11 Reasons Why We (Still) Need Great Gurus, Teachers & Yoga Communities.

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Ramana Maharshi

1. Douglas Brooks Seems to Think So!

From the insightful writings of Douglas Brooks, we have been reminded in recent weeks that the community of yogic peers has an important role to play in the teaching and assimilation of spiritual knowledge. The community, we learn again and again, must not give its power away to rogue teachers, or put leaders on a pedestal.

With its “horizontal values” of equality and freedom and thus its ability to democratize, the community is a vital ingredient in maintaining integrity, balance and transparency between teachers and students in the yoga community.

From Douglas Brooks, we have learned not just the problem with failed teachers but also about the importance of great teachers, even great gurus, as in the example of his own role as popular teacher, and in his relationship with his South Indian Tantric guru. In that latter role, in the vital relationship between guru and student, there is another kind of communion, one based on “vertical values,” the values of tradition, carefully acquired knowledge, and sometimes even initiatory wisdom only taught to the qualified few.

In the fervor to kick the failed teachers and so-called gurus off the pedestal, many, perhaps most, in the yoga community now want to have nothing more to do with gurus at all. They want community, not corrupted leaders and gurus. This hellbent, one-eyed search for community and more democracy is, of course, as failed an enterprise as using denial and corruption to put disgraced teachers back up on the pedestal.

In sum, I think Douglas Brooks’ message was this: neither the community nor the teacher can restore balance. We need both. And sometimes we need Gurus for perennial inspiration, for deep wisdom, and an occasional blow to the ego.

Indeed, we need both horizontal and democratizing values as well as vertical and traditional values. Gurus, teachers, as well as a dynamic community of peers, they all have their rightful place. Neither one holds in itself the entire solution to personal and community transformation. We do best when we live in dynamic balance. That is, after all, what Tantra is about.

2. Real Gurus Are for Real!

Witnessing the trail of failed gurus over the years, many have concluded that that’s not true. A true guru is only a fake guru, they say. But the logic of that argument is quite misplaced. You don’t go searching for a real guru among the fakes and the charlatans anymore than you look for a new car in a wrecking yard.

So, to all those who hate gurus, to all those who even drag the great ones down in the mud of gossip and prejudice: your jaundiced vision comes from looking too long at all the failed and fake ones!

Indeed. True Gurus do exist, but they are exceedingly rare. If I were to guess, I’d say every century features maybe a dozen or so truly enlightened humans.  Throughout human history, there has perhaps lived but a few hundred such illuminated beings, such God-like humans in flesh and blood, whose teachings resonate with the perennial wisdom of all sages of the past. That’s how rare these spiritual heavyweights are. So, I don’t throw the word guru around lightly.

3. Guru’s are an Integral Part of Yoga.

Throughout the history of yoga, 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 philosophy; one who walks his or her talk; one who lives according to what he or she preaches; one who takes on students to teach them what he has learned in life.

The idea is really simple and can best be described with an analogy. Great painters of the Renaissance had apprentices who were able to live and work with them. The idea was that we learn so much more through osmosis, by rubbing shoulders with the master, by seeing the world through his eyes, than by lectures and advises from a book or a lecture hall. But most importantly, in the inexplicable relationship with a master, a distinct and sublime chemistry is created, which, over time, rubs off in the life and work of the student.

Likewise, to live in the proximity of a great guru, or a great teacher, is a priceless gift that is hard to understand and appreciate unless you have had the experience.

Having been in the close proximity of such a classical guru figure for nearly two decades, I am still puzzled at the ineffable and enigmatic quality of that relationship. While at times seemingly normal, most of the time, a true guru—as much as my own guru tried to deflect the futility of guru-worship—remains mysterious and beyond reach. As does the remarkable light and depth in a Rembrandt painting.

So, how does one begin to reveal the inner mystery of great yogi masters like Ramana Maharshi or Aurobindu or Ananda Moi Ma. One cannot. And unless you are willing to accept that, you will always try to rationalize the guru and in that rationalization, much of the experience falls flat on itself.

Yet, we can and must rationalize; yet, we can make both teachings and guru understandable. And we do that sometimes by simple deconstruction, by observing isolated events and traits. But also through a “whole-vision” observation, just like we enjoy a great painting; we enjoy technique, color, form, and mystery, all in the same gaze.

So, when people call yoga teachers like John Friend a guru, it makes me laugh. It’s like calling someone who has written a bunch of catchy songs and can sing them on his guitar the next Bob Dylan. It’s like calling someone who can make great drawings the next Rembrandt. There is simply no comparison.

Like it or not, there are people who stand out in this world. Not every artist or scientist deserves the title genius and not every teacher deserves the title guru. Simply put, you cannot democratize everything, not great art, not great science, and certainly not great gurus. That would be a disservice to humanity and to yoga.

