The moment I met a true Guru (and the world stopped).

Via Ben Ralston
on Feb 17, 2011
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The word ‘Guru’ is one that I don’t like to use, because truth be told, we in the West don’t really understand it. It is a concept alien to our culture. Our use of the word in such phrases as ‘business guru’, ‘sex guru’, and ‘advertising guru’ demonstrates that. To us it often means something along the lines of ‘advanced teacher’.

In the East however, the word Guru has a much deeper meaning. It means ‘one who leads you to the light’. Wow! If you think about that, it’s quite a vague, almost open-ended meaning. To understand it fully, you need to think about it in terms of Eastern culture compared to Western culture.

In our Western culture we are taught the importance of independence. We are trained, educated, and conditioned to be independent consumers.

In the East, emphasis is on interdependenceand the spiritual foundation of Eastern culture means that every person is aware, from an early age, that evolution of consciousness is the purpose of life (as opposed to merely producing and buying ‘stuff’).

This promise of a deeper meaning in life is why our Western society is hungrily reaching out for Eastern spirituality. Many feel as I did as a child: starved of something essential to our development.

I grew up in suburban London in a middle class family, went to an expensive school, and literally felt throughout my childhood as if I was starving. I craved someone or something that could answer my inner yearning to make some sense out of life. However, the people who had any influence on this deeper aspect of myself were few and far between: a single school teacher who truly had a gleam in his eyes, and upon whose every wise and compassionate word I hung, stayed at the school only one year before the grey, dull, lifeless majority got the better of him. I remember the day he left. I felt as if a dagger had been plunged into my heart.

My Father was a spiritual man, but he was torn between his spiritual, creative inclination, and his business life. He never reconciled the two: I recall him telling me that he couldn’t tell any of his clients and employees about his lunchtime Tai Chi practice: he told them he was going to do some ‘exercise’ (acceptable) – in those days Tai Chi was for hippies.

So I was perhaps lucky that I had at least some taste of possibility, some guidance where others certainly had none. But it was not until I went to India, and that I realized that my childhood yearning was a mark of sanity, rather than flakey-ness!


As I sat on the steps of Trivandrum post office the day after I finished my yoga teacher training, I felt absolutely at home. At home in my body. At home in my self.

As I sat on those steps, full of love, silently chanting devotional songs of celebration and joy, an old man paused as he passed along the street below. He stood looking up at me as though he’d seen a ghost.

At that moment my contemplative bliss was broken as the old voice of doubt began to sing it’s song of fear:

“He’s probably a con man who thinks you’re a rich Westerner and wants your money”

So as he approached I held out my open palms, and stated clearly that I didn’t have any money to spare.

To my complete surprise he prostrated himself on the ground, face in the dirt, and touched my feet.

When he raised his head, he told me that he only wanted my blessing! I was a little dumbfounded. I asked him why he asked for my blessing and he answered:

“Because I see holiness in your eyes”

An old man prostrating himself before a young man. This was even stranger than the Indian boy who I’d made friends with a month earlier holding my hand as we walked along the beach – as if it was the most natural thing in the world – while I squirmed inwardly, feeling totally awkward.

But you see, the Indian culture (from which the word Guru comes) is almost the complete opposite of our Western culture. The foundation of our society is materialism, whereas theirs is grounded in spirituality.

So whereas here ‘respect your elders’ is absolute, there respect for your elders is tempered by respect for the more spiritually evolved (regardless of their age).

So I don’t like to use the word Guru. Most people don’t have a reference point for it here. Do you?

Tony Samara is a true guru though. A true guru wants nothing from you except your freedom. A true guru basks in the glory of absolute freedom, every cell of their body shining, every pore smiling, every word resonating, every thought a beacon of light.

A true guru is full of joy and celebration, and wants you to enjoy the party too! A true guru will not indulge you; will not feed your ego, or listen to your story, or play your games. He or she will remain utterly real and present, and illuminate all of your pretence. He will unmask you, and will not apologize for your discomfort.

My first meeting with Tony was about 4 years ago. I’d been a yoga teacher for quite some time, and experiences like the one outside the post office had helped reinforce my ego in an interesting way. I considered myself a teacher. I was holy. I was special!

So when I met Tony for the first time I wanted to make an impression. I’d heard that he was a great spiritual teacher, and subconsciously I wanted him to be aware when he met me that I was somebody too! Oh how this makes me laugh now thinking about it…

It’s difficult to describe in words the experience that I had, but I’ll try…

I was there on a Croatian Island in the hot summer sun to do a week-long retreat with Tony. My girlfriend Petra (now wife) had taken me, and she’d told me all about him. How during one meditation he’d somehow whispered (from a distance!) into her ear “concentrate on your heart” and she’d felt three loud ‘cracks’ in her heart, followed by tears of a deep emotional release from the past, mixed with boundless joy.

