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Don’t need no Guru?

Why do people hate Gurus?

To many spiritual seekers in the West today, the Guru is a relic from the past. Apart from having a yoga teacher at a studio, most of us do not want to be spiritually beholden to anyone but ourselves.

Yes, why have a spiritual teacher when so many of them screw up people’s lives, anyway?

The Guru in Yoga

Throughout the history of yoga, however, the authentic guru has often been regarded as an essential spiritual guide. In yoga, the genuine spiritual master is one whose mind is the embodiment of spiritual effulgence, one whose personality is inexpressible, mysterious and powerful, one who is always in a state of natural, intoxicated bliss.

Throughout human history, there has lived but a few such illuminated beings, such God-like humans in flesh and blood, whose teachings resonate with the perennial wisdom of all sages of the past.

Such supernatural beings hold the initiatory secrets to reveal Spirit, bring down heaven on earth, and unravel the serenity of enlightenment for anyone. Such beings are the living testament of a spiritual lineage as old as civilization itself.

As the word connotes in Sanskrit, a Guru is that being who, by dint of his or her enchanted spiritual genius, is able to help us “dispel darkness,” to “remove ignorance” from our hearts and minds.

In other words, a guru (gu+ru= dispeller of darkness) is the one who removes the veil of existence and lets us see the true face of reality. The guru is the one who helps us move from the path of Avidya to the path of Vidya, from the path of ignorance to the path of knowledge.

Since there is much skepticism, controversy and misunderstanding about gurus in the West today, it is important to understand in essence who the guru actually is.

In Tantra it is said that the quintessential guru is beyond physical form: Brahmaeva Gururekah Naparah—the Guru is Brahma only, no one else.

All great masters have clearly understood this. Jesus Christ explained this in his saying, “I and my Father are One.”

Lord Buddha explained this with the utterance, “My thoughts are always in the Truth. For lo! My Self has become the Truth.”

And Lord Krishna when he said, “I am the goal of the wise man, and I am the way.”

Although great world teachers, such as Shiva, Krishna, Buddha, Jesus, and others, have been distinct historical personalities with a distinct physical body and an explicit set of esoteric teachings, their spiritual Consciousness has been attuned to the One God of all, the One Formless guru of us all.

Thus, the manifestation of the physical, historical guru, no matter whom, is an indispensable gateway to the Divine. And they remain so, even after they are physically no longer with us, for it is their timeless Being and their Divine Presence that we venerate and love.

Do You Really Need a Guru?

There is no absolute need to have a physical guru in your life. You may, for example, feel devotion for a great spiritual master who has already left his body. What matters is your love for that Master and your ability to internalize the Master’s teachings and extraordinary state of consciousness.

Similarly, when Rumi’s guru, Shams, suddenly disappeared one day, Rumi went looking for him. After years of searching all over, one day in Damascus Rumi, realized Shams was within him. There was no longer any need to search in the world for his guru. Rumi had himself become the embodiment of the guru and his teachings.

What is a Guru, Anyway?

Still, if your goal is to find a living, realized guru, here are four important insights to keep in mind:

1. There are various kinds of gurus. Many so-called gurus who have arrived in the West are teachers and not authentic, self-realized gurus. And, unfortunately, some of these teachers do not deserve the unconditional veneration bestowed upon them.

2. If the teachings of a not-so-enlightened teacher belongs to a genuine spiritual lineage, his or her teachings will still benefit you. Hence, it is important to be devoted to the practice and the teachings while also being a discerning disciple.

3. While there has been many great sages and gurus throughout history, there has only been a few Mahagurus. A so-called Great guru, a Mahaguru is a human being whose Consciousness remains a bridge between this world and the spiritual world. Forever awake, the Mahagurus are walking Gods and Goddesses whose consciousness is a door always flung open into infinite awareness.

4. In Tantra, there is the concept of Taraka Brahma—which literally means the bridge between the unmanifest and the manifest worlds. Taraka Brahma exists at the tangential point between these two worlds. In Tantra, the Mahaguru and Taraka Brahma are synonymous; they are the historical gateways to the Divine.

Gurus and Ethics

Great gurus lead lives imbued with an impeccable spiritual ethics.

While the Romans and the priests of ancient Palestine felt justified to attack Jesus and his inspired followers for political reasons, they were unable to find any flaws in his personal morality.

