Don’t need no Guru?

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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: and

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anonymous Jul 19, 2010 9:40am

You are your guru!

anonymous Jul 19, 2010 8:23am

Bob mentioned that Patanjali's Yoga Sutras contains a section on Siddhis. This section is termed Vibhuti-Padha, often translated as the Chapter on Powers. However, Vibhuti also means Ashes, and signifies that these powers are nothing but ashes, thus not important, or simply side effects on the spiritual path.
This whole section is very Tantric in spirit and opens up with a Sutra on dharana, which is a separate limb in Patanjali's eight limb system of Asthanga Yoga. Dharana means concentration, and this practice is commonly used in Tantric yoga practice, or Raja Yoga, to concentrate on a chakra, the ajina chakra, the point between the eyebrows, for example. This practice follows Pratyahara, the withdrawal process, another limb in Asthanga Yoga. While these practices are known in theory by many yogis in the west, the actual practice is not that well known or commonly taught in the West.
In this section many of the siddhis I listed above are mentioned. But I disagree with those who think Patanjali simply included these to satisfy the Indian need for their belief in such other wordly things. Such comments are not well informed but rather ignorant of facts. Rather, this section contains information about the various subtle aspects of yoga's intuitional science. It is not hocus pocus. It is a science….And very tantric is spirit as these practices and achievements are part of Tantric Yoga, which again shows the close relationship between Patanjali and Tantra.
The Yoga Sutras does not teach these techniques, so here is where the Tantric guru comes in handy as he or she can actually teach these techniques mentioned in the Yoga Sutras. Indeed, all of the limbs of Asthanga Yoga mentioned by Patanjali are part of Tantric Yoga or Raja Yoga practice: yama and niyama, asanas, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyan, samadhi. Authentic gurus are well versed in how to properly teach these practices, these yogic sciences.

anonymous Jul 19, 2010 5:26am

Thanks Ramesh, I thought you presented more than just an historical pespective of the guru/disciple relationship. History continues and as yoga practioners we are all continuing that history. I consider my self a student and have many teachers who have helped me along the way, but my Guru is one person that has remained a constant steadfast influence on my practice and on my life. I cant philosophise about it or speak very eloquently or argue in favour but i can say that to accept another person as my guide for life has deepened and enriched my yoga journey.

    Bob Weisenberg Jul 19, 2010 6:01am

    Thanks for writing, Sevapuri. I have great respect for your experience and point of view. It's a great help to me.

    Bob W.

      anonymous Jul 19, 2010 6:27am

      Sevapuri, so wonderful to hear of your beautiful spiritual journey and of your insightful relationship to your Guru. Yes, philosophy cannot adequately explain any of this, only guide us in the right direction. The inner journey is truly beyond words!

anonymous Jul 19, 2010 4:48am

Ramesh, you've presented a great defense of the guru yoga system(s). I want to say more but I have to get back to sifting barley flour. 🙂


    anonymous Jul 19, 2010 6:09am

    Thanks, Matt, I appreciate your comments, and am looking forward to the bread after you have sifted the barley!

anonymous Jul 19, 2010 3:04am

Enjoyed reading the debate in the comments section at least as much as the original article! A few thoughts:

Personally, I find the whole issue of siddhis or extraordinary powers in yoga quite fascinating. I did a fire walk (walking barefoot across about a 10 foot long bed of hot coals) about two years ago that made me much more open to the idea that at least some of what's commonly considered impossible may in fact be possible.

Of course, scientists have an explanation for why fire walking works, but when I actually did it, it changed my perspective nonetheless. Because science may also eventually be able to explain other things that are rare or non-existent in contemporary American society but that can still happen. An interesting book that addresses these issues beyond the specifics of yoga is Michael Murphy's The Future of the Body. It's almost 800 pages and lists every instance of extraordinary human capacity that you can think of, from amazing athletic feats to stigmata, all heavily researched and footnoted. Not that this proves anything, but it's quite interesting.

But I also think that open-mindedness has to go both ways. There's nothing to be gained to telling someone what they should believe. Precisely what I value about contemporary yoga – and Buddhism – is that it's all about experience, not doctrine, dogma, or beliefs. I view yoga and meditation as tools for changing consciousness. And what matters is not what someone says they believe, but what their practice does for them and how that manifests in their lives and the world.

