Freedom From The Debts Of A Teacher – Guru Runa Mukti

By Dr Raghuram Y.S. MD (Ay) & Dr Manasa, B.A.M.S
A teacher has an immense value in our lives. We cannot imagine our lives shaping out into what exactly we are living, without the guidance and blessings of a teacher.

Everyone who teaches even a small principle of life is our teacher.
Read – Ideal Method Of Teaching Ayurveda – Dr CR Agnives


A Guru Stotram / Guru Mantra / Guru Gita are popular in Indian culture, that which is dedicated to all the divine and human teachers. It is an ode to the teachers who ward off the darkness of our life and ignorance and lead us towards everlasting awakening and enlightenment. This hymn is written by the great spiritual teacher, Adi Shankaracharya and it is a part of Guru Stotram dedicated to his spiritual guide (Govinda Bhagwadpada).
Read – Happiness Through Wise Discrimination, Detachment – Viveka Chudamani

Other reference tells that Guru Gita is said to have been inscribed by Veda Vyasa, the author of Mahabharata and is a part of Skanda Purana, but most valid references point out to the hymn being quoted by Shankaracharya.

It means ‘My teacher is my Brahma – my creator, my Vishnu – the one who manages my life in all ways, my Maheshwara – the destroyer of all my ignorance. My teacher is by all means the real means of my existence, the supreme reality. Therefore I bow to you with utmost respect my teacher’.
Read – Sufferings And Health Of Spiritual People – Ayurvedic Analysis

Mother, Father, Teacher and Guest are said to be equivalent to God in Hindu scriptures.

Quotes on a Guru

‘If a God and my teacher were to stand before me, who would I first greet? I will choose my teacher, for it was through his teachings that I saw God’ – Philosopher Kabir

‘A good teacher can inspire hope, ignite the imagination and instill a love of learning’ – Brad Henry

‘Research shows that there is only half as much variation in student achievement between schools, as there are among classrooms in the same school. If you want your child to get the best education possible, it is actually more important to get him assigned to a great teacher than a great school’ – Bill Gates
Read – Ways To Improve Knowledge, Intelligence As Per Sushruta

‘Everyone who remembers his own education remembers teachers, not methods and techniques. The teacher is the heart of the educational system’. – Sidney Hook

Guru Shishya Paramparas wherein the students belonging to all castes, religion and realms of the society stayed in the teacher’s premises and gained knowledge. Now students go to schools, colleges and institutions where they are taught by different teachers belonging to various disciplines completing an effective educational system.
Read – Incorporating Atma Jnana (Self Awareness) In Treatment – Case Study

Guru Runa – Debt

Runa means debts. We have many debts to clear in our lives. Of them, the Hindu scriptures like Manu Smriti tell that there are three main debts which we have to repay, not in terms of materials, but ethically and as a part of moral responsibility. They are –

Deva Runa – debts to Gods, for having created us and given us this wonderful life to enjoy, to free himself from vicious cycles of life and death. This can be done by taking vows to do noble deeds and fulfilling them. It also includes living a religious and spiritual life, in the pathway of righteousness, abiding to the rules of creation. It should be paid by performing sacrifices at yajna (holy fire sacrifices including enchanting holy hymns).
Read – Dharma – To Follow The Right Of Life

Pitru Runa – debts to ancestors, as a mark of remembrance and respect and to relieve them from the cycle of life and death. This can be done by regularly satisfying the souls of dead ancestors by rituals like shraddha and pitru tarpanam (post death ceremonies). It is also paid back by begetting the children and upbringing them in noble ways conducive to the society.

Rishi Runa / Guru Runa – debts to teachers, for guiding us in the right direction and for having shaped us into the personalities we are, for making us fit to live in synchronisation to the creation and society.  It is done by reading and practising the scriptures, observing continence and fasting and also by passing on the knowledge to the successive generation of students.
Read – Sadvritta In Ayurveda – Code Of Conduct For Healthy Life

teachers, for guiding us in the right direction and for having shaped us into the personalities we are, for making us fit to live in synchronisation to the creation and society.  It is done by reading and practising the scriptures, observing continence and fasting and also by passing on the knowledge to the successive generation of students.
Read – Sadvritta In Ayurveda – Code Of Conduct For Healthy Life

Reference of 3 debts

References for Tri Runas –
Srimad Bhagavata Purana 10.84.39, Taittiriya Samhita –
Shatapatha Brahmana –, Manu Smriti – 6.35

The Sanatana Dharma quotes 6 runas. They are –

Repaying the debts of a Teacher
There are many ways of repaying the debts of a teacher. Best way of repaying the debts of a teacher is to take his teaching further, down to the next generation of students and learning enthusiasts.

