis grow into become shishyas, worthy of the teaching and have the commitment to learn and unlearn.
Vedanta Curriculum – What is the truth? How do we define it? How can we know that truth which can never be negated? Sat is that which exists, asti iti, and it exists in all three periods of time, trikālepi tiṣṭhati, it is in the here and now. It is of the nature of existence which is not inert but consciousness, without any boundaries, anantam and that satyam, jnanam, anantam is oneself. Understanding this without vagueness, doubt or error, one spends days, months and years trying to assimilate this vision and dropping conclusions about oneself, the world and Ishvara based on avidya, ignorance. In our Vedanta course, the youngest was possibly 22 years old and the oldest was about 75 years. Everyone had their own journey of seeking the truth, at an absolute level and also telling the truth at the relative level and living an aligned authentic life.
One round of Vedanta study is considered complete only with the foundational texts of Vedanta – the Prasthanatraya – Bhagavad Gita, atleast 7-8 Upanishads and Brahmasutras, with Shankara bhashya. However the teaching tradition is oral with the texts just used as an outline for the reality of you to be unfolded. The order of study and the emphasis is decided by the guru.
Unlike a university where one evaluates the curriculum to determine if one wants admission in that university, a shishya does not evaluate the curriculum to join a Vedanta gurukulam. Infact the curriculum is available only after the course is over. Why? Because the Guru decides which text is most suitable for the group of students. The shishya has shraddha that Guru knows best and one’s raga or dvesha or fomo fear of missing out on a particular text does not play a role. For us our Guru himself was the Parampara, devas, rishis and Ishvara all rolled into one. We were just willing to lap up whatever he had to impart and transmit. In our receiving, we knew that the vision was timeless and so were we. In his teaching and us receiving, we were slowly forming into links in an unbroken Parampara. Sometimes no verse was taught. Sometimes many verses. What mattered was we were with our Guru who blessed us every day. What mattered was that we were in the presence of the Rishis and Jagadguru Adi Shankaracharya as their words and blessings pulsated with life through our Guru. Just as the sunlight coaxes the petals of the lotus to open, the shishya was awakened to the reality of oneself.
Exclusive pursuit of Vedanta – Before joining the gurukulam, in living a life of Karma Yoga, one was pursuing Dharma and a bulk of the time was spent in pursuing a career, wealth, maintaining a home, relationships and attending Vedanta classes two-three times a week. In attending Vedanta classes in public or online, for many, Vedanta is a means to an end, the end being better relationships, peace of mind, greater effectiveness at work etc. On the other hand in the gurukulam, there were atleast three Vedanta classes a day, day on day, month on month and year on year for 3 and a half years. The pursuit of Moksha was centrestage and all other pursuits of Dharma, Artha and Kama were in service of the Moksha pursuit. The time, attention, effort in Artha, wealth was at its bare minimum in just managing one’s expenses and the pursuit of Kama was occasional as a sweet would be prepared every weekend. The yearning to feel good all the time through wealth and pleasure had dropped. Dharma continued to be the framework of living but we were not expected to do additional projects besides some seva in the ashram and living a prayerful life. The rhythm of our day would start with the ringing of the bells at the temple for
Morning puja 5 am
Meditation at 7 am.
Breakfast 7.30 am
First Vedanta class 9 – 10 am
Second Vedanta class or Sanskrit class 10.30 – 11.30 am
Chanting 11.45 – 12.30 pm
Free time till 3 pm or an additional Sanskrit class for people struggling like us
Tea and Seva in the ashram – 3 – 4 pm
Vedanta class 4.30 – 5.30 pm
5.30 – 7.15 pm Free time for a walk or time in the temple
7.15 pm Dinner
8 pm Satsang (Q and A)
9 pm End of day.
Through the day, one also made notes from class, did japa of one’s mantra, washed one’s clothes, cleaned one’s room, chatted with batchmates, discussed some Vedanta topics, all the while learning that one could be relaxed even while being so busy. Just like there is no online substitute for learning in a University, there is no online substitute for learning in a gurukulam. Learning in 2-3 classes a week is like drip feed irrigation and takes time and that is fine for most people which is different from immersive learning
A Vaidika way of life – Before the gurukulam, society, one’s peers and families determined what needed to be done. Modern society indoctrinates us into thinking that one’s life is made only with the pursuit of wealth and pleasure only for us to arrive at the horizon of our ambition to see that the horizon has moved far away. On the other hand in the gurukulam, the Vedas, a means of knowledge guided us. Karma Kanda, the voluminous section of the Veda helpful in acquiring dharma, artha and kama through mantras and rituals were the framework in starting the day in the temple at 5 am only after a shower. We participated in yajnas for the welfare of our gurus and fellow students, elaborate pujas in the morning and evening with Vedic chanting, learning to chant suktams and ended our days with prayers and japa. We chanted the prayer for everyone’s well being and happiness often everyday. Everyone included all beings in the world such as our neighbours, guests, plants and animals, ancestros, rishis, teachers, devatas. The vaidika vision is inclusive. Our Vedic chants, stotrams, bhajans looked upon Ishvara as a means to the antah-karana shuddhi and naischalyam, purity of mind and steadiness that we were trying to cultivate and Ishvara was also the goal of our pursuit, in the clear understanding of the mahavakya – Tat tvam asi.