If I see equanimity, discernment, compassion, wisdom – I really don't care what you believe – if you think extraordinary powers exist or not, if you believe gurus are necessary or not. I'm very interested on a more purely intellectual level – I want to understand your perspective – but ultimately it's not what matters to me.

The one thing that I really object to is telling someone else that their spiritual beliefs or practices are not up to par based on some abstract set of beliefs. Better to be curious about these differences – to try and learn from them – than to try to get us all on precisely the same page. In my view, that's a really bad idea.

    Bob Weisenberg Jul 19, 2010 4:05am

    Beautiful thoughts, Carol, artfully expressed.

    Thank you.

    Bob Weisenberg

    anonymous Jul 19, 2010 4:45am

    I'm with Bob, Carol. That was wonderfully put. Your closing paragraph about being "curious about differences" is extremely important for spiritual progress in general. Too often, we reject or approve ideas based on our ideological grid. Thank you.


    anonymous Jul 19, 2010 6:16am

    Great to hear from you again, Carol. Thanks for your thoughtful reply. Siddhis are absolutely fascinating and an integral part of growth for those on the tantric path, but they are not important, nor necessarily a sign of spiritual growth. In Left Handed Tantra (Aghora, etc) these powers are cultivated and I met several such yogis in India, but they were consumed by these powers and did not display much spirituality. Compassion, wisdom, integrity, equanimity, contentment, bliss, etc are the real signposts of spiritual development.
    Indeed, Carol, curiosity and openness are important qualities on the spiritual path. There are indeed many beautiful ways to the One. The path of the guru is but one of them.

anonymous Jul 19, 2010 2:34am

I could be totally wrong about this, but I thought Rumi and Shams were lovers, and Rumi's famiy had Shams killed?

    anonymous Jul 19, 2010 6:24am

    Rachel, yes, there are those who interpret their relationship as lovers. And they were, in a sense, but my understanding is that most Rumi scholars believe they were lovers in the spiritual sense: Rumi considered Shams his teacher/guru as it was after meeting Shams that much of his radical spiritual transformation took place. There are rumors that Shams was killed by Rumis family, yes, but nothing conclusive that I know of has been established.

anonymous Jul 19, 2010 2:23am

My Guru gave me a mantra, a simple (but extremely difficult) directive for living, and I have not seen or heard from him since. I live on the edge of the paranormal yet spend little time thinking about it or trying to manipulate it. In the end, the same sun rises, and the basic instructions remain the same. The answer is that there is no answer, the way to find it is to stop looking. Sounds simple enough, but the fact is that we are "dying animals on a doomed planet" (William S. Burroughs), it does matter what we do, this is in fact War (although not one that can be fought with physical weapons). The problem is that we are ruled by an entity, that can be defined behavioraly, on the basis of its documented behavior and the result thereof, as a global torture and death cult. Of course, the first place we fight is within our own "selves" but there is more at stake here.

anonymous Jul 19, 2010 12:16am

Bob, here's another aspect of guru-yoga for you.
When I lived as a tantric monk and spent years in India, we had very strict rules about certain aspects of our lives. We were not supposed to use soft bedding, for example. I interpreted that to mean that a soft mattress was a NO but a soft pillow was OK. Once when meeting my Guru in a hall of about hundred other monks, he called me to his side and in front of the rest of the monks retold a discussion in great detail I had had with another monk about this subject. In other words, it was obvious he had the psychic ability to know in great detail what we had talked about several years earlier. The moral of the story was that he wanted to tell me that soft bedding did include the pillow. So tough luck. No soft pillow.
The other moral of the story is that he did such revelations and corrected peoples mistakes on the path with at least 20 people that day in front of everybody. He would do so day in and day out for years with over 2000 monks and nuns. A skeptic would say that he simply collected information from other monks. He cheated and lied. But from my experience being around him, that would simply be impossible. Totally impossible.
I also saw him heal a man of TB, and this was verified by doctors. I can tell hundreds of such stories, Bob. Stories of people being touched and going into samdhi and loosing consciosness and time travel, and reading in detail another friend's mind after my guru touched him, etc. Hundreds of such miracles verified by myself and thousands of other people and many written down in dozens of books.