4. Gurus are Way Above Average!

These remarkable human beings hold the initiatory secrets to reveal Spirit, bring down Spirit on earth, and unravel the serenity of enlightenment. They are the living testament of a spiritual lineage as old as civilization itself.

As the word connotes in Sanskrit, a Guru is that person 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 who it is, 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. Not just their spiritual smarts and their good looks.

(And, finally, if you don’t like ranking, and you tell me I can’t do that, you’re setting yourself up as judge! So, just take a deep breath and relax and enjoy life’s juxtapositions. Yoga is to embrace and rise above them!)

5. Some People Do Find Their Guru (Within).

There is, of course, 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 or her body. What matters is your love for that Master and your ability to internalize the Master’s teachings and extraordinary state of consciousness.

Or, you may rightly feel that the guru dwells in all. Or, that the guru dwells inside. 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.

6. Beware! There are Different Kinds of Gurus.

Still, if your goal is to find a living, realized guru, here are four insights to keep in mind:

a. 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, most of these teachers do not deserve the unconditional veneration bestowed upon them.

b. If the teachings of a not-so-enlightened teacher belong 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.

c. While there have 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.

d. 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. That gateway is what we simply call Grace, and grace can come from anywhere, at anytime. That is, even if you have a living or dead guru, the true Guru is both right here and everywhere.

7. Gurus and Ethics Must Mix!

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.

8. When You Sift the Barley, the True Guru Appears!

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 (or worse) human 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.”

9. The Guru is Ultimately an Archetype of Your Own Being!

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 discernment and ethical standards.

11. There Need Be No Inherent Conflict Between Great Gurus, Great Teachers and Great Yoga Communities.

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. And, finally, a transparent community of peers is infinitely invaluable, too.



Editor: Brianna Bemel

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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: prama.org and rameshbjonnes.com.

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anonymous Oct 28, 2012 3:27am

[…] I remember taking class at the Iyengar Institute in NYC many years ago, and the teacher said to the class of students in sirsasana, “How would you adjust your headstand right now if Guruji [B.K.S Iyengar] walked in the room? How much would you activate your legs, stabilize your shoulders and calm your drishti? Why not do all that for yourself? Treat your own awareness of yourself as you would treat Guruji’s awareness of you.” […]

anonymous Oct 3, 2012 10:10am

[…] Teachers are important in all walks of life, also on the spiritual path. In Tantra, because of the intricacy of the various yoga and meditation technologies, it is important to have an experienced teacher from a trusted lineage. Generally, your guru is the head of the lineage and the one who empowers the siddha mantras used in the practices. He or she is called a kaula guru and has the ability to not only raise his or her own kundalini, but also the kundalini of others through the use of empowered mantras. I have experienced this first-hand many times. However, it is also understood that the ultimate guru is beyond human form, that the ultimate guru is the Divine (or Brahman) and that the human guru is your teacher and gateway, a catalyst for realizing the Divine. […]

anonymous Jul 7, 2012 2:45pm

[…] Through the guru, the disciple is connected to the essence, to the love of God, which is transcendent to all of our weaknesses and which reveals the actual reality of ourselves that we seek. […]

anonymous Mar 6, 2012 8:13am

[…] When you meet your in-body Guru you will know, because you have gone through this experience. […]

anonymous Mar 1, 2012 8:50pm

[…] and “cult like” following has been epidemic in the yoga community, even in India. The Guru model simply does not work. It draws out all sorts of dark and destructive behavior. In short, many of us are wounded yogis who […]

anonymous Feb 29, 2012 1:15pm

[…] knew and a world I might never have seen. Images remain, embedded in memory: the horror of seeing a Buddhist Monk protest religious repression under the government of Ngo Dinh Diem by setting fire to his […]

anonymous Feb 27, 2012 12:56pm

I'll stick with having teachers and see everyone and every situation as my teachers.

I believe in gurus theoretically and believe in supernatural powers even. But I do not seek a guru – should I meet one? I'll see how I feel.

anonymous Feb 26, 2012 7:49pm

Enjoyed the article, Ramesh. And I enjoyed the open-minded commentary from Thaddeus1, AnOldTimer, Carol and others. I also think that yogijulian brings a wonderful anti-dogma dogma to the discussion, as always. Just kidding, Julian, you raised some good points. 🙂

I think what we need is a "Real Guru Watch List" published here on Elephant. We could give each "Karma Points" via thumbs up or thumbs down. I might want to go guru shopping one day, after all.

    anonymous Feb 27, 2012 6:30pm

    Having a Guru that I personally have always known to be exceptional but who went from being perceived as very bad to very good in the media/political mind in India, I am reluctant to create such a list as it may easily be colored by various agendas and the strongly opinionated. Uninformed or illinformed democracy has its weaknesses. Finding a guru is much like finding a good partner in marriage, most of all we find ourselves.