I had been anticipating this moment. So as Tony finally approached, walking towards us in his typical ‘shuffle’, arms hanging loosely by his sides, his body a perfect example of total relaxation, I became more tense.

He and Petra greeted each other, and I noticed the twinkle in his eyes, and felt his calm and absolute presence. I became more nervous.

Finally, he looked at me, and Petra introduced us. I stiffly held out my hand, and said something like:

“Hi, nice to meet a fellow Englishman”.

He looked down at my hand.

His gaze lingered on my hand, without his own hand being offered in return, for just a touch longer than would normally be considered polite, but my whole world simply stopped.

That short moment seemed to last an awfully long time! Time stretched out. I learned so much. Many lessons flooded my system. I realized how unconsciously I behaved. How many of my actions, thoughts, and words were simply games to mask my shyness, my lack of confidence, or my vulnerability.

The only reason I wanted to shake Tony’s hand at that moment was because I subconsciously felt that it would make us more ‘equal’. It might bring us together, and make me feel a little less nervous. It was an empty gesture.

Well, there’s no fooling someone who is totally present. They will see straight through you, and leave you feeling very silly. Which is exactly what happened to me then!

Tony finally offered me his hand, and as I gave a ‘good, firm handshake’, his hand was limp, like a dead fish. I felt ridiculous. I had in the past looked down on people that didn’t shake hands ‘properly’! But I couldn’t look down on this man – although he was surprisingly short in physical stature, his presence was huge! And his loose hand smiled, as his eyes smiled – with warmth, and humor, and humility. I felt like a child in front of him.

Tony spoke a little more with Petra and then excused himself, shuffling off again, completely relaxed, centered, and humble. He had not done anything. He had barely said anything to me. Simply by showing me what I was really doing, he had effortlessly taught me so much.

I feel tremendously lucky to have found a great teacher like Tony. He has helped me in many ways, many times (I’ll be writing more about that later), and I know that my development and evolution have been accelerated as a result. My yearning as a child is perhaps what brought me to him in the end. I refused to compromise. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, but I knew with absolute certainty that I would not become like the majority of my teachers – grey, dull, cynical.

I am sharing him with you not because I want you to make me feel better about myself by joining my ‘club’. I’m not trying to ‘convert’ anyone. I don’t care what anyone thinks of me anymore!

I am sharing this because I know there are many other people out there like me who truly yearn to be free. And because I know that people, especially teachers, like Tony Samara are very, very rare.

Do you yearn to be free? What are your feelings about the word Guru? Do you know Tony?! Please leave a comment…


You can read more about my experience of Tony Samara, and watch a stunningly beautiful 3 min. video with his voice here.

To read more about my experience in India prior to the events outside the post office, read here.


Spread the love! Leave a comment; give a facebook ‘like’; share with your friends.


About Ben Ralston

Ben Ralston has been practising personal development—necessity being the Mother of invention—since he was about six years old. He’s been teaching and sharing what he’s learnt along the way for a couple of decades. His main thing is Heart of Tribe retreats—whose very purpose is to help you fall back in love with life, no less. Leading these retreats alongside his woman Kara-Leah Grant—also an elephant journal writer (that’s how they met!)—they combine a deep well of lineage-based yoga teaching experience, with expertise in healing trauma and various other methods of personal development. Ben also works with clients one-on-one via Skype, writes, makes videos from time to time, and is passionate about parenting. He lives in an intentional, tribal community in the hills of Croatia, where you might find him gardening barefoot and talking to the rocks. Connect with Ben on Facebook or YouTube or check out his website for more info.


49 Responses to “The moment I met a true Guru (and the world stopped).”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Tony Samara, Red Fox. Red Fox said: The moment I met a true Guru (and the world stopped). […]

  2. ilanta says:

    OMG Ben! You write so beautifully.. thank you for sharing this moving story about your experience with tony … such a blessing to be working with him, isnt it? and it's wonderful you're introducing this possibility to other people who yearn for freedom … Will be watching out for more articles from you … love to your family 🙂

  3. Ben_Ralston says:

    Thank you Ilanta.
    Yes, it's a blessing to know someone that is so truly selfless.