So, if you are so keen on diversity, Bob, be open to this other world out there, this other world of paranormal phenomenons. I could go on for days telling things I have experienced, but no need. Open your horizon, Bob… there are frauds, yes, there are, but the real gurus have also walked this earth, Bob.

anonymous Jul 18, 2010 11:55pm

Bob, what is a verifiable fact to you in the subjective science of yoga, in the inner experience of spiritual yoga? Yoga is of course verifiable through certain scientific physical measurements. Meditation practice has been measured by EEG and MRI or even the newest, the fMRI machines. These can measure the operation and effect of the brain on meditation, but they do not measure the subjective inner experience of the meditators. You are your own and only judge here. No, not exactly. A group of peers. a group of experienced peers, or your guru, your guru's gurus, may check your experience. In other words, in the subjective science of yogic meditation, the data can be verified by a group of peers. Since we are dealing with a subjective science, we cannot verify its validity with objective machines measuring physical brain synapses. You see the dilemma, Bob? But that does not mean samadhi is not real even though an fMRi cannot detect its inner effect on the meditator. Well, it can to some extent, but it cannot reveal how samadhi feels, what that subjective experience is like.

So for a hardcore reductionist scientist samadhi is not real, it cannot be measured. But that is not so according to the science of yoga, because the science of yoga also deals with the mind, with the spirit, with inner, subjective experiences. Thus if you want openness, Bob, diversity, Bob, we need to include this aspect of yogic science. Thus a group of experienced peers are needed, gurus, great saints, etc etc. The tantric literature is full of comments by elevated peers on the path about the various levels of inner realization, the various stages of samadhi. See the complexity we are dealing with? These are not acceptable to neuroscientists perhaps, but are they therefore not real? Hell, yeah, they are real.

Bob Weisenberg Jul 18, 2010 3:14pm

Hi, Ramesh.

In my opinion, many people in the West, like me, are attracted to Yoga because it is, on the whole and compared to most religions, based on reality, not speculative belief.

So for me these claims of unverifiable paranormal powers run deeply counter to Yoga's overall philosophy of seeing things exactly the way they are. The Yoga teachers I admire either treat these paranormal stories as interesting history or turn them into metaphors.

Obviously you and others can believe whatever you like, and I support you and your devoted path 100%.

But when you write that your path is a more authentic or more pure form of Yoga, kind of reserving the high ground for your particular preferences, then I feel I must step in and make sure our esteemed readers know there are other perfectly legitimate ways to practice Yoga that don't require the kind guru worship and paranormal powers that are an integral part of your particular chosen path.

In my opinion, having a guru is not necessarily a higher form of Yoga practice, especially gurus who claim to have wildly unlikely paranormal powers they never have to show. That's not the kind of guru I would be looking for if I was into gurus.

My only aim is to defend diversity without hierarchy in Yoga, that's all. I hope you can accept my comments as that.

Bob Weisenberg

    anonymous Jul 18, 2010 11:16pm

    Bob, If you promote diversity in yoga, which I also do, I am simply here to say that my path is part of that diversity. I am not claiming it is better than yours. Having a guru is part of yoga. Not having a guru is also part of yoga. In fact, my own guru did not have a guru of his own. Yoga is wonderfully diverse.

      Bob Weisenberg Jul 18, 2010 11:27pm

      Hi, Ramesh.

      Then we're completely in sync. I have to confess, I do get confused on this very point by your writing and your tone, but perhaps that's just my problem.

      Thanks for the clarification. I'm guessing this interchange is good for us and our readers in any case. I hope you feel the same.