      anonymous Feb 27, 2012 6:45pm

      Yes, I was joking although the list might provide amusement to some, it would probably not very useful, as you point out.

anonymous Feb 26, 2012 6:58pm

"yogijulian" – "my main point is that there is no-one who has any kind of supernatural power or authority "

a person must really be angry and closed off and limited in both intelligence and understanding and even plain old human experience to be able to write something like that and worse, to believe it so vehemently. i feel sorry for you.

    anonymous Feb 28, 2012 9:43am

    what an odd comment. i find it sad that so many folks think in order not to be closed off and limited one has to believe in something impossible…..

    i am neither unintelligent nor closed off, but it remains a simple fact that no-one has any kind of supernatural power or authority.

    the sunset remains beautiful, love remains poignant and fierce, meditative absorption remains awe inspiring, beethoven still makes me weep, the touch of my fellow humans remains precious and magnetic…

    my question for you is this: how disconnected must we be from the true spiritual beauty of what is to think that in order to find meaning and be "open" we have to put such faith in what isn't…?

      anonymous Feb 28, 2012 3:28pm

      "… i find it sad that so many folks think in order not to be closed off and limited one has to believe in something impossible…but it remains a simple fact that…"

      Whew, you just don't let up. And you don't (or won't) get what people are trying to get across to you, and you appear to refuse to pause and reflect on this "I hold this truth and you are disconnected from true spiritual beauty if you don't see it my way on this highway" attitude you've got. Fine. But to mimic your own sentiments: I find it sad that so many folks feel the need to try to impose their views on others and, if that doesn't work, belittle them for not believing (or rather not non-believing) the way they do. That's a serious issue, man.

anonymous Feb 26, 2012 12:50am

I really enjoyed this very informative article. Thank you Ramesh! Namastè, Keren

    anonymous Feb 26, 2012 9:05am

    I am glad you enjoyed the article, Karen!

anonymous Feb 26, 2012 12:38am

Some ideas: A guru dispels darkness and brings light.

ANYBODY who can consciously and continuously identify the underlying beliefs that a human being has based his/her life on and knows how to bring about conditions that will cause that human being to see through those beliefs to the truth is a guru.

I don't see the use of qualifying them in any other way. The state of their enlightenment, their being, their personality, their methods, their lifestyle, their ability to inspire, whether or not they profit in material sense, or how they dress, look or feel…has nothing to do with it and can't be assessed by you, the deluded.

Anybody out there who can prove me wrong?

    anonymous Feb 26, 2012 9:08am

    I agree to an extent, but just like there are Einsteins of science, there are also Einsteins of consciousness…. the fallacy of horisontalism is that it tries to drag everyone down on the same level, there's diversity in the depth of people's consciousness and in this article I wanted to celebrate that….Einstein was special. Gurus are special, not just any old bloke.

anonymous Feb 25, 2012 5:46pm

Where's #10???

    anonymous Feb 26, 2012 7:09pm

    Ha! Anyone know a guru we can ask?

anonymous Feb 25, 2012 3:02pm

calling anti-dogma a a form of dogma is an unfortunate fallacy.

thanks for the praise.

if you have anything from my actual comments to in turn comment upon please do.

i am in no way being dogmatic – and it is not dogmatic to make reasoned arguments for why something is true or false.

dogma by definition says this is true because the guru/god/scripture says so.

i have made a clear argument above in response to comments by both ramesh and carol – sorry if you didn't like it.

my main point is that there is no-one who has any kind of supernatural power or authority – therefore the central defining principle of the traditional sense of a "true guru" is anachronistic and problematic.

i make my point forcefully as i said above because the stakes are so high. many people undergo extreme suffering when they buy into the deluded belief in such concepts – this is not just my opinion, but the legacy of adi da, muktananda, trungpa, osho, andrew cohen, sai baba and on and on…

in the context of the current john friend scandal i think it matters deeply how we reconfigure our community's relationship to the concept of the guru.

the opposite of dogma is not relativism, it is reason and evidence , critical thinking and honest inquiry.

don't mistake my passionate concern and clarity of distinctions for dogma – they are in fact evidence of the very opposite stripe.

    anonymous Feb 26, 2012 1:11am

    I'm sorry to say that all my years in academic philosophy failed to enlighten me as to which formal or informal fallacy you are referring here to Julian. I would be ever so grateful if you could let me know about it.