  4. Wahido says:

    Beautifully written Ben, Thank you very much for the sharing! Tony is really an amazing spiritual master which shows us ALWAYS a totally different approach to live, an alive, mysterious perspective of how to address the spiritual and mundane aspects of life. Tony IS a challenge and at the same time a true gift to "use" as much as possible, as intensely as possible. A gift to keep very close to ones heart : ) as the breath connects us and the mantra clears the pathway to the light : )


  5. Ben_Ralston says:

    Thank you Wahido. Yes he is a challenge 🙂

  6. Ben_Ralston says:

    Thank you Rahma, I'm looking forward to reviewing Tony's books here on Ele Journal.

  7. Olana says:

    Thank you Ben for sharing your story, it is so real and coming from your heart without this feeling of how much can i say about the way i was feeling.
    When i met Tony i was so nervous, my palms were sweating and i was thinking what should i say to Tony, should i shake his hand or give a hug, what to do. When our eyes met i felt as if i am standing naked in front of him, no were to hide, as if he could see everything that i would love to hide, i felt fear after our meeting as i started to spin about could he really see true me, true my masks, that's dangerous for my ego, i am unprotected.

    But before i met Tony i had already a picture of how spiritual teacher should be like as i read so many new age books and it's all about feeling good every moment if not then relaxing, going shopping, going on a vacation, meditating, basically escaping from what is really going on. But working with Tony as i have learned there is no where to hide or escape, if we truly remember our intention which for me is to be free and real.

    I am thankful to the Universe for bringing into my life a true Guru Tony Samara.

  8. Ben_Ralston says:

    Thank you Olana, I hope you didn't shake his hand?! I don't recomment it 🙂
    Yes, he sees through everything. It's pretty amazing. I remember one seminar of his that I attended, when a girl in the audience asked him about a problem she had, and he told her that her shoulder was broken by the doctor when she was born. She was astonished – it was true.
    It's good to be thankful. I think that gratitude is the gateway to many things.

  9. Olana says:

    I don't even remember what i did 😀 Just that feeling of complete exposure have stayed with me from our first meeting. Yes, it is amazing, the work he does.
    Definitely gratitude helps the energy to flow and remember as once Tony said that no matter how hard the situation seems there always is someone else that deals with a harder one and we should be grateful that we are getting an easier situation.

  10. Petra says:

    Beautiful blog. You are a beautiful man 🙂
    Thank you.

  11. Diana says:

    This is such a lovely and honest story Ben. I so appreciate your willingness to look at yourself with gentle honesty, and and to press on toward clarity. What a rare and special meeting. Thank you.

  12. Ben_Ralston says:

    Hello Diana,
    I have always thought that if we want to experience truth directly, honesty is a good path. I am learning more and more (and my experiences with Tony have highlighted this most strongly) that there are so many layers of pretence: some of the masks we wear are so subtle.
    Thanks for your comment.

  13. Allison Fortuna says:

    This was an engaging, soul-touching article. Not only is your writing and descriptions beautiful but the story itself has so much meaning in which I believe all the human population can relate. I could not agree more on how the Western civilization misuses the word Guru. I have never been, but hope I am blessed to go to India one day. Only then will you truly understand. I yearn to be free and I feel something coming I feel I have a great teacher in my life but do not believe he is my guru. I can only pray that I experience what you did someday. Thank you very much for sharing your story please continue to post more!

  14. Hi, Ben. This is beautifully written and fascinating.

    I hate to rain on your parade, but I find myself troubled by the fact that your guru lets you get away with the idea that so many things different than yourself are "grey, dull, and cynical", including, apparently, the entire commercial world and most other yoga teachers besides Tony himself and a rare handful of others. To me this seems like a gross distortion of reality in itself.

    I would suggest the opposite–that every human being has a fascinating story to tell, and that the commercial world as a whole is utterly diverse, undull, and ungrey.

    I only presume to write this because your whole piece is about discovering reality. I hope you don't mind the intrusion.



  15. Ben_Ralston says:

    Hello Alison,
    Thank you.
    In my experience, much of the relationship with a true guru depends on trust. Part of our problem in the West is that we are actually taught to mistrust. The first question when we want to buy something is: "how much?" Why? Because we believe that everyone wants to con us!
    Only when I really let go, and trusted Tony completely, did I really gain the benefit of knowing him fully (I'll write an article about that experience later). I still struggle with that trust – it's not easy!
    But I know that meeting a great master is not enough. You have to be ready also to really let go and trust them. Having said that, it's also good to maintain a healthy skepticism, because there are some charlatans out there too!
    That's really why I want to share Tony with people – he's rare, and it's such a rare opportunity.
    With love, Ben

  16. Ben_Ralston says:

    Hey Bob, thanks for the interesting comment.