Likewise, after years of opposition against Shiva and his Dravidian followers, the invading Vedic Aryans in India had to conclude that Shiva’s spiritual personality and leadership qualities were beyond reproach.

Modern Gurus: True or False?

Hence, the vast majority of the so-called gurus who have visited the West since the 1960s, do not qualify as Mahagurus. Most of them are not even qualified to earn the title guru, because they are mostly teachers and seekers struggling with many of the same human desires, needs and faults as their students.

Hence the many reports of unenlightened behavior by so-called gurus who have misled their students through abuses of power, corruption or sex; hence the many excuses and cover-ups to deny such immoral behavior.

Sometimes abusive, destructive and immoral behavior has been written off as Crazy Wisdom. That is, one is told the teacher is enlightened and just displaying strange behavior to teach the student some important lesson in surrender or devotion.

Or one is told the student lacks spiritual understanding, or is simply unable to see that the teacher is a mirror of the student’s own limitation.

So, we must make up our own hearts and minds. Are we presented with the classic denial tactics used by cults where the victim is blamed for the group’s or the teacher’s transgressions? Or are we truly in the company of an unconventional, enlightened being?

Because so many students of Eastern spirituality have been faced with these complex questions, it is natural that many spiritual seekers today are skeptical of the guru-disciple relationship.

This dilemma can be resolved by, first of all, recognizing that, irrespective of the teacher’s qualities, the true guru is none other than the formless Brahma, the omnipresent God within and beyond us, the one and only true Teacher of all.

Second, it is best to connect with a trusted guru or lineage with a known history of one or a few recognized enlightened preceptors.

And third, treat all teachers in the lineage, except your carefully chosen guru, as guides, not gurus. These teachers will often share many of the same personality flaws an average seeker on the same spiritual path is faced with.

What is most important, after all, are the invaluable lessons you learn from practicing the authentic teachings of an authentic lineage. So, even if you have been misled by a less-than-perfect teacher, you need not leave the path.

The ideal spiritual teacher is a living example of the teachings he or she espouses. Some teachers, however, have great intellectual knowledge of spiritual philosophy and practice, yet their personal conduct is less than exemplary.

One such teacher’s controversial lifestyle was brought to the attention of the Dalai Lama by a group of Western Buddhist monks. What would be his advice, they wondered. The Dalai Lama’s reply was profound and unmistakable: “One’s view may be as vast as the sky,” he said, “but one’s regard for cause and effect should be as finely sifted as barley flour.”

The Guru as Archetype

Each spiritual path approaches the guru as archetype in different ways, but, in essence, the spiritual goal of each path is the same: to reach the state of nondual awareness. While the Zen Buddhist tradition sternly instructs us to kill the Buddha in order not to search for help from a superior being, the Tantric tradition instructs us instead to embrace lovingly the Buddha figure as guru, as manifestation of our Divine Self.

Through devotional visualization, the guru’s form is embraced in the devotee’s heart and mind. Thus visualized, the guru’s mythic appearance will focus the mind to go beyond the mind and thus evoke the formless panorama of nondual divinity.

In Tantric yoga, all forms are considered sacred, especially the form of the enlightened guru, who becomes a powerful gateway to Spirit.

In Andrew Harvey’s book, Journey to Ladakh, such a meditation practice is beautifully described by a Tibetan Tantric Buddhist master, thereby illustrating the similarities among the various Tantric schools.

Likewise, the image of Jesus has been invoked for centuries by Christian mystics who desire to drink from the deep well of the Cosmic Christ.

Devotion to an authentic guru and lineage is an invaluable tool on the path of spirituality. But this devotion must be carefully evaluated by our own rational and ethical standards.

In other words, if you choose the guru-path, if you do not hate the idea of having a guru, it is as important to be a qualified student as it is to have a qualified guru.

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Ramesh Bjonnes

Ramesh Bjonnes has traveled the world as a meditation teacher, Ayurvedic practitioner, author, and is currently the Director of the Prama Wellness Center, a retreat center teaching yoga, meditation, and juice rejuvenation. He studied yoga therapy in Nepal and India, Ayurvedic Medicine at California College of Ayurveda, and naturopathic detox therapy at the AM Wellness Center in Cebu, Philippines. He is the author of four books, and he lives with his wife Radhika and Juno, a sweet, gentle Great Pyrenees, in the mountains near Asheville, North Carlina. Connect with him via his website: prama.org and rameshbjonnes.com.