      Bob Weisenberg

        anonymous Jul 19, 2010 6:18am

        Bob, I am 100% with you. I do feel the same. If yoga works for you, it works for me. As my Guru said: A yogi is a practical person.

    anonymous Jul 19, 2010 3:02am

    Hi Bob, I understood your "spoof". There is NO need for a Guru in any tradition which does not require one. Any yoga which is not derived from a guru/disciple discipline does not require a Guru. If that Yoga was originally and had maintained a Guru/disciple relationship but has since lost that aspect of its lineage then that Yoga , to me , is no longer a path which, to me again, would be any longer viable. If a Yoga never began with guru/disciple then a guru is not needed. Simple. If a Guru is not want you need or want then by all means don't look for one. I believe that Ramesh sees the word Yoga and immediately knows this to be a sacred word and therefore, because of it's original intent undderstands the requirement for a guru. If the West wants to practice dharma, without a guru, in their own way then there will never be the result as it was originally intended.


      anonymous Jul 19, 2010 3:02am

      One more thing…regarding "seeing things as they are". The guru can have the ability to manipulate reality in a way which will give blessings to a disciples mindstream in order to let the disciple to see "reality as it is". These are not party tricks. When your mind is completely free of being a mind and there are no containers or constraints we are beyond "miracles" and phenomena

        Bob Weisenberg Jul 19, 2010 4:02am

        You may be right about this (although I'm intensely skeptical of any human declared to be superhuman). But you'd also have to agree that it's this very claim that has been the basis for the most outrageous abuses of Guru authority, especially in sexual matters.

        The fact that there has been much abuse doesn't invalidate the concept, but the very concept of mind control is fraught with problems in everyday application, at least in the West.

        Bob Weisenberg

          anonymous Jul 19, 2010 4:48am

          "manipulate" is the wrong word. The Buddha himself taught that enlightenment cannot be gained or "inflicted" upon a disciple by him. The disciple is the only one that can gain his or her enlightenment.

          anonymous Jul 19, 2010 6:47am

          To an integrated yogi with Siddhis, these powers, are not superhuman but rather natural. Such powers and abilities are also part of shamanism, which early yoga comes from. However, in advanced Tantric yoga practice, the goal is not to manipulate these powers but to go beyond and merge in the One. Thus these powers can be a distraction, a distortion to some who are not ready to deal with their allure. And as you point out, some want to show off and abuse others through mind control. I have also experienced this with some teachers. Not wholesome yoga, for sure!

      Bob Weisenberg Jul 18, 2010 9:52pm

      Hi, Padma.

      I certainly respect your opinion about this. We will just have to agree to disagree.

      All spoofs aside, I think it really is just a matter of definition. I don't hear you objecting to all these other things that people are doing spiritually, you just object to them being called "Yoga".

      I embrace the broad expanded definition "Yoga" has come to have in the West, whereas you would like everyone to understand that this is a very different thing from the Yoga that has been practiced in India for centuries.

      I think you would also agree that the type of Yoga you espouse has a miniscule following or application in the West, and thus would be quite an obscure thing if limited to that, which may be as you would prefer it.

      Thanks for writing.

      Bob Weisenberg

anonymous Jul 18, 2010 7:56pm

Bob, another name for these paranormal powers, of course, is the Sankrit word siddhis. In Georg Feuerstein's book the Yoga Tradition: It's History, Literature, Philosophy and Practice there are literally dozens upon dozens of pages about various aspects of these siddhis throughout the history in the various schools of yoga. So this is an integral aspect of the yoga tradition. However, as I hinted at earlier, siddhis are also considered "ashes" and thus of no real spiritual value in the long run. Hence, genuine gurus do not display their siddhis, only as part of teaching.

Bob Weisenberg Jul 18, 2010 11:28am

Hi, Padma.

I appreciate hearing your point of view, but we'll just have to agree to disagree about a traditional guru being needed to learn and practice Yoga in a deep and meaningful way.

The Yobo part of First It Was Yobo, Now There is Ratra (Radical Traditional) Yoga is clearly a spoof.

Most readers assume the Ratra part is a spoof, too. But, in fact, it is a pretty accurate view of how I personally practice Yoga.

In my personal Radical Traditional practice I'm as resistant to elaborate Tantric rituals as the authors of the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita were to the elaborate Vedic rituals. And I'm as resistant to gurus as they were to the Vedic priests.

(To be clear, I'm not saying this is right for everyone, just for me and others like me.)