    You're not raining on my parade 🙂
    You make a couple of false assumptions though…
    Firstly, I don't think that "the entire commercial world" is anything. Perhaps you didn't read what I wrote? I said that the majority of my teachers were that way. And they were.
    Secondly, all people have free will. Many people choose to live in fear. This makes them grey and dull. When one lives in fear, one does not really live fully – following old programs and patterns that one's ancestors have passed down, is not real life. It leads to a kind of 'robotic', mechanical existence that is devoid of real joy. When people choose to live that way they become, to me, grey and dull, and yes, often cynical too.
    I *absolutely* agree that every being has an interesting story to tell!! But some people don't believe that they do. That's the problem. In fact, much of my work as a therapist is to do with helping people to see their own inner beauty; in other words, to believe in the 'fascinating story' that you mention.
    I don't mind the intrusion, I welcome a debate.

  17. Dario Jovović says:

    Thank you Ben for your very nice article.
    I heard of Tony Samara three days ago, on TV. After a few moments I realized that he takes water directly from our Universal Spring.
    A great human being Taisen Deshimaru once said "To receive everything, one must open one's hands and give." That is nicely visible with Tony, his spontaneous wish to share the beauty of existence with others. When, in silence of shikantaza, we observe our conceptualized 'reality' it slowly starts to disolve and the shining emptyness, pure consciousness itself, takes it over. That is also beautifully visible with Tony, his movements, speech…and 'that magic space' in between the words are all impregnated with consciousness.
    He also spoke about shamanic approach to the plants. As I always deeply enjoy in communion with sun (sungazing) and trees (tree hugging) there I also saw his deep wisdom of the life itself and its different, beautiful components. Let the Buddha blesses him.

  18. Ben_Ralston says:

    Thank you Dario.
    I can feel from your writing that you also have experience of drinking directly from the spring. It's true that one must open oneself to receive. It's also true in the case of the student / teacher relationship, as I said above in my reply to Allison. You felt Tony's openness because it reflected the openness in you. That is, I suppose, kind of ironic about great teachers – you have to already be open to them before you can recognize / meet them
    By your name and the t.v. reference I am guessing you are in Croatia? Zagreb?! I am close by in Slovenia. If you would like to keep in touch, email me 🙂
    Love, Ben

  19. YesuDas says:

    Beautiful, Ben. I look forward to reading more! What an amazing experience; I am envious.

    This reminds me of Russill Paul's book "Jesus in the Lotus," where he describes walking through an Indian city (I forget which one) with his mentor Fr. Bede Griffiths, and in the middle of the street a beggar approached them; when he looked into Fr. Bede's eyes, he did the same thing–paused and prostrated, while Russill was treated to the sight of this white-haired Englishman in a saffron robe, blessing a beggar in the middle of the street while drivers blared their car horns!

  20. Ben_Ralston says:

    Hey YesuDas,

    Wednesdays at 18.00 CET you can hear Tony speak live. It's a blessing. I always feel like my mind and soul have had a bath afterwards, and meditation comes more easily. I think you'll like him – here's the link:

  21. Thanks, Ben. No debate to be had here.

    I did misunderstand what you were saying. Thanks for the clarifications.

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Bob W.
    Yoga Editor

  22. sarah says:

    "When the student is ready – the teacher will appear"

    What a beautiful story to describe this happening to you.

    With love and gratitude

  23. Erikalynn says:

    Thank you Ben, and thank you for all the interesting posts, everyone, and your commited replies to all of them, Ben. And thank you for not caring about what other people think but still standing straight. And thank you Tony for giving out a limp hand and a warm heart.

  24. Ben_Ralston says:

    And here I was wondering if i was really ready. Sometimes I wonder…
    With love, Ben

  25. Ben_Ralston says:

    And thank you Erikalynn for noticing 🙂

  26. Dario Jovović says:

    Thank you Ben for your nice and true words. On a path called life there are lot of signs beside the road that help us in our opening, the magic game of consciousness is always on. The base itself of the game is related to our openness, as you nicely said above. Everything is in a conscious process and has its exact causal place in this beautiful, cosmic weave.
    In 80's I went to the school of yoga EFY-EST (France). It was dear Sivananda program.
    Is it a coincidence? 🙂
    You are right, I'm in Zagreb over the winter than in a few days I leave for my hometown Dubrovnik for a long season (a tourist guiding through these ex-Yu countries + Albania and its natural beauties).
    Very nice, I would like to keep in touch for the future.
    Have a beautiful day,

  27. sabina says:

    It made me think…sometimes i feel that being in Tony s presence really triggers lots of things on surface…both beautifull and some less beautifull things 😀 from inside, which with acceptance bring healing…
    and for me …it is by now…always the same process from being closed to being opened…and I wonder will i ever stay open, and not close again…or is it just the way life is for now…and Thank you Ben for reflecting on your ego, it realy helps to know that one is not alone in this …

