Sentiments before Dawn (Part 3): The worship is layered with honouring the guru

As the altar curtains open and the assembled devotees rise from their prostrations, the morning song begins. There is a lead singer and all sing repetitively in response. The subject of the song is further adoration of the guru. While the worship of God in his various deity forms takes place, the choir of singers, overlay it with a chorus of meditations on the guru. Perhaps this sounds awkward, a bit like standing before the king on his birthday, and honouring your father. In any circumstances this may be deemed an insult, however in the bhakti tradition it is fully sanctioned. Perhaps a reflection on the sentiments of the song would be appropriated before proceeding to consider this riddle.

In eight verses the guru is praised. The salient point of each verse is as follows:

The guru is merciful. His or her mercy relieves our distress.

On hearing God’s praises, the guru feels deep emotion, resulting in ecstatic symptoms.

The guru is practically engaged in the personal services of God, and he engages us.

The guru offers delicious foods to God, in feeding the blessed food to others, he is fulfilled.

The guru relishes hearing about the loving affairs of God, without cessation.

The guru is dear most because he is expert in assisting the loving servants of God

The guru is honoured as God, because he is most dear to Him.

By the guru’s grace, God’s grace is attainable, and otherwise-not.

Each verse concludes in adoring such a guru, and what is expected of the guru is evident from the verses. In short the qualified guru’s grace is very much the means to greater religious experience. In coming to see God at the morning ceremony, the seeing is with eyes and thoughts which are informed by the guru. The feeling is by a heart similarly inspired.

Considering the matter further, what a person sees is not what exists outside of them in objective and comprehendible form, rather what they perceive is their interpretation. Their interpretation will depend upon their life in its entirety up until that moment. As one person sees an animal as food, others may see it as sacred or polluted, and thus not food. As a conditioned human being— a historical, sociological and psychological artefact, consequent of my past until this point: I presume to see and understand the world; and that is not necessarily how the world is, it is only how I see it. It is a subjective reality for me, which is perhaps somewhat shared to variant degrees with my immediate community. As someone stated, it is not the case that seeing is believing, but rather that you will see what you believe. Will I ever see things as they are, well perhaps not. What do you see in the picture below: a face or a word?

Seeing God requires an entire software system and God’s willingness to be seen. It is the guru who is credited with being able to deliver both. His grace takes many forms from knowledge and skills to just well-wishing. From the guru a person learns the language and culture of spiritual life, without which the deity would be no more than marble. The disciple’s seeing is based upon the guru’s seeing and similarly his knowledge. So in the initial stages of worship, the disciple is well aware and keeping attention to the fact that he or she is seeing and sustained in the position of worship by none other than the guru’s grace. Therefore as the devotees watch the morning rituals of worship, they sing the praises of Sri Guru.

We must remember though that the guru represents a tradition and community of meaning, and although one, one may have many gurus.

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