The best way of learning things and mastering over them is by teaching what we have learnt from our teachers to our students. We can also keep ourselves updated regarding various subjects as we teach them to our students, bridging between our teachers and students. Every teacher gets to learn things from his teacher. He can update his knowledge through various sources even after preliminary education under a teacher.
Read – 18 Tips for a New Ayurvedic Student

Later, when he becomes a teacher and teaches the same things to his students, he also gets to learn new things from his students when like-minded conversations, discussions, debates and deliberations take place, if he is broad minded enough to learn from the generation next. Thus, every teacher is a connection between his past, present and future connects of the process of knowledge, in a stream of ‘continuous learning processes.
Read – Moksha – The Ultimate Spiritual Liberation

Knowledge concealing and patenting

Advent of ‘knowledge concealing and patenting’
From ancient ages, even till the modern day, we have seen people conceal their traditional knowledge with a selfish motive. People also transfer their knowledge and wisdom within their families which will be carried as batons of hierarchy. This tradition is also followed in the practice of ancient medical systems like Ayurveda.

Ancient Ayurveda descended and was selflessly taught and practised in an unadulterated way. Gods and sages, who were the pioneers of Ayurvedic knowledge believed in transferring their wisdom to successive generations for the benefit and welfare of the mankind. The element of selfishness trespassed into this auspicious and authentic medical system when few people who were legends and stalwarts of the system desired to conceal and limit the knowledge which had given them immense success only for their good will circle.

Many medicines and formulations which could treat many diseases have become ‘secret brands’ of certain family of physicians. The intention was to limit knowledge and success obtained to a limited group of people so that it would be carried as legacy. In the timeline of evolution, many formulations and methodologies of practice and effective healing have been concealed and got lost in the jungles of selfish motives.
Read – Ayurvedic Medicine: Introduction, Importance, Types and Myths

But, isn’t knowledge good when given? ‘Vidya dana’ i.e. giving away the knowledge in the form of transferring it to the next generations is always welcome! How does one lose his identity by doing so? Why would the teachers (of any profession) be selfish and partial when the knowledge is nobody’s property? These are some questions which need to be thought of!

I, as a teacher and physician have always enjoyed by sharing my part of the knowledge with my students and also enjoyed learning from them in a humble way. It is bliss to share knowledge. I only feel enriched, accomplished, blessed and complete only after having shared what I have learnt.
Read – How To Understand And Master Ayurvedic Medicines Easily

You need not be a teacher to teach in real terms. All of us have some rare talents and virtues through which we can influence others. Parents, who are said to be the first teachers to a child, who seed the basics of life, morality and ethics of living in a child may not be teachers by profession, but they teach isn’t it?
Read – Kerala Vs North Indian Ayurvedic Practice – Which One Is Better?

Ayurvedic example

An instance from the depths of Ayurveda
Beautiful instance related to transfer and share of knowledge in an unconditional and unadulterated way from Charaka Samhita Sutra Sthana Chapter 1.

Context – Ayurveda Avatarana, story of descent of Ayurveda
Those were the days when the every life on earth had fallen victim in the hands of many diseases which were dreadful. It reduced the life span of sages and people who spent their time and life in auspicious activities, earning livelihood and in educational activities. Some diseases even posed threat to the mankind.

All the revered and learned great sages thought of finding a suitable remedy for these diseases and protect all life including mankind. To discuss about this, they decided to assemble in the holy Himalayas.
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During the course of discussion, when the sages went into penance, they saw with their divine spiritual vision obtained by regular immense meditation and penance that Lord Indra, the king of Gods had the remedies for the diseases. They knew that Lord Indra, being a kind hearted God by himself definitely would bestow on them the knowledge of longevity of life i.e. the knowledge of divine Ayurveda in a selfless way.

Sage Bharadwaja volunteered to go to Lord Indra to learn about the science of secrets of longevity i.e. Ayurveda and gather all knowledge to combat the diseases haunting the mankind.

All the sages obliged to send Sage Bharadwaja as their representative to Lord Indra in seek of knowledge of Ayurveda.
Read – Lord Dhanwantari ‘The God of Ayurveda’

Before this, the sages knew that it was Lord Brahma, the creator of the world himself who had thought of Ayurveda, recollected it from his memory through his divine vision and had propagated it for the first time to Daksha Prajapati. Later, Prajapati propounded the knowledge of Ayurveda to the celestial physician twins Ashwini Kumaras. The Ashwini twins next taught Ayurveda to Lord Indra.


Why did the sages decide to send master Bharadwaja to Lord Indra?
Lord Indra was a well learned divinity that had in depth knowledge of Ayurveda. But Lord Indra was the last in line of the lineage of learning Ayurveda. Before him, Ashwini twins and Prajapati had learnt Ayurveda and they were grand masters of Ayurveda, in a way Ashwinis were teachers of Indra and Prajapati, being teacher of the celestial physicians was a super-master to Indra. Above all, there was the creator Lord Brahma himself. The sages would have preferred to send sage Bharadwaja to Brahma, Prajapati or Ashwini twins instead of Lord Indra.
Read – Designations Given To Ayurvedic Doctors – Vaidya Upadhi

Here comes the concept of Guru Runa, the debt which needs to be paid back to one’s teacher.