  28. Ben_Ralston says:

    Hi Katherine,
    I think you subscribe to the idea of Guru as "Good teacher" rather than highly evolved or even enlightened. Because if you knew how rare a true guru is, you'd know that we certainly don't meet them all the time!
    And another thing that I must pick you up on – I didn't consider myself more evolved than the old man (spiritually or otherwise) – he thought that about me 😉 ~ I was actually totally shocked and surprised at the time.
    And as for your question about how the old man didn't leave me with the same impression as Tony? Well, that's exactly it – when you meet a real master, there's no comparison.

  29. Ben_Ralston says:

    Yes, Tony brings things to the surface because his awareness is so focused. Like a bright light brings out the shadows.
    I'm sure that if you look back at your work with Tony, you can see some progress. Often we forget how we were before…

  30. Ben Ralston says:

    Hm, please re-read the start of the article. You misuse the word Guru. It does not mean teacher, as you take it to mean.
    Guru means “one who leads out of the darkness”.
    We are ALL teachers and students, absolutely, I agree. But a guru is someone who is beyond the cycle of study and teaching. They are free…

  31. Katherine says:

    You keep telling me what I think, which I think is interesting.

    We all can lead each other out of darkness if we pay attention. I do not believe that any of us are free until we transcend this plane of existence.

    Also consider the old man, you do not know what he actually thought either. Only what he said.

  32. Ha ha ha! :)) Beautiful! Love it! Thank you so much for sharing this heart warming story that made me laugh out loud in love and recognition.

    Loving you….

  33. Ben_Ralston says:

    Kisses on the crown of your beautiful ego, my dear Mahatma 🙂

  34. samgeppi says:

    Hi Ben,
    Glad to see you are also a Sivananda teacher. Me too, a graduate in 2001 .

    I posted an article last week on the same subject that addresses the subject in a similar way. I hope you don't mind that I post the link here. I think your readers will like it.

  35. TamingAuthor says:

    Very strange reaction on my part. I reserve judgment and will wait anxiously to hear your update in eighteen months. The follow-up to this story will be much, much more important than the original. My sense is that you will have much more to share, maybe unexpected wisdom.

  36. Ben_Ralston says:

    Hey Sam, nice to meet you. Where was your ttc?
    I don't mind at all that you posted your article here. I hope people read it. I loved it myself. Full of wisdom and yes, sweetness 🙂
    " The sweetness of a Satguru can only be experienced. In the presence of these teachers, you know that they know your mind. You feel the purity of this love and it is beautiful beyond measure. But until we actually spend time in their presence, many confusing ideas arise."
    Love, Ben

  37. Ben_Ralston says:

    Hi TA,
    I'd love to hear more about the strange reaction…

  38. sabina says:

    Exactly, before I "coincidencaly" met him on Pashman, I acctualy had this feeling of having a hole in my solar plexus
    for few years, and only in a week of time i healed it…that is just one thing…but the thing that bugs me is that it is like I constantly need this effort or something to open up, …I dont know where it originates from…well I think I am on a track of it…and the thing that really frees me is BEING COMPLETELY HONEST with everything i feel, and speak it out loud to myself, others and to Tony…

  39. Roman says:

    Thank you for these beautiful words… very inspiring…

  40. TamingAuthor says:

    My gut reaction — and take this with a very large grain of salt — was to think of Charlie Manson. Strange, yes? That's why I kept it to myself. Many years ago, I met and became friends with a fellow whose wife had fled with the Manson group (leaving behind he and his son) and this friend came to mind. I have no idea why those thoughts came crashing in on me… and I do not expect a violent end to this story, but I got major vibes of betrayal and deception. Weird, huh? So I asked for a later update to check my gut. Probably skewed the results by saying something…

  41. TamingAuthor says:

    To reiterate… I am talking solely about my reaction, my thoughts, my gut, not about the fellow highlighted. I have no information on him. Just chronicling a totally weird reaction.

  42. Ben_Ralston says:

    Interesting! Always listen to your gut… Gut = inner Guru 🙂

  43. […] The moment I met a true Guru (and the world stopped). […]

  44. Vera Helena Bergmann says:

    thank you Tony, I liked mostly the passage about the eastern and western way of being socialized .. and copied it onto my wall with your name and Aleia`s name in the end – I saw your informations published there. There IS a deep need for REliance to the essence of life ~ thanks for sharing your wisdom. Helena.

  45. […] The moment I met a true Guru (and the world stopped). […]

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