The Guru Relationship.

Via Jacquelyn O'Brien
on Feb 10, 2012
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You’re on Your Own.

Dear friends,

I’ve been giving some thought to gurus, teachers and our relationships with them. I’ve been thinking about our tendency to give away our power. To invest heavily in someone else seems to reduce our ability to invest in ourselves.

The conclusion I’ve come to is that, no matter how much we try to over complicate it, the answer is simple, as usual. We don’t need gurus, heroes or pedestals. We have the power within ourselves and I don’t think we should give it away so lightly, even if we are sure that the teacher is as enlightened as The Buddha.

We have a tendency to overcomplicate things. Do we need a new mat in this season’s color, a new pair of pants or another stretchy yoga tank? Do we need to go on retreats in far away exotic places? I don’t think we do. There’s a difference between need and want, I think my parents probably told me that.

It’s completely fine to want these things, to wish to enjoy the warm sand or the comfort of your new tank, but we should be clear that we don’t need them. It’s fun, but it’s not the answer that we’re looking for — it’s just a distraction even if it is a pleasant one.

The more I think about it, it really is as simple and as difficult as this: we need to be the best possible version of ourselves right now, wherever we are, wearing whatever we’re wearing. To be patient, kind and compassionate, honest and strong. To practice seeing and thinking deeply. To love without expectations or conditions. And that goes for loving ourselves too.

Isn’t the only solid ground to be found inside? To attach ourselves to the idea that someone else can deliver it for us seems dangerous both to ourselves and to the teacher. It feels to me like giving all that power to someone else sets me one more degree removed from the truth.

The subject of the guru relationship has filled many, many shelves in libraries and I bow to their research and knowledge on the subject. As usual, these are just my feelings, honest and truthful. I’ve learned so much from my teachers and I will be forever changed and grateful, but I hope that I can keep a sense of my own truth even as I listen at their feet.

So, I think you’re on your own, but I also think that’s a good thing. It doesn’t mean that you won’t have company on the path and helpful teachers to introduce new ideas, but it does mean that you’re the only one who can figure out what’s true for you. You can do it, you’re stronger and more discerning than you realize.

Here are three quotes from The Buddha on the subject, three because I couldn’t choose between them…

“Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, not matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.”

“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.”

“Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.”

Now that’s the kind of teacher I can trust. Discover the truth within.

~ With loving and grateful thanks to all my teachers, jx

Edited by Brianna Bemel



About Jacquelyn O'Brien

Jacquelyn O’Brien is a yoga teacher and professional wrangler of husbands, children and variously sized animals. She does her best to live mindfully but f*cks up with alarming regularity and not always hilarious consequences. So far though, she’s always been willing to get out of bed in the morning and give it another go. Jacquelyn owns 'radiant joy yoga' in Uxbridge, Ontario with her husband, Michael. Connect to her at her website or on facebook or find her on twitter


24 Responses to “The Guru Relationship.”

  1. Christina says:

    Congratulations cousin, another beautiful piece of writing as always! What you say makes sense to me – I think only by finding your own truth and your own way, can you then cultivate healthy, fulfilling relationships. There is a difference between looking to others to bring you peace and happiness, and having your own true sense of who you are. I feel if you can gain the latter, then your own relationships and interactions can be all the stronger for it. You encapsulate this wonderfully in your piece! Much love Christina xx

  2. Joe Sparks says:

    I agree. Trust your own thinking. Trust your own thinking. Trust your own thinking. We forget, leadership is a job, not an exalted state. In leading our yoga communities, we need to replace the dead hand of habit with continually fresh awareness of what actually needs to be done, and new, elegant ways of doing just those things.

  3. Just posted to "Special Picks" on the Elephant Spirituality Homepage.

    Braja Sorensen
    Lost & Found in India
    Editor, Elephant Spirituality
    Please go and "Like" Elephant Spirituality on Facebook

  4. Tanya Lee Markul says:


    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
    Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
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  5. breathingoutismile says:

    Such beautiful writing, thank you for reading and commenting. I completely agree that we can all learn from each other. We are one. Namaste. 🙂

  6. breathingoutismile says:

    Thank you for your support, Christina. I'm so glad that it resonated with you. Love, jx

  7. breathingoutismile says:

    Staying open, honest hearted and receptive but always challenging what we're told. 🙂

  8. breathingoutismile says:

    Thank you!