To understand this, let us look at this quote from the Smritis.
Meaning – ‘The person who has received complete knowledge and learning from his teacher doesn’t transfer it to his students, to the next generation, he will not get free from the debts of his teacher’

This means to tell that the one and the only way one gets free from the debts of his teacher is to transfer the knowledge and wisdom he has got from his teacher to his students. If he doesn’t do that, he will remain ‘a student’ forever. When he teaches his students he becomes a teacher and also free from the debts of the teacher. For this to happen, one has to wait for the right moment and for a worthy student(s) to transfer the knowledge.
Read –

In this instance, Brahma was a universal master. He always had the wisdom of Ayurveda which he had in his mind right from the time he created the world. Daksha Prajapati taught Ayurveda that he had learnt from Lord Brahma to Ashwini Kumaras and thus got relieved from the debts of his teacher Lord Brahma. Ashwini Kumaras in turn taught Ayurveda to Lord Indra and thus got relieved from his debts towards his teachers Ashwini twins. After this, Lord Indra was in seeking of an able, wise and worthy student to transfer the knowledge of Ayurveda.
Read – Charaka Samhita Sutrasthana Chapter 1 – Quest For Longevity

The sages who had met at Himalayas knew this fact that Lord Indra was in a debt and was in seek of a good student to teach Ayurveda. And who better than sage Bharadwaja that Lord Indra would find to transfer his knowledge?

Thus, there were two intents behind the sages sending sage Bharadwaja to Lord Indra –
To bring the knowledge of Ayurveda from the celestial world, from heaven to the mortal world (earth) for the benefit of ailing mankind
To relieve Lord Indra from the debts of his teacher

It is not that it was the responsibility of the sages to relive Lord Indra from his debts; he was a God and was more superior to them. But the incidence shows how informed the sages were about ethics of learning. The double motives had a give and take phenomenon. Relieving Lord Indra from his debts would be the greatest Guru Dakshina, tuition fees they could have given to the might king of Gods.

When sage Bharadwaja went to Lord Indra and pleaded him to teach him with the secrets of longevity for the welfare of all creation, Lord Indra recognizing that Bharadwaja was an ideal student he was looking for conferred on him the eternal knowledge of Ayurveda.
Read – Acharya Charaka – Work, Samhita, Legacy, Chapters, Description

Sage Bharadwaja getting relieved from his Guru Runa
Sticking to the same principle, sage Bharadwaja had to get relieved from his debts towards his teacher, Lord Indra.
When sage Bharadwaja returned to the earth, he selflessly taught Ayurveda, exactly in the way he had learnt from Lord Indra to the other sages who were waiting for his return and to other aspiring students, in an unadulterated and unaltered way. Thus sage Bharadwaja became free from his debts.
Read – Acharya Atreya – legacy, works, contribution to Ayurveda

The best student of sage Bharadwaja was Punarvasu Atreya. He got relieved from his debts towards his teacher sage Bharadwaja by teaching his disciples, 6 of his best students who happened to document Ayurveda in a written form, sage Agnivesha being the best among them and the first ever person to document Ayurveda in a written form.

Agnivesha’s work – ‘Agnivesha Tantra’ later was revised and redacted by master Charaka and came to be popularly known as ‘Charaka Samhita’, the form of treatise available even today.
Read – Acharya Agnivesha – Legend, Works, Samhita

The legacy of the knowledge being transferred from one generation of masters to their students and from those students to their students, so on and so forth continued for ages along the timeline of evolution in the process of guru-shishya parampara.

Thanks to all these masters of Ayurveda who selflessly transferred their knowledge of Ayurveda to their disciples with a reason of paying back the debts of their teachers and kept this legacy alive. This is the reason we still have the treatises of Ayurveda with us. This is the reason that we are getting the wisdom of Ayurveda even today. Without the efforts of the masters of Ayurveda of successive generations, the knowledge would have been long lost.

What does this incidence teach us?
The above said incidence from Charaka Samhita teaches us –

It is important to find a good teacher to learn things comprehensively. For a teacher it is equally important to find a good, capable and deserving pupil.

The knowledge should not be stagnant and should be passed on from one generation to the other. The next generations should give new shapes and dimensions to the knowledge they have got from their masters by updating and validating the knowledge as per time, era and generation, without hurting the main motive of the original scriptures.
Read – Acharya Sushruta: Work, Samhita, Legacy, Amazing Facts

The teaching process should be unadulterated, unaltered and selfless. Nothing should be concealed and everything needs to be transparent.

The bonding of teacher and student should be everlasting and a legacy. They are best team at any given time and can make a gross impact on the status and reformation of generations, clans and societies.

The learning process should be free of egoism. Anyone can be a teacher when he teaches something good, reliable and meaningful. Anyone can be a disciple when there is a will to learn. The learning and teaching process is important.
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