    anonymous Feb 26, 2012 1:12am

    Finally, you claim "my main point is that there is no-one who has any kind of supernatural power or authority – therefore the central defining principle of the traditional sense of a "true guru" is anachronistic and problematic…" This claim is curiously lacking any sort of argumentation. I mean, how could you possibly know this given your adherence to empircism? Have you done a study of everyone? Is Ramesh delusional, or liar? And upon what grounds have science and its "religiously orthodox" evil twin brother scientism become the ultimate proving grounds of a claim's veracity? I mean, sure, it may be your requirement, but why is everyone else required to agree? Sounds a bit too totalitarian and facist a position for me? But I would love to hear your thoughts.

      anonymous Feb 26, 2012 9:10am

      Good points, Thaddeus. Great points, actually!

        anonymous Feb 26, 2012 6:53pm

        brilliant, again. agree with Ramesh. its beyond embarrassing watching "yogijulian" spout his own philosophy as if it were the be all and end all, and then crawl back all wounded and wondering why everyones being so impossible and stupid, according to HIS conclusions, which seem full of air and far beyond any guru syndrome i've seen in a human in years!

          anonymous Feb 27, 2012 12:21am

          The truly ironic and perhaps outrageous thing about this all is that Mr. Walker spends a good deal of time in his writings here on elephant espousing the need to examine the shadow and yet seems utterly unable, or worse unwilling, to illuminate his own in his regard and actually take a step back see just how close his own approach to knowledge and understanding is very much in line with the religious 'fundamentalists' that he relentlessly derides.

    anonymous Feb 26, 2012 1:16am

    You are being dogmatic by pure definition — this definition: "inclined to lay down principles as incontrovertibly true."

    Which is what you have continued to do, without much let up. We got you, man. We heard your opinion. But other people have theirs too. But you continue to try to dominate the thread with yours and try to make yours the last word on the matter, because as you see it the stakes are so high and it's your job to enlighten us. Or as you say it to make sure we don't undergo the extreme suffering of any potention deluded beliefs.

    You can say you are simply espousing the truth forcefully — and I do agree with much of what you say — but I really don't see the difference between the way you are going about telling everyone what the truth is and what delusion is and some 'guru' saying the same thing.

    You may want to say you're of a opposite stripe from those who are dogmatic in this sense, but I challenge you to pause and reflect on that, my friend.

    anonymous Feb 27, 2012 1:00pm

    Julian — you make some excellent points true…but I've read your work before and your absolute belief that there is no magic is indeed a fallacy in and of itself — for in the end we are merely human with a speck of awareness in the great big mystery of the universe and anyone who states they KNOW anything whether based in scientific or mysticism have the same malady of hubris.
    WE cannot know all so you cannot say unequivocally that you know based on science or what you often term "logic" anymore than faith… I find atheist as disturbing as fundamentalist — for both have come to a "conclusion" and I just don't see how that is possible. Leave some room for possibility you may find that views can change.
    Your DOGMA may not have word religion attached to it but it is dogma just the same.

      anonymous Feb 27, 2012 7:34pm


      But really, one doesn't need to leave room for possibility when one knows they're simply right.


anonymous Feb 25, 2012 2:19pm

ramesh the reason i think this matters so much is that so much is at stake and the very notion of a guru (as distinct from a qualified guide, or talented teacher etc) is through-and-through laced with the essence of supernatural authority.

i think we should not fudge on this stuff.

either there are human being s who have some special supernatural knowledge that makes the mythic claims of certain traditions literally true, or there are not.

i think there are not.

this is not to say there are not gifted teachers and guides, exemplary human beings with insight, ethics and good approaches to positive self-transformation.

what i take issue with and point out in all my comments above is the insistence that we maintain a kind of credulity with regard to old world traditional ideas about true gurus.

in any meaningful usage of that concept what is meant is someone who has realized the ultimate truths claimed by hindu/buddhist metaphysics regarding the one's innate consciousness as eternal/divine/one with god.

because this metaphysics is beautiful metaphorically but empty in literal terms i think too the very notion of a true guru is empty in any meaningful literal sense.

this is why we have so many examples of those claiming to be enlightened while behaving worse than your average joe, because it is a scam – enlightenment is a mythic concept, the true guru a kind of mythic archetype…. no human being can be an archetype – and we not only put ourselves in danger when we believe someone to be an archetype, but we limit their true humanity!

an archetype is one dimensional – an exaggerated, impossible representation of a pure quality of human potential. but human beings are multidimensional – it is our complexity that both makes us imperfect and magnificent.

so YES – embrace good teachers, worthy guides, talented facilitators, insightful thinkers, inspired healers – but don't ever project onto them that they are a literal archetype of some kind of enlightened perfection with supernatural authority, simply because that is all a fantasy and has no basis in reality.

    anonymous Feb 25, 2012 2:47pm

    Yogijulian: you seem a bit hellbent on making sure no one walks away from this discussion without your final word. I find much of what you add to the discussion relevant and helpful (and you've written your own post here on EJ, which is good), but you're pretty much insisting that anyone who is not entirely skeptical as you are pretty much darn well needs to be. Your kind of anti-dogma-dogmatism is as troubling to me (and many people) as blind faith or unwarranted devotion is in others.