Ishvara’s revelations to the Rishis through mantras, vyakaranam – grammar and ofcourse the Upanishads became the light through which we looked at our lives. Our life paradigm had changed and our way of life had become Vaidika, with a growing shraddha in the Veda – both karma kanda and jnana kanda.
Vivikta-desha sevitvam, Value for resorting to a quiet place
In life before the gurukulam there was always an escape available. Traveling on vacation, watching a movie, catching up with friends, visiting an amusement park, engaging on social media, activating exciting newsfeed. All these are enjoyable and can be enjoyed but one can tell it is an escape when we don’t want to face ourselves. Facing ourself is facing a flurry of self judgements, things one wished one had done, regrets about not having done some other things, unresolved issues, frustrations along with some fulfillments. A lot of healing happens in prayer and surrender to Ishvara. One of the 20 values mentioned by Bhagavan Krishna in the Gita is viviktadeshasevitvam, a value for resorting to a quiet place not as an escape. A person who enjoys being with himself/herself in quietude is not a sad person. He/she is a simple, quiet, contemplative person able to face oneself happily. If one cannot be happy by oneself, the mind will always require an escape. The one who can be with oneself has discovered an inner leisure born of resolving whatever are one’s core issues, healing from life ‘s wounds and has the space for self-enquiry. This time to be with oneself and know oneself completely is a gift of being in the gurukulam. What is the point of life if one did not make the time to know oneself completely? Needless to say, there was no endless scrolling of newsfeed or pursuit of the latest news around the world although we kept in touch with headlines. Our gurukulam was in a forest, close to a village, Anaikatti, literally meaning where the elephants were tied. The news of the day would be the cow giving birth to a calf or that jackfruits had been harvested or that wild elephants had been spotted.
The change from a consumer to a contributor – One of my batchmates who was a corporate professional looked distraught while mowing the grass. He complained – Why should we do seva? In the ashram, seva (voluntary acts of care) included sweeping the streets of dried leaves, cleaning the kitchen and dining area, organising books in the library, cleaning the lecture hall, preparing for puja in the morning and evening every day, cleaning the temple, serving food, sometime preparing food, ushering in people during festivals etc. My friend continued, ‘I am going to the Acharya to tell him that I don’t want to do seva. From the gurudakshina we give, the ashram should employ more people. We are not servants. Clearly he had not understood what seva was really meant for. I said – Although two years have passed in the gurukulam, your corporate hat is still on. You are not a consumer who has paid for some services in the gurukulam. And hence can demand a better quality of services like you rightfully could for a paid service. This is a gurukulam. We are the family of the guru. When we do things for our home and acts of care for our parents, we are not servants. In any case a servant is the one who serves. We pitch in and contribute. Likewise the seva in the gurukulam. The seva is not for our guru’s sake. The seva is for our sake. Did everyone want to do seva? No because it took away from our time for practice of Sanskrit, going over the texts etc. Did we all need to do seva? Definitely? How else could we be rooted in ‘doing what needs to be done’ as our ragas and dveshas were being scraped. How else could we learn to work together, all 85 of us of different ages, cultures and nationalities? Vedanta is a solitary pursuit but living is not. How else could sarvatma bhava, a recognition of oneness grow despite all our differences?
We were being honed into dropping the restless question of ‘what can I get in every interaction’ to ‘what can I contribute in every interaction’. This called for a growing up and growing out of the small, beggarly me to a growing, relaxed and expansive me
There is no teacher training course in Vedanta. One grows to be a teacher only when one has learnt what it means to be a shishya. The Shishya becomes so ready that in time, the shishya disappears and the teacher appears in the very place the shishya stood. The reason the Parampara continues to be unbroken is because of the thorough framework of teaching and learning. The vision is complete because the vision is purnam that is fullness that is you.
It is possible to get an idea of what living in a gurukulam is like through retreats for a few days in a gurukulam and I hope that you do avail of this opportunity if you have n’t already.
Gurudakshina – Unique to the Vedic tradition is a practice of offering some form of wealth to the guru called guru dakshina. The tradition of learning has been sustained by a wholehearted giving of knowledge. The knowledge is timeless and priceless, Yet, in earlier times, students and kings and patrons gave money, gold, cows, land or food-grains – anything the giver considered valuable which would sustain the work of the guru and the gurukulam, the family of the guru or the teaching institution).