Bob Weisenberg

anonymous Jul 18, 2010 3:32pm

Bob…That is pretty funny! There are numerous stories in both India and Tibet and amongst Native Americans where even the seekers who appear to be on a genuine path were fooled by their own delusion in meditation. One Tibetan example of this was a yogi goes into a 12 year uninterrupted meditation thinking about his cup of tea only to come out 12 years later asking for that cup of tea. Later his karma had ripened and his Guru had showed himself and then his realization grew by leaps and bounds. Also it seems to me that many people here on EJ make their living by teaching and selling Yoga or make a living writing about it. This is a slippery slope. In order to make a living you need students. I am not sure that the "teachers" would be considered Gurus in this scenario. I personally do not consider them Gurus. As I said…there is nothing wrong if people are feeling good about their spirituality. Without a Guru I am sure though that their efforts will be minimal and their fruit will be miniscule.

Bob Weisenberg Jul 18, 2010 9:13am

We've got it, Padma! See First It Was Yobo, Now There is Ratra (Radical Traditional) Yoga, which begins:

You may have heard of Yobo, the un-Yoga. It was my modest proposal for resolving the debate raging here on Elephant Journal and in the Yoga blogosphere over what is, or isn’t Yoga…

Bob Weisenberg

anonymous Jul 18, 2010 2:14pm

I really want to stress that Gurus are as rare as stars visible in daylight because the conditions are not ripe for them to appear. If you have karma for the Guru he or she will come…guaranteed. But why should a Guru appear to those who have no need for a Guru? If you have no aspiration prayer to meet an authentic Guru; then he/she will not come. It matters not whether your Yoga studio or Buddhist La Khang has all of the trappings of what appears to be traditionalism from the mother origin. It is an empty shell. No matter how wonderful you feel or how authentic the art work and music. All of the spiritual paths can be empty shells if the presence of a Guru is not there to lead and confirm. If all you want from Yoga or buddhist meditation is a means to be relaxed and happy then good for you but that is not buddhism nor is it authentic Yoga. Maybe we should call them something else.

anonymous Jul 18, 2010 2:01pm

As long as you reify the self with solidity and yet you wish to maintain a spiritual practice the Guru is necessary. You need a Guru who has made themselves available to you in human form. All spiritual traditions that have survived the ages require a Guru. Whether Shaivic, Buddhist, Native American, and so on. Unfortunately with the marketing of Yoga and some Buddhism and Native Americanism the need for a Guru has all but dissappeared. This is because there is no place for an authentic Guru therefore it leaves the impression that there is no need for a Guru. An authentic Guru will arise when all of the conditions are met for he or she to make themselves available to teach acceptable students. Call it Karma. The guru is absolutely needed to lead the way. The guru is the only one that can confirm that the path one is on is authentic, that what is being learned is authentic. One's own assessment on a spiritual path of one's own development is not possible. Feeling this and feeling that do not cut it.

Bob Weisenberg Jul 17, 2010 11:29pm

Thanks Ramesh.

Speaking just for myself, I have absolutely no belief whatsoever in such paranormal powers. Even though talk of such things has always been part of the history of Yoga, in my opinion it's inconsistent with Yoga's otherwise insistent focus on reality, not illusion. To me, this is not reality. It is at best hallucination, at worst, a cynical attempt to manipulate followers.

In Yogananda's Autobiography, there was a picture of two men, under which the caption read something like, "I was in this photograph, but I chose to make myself invisible." He also wrote that it would be in poor taste and showing off to ever demonstrate his powers of levitation in public. It's hard to take seriously people who write absurdities like this. Are these bad jokes, or does he mean it and take us all for fools?

Understanding that you do believe in such powers, and cite such powers as a distinction between a guru and a mere teacher, you and I are kind of on different planets, I guess.

Luckily there is plenty of other stuff for us to enjoy talking about. But I don't think either of us will ever sway the other on this one!