    anonymous Feb 27, 2012 9:27am

    Your idea that the Guru system is "laced with supernatural authority" is off base. This is seen through your veil to which you are accustomed to. Because you practice Tantra and the limitations to your own potential and the potential of others as well as the expansive view to which only the breaking down of clinging to an ego can bring is aided by a guru or Lama…if this is "supernatural"…then so be it. This is the point and only point of yoga.

anonymous Feb 25, 2012 9:09am

finally a question for you:

do you think ken wilber was a "qualified student" when he named adi da samraj as the most realized being ever to walk the planet?

alan watts was also pretty sure adi da was the "real thing…"

adi da turned out to be the most psychopathic pathological poster child for the problem with gurus in history.

of course wilber also chose andrew cohen as enlightened… andrew cohen who's own mother wrote a book exposing him as an abusive narcissist and who's former students have painted a pretty horrific picture of his predictable power abuses.

i have studied wilber for the better part of 15 years and part of my critique of his work is this blindspot around still believing in the literalized mythology of gurus.

for my money if someone as brilliant, learned and "qualified" as wilber still can't pick a true guru, there may not be such a thing…

your article seeks i think to reinstate the importance of gurus in light of guru scandals – and you rightly point out the need for discernment and ethics – but i think you miss two things: 1) the problem may be with the very notion of enlightened gurus in the first place and b) you have not actually addressed the problems nor made any good arguments beyond faith and tradition for why in light of all the problems with this anachronism it is worthy of our credulity.

we live in an egalitarian society – and while i agree that there will always be healthy verticality, the archaic notion of super special people we should bow down to as holy who have knowledge of the great beyond is an outdated and superstitious notion that we should not dress up in rational clothing.

    anonymous Feb 25, 2012 1:05pm

    Just a quick reply from the airport, Julian: Allan Watts was a great intellectual, but he was a hard smoking drunk, so that probably clouded his vision. 🙂 i never thought highly of Adi Da myself; just another intellectual to me with perhaps some spiritual insights. Thing is, the higher you go, the harder you fall. So being a "guru" with some remarkable teachings and ideas does not mean much as far as enlightenment goes. There are also no guarantees, that's why there are ethics and other standards to hold people to…. and that is where I would look first. Are we dealing with genuine, balanced human beings who adhere to a deep ethics in terms of their own conduct, do they sift their own barley? . .
    Ken Wilber obviously also made a mistake here…..which he kind of admitted, but not deeply enough…..

      anonymous Feb 25, 2012 1:20pm

      Julian, I hear you, and I think your skepticism is warranted to a great extent, but unlike Carol, you are closed off to the possibility of genuine gurus, and that is your own faith. An agnostic view in this regard would be more balanced and in keeping with your otherwise astute analysis. I have seen Cohen, and a bunch of other self-proclaimed gurus in action, and I have been less than impressed.

        anonymous Feb 28, 2012 9:51am

        please resist the temptation to trot out the cynical rhetoric of describing an unwillingness to believe to something unreasonable as a form of faith. it is the kind of debate tactic used by religious apologists and to my mind is beneath your intelligence and sincerity.

        it also will make me simply go away in disgust – which may be your wish.

      anonymous Feb 26, 2012 12:48am

      By the way, Adi Da was a guru. I know this because of a story a disciple tells: The man came to depend on Adi Da, until one day he overheard him saying to another person that "I never liked ____, either." This so crushed the man that he was unable to face Adi Da again for many years, until they finally met again, wherein Adi Da said, "Not like, but I always love you." The man said that changed him forever.

      That's what gurus do. They make sure you see through your assumptions to the truth.

    anonymous Feb 26, 2012 12:42am

    Some ideas: A guru dispels darkness and brings light.

    ANYBODY who can consciously and continuously identify the underlying beliefs that a human being has based his/her life on and knows how to bring about conditions that will cause that human being to see through those beliefs to the truth is a guru.

    I don't see the use of qualifying them in any other way. The state of their enlightenment, their "holiness" their being, their personality, their methods, their lifestyle, their ability to inspire, whether or not they profit in material sense, or how they dress, look or feel…has nothing to do with it and can't be assessed by you, the deluded.

    And, yes, there are people who can do this.

    anonymous Feb 27, 2012 7:56pm

    Alan Watts never even met Adi Da. He was sent a pre-publication copy of The Knee of Listening, read it, and based on that wrote a gushing foreword, which was included in its first publishing. Then he died in 1973, less than one year after its initial publishing.

