What is a guru?
We hear the word used to describe anyone who is the best in their field—whatever that may be—such as business, the media or the internet; but in the Eastern tradition, a guru is a spiritual guide who helps us remove darkness and confusion.
Those seeking a deeper meaning and happiness in life seek out such gurus for guidance.
However, today’s search for a guru, at least in the West, has become like visiting a shopping mall. Never before have we seen such an array of teachers saying they will bring ever-lasting happiness and proclaiming their path is the only way or the best teachings, that if we do their particular technique we will be transformed, changed for ever, happy as never before.
We can even become a teacher or master ourselves: we once received notice of a Guru Training program where we could become a guru in all of two weekends, after which—the brochure assured us—we were guaranteed to receive endless adoration, wealth, fame and happiness, or our money back.
We were bemused when we were recently sent an invitation to a conference on Altered States of Consciousness: Enlightenment, Entheogens, Shamanism, and Peak Experiences. There were 46 headlined speakers, all of whom had endless credentials, books, teaching centers and followers. Subjects ranged from Cracking Open Consciousness to How to Tell Your Friends From the Apes, Gender-Specific Altered States of Consciousness and, thankfully, The Miracle of Ordinary Awareness.
How addicted are you to the bliss that arises every time you meet someone who says they will save you? Are you a guru hopper, jumping from guru to guru, thinking that in this way you are climbing the ladder of enlightenment? Do you believe in the guru who stares into your eyes, hugs you, tells you how wonderful you are, or says they will give you everlasting peace and happiness? It might feel good for a while, but does it truly change anything?
When people are in need or are suffering they become more susceptible and vulnerable to outside influences, easily believing that the latest, most persuasive teacher will save them. There appear to be three main reasons why someone goes window-shopping for a guru:
- Life does not easily satisfy our needs. We get something but always want more. More becomes the mantra. But from constantly wanting more materially and emotionally, we then apply the same principle to spirituality: more teachers and techniques must be better than just one, yes? Each is more enticing than the last: surely this one will finally solve all those nagging difficulties in my life? Or maybe it’s this one?
- We want to be happy. Like the musk deer in India that has a beautiful smell in its anus but looks throughout the forest for that smell, so we look for happiness outside ourselves and come up short because whatever we find never lasts. This is the truth of impermanence: happiness comes but happiness also goes. Not wanting to believe this we continually search for that elusive promise of foreverness.
- We yearn to be at peace. Religion has lost its allure and there is little to replace it. We long for guidance, to be told what to do and how often to do it. And in the process we forego our common sense, we forget our own wisdom and truth, forget that deep inside we do know best, and so we put another’s beliefs ahead of our own.
How do we find our way through the plethora of teachings on offer? When we dig for oil we have to dig deep to reach it; if we dig too many shallow pits we won’t get to the source of the oil. In the same way, if we keep guru hopping it’s unlikely we’ll get to the essence of the teachings. The finger pointing to the moon is not the moon.
As the great Indian teacher Ramana Maharshi eloquently said: The guru on the outside is there to turn you on to the guru within.
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Ed: Sara Crolick
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