Bob Weisenberg

    anonymous Jul 18, 2010 9:50am

    Bob, you must be one of a rare breed of yogis not open to such phenomenons! I did not mean to imply that they are the only distinction between a guru and a mere teacher. Not at all. I only mention these as they are integral to Tantra, and commonly found in Tantric scriptures as well as qualities of the great Mahagurus.
    So, you do not experience so-called psychic phenomenons, Bob? Premonitions, synchronicity, intuitional knowledge, prophetic dreams, spiritual visions… For those of us who do, there is not a great leap into the world of other psychic realms such as outlined above. But if that is not your cup of tea, I will not press you further.
    Still, I know in the deepest core of my heart that such phenomenons exist as I have experienced them many times first hand, not just read about them in books, which as you say may or may not be true. Yes, there are frauds, yes there are false stories. True. But there are also real experiences of such things on the yogic path.
    But that is not what most gurus are known for or helpful for. They are mostly known for and helpful for their deep spiritual and ethical integrity, their wisdom about the world, the human heart and mind.

      Bob Weisenberg Jul 18, 2010 11:10am

      Well now, Ramesh, this time you've presented us with a completely different list!

      Premonitions, synchronicity, intuitional knowledge, prophetic dreams, spiritual visions–Nothing necessarily paranormal about any of these. They are normal workings of the human brain.

      Your first list above, on the other hand, included:
      —the ability to become very little.
      —the ability to become very great.
      —the ability to walk on water,
      —the ability to think oneself anywhere in the universe.
      —an ability to take the form of anything.
      —the ability to create new life.
      —the ability to make the dead rise.
      —the ability to get or create whatever is desired.

      These are paranormal powers. I know very few Yoga enthusiasts or teachers who believe in these things. I was surprised you didn't include levitation, which is usually included in list like this.

      (Many commentators don't think Patanjali really believed in these things, either, even though many of them are clearly listed in Chapter 3 of the Yoga Sutra, since everything else in the text is so rigorously rational. These commentators feel that he was just trying to appeal to the popular beliefs of the time–to be inclusive.)

      Bob Weisenberg

        anonymous Jul 18, 2010 6:59pm

        Bob, I did not mean to equate these qualities, these two lists. But I don't agree the last one are simply the workings of the brain. The brain is mainly an instrument of the mind, and in yoga brain and mind are not the same, (body, mind, spirit, remember!) which is not physical, thus these are psychic, and psycho-spiritual phenomenons. Some intuitional powers (knowing someone's thoughts, past, future, etc) are definitely paranormal as well, so I would disagree with you there. Once after a samadhi experience I had such abilities for several days, and this had nothing to do with my brain even though my brain was effected by it and interacted with my higher kosas or superconscious mind. This is all part of yoga, my friend… even though you may not want it nor need it…

        Since you are so skeptical of gurus, it is natural you are skeptical about such powers as well. I was also for a long time until I saw and experienced such things first hand.

        Patanjali strength and weakness was his rationality. Thus he never became very popular in India. However, in te West, where rationality is appreciated, he has experienced a renaissance.

          Bob Weisenberg Jul 18, 2010 1:26pm

          Hi, Ramesh.

          You gave me a list of paranormal powers, most of them physical, to help me understand your definition of guru. I reacted to that list, then you responded with a completely different list, most of them non-physical. You've got me shooting at a moving target.

          Let's get back to your original point. Have you experienced your guru exhibiting any of the following?:
          —the ability to become very little.
          —the ability to become very great.
          —the ability to walk on water,
          —the ability to think oneself anywhere in the universe.
          —an ability to take the form of anything.
          —the ability to create new life.
          —the ability to make the dead rise.
          —the ability to get or create whatever is desired.

          (I copied these verbatim from your comment.)