    In regards to Kenny W, well let's just say he was one of many high-profile "public" people who were actively courted by Da for endorsement and PR purposes, there was a lot of backslapping going on there and I don't know whether they actually met or not – I suspect not. Da similarly got high-profile praise from people like Barbara Marx Hubbard under similar conditions.

      anonymous Feb 28, 2012 9:50am

      my point remains – they were bought into the notion that certain human beings had some kind of special access to enlightenment that made them almost superhuman in their realization – and they endorsed da as such and the damage he has done to people who may have sought him out based on the glowing recommendation of these influential intellectuals is immense.

      adi da was a monsterous sociopathic madman – if neither wilber nor watts were "qualified" to discern this i shudder to think how the rest of the spiritual community can make such assessments.

      the problem OF COURSE is that the emperor is wearing no clothes. NO-ONE is worthy of the specific claims of divine perfection and superhuman knowledge truly associated with the word guru – and those who put on that invisible cloak are a dangerous breed, as scandal after scandal continues to reveal….. this does not (as i have said above) mean there are not good teachers, guides, facilitators etc of the talented and educated human variety.

      it is the step into being a holy personage with claims of special knowledge viz some unexamined and highly questionable metaphysics that is the problem.

anonymous Feb 25, 2012 8:47am

i applaud too the way you are trying to integrate a more egalitarian transparency into your concept with :

"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. And, finally, a transparent community of peers is infinitely invaluable, too."

but i think the idea of being a "qualified student" is odd and potentially very problematic… and i challenge you to give me even one example of a community around a guru that is transparent and that encourages either rational discernment, ethical evaluation of the guru or both…. can you?

    anonymous Feb 27, 2012 2:01pm

    My own Guru, Anandamurti, wrote a book called Neo-humanism: The Liberation of intellect, in which the main thesis is no more dogma and that rational thinking and discernment is paramount on the spiritual path. Moreover, he made a clear distinction between religion and spirituality, between dharma and dogma. One of his sayings was: if the wise man says something illogical, reject it, if a child says something logical, accept it. I have seen the whole range of attitudes around my guru as well, from dogmatic blindness to transparent openness. While he was the latter, many students fell into the old trap, so it very much depended on the student. So I stand by my comment.It is based on experience. You are making sweeping statements, and I hope I have at least challenged your view and that your are open to new possibilities. Historically, the Buddha was a breath of fresh air in this regard, and you will find that many gurus in India challenged the status quo. Ramakrishna did so in his own way in the mid 1800s and Vivekananda even more so in the late 1800s and early 1900s, then Aurobindo, then Anandamurti (who was imprisoned because of his radical and frational views), and so on. That said, India itself needs another enlightenment based around western equality and values of freedom and rationality as the culture is steeped in dogma. I am well aware of that. But do not throw the baby out with the bath water by making sweeping generalizations about issues you are not familiar with.

      anonymous Feb 28, 2012 9:56am

      ramesh – that is truly heartening and i stand corrected!

      good for you – and even more so, good for your guru!

      there is still the small matter of you ascribing paranormal powers to him – care to explain…?

anonymous Feb 25, 2012 8:45am

though it is actually the first time i have seen someone attempt this kind of statement and i applaud you for it, this still sounds like an oxymoron to me: "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 discernment and ethical standards."

i don't think anyone being truly discerning and rational would decide that any other human being was worthy of the kind of projected glory that is part of believing in and following someone as an enlightened guru.

the two are mutually exclusive.

anonymous Feb 25, 2012 8:42am

the call for ethics is good.

but i think number 8 then enacts the confusing double talk around the tricky business of finding a "true guru" that is part of what makes this whole arena so dangerous.

basically the whole argument has this a priori notion of true gurus – but you have not based this on anything except your desire to believe it – and you then hedge your bets about all the only partially realized seekers, guides or teachers etc…

it's like if i wanted to make an argument for fairies and i said well you see many fake claims of fairies have been made, and very few people have ever seen them, but the great book of fairies says that if you keep believing anyway one day you may find one. now of course there have been many exposes that say fairies are just a hoax – but those were fake fairies, not the real thing, a true fairy finder is a very special person possessed of great mystery that just cannot be explained and even if all the people around them appear to be faking it they might still be on the trail of a real fairy, and who knows: your perception of their fairy evidence as fake may be based in your lack of ability to see what a true fairy looks like…

anonymous Feb 25, 2012 8:36am

number 4: more "because i say so" hype, restating the appeals to faith based in literalized mythology.

