Dakshinamurthy: The First Guru who bestows all Knowledge
By Nithin Sridhar
(This article was published in NewsGram on July 31, 2015)
Guru Poornima special: Part 7
Today is Guru Poornima, one of the most important festivals in Hindu culture. It is a day when people worship the holy feet of their Gurus. Guru means “one who dispels the darkness and takes one towards Knowledge.”
Hence, Guru ultimately refers to one who dispels the darkness of Avidya (Ignorance) and helps one attain ultimate transcendental Knowledge – Brahma Jnana. But, even the teachers who impart us mundane knowledge on various aspects of science, ethics, morality, daily life, etc. are considered as Guru, as they also dispel ignorance regarding some particular aspect of life.
Various spiritual traditions today worship their whole Guru-Parampara – the line of Gurus who have kept the knowledge alive and have transmitted them to various people year after year for last many millenniums, if we go by modern history. Hindu Puranas, speak about how Guru’s preserve and transmit various branches of Knowledge yuga after yuga in every Kalpa.
Therefore, whatever we know today, whatever knowledge we have today, it is due to the singular efforts of various teachers and Guru whose utmost duty has been to practice, preserve and propagate Knowledge and uplift common men.
Every person must have learned from someone else, but ultimately someone must have taught the first person as well. According to the Hindu tradition that first teacher is God/Brahman itself. It is Brahman who appeared as Lord Krishna and taught Bhagavad Gita, it is Brahman who appeared as Brahmaa (one among the Hindu Trinity) and taught Manu, it is Brahman who appeared as Dattatreya and taught Parashurama. It is this Brahman who is known as “Dakshinamurthy” in his aspect as Guru who teaches all branches of Knowledge- mundane and transcendental.
Therefore, this last installment in the Guru Poornima Series will be dedicated to the lotus feet of Lord Dakshinamurthy.
Meaning of the term Dakshinamurthy: The term Dakshinamurthy can be understood in multiple number of ways. The most common meaning is “One who faces the south.” Here, Dakshina has been taken to mean south. In temples, Shiva is thus carved in a position that faces south. South denotes death. Hence, Dakshinamurthy controls death and grants immortality to people by imparting Atma-Jnana (Self Realization).
Dakshinamurthy is split as “Dakshina” and “Amurthy”. Here, Amurthy means “without form.” That is one who is without attributes like name, form, etc. The term Dakshina if understood as “right side,” the term Dakshinamurthy will refer to Formless God (Nirguna Brahman) who exists in the Hrdaya (spiritual heart) that lies at the right side of body (Krishna in Gita says, he stays in Hrdaya of all living beings).
The term “Dakshina” also means “one who has power/capacity.” Some understand this to refer to the power to create, sustain, and destroy the Universe. Hence, Dakshinamurthy is ultimate Nirguna Brahman who creates, sustains, and destroys the Universe. The “power/capacity” may also refer to capacity to impart Jnana (Self-Knowledge) and Moksha (Liberation). Hence, Dakshinamurthy is one who imparts ultimate Moksha.
If one goes deeper into Vedanta, then Dakshina refers to the Buddhi (intellect) that arises as Akhandaakaaravritti (thought pattern that perceives Infinite whole) as it also has the power/capacity to perceive the “Amurthy,” the formless Brahman.
Hence, Dakshinamurthy refers to ultimate Brahman, who creates, sustains, and destroys the Universe and who grants Atma-Jnana and Moksha to people.
Iconography of Dakshinamurthy: There are little variations in his depictions and iconographical details. A most common depiction as given in Shaiva-Karana-Agama is as follows: “Dakshinamurty has white complexion of sacred ash. He carries the crescent moon on His head. His hands have the gesture of knowledge, a rosary, a lute, and a serpent. He looks very attractive with a sacred staff called Yogapatta. He sits on a seat called Vyakhyapitha (seat of knowledge) and is surrounded by all great sages. He has a calm temperament. He is adorned by serpents and wears the skin of a deer as dress. He is very auspicious. On the right flank of the Lord, there are Jamadagni, Vasistha, Bhrigu and Narada. Bharadvaja, Saunaka, Agastya and Bhargava should be shown on the left. The lord is seated under a banyan tree in the region of the Mount Kailasha, which is populated by Kinnaras etc. He is the master of all and very calm.”
Worship of Dakshinamurthy: An idol of Dakshinamurthy is found in almost all the temples carved on its south facing wall. Among the 12 Jyotirlinga’s, the one in Ujjain which is popularly known as Mahakaleshwar is south-facing, and it represents Dakshinamurthy.
Adi Shankara has written a famous stotra called Dakshinamurthy Stotram where he sings the glory of Dakshinamurthy and describes the tenets of Advaita Vedanta. This stotra can be utilized both for worshipping Dakshinamurthy and for studying Vedanta.
Teachings of Dakshinamurthy: Dakshinamurthy teaches through “Silence” and not through verbal instructions. According to Hindu philosophy there are four types of speech – verbal, mental, visual, and the transcendental. The verbal communication called as Vaikari is the lowest form of expression. Higher than Vaikhari is Madhyama which is non-verbal communication through thoughts. Still higher is Pashyanti which is communication through visual imagery, the person is made to “see” through the inner eye. The highest is “Para” which is “Silence,” where communication is without words, thoughts, or visions. It is kind of inner intuition without any external attribute.
It is this “Silence” that corresponds to highest transcendental Knowledge of Brahman and which is beyond the grasp of words, thoughts or visions, is taught by Dakshinamurthy in his aspect as “Medha Dakshinamurthy” that grants Moksha.
At a worldly level, Dakshinamurthy grants the knowledge of Yoga and Tantra as Yogamurthi, the knowledge of dance as Nataraja, the knowledge of music as Veenaa-dhara and the knowledge of all scriptures as Vyaakhyanamuthi.
Therefore, on this auspicious day of Guru Poornima, every seeker of knowledge must worship Dakshinamurthy and seek his blessings.
Avidya: Literally ignorance. In Vedanta, it refers to ignorance about true nature of Atman/Self that it is free and unbound and without duality. This ignorance gives rise to universe of multiplicity of names and forms.
Brahma-Jnana/Atma Jnana: Refers to God-Realization/Self-Knowledge attaining which one attains Moksha/liberation from birth and death cycle.
Yuga: It refers to four Yugas: Satya, Treta, Dwapara and Kali, that comes cyclically one after the other.
Kalpa: Its duration is equal to 1000 Mahayuga i.e. 1000 cycle of 4 yugas which is equal to 4.32 billion human years.
Nirguna Brahman: Brahman in its ultimate transcendent aspect is without three gunas of sattva, rajas and tamas that constitutes this Universe. Hence, Brahman is called Nirguna.
Hrdaya: Literally “Heart”. It does not refer to physical heart, but to spiritual center of Individual existence that corresponds to right side of chest in physical body.
Akhandaakaaravritti: It is a technical term in Vedanta. A person first attains one pointed concentration on an object, then he attains a state of objectless subject which is defined in yoga as chitta-vritti-nirodha. But, there is a higher state, wherein, a person perceives the subject and object as being non-different from Atman. This perception of one infinite Atman is called as Akhandaakaaravritti. This vritti/mental pattern destroys Avidya/ignorance and a person attains Moksha.
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