For me Thanksgiving comes twice a year, once in July and again in November. I attribute this happy situation to my dual heritage, the Indian and the American.
One of the moving festivals on the Indian cultural calendar is known as Guru Purnima. It falls on the day of the full moon in July.
An ancient text, the Katha Upanishad, likens one’s efforts to realize God to walking on a razor’s edge. (Somerset Maugham wrote a novel, The Razor’s Edge, on this theme; Bill Murray acted in the movie based on it). An aspirant needs a guide, one who has walked the path. The guide is called the guru
"Gu" in Sanskrit means darkness or ignorance. "Ru" stands for the remover of that darkness. The guru sets aspirants on the spiritual path, observes their practice, and teaches them to navigate and finally transcend the mind.
Guru Purnima is the day on which the aspirant takes stock of his progress and expresses his gratitude to his preceptor.
Since Hinduism is a way of life and not a dogma, the truth of a precept can only be validated by one’s own experience. Since I have the freedom to interpret tradition in my own way, I choose to make the bedrock of experience as broad as possible.
A guru for me is not only someone who has been my teacher, in both a scholarly and a spiritual sense, but also a person from whom I’ve learnt something.
On Guru Purnima day I sit quietly on waking up, as I do almost every morning, to go into myself, On this particular day, I remember everyone from my kindergarten teacher, who taught me to count, to the college professor, who initiated me into the joys of literature. I recall my associates, friends, buddies, all those who gave me something of themselves. I think of the speakers, from various religious traditions, that I have been privileged to hear. My mind calls up the faces of strangers, fellow passengers on planes and trains, whose casual remarks made an impact on me. I remember authors whose writing gave an insight or two into life. I express gratitude to my sisters and brother, my wife, my children and grandchildren for teaching me that love is infinitely more than an emotion. Finally, I thank the greatest guru of all, God, who, I think, in my vanity, created this lovely universe specially for me and who gave me the wisdom to understand and express gratitude.
Then I do what everyone does to express happiness: I gather my family and we have a great meal together and talk and laugh and want the present to last forever.
On the last Thursday of November, I sit quietly in the morning and think of the gifts I have been given: good health; the privilege of travelling and living in so many countries; the joy of meeting a fascinating gallery of people. I recall invitations to Chinese New Year dinners, Diwali feasts, Christmas dinners and Thanksgiving get togethers. I call up the faces of family and friends who are here. I think of my tennis buddies and editors in Texas, who in accepting me and my writing, saved me the problems and pangs of adjustment. I also remember the friends who are not here, living full lives in lands of their choice. I regard it as my good fortune to be the inheritor of two rich cultural traditions, the Indian and the American. I give thanks for the harmony, peace and freedoms that prevail in the community and the country I live in; my gratitude goes out to those who work hard to preserve them. My mind cannot but dwells on the beauty of the world and the Power and Imagination of the Architect who created it and set me in it.
Then I celebrate as everyone does: I gather my family. We have a great meal together and talk and laugh and want the present to last forever.
This peice appeared in The Dallas Morning News dated 22 Nov 2010