"These remarkable human beings hold the initiatory secrets to reveal Spirit, bring down Spirit on earth, and unravel the serenity of enlightenment."

i could say "reason number 4 that women should be in the kitchen: women have the secrets to great cooking, it s just a power that resides in their mysterious nature, only they can can unravel the secrets of flavor that is out of this world…"

anonymous Feb 25, 2012 8:30am

in your next reason you say that gurus are integral to yoga and true gurus are in effect an expression of an ineffable mystery that remains out of reach etc…

so what do you say to someone like mw who just doesn't buy that anymore?

a guru is at bottom a human being – and there are indeed people who are talented (bob dylan, rembrandt etc in your examples) but the tricky thing about he comparison is that it takes something easier to define and demonstrate, like being a great artist and compares it to a set of claims about particular human beings that are not only much less easy to define or demonstrate, but that essentially are based on a kind of hype about their divine nature or realized awakeness, which on closer inspection turns out to be indefinable by its very nature….

in some ways the whole thing is akin to the religious notion that faith without evidence is a virtue, similarly belief in the literalized archetype of a human who is somehow beyond human in ways we can't understand, quantify or demonstrate because we are not there yet may well be just another empty fantasy.

i don't use the word fantasy to be insulting – but to suggest that the very definition of a guru as most embrace it is probably a mirage.

also: there are many things we could say are "integral" to yoga if we choose to – being vegetarian, believing in god, gurus, becoming a sadhu, astanga primary series etc…. but how one chooses in this era and culture to practice yoga is increasingly being liberated of such appeals to tradition – and tradition is not good just cause it's tradition right?

it's bit like the argument that men should hunt because hunting is an integral part of the history of being a man.

anonymous Feb 25, 2012 8:23am

"You don’t go searching for a real guru among the fakes and the charlatans anymore than you look for a new car in a wrecking yard."

this is a fun but i think misplaced analogy – no-one who sought out the fakes and charlatans knew that this is what they were…

you also say: "True Gurus do exist, but they are exceedingly rare. If I were to guess, I’d say every century features maybe a dozen or so truly enlightened humans. Throughout human history, there has perhaps lived but a few hundred such illuminated beings, such God-like humans in flesh and blood, whose teachings resonate with the perennial wisdom of all sages of the past."

i am curious what you base this claim upon, because it just sounds like a statement of faith to me along the lines of "sure there are false psychics, but true psychics really do exist and they are so amazing man, they know the future and everything like that, just like the stories say…"

there is a fallacy in philosophy called 'no true scotsman" i find might apply here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_true_Scotsman

    anonymous Feb 25, 2012 8:33am

    I base that statement on 15 years of close proximity with a guru that wrote 250 books, composed over 5000 songs, talked on everything from physics to cosmology to farming to radical economics and who also was one of the humblest people i ever met, and who displayed all kinds of "supernatural" qualities that to him were just natural, one who saw no difference between the liberation of self and the liberation of society. The same persona taught all the sadhana practices of Tantra (as per the eight fold path), had an impeccable ethics, even though of course those who did not like his radicalism said he was a criminal and jailed him for 8 years, of which he fasted for 5 in protest, and then was free of all charges in the end. Enligthenment within and without. So I do not base it on faith but on experience.
    I also lived with yogis in India that I would consider extraordinary humans, many of them, but nothing like this guru, so I know, but I also know that if you are not willing to consider the possibility of such people existing, then there is nothing I can do to convince you. And that does not matter at all. What matters is who you are as a human.
    I am leaving for Europe in a few hours, so if I do not reply to your message for a few days, that is why.
    All the best my friend, Julian.

anonymous Feb 25, 2012 8:18am

ramesh, not sure what this statement means: "This hellbent, one-eyed search for community and more democracy is, of course, as failed an enterprise as using denial and corruption to put disgraced teachers back up on the pedestal."

what is this enterprise, where has it been enacted and how has it failed?

    anonymous Feb 25, 2012 8:40am

    The hellbent search for community is very strong in America, has been since the 60s and is a result of the strong individualism that exists here, and an inner emptiness that desires the illusion of "community" thinking that once the utopian community has been established all problems will be solved. That was why i emphasized the need for balance between community AND the individual. The other extreme is in places like Norway, where I come from, where the community is king and the individual often suffer the censorship of the community. A great example is what Norway did to one of its greatest painters Odd Nerdrum, who was too big for the smallness of that country. I'll take Norwegian economics and politics many times over America's but again, the rule of the committee is much too strong over there. So again, balance is needed.

anonymous Feb 25, 2012 6:42am

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

Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

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anonymous Feb 24, 2012 10:01pm

Thanks, Ramesh, Namaskar….. great article again.
Dhruva (Qld)

    anonymous Feb 25, 2012 1:32am

    Thanks, Dhruva, for reading and commenting!

anonymous Feb 24, 2012 5:39pm

Thanks so much, Prajna, for your comments.I agree that we cannot quantify enlightenment, still, I wanted to make a point that it is not common; it is an extraordinary state; and not generally seen at the grocery store.