          Bob Weisenberg

anonymous Jul 18, 2010 4:53am

Bob, when it comes to the guru path, I can only speak from my own experience and the criteria set through my own Tantric heritage. Even my own guru, who was disliked and criticized for not being Hindu enough and for his outspoken criticism of the caste system, etc, was by many seen as a less than proper spiritual teacher (even though his character was impeccable), so I do often take the criticism of certain gurus with a grain of salt. That said, not having spent time with many gurus, other than my own, I do not feel I may be an adequate or good judge. However, I distinguish between gurus and inspired teachers. The authentic yogic gurus are those who develop mantras, can raise their own as well as their students' kundalini, and fuse these mantras with spiritual power, while inspired teachers are those who pass these mantras and teachings along in an authentic way according to proper instruction. Inspired teachers are also those who learn hatha yoga from their guru or teacher (indeed many refer to teachers such as Iyengar as a guru, although he would not qualify in a strict tantric sense) So this issue is rather complex. In India a great music teacher is also called guru, so the word has many layers of meaning, even in India.
In Tantra, an authentic Mahaguru, or a Bhagavan, can, in part, be recognized through the embodiment of various spiritual or supernatural bhagas or attributes. In my own life, I experienced how my guru displayed most of these occult abilities, They are as follows:
Anima—the ability to become very little, to reduce the vibration of the mind to penetrate atomic and subatomic particles.
Mahima—the ability to become very great, to understand and know nature of the entire universe.
Laghima—the ability to become very light, to walk on water, to think oneself anywhere in the universe. This quality is archived by controlling the psycho-spiritual properties of the navel and heart chakras.
Ishitva—the capacity to rule, the ability to understand all the entities of the universe, to direct and witness their actions. This power is achieved by controlling the qualities of the throat chakra.
Prakamya—an ability to take the form of anything. This power is achieved by controlling the lower portion of the chakra between the eyebrows.
Vashitva—the ability to bring things under control, to unify forces, to create new life, and to make the dead rise. This ability stems from controlling the upper portion of the chakra between the eyebrows.
Prapti—the ability to get or create whatever is desired—that is, whatever one thinks will be materialized.
Antaryamitva—the ability to see into the inner nature of any entity, penetrating vision.
Virya—power, command, influence, in order to guide humanity.
Yasha—reputation, because a Mahaguru is such a towering, noncompromising and revolutionary personality, he will both have many admirers as well as many detractors.
Shrii—attraction, charm.
Jinana—complete knowledge of the Self.
Vaeragya—non-attachment. Great gurus remain in the world while not being of it. They are not affected by criticism or the allure of power, nor by worldly riches or fame.

One would not expect an inspired yoga teacher to have these abilities, nor is it necessary. I also do not expect everybody to believe that fantastic powers exist and it is certainly not necessary to do so in order to benefit from the profound teachings yoga offers. Great gurus do not display their powers easily, only for teaching. As one great yogi I once met said: "it's not difficult to use your powers, the trick is not to use them." In other words, not to abuse your powers is where your real power lies.
So, yes, an authentic guru is superior to an inspired teacher. An inspired teacher is still a student, while a guru is a teacher's teacher.

Bob Weisenberg Jul 17, 2010 5:58pm

Hi, Ramesh. Thanks for this excellent overview of the history of the guru in Yoga.

Since true gurus are so rare, as you say in your article, I wonder how relevant the whole idea of a guru is to the vast majority of American practitioners of Yoga. I think, apart from being fascinating history, only someone who is willing and able to follow your personal example and live and study in India for many years can really benefit from a personal guru today.

Now, inspiring teachers are another story. There are hundreds of great Yoga teachers in the U.S. who can help us find the right Yoga path for each of us. They are readily available both in person and in their writings.

Very few of these powerful teachers would even allow themselves to be considered gurus by their students. One great example of this is Kripalu Yoga Center, which has made a complete and rigorous transition from a strong guru culture to a senior teacher model, specifically abandoning the guru idea in favor of excellence in teaching.

For those who can follow Ramesh's impressive and admirable path of deep immersion in Tantric culture in India, a guru is an integral part of the process. For the average serious American Yoga student, I think it's better to go with the Kripalu master teacher model and relegate the guru concept to history and metaphor.

Bob Weisenberg

P.S. The Kripalu transition from guru model to master teacher model is thoroughly and lovingly covered in Stephen Cope's excellent book Yoga and the Quest for the True Self.

    anonymous Jul 18, 2010 12:53am

    Bob, I am glad you enjoyed the article.