  9. T.A.H. says:

    Namaste, Jacquelyn _/_

  10. Brian S Boyd says:

    ‘Celebrity’ doesn’t belong in yoga. There need not be any kneeling to any person. The teachings are the guru, and any one person is just a mouthpiece for these teachings. You may love your teacher because how she organizes these ideas to a fuller effect, but we are too easily encouraged in this society to idolize and promote persons to celebrity. Always bring what is learned to your core, as best you can, a thank the one who brought you the idea. But please resist the urge to then pay them for this transference of knowledge with any form of subserviance. The good teachings are free, and you will know them as such because they make your heart lighter and more expansive. Namaste, may these teachings benefit all beings everywhere…

  11. breathingoutismile says:

    Agreed. It seems to me that celebrity culture benefits only the newspapers and magazines that thrive on it. 'Build them up and knock them down', it all sells. Thank you for reading and commenting. Namaste, jx

  12. breathingoutismile says:

    Thank you for reading and commenting. Sounds like you know your truth. Namaste, jx

  13. it's also now on Popular Lately. Obviously a topical subject…nicely formed, Jacquelyn….

  14. breathingoutismile says:

    Thank you, Braja. I'm feeling very fortunate right now. 🙂

  15. breathingoutismile says:

    Thank you, Braja. I'm honoured by your considered comments. Discernment is a beautiful skill if we can cultivate it. For my part, I'll keep trying. A lotus for you…

  16. Becky says:

    People crazing celebrities has been something I like observing and reflecting on. I read was Paulo Coelho's The Winner Stands Alone, it's mostly about obsession with fame. A guy I dated owned a restaurant and was a musician in several bands and was popularly swooned by lots of ladies. I watched people’s interest in his material status, thought it funny. Whitney Houston (or any famous person) dies and the media opens its floodgates. Reminds me of Milan Kundera's Immortality. I like challenging myself to rebel against the habitual beliefs of culture and society’s who’s who and status.

    While I genuinely enjoy listening to/reading and admiring wonderful, inspirational writers who've wisdom to share, or who have been dubbed terms of gurus or whatever, I want to humbly proclaim that I value many sources of wisdom and inspiration, including from little children, and…humble people…or other random people who may never be famous according to society's standards. EJ posted… and I thought Eli was inspiring. I enjoy contemplating how material things called ________ (fill in the blank – money, being coined a guru, famous people, status) have an affect on people.

    I find people with disabilities inspiring. Technically, in my mind, they can be called spiritual teachers. They teach and transform people who work with them, via increasing patience and abilities to come to peace with working with some of the hardest, challenging aspects of being human. But then again, this dimension of spiritual teachers can be found everywhere difficult people or situations exist – opportunities to transform ourselves into being better people.

    I work for people with disabilities. It challenges my unconscious ego agenda, and I love it. The majority of society is uncomfortable with people with disabilities, which is understandable from years of negative stereotypes. When people ask me what I do, their reactions are compassionately thought provoking. It’s omnipresent. My dad asked me when I was going to be done working with “them”. A couple guys who’ve tried to pick me up lose interest when I share what I do for a living. I’m not mad about it; just reflect on it, and go forward with believing in anyone’s intrinsic value, regardless of how difficult they might be. I serve underdogs who are the nemesis of societal status. And they are my spiritual teachers.

  17. Stewart J. Lawrence says:

    Nice writing, but I think you're being very naive actually. There are people drawn into the yoga setting – in the teacher side and the student side – who are willing themselves into bondage. Teachers excessively promote themselves as guides on the spiritual plane and encourage that submission from the students. This is deeply deeply rooted in the yoga tradition. It's a vertical hierarchy. Whether it "fits" the American democratic ethos in all matters – including the spiritual, is another issue. I suspect that it doesn't.

  18. breathingoutismile says:

    Hi Stewart, thanks for reading and for your comment. I'm grateful for your perspective and I see your point that the guru model is a long standing part of this tradition. Have a great day, jx

  19. […] Thus an intelligent person, expert in perceiving the world around him and in applying sound logic, can achieve real benefit through his own intelligence. Thus sometimes one acts as one’s own instructing spiritual master. […]

  20. Nils Montan says:

    There is nothing wrong with gurus and spiritual teachers. It's our relationship with them that can get screwed up. Most of us here would be in quite a mess if we hadn 't been exposed to teachers in the past 30 years. I personally seriously doubt that I would have come to a lot of insights simply by "looking within." That being said, we are well pas the stage in which we have to put our foreheads to the ground and open up our check books just because a guy is wearing a gold robe. Use your common sense and all will be well.

  21. breathingoutismile says:

    Common sense is a good resource, always. I would be very unhappy had it not been for my teachers, I have learned so much and I am very grateful to them. I just needed to look within to make sure that that their teachings felt right for me. I think using common sense and a bit of critical thinking is always a good idea. As is remembering that teachers are human too. Thanks for reading and commenting. jx

  22. […] A Guru-disciple relationship is not one of two people, but of two souls. There may be communication on the human level of experience, so that there can be no misinterpretations in the disciple’s mind, but there is also communication in the language of the heart, a transmission. It is from here that permanent transformation comes. […]

  23. […] pretty aware that the concept and reality of the guru-disciple dynamic is something that’s a big non-starter for a lot of seekers today. Still, I was taken aback by […]