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

Via Tom Rapsas
on Nov 23, 2010
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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?


About Tom Rapsas

Tom Rapsas is a blogger on inspirational and spirituality issues for Patheos, Elephant Journal and his own site The Inner Way. A long-time spiritual seeker and student of philosophy and religion, his influences include Thomas Moore, John Templeton, Napolean Hill, Ralph Trine and Ralph Waldo Emerson. A resident of the Jersey Shore, Tom lives with his wife, daughter and nine cats. He’s the author of Life Tweets Inspirational & Spiritual Insights That Can Change Your Life, which is now available for Kindle and as a trade paperback. His next book, the spiritual fable Thaddeus Squirrel, will be published in 2014. You can reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @TomRapsasTweets


8 Responses to “My friend has a guru. Is she becoming enlightened or just lost?”

  1. candicegarrett says:

    As I look around at my busy, hairy life, with three sons and tons of distractions, I always think, "how easy is it to find yoga in an ashram. The real challenge is to find it out in real life." I actually envy that kind of ease and simplicity sometimes (in fact my husband says if I am ever widowed, I would become a nun, LOL). But as one of my friends said recently, on this very topic, some of our friends are ready to move on from the role of "normal" family life, she called it their karma. I guess it comes down to what you believe. Maybe she lived that busy chaotic life in her last incarnation and is ready for something different. Maybe her "dreams and ambitions" are just not those that you could measure by your standards? Just food for thought. Interesting discussion, I can see this from either perspective.

  2. Ricardo das Neves says:

    Good observations, Tom. More than anything, your friend's experience, and your observations are a reminder to the rest of us as to where we defer our power — politically, spiritually and in so many other ways.

  3. helene_rose says:

    Interesting. It probably depends on what your friend wants/needs from this situation. Is she looking for somebody to tell her how to live her life or is she consciously choosing this path for reasons that make sense to her?
    Is she giving her power to her guru or is she becoming self empowered by this experience? Probably only she knows and time will tell.

  4. FelixBodhi says:

    Its pointless to apply your own ambitions, desires, and perspectives upon another person. She has chosen a path that is best for her. A very close friend of mine spent a year or so living at an ashram, waking up for 5am for prayers, working all day, etc etc. It was difficult for her, but she considers it one of the best times of her life. Unless she is suffering from some sort of abuse, she's living a life of her own choosing.

  5. CarolHorton says:

    I don't think that there are one-size-fits-all answers but the sleep deprivation and complete control over daily life sound very worrisome. These are classic psychological manipulation techniques and there is a long and sad history of so-called gurus who have been abusive in one way or another. On the other hand, this could be truly what she needs right now. Impossible to say but personally I'd be concerned, definitely.

  6. JimWilton says:

    Sounds fishy to me. But I know some sleep deprived lawyers and investment bankers as well. There are a lot of ways to avoid waking up.

  7. MountainYogi says:

    I understand that each ashram is different, but I currently live in an ashram and have been doing so for the past nine years. For me the ashram provides a daily structure and a community of support which has allowed me to develop a steady, regular meditation practice – something that I found very difficult to do in the 10 years prior when I practiced on my own. We have a guru who leads us in meditation and advises us in our practice, but would never have an interest in managing our daily lives for us. We have chosen to live in the ashram because we value living in a community of like-minded people, and building our lives around our yoga and mediation practice. While there have been manipulative people that have used communes and ashrams to take advantage of others (giving up your car, money, possessions, etc sounds fishy) spending time at an ashram can be very valuable in developing a strong practice.

  8. umasimon says:

    "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." I think you can say that about any Wall Street or lawyer newbie who work more than 80 hours a week, are often very exhausted and don't consider their lives their own in order to make a buck and earn a living. It's hard from where you are standing as an outsider to judge what is within this person, just as you can't really see people who appear to be happy on the outside. She is probably motivated by something deeper within her. If she has a bad "guru" eventually she will wake up and learn a good lesson.