    anonymous Feb 29, 2012 11:15pm

    Hey Ramesh,
    Beautiful article, as usual.
    Thanks and love,

anonymous Feb 25, 2012 1:31am

Braja, yes, you're right, and Prajna is right. Kabir was a weaver, my own guru an accountant, Nisargadatta a shop keeper, and yes, another could be bagging my groceries. I am not excluding that possibility as enlightenment is not a job description. My main point is that it is rare. Anyone having read Nisargadatta or Ramana's works will realize that their state of mind is one-of-a-kind.

anonymous Feb 25, 2012 4:04am

funny you should say 'the guy bagging groceries'. Adyashanti said the most enlightened person he knows works as a grocery packer in Hawaii!

anonymous Feb 25, 2012 1:33am

Thanks for doing that, Braja!

anonymous Feb 25, 2012 1:38am

understood 🙂

anonymous Feb 25, 2012 5:23am

🙂 And all the stories from eastern philosophical books and scriptures, they speak of the cobbler and the brahmana, the rich man and the poor man, etc., and always it's the seemingly "lesser" person on the social structure who is far more enlightened than his supposedly superior counterpart….

anonymous Feb 25, 2012 1:12pm

I hear you loud and clear, Carol. It makes total sense to me…. most people do not want nor need a guru. I am totally in agreement! That said, all I am doing is referring to my own experience and worldview and sharing that which is relevant to me. Moreover, in the yoga community there are at least 15-20 percent, which would be a couple of ,million people in the US alone, who do resonate with gurus. I meet people in the yoga community every weekend at retreats, and that is my Unscientific assessment. So it does matter to others than you and julian. So, all I am asking is, be open to the possibility and the relevance of authentic gurus…. Lastly, a lot of the literature of yoga came from the guru tradition, so the wisdom has relevance in that regard. So, thank you for being open, Carol. That means a lot and is all I can ask for.

anonymous Feb 25, 2012 2:24pm

just read more fully carol – and yea, i too find it kinda irrelevant. the search for the true guru in a haystack – when really we can just do the work of self development and healing quite well without such fanciful preoccupations….

anonymous Feb 25, 2012 2:23pm

fair enough carol. i am actually delighted that ramesh has a gifted teacher worthy of his trust and respect. we all should be so lucky.

ramesh unfortunately claims that this man has supernatural powers. uh oh – that would require some pretty strong evidence for me not to just shake my head walk away.

it would also be the biggest news in the history of news – and oh yeah – he could go and claim the james randi foundation $1M prize right away too…. oh so much good he could in the world with that money!

i won't hold my breath.

anonymous Feb 26, 2012 9:04am

BotherRog, I don't think you read my article carefully. In fact I agreed with you when saying that people do not necessarily need gurus. My point was to write an article that stated real gurus do exist, not to state that all yogis need them or want them. That is a private matter, or a karmic matter, for that matter. If you get my drift!

anonymous Feb 26, 2012 9:13am

Julian, I did not refer to any scriptures in my article. I referred to instead my own observation and experiences, which span many years and some of which were sensory and thus within the realm of flatland science, the rest were mental and spiritual and this within the scope of a broader science. I will write an article describing in more detail these experiences, but I am not holding my breath that you will find them convincing. 🙂 You have already made up your mind. Too bad!

anonymous Feb 26, 2012 6:50pm

brilliant response. tired of "yogijulian"s brow beating and insisting hes not dogmatic, when its embarrasssingly clear he is, with a vengeance.

anonymous Feb 26, 2012 9:16am

Yes, Paul # ten is the missing link, the blank you may fill out for your own quest… oops!

anonymous Feb 27, 2012 9:20am

Yoga is and was developed by Gurus. It is a "Guru System". Without the close proximity to the guru's heart there is no yoga. Yogis who call themselves yogi and profess that the way to yoga should be through linear western rationality, which guru yoga does not lack, should cease calling themselves yogi, stop doing asana, and create your own system.

anonymous Feb 27, 2012 9:39am

Having a guru for me is not a fanciful preoccupation but feels very natural and integral to my life, Julian. I have many teachers, and one guru and none of them preoccupies me fancifully!!! 🙂

anonymous Feb 27, 2012 9:43am

Mark, I say that yoga is not either/or, yoga is yes/and… both you and julian, coming from opposite poles, present a black and white picture of yoga that I do not experience at all. For most today having a guru is not wanted nor needed. Guru yoga is for people like me and others who want to go deep into a tradition, most people do not want nor need this. everyone is doing just great in their own right and no need to bang each other on the head.. let's salute tolerance and openness.

anonymous Feb 27, 2012 10:50am

No intolerance here. Everyone can do what they wish and they do. But Yoga is a a Guru created "system"…take the guru out of yoga and we have what it is we have today…exercise classes