    The idea of a guru is indeed relevant to millions of US yogis, Buddhists and even mystical Christians. many consider Yogananda, Ramana Maharshi, Ramakrishna, Amritamayananda Ma, Ananda Moi Ma, Neem Karoli Baba, and other respected teachers their guru, as well as many mystical Christians who have a guru-disciple relationship with Christ. In addition, there are literally hundreds of thousands of Buddhists who consider guru-yoga an authentic and inherent part of their practice. So the guru is alive and well to many, even though they have visited India or Tibet to find a legitimate guru.

    In Kripalu's situation, it may have been appropriate to abandon the guru and replace him with senior teachers, and few consider their yoga studio teacher a guru, but many yoga students may feel Krishna or someone else to be their inner guru and guide.
    The best advise about gurus may have come from the comic Swami Beyondananda when he asked an audience at a at a laugh-out-loud show I attended: "What is the meaning of guru?" Several people gave him unsatisfactory answers. Then he said: "The meaning of the word Guru is: Gee, You are You!"

    In other words, with his hilarious trademark humor, he gave the same answer as traditional yoga philosophy, the true guru is within, the only guru is our deep within, our inner God, Spirit, Brahman, whatever you call That innermost spiritual part of yourself. But to find That, a teacher, and sometimes a guru, is needed.

    So Bob, in many ways, the Guru is still alive and well in the West also…..

      anonymous Jul 18, 2010 12:56am

      Correction to one of my sentences above, it should read: "So the guru is alive and well to many, even though they have NOT visited India or Tibet to find a legitimate guru.

        Bob Weisenberg Jul 17, 2010 8:05pm

        Hi, Ramesh.

        Of course I have to agree with you wholeheartedly if you define "guru" so broadly as that–anyone, living or dead, real or imaginary, God or human, including one's own inner self, who has been a source of spiritual inspiration..

        Then we all have gurus and everything I wrote in my comment becomes instantly meaningless, since there then ceases to be any distinction at all between "guru" and "master teacher".

        Unfortunately, we then have to make up a new word for what people used to mean by "guru" if we want to discuss that topic.

        Bob Weisenberg

          anonymous Jul 18, 2010 3:57am

          Bob, reality has many layers or levels and so does the concept of Guru. The ultimate guru is God within, yes, but in order to find God within, a guru in human form may be necessary. In order to learn authentic spiritual practice, a guru, or at least a spiritual practice from a guru-lineage may be necessary. In order to go deep within we also do physical practices such as asanas. Hence the physical presence of a guru may be needed. Thus the importance of choosing an authentic guru. If that is your chosen path.

            Bob Weisenberg Jul 17, 2010 10:22pm

            Hi, Ramesh.

            That sounds fine to me, as long as it's not portrayed as a required or even a preferred path. Certainly I agree that "IF that is your chosen path" the guru should be authentic rather than inauthentic.

            Could you give us some examples of people who qualify in the U.S.? How does an "authentic guru" differ from an "inspiring teacher". In your mind is an "authentic guru" superior to an "inspiring teacher", or is this just a matter of individual preference?

            What do you consider to be an "authentic spiritual practice"? Is this one that has a clear traditional lineage of gurus? Do you consider lineage based Yoga to be clearly superior to other types of Yoga?

            Please let me know if I'm asking too many questions. I find this subject to be very interesting, and also pivotal to how we all view Yoga in America, so I'm very curious about your point of view.


            Bob Weisenberg

anonymous Jul 18, 2010 11:22pm

Jelefant, great point and one that I also emphasized earlier, that many students view their teachers as a guru, especially those of the stature of Prattabhi Jois. That is a form of hierarchy, but if you really and truly support diversity, Bob, you should also be open to supporting these "hierarchies," otherwise your own view of no hierarchy will be the only way. It goes both ways. I hope you get my drift!?

Bob Weisenberg Jul 18, 2010 5:32pm

Misunderstanding, Ramesh. What I meant by "hierarchy" is that one form of Yoga is not necessarily superior to another form.

Yes, I agree, that of course within any given form there will be those who are more knowledgeable than others. I look up to Rod Stryker and Stephen Cope. Under a definition of "guru" as "inspiring teacher", they are my gurus.

Bob Weisenberg

anonymous Jul 19, 2010 6:20am

Thanks, Bob. I am with you!