November 23, 2010

My friend has a guru. Is she becoming enlightened or just lost?

I have a friend who lives in an ashram in a rural part of my state. The ashram is comprised of about 20 men and women who live a life of simplicity and religious meditation under the guidance of a spiritual leader, a man she refers to as “the guru”.

The guru leads the community in daily chanting and meditation sessions that begin each morning at 5 a.m. sharp. He shares his wisdom in individual and group sessions, where he instructs his followers on what foods to eat, what books to read and virtually every other activity in their daily lives.

She is committed to the cause. She has given up her car, virtually all her material possessions, and I think most of her money. She doesn’t have a phone or a personal computer. And although she earns close to a six-figure salary, she shares a small room with a changing array of house guests.

My friend is a witty and intelligent woman, a business professional by day, so on a certain intellectual level I respect the choice she has made. There are many paths to enlightenment, and what works for one person, may not work for another.

Yet after watching her day in and day out, often sleep-deprived from late-night kitchen duty or a mandatory pre-dawn meditation session, I wonder if her life is truly her own. She has no long-term goals. No real dreams or ambitions.

It struck me that she’s outsourced the job of figuring out her place in life to the guru, instead of doing the necessary introspection and soul-searching herself. I often wonder if she couldn’t find the answers she was seeking on her own.

Sure, it may be easier to let someone else guide you through life. But to me it feels like copying the test answers from the smartest kid in class. You might get a passing grade but, in the end, you’re cheating—and would know more about life, and your purpose in it, if you did the work on your own.

What do you think?

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