Do we really Need a Guru?

Via Ed & Deb Shapiro
on Jul 12, 2011
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Awake. Be the witness of your thoughts. You are what observes, not what you observe. ~ The Buddha

We come from opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean and couldn’t be more different if we tried. Ed is from an over-crowded apartment in the Bronx who became a NYC dance champion; Deb was at a boarding school in the English countryside and was then an art student in London. Yet we both began the spiritual journey at the same time in the late 1960s. When Ed was in India being initiated as a Swami – a yogic monk — Deb was becoming a Buddhist. So on our honeymoon it was obvious that we should go to India to meet with our respective gurus.

We have previously written about how we can be addicted to a guru, therapist, healer or movie star and how an ego-driven guru can take advantage of his devotees to boost their power and create a ‘gurudom’ or kingdom. But that was only one side of the story. To put it into perspective we want to share the beauty of what it means to have a guru, someone whose sole purpose in our life is to show us the confusion within ourselves until we wake up and realize our radiant selves.

Who is and what does a guru mean? Simply, it means a teacher, and nowadays is a term used for multiple reasons. According to Wikipedia it is: ‘one who is regarded as having great knowledge, wisdom, and authority in a certain area, and who uses it to guide others.’ This can be a business leader as much as a schoolteacher, as long as each is an expert in their field and able to impart their understanding. Traditionally in yoga, in the highest sense, the meaning refers to a Satguru, one who is not ego-driven but who removes ignorance and darkness and leads the disciple to self-realization.

Due to our chaotic minds it can be difficult to see ourselves clearly — just as it is difficult to see our own face unless we look in a mirror — so a genuine guru is a mirror reflecting our inner self. In particular, such a guru can see through our often subtle, mischievous and trickster egos, how we get stuck wading in mentally murky water, caught up in delusions either of grandeur or of insecurity and self-doubt.

The path of personal development never goes in a straight line, there are many detours and it is easy to go astray or even get lost. The deluded ego leads us into believing we are way special and enlightened. The guru has been down this road before us, they’ve already done the work and got the T shirt and can, therefore, help us to navigate the path more easily.

Spiritual gurus are not all the same – some are like loving mothers or fathers, others are like military captains (we have experienced both) – but each, in their own way, is there to help us open our minds and hearts as they see in us what we cannot see in ourselves, particularly our potential and true nature. The guru reflects a skillful and awakened mind and reveals the same in us. They show us that if one person can do it so can we. As the Dalai Lama said to us when we met with him at his residence, “We are all equal here.”

One of India’s greatest holy men, Ramana Mahashi, always said that the role of the guru is to push the student from the outside in order to see the guru within – as the true guru is within each and every one of us. However, this does not mean that we must have a guru, particularly as these days they appear to be in relative short supply. The good news is that Ramana was self-realized, without a guru.

Ultimately, as the guru is our true nature and is hidden within each and every one of us, we simply need to deeply trust ourselves. Only from within can we awaken – it is not something someone else can do for us. Through meditation and insight we come to see clearly, beyond a mind that can be as distracted as a monkey bitten by a scorpion, leaping from one thought or drama to the next, to a place of clarity and wisdom. We take responsibility for our actions, recognizing the interdependent and impermanent nature of all things. Life is a precious gift and nothing in this world will make us forever happy, but when we look within we find a radiant reality. The greatest gift is our own wonderful selves.

photo of Guru Thongdrol by Bhutan-360 on


About Ed & Deb Shapiro

Ed & Deb Shapiro are the authors of new The Unexpected Power of Mindfulness & Meditation. Deb is the author of Your Body Speaks Your Mind, now in 19 languages. They have six meditation CDs. See more at their website.


8 Responses to “Do we really Need a Guru?”

  1. tanya lee markul says:

    I love the empowerment of the individual! Love this! How do you know God, if you don't know yourself? 🙂

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Assoc. Yoga Editor
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  2. ed shapiro says:

    Tanya Lee ~ Your comment is my favorite & best about this subject – you are sooooo right!

    How do you know God, if you don't know yourself? 🙂 YESSSSSS ~ spread the word – like you spread honey ~



  3. elephantjournal says:

    In my tradition, Buddhism, we do need a guru, ideally. But we don't need a god…we just need a friend to guide, advise, and often tell us / encourage us in ways we might be too lazy/selfish/fearful to otherwise go. ~ W.

  4. elephantjournal says:

    PS: Featured this on our Front Page, love this, thank you! ~ W.

  5. ed shapiro says:

    This is a healthy view ~ thank you! W.

  6. Deborah says:

    Anyone interested in this topic should read Mariana Caplan's recently released book The Guru Question.

  7. tanya lee markul says:

    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

  8. tanya lee markul says:

    Just posted to "Popular Lately" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.