October 8, 2014

Who is Your Teacher? A Guide to Finding Your Guru.

Road meditation

Last week, after a yoga class, a student who was visiting from San Francisco came up to talk.

I had been impressed by her beautifully embodied poses, and her lively but concentrated manner.

She asked if she could play the studio’s harmonium. I was surprised, but consented.

As I was gathering my things and saying good-bye to the other students, we were all stopped in our tracks by her gorgeous singing and playing.

She only played very briefly and then quickly and expertly put everything away.

She apologized for holding us up (which she hadn’t), but it seemed like she had truly needed to make some kind of spontaneous devotional expression after her physical practice. As she got her shoes on she warmly thanked me for class and, beaming and guileless, asked, “Who is your teacher?”

My mouth opened, but for a second nothing came out. Such a hard question!

It is expected in many traditions to have a teacher, and I earnestly wish that I could say, or even feel, that I have mine.

What an abundance of doubt it would remove! So many fewer choices to make. Plus it seems like it would give me a seal of approval—an authenticity verification. If I could directly trace my teachings to a single source, they might feel more…solid.

Trouble is, I don’t know that I actually want to feel solid at all.

As a teenager (a few thousand years ago), I had a favorite button on my best denim jacket that said, “QUESTION AUTHORITY”. I think that button is still lodged within me to this day.

It’s not that I don’t understand the appeal. I get it. The guru—student relationship can be deeply clarifying and beautiful.

But, fundamentally, I believe that relationship was a tradition born from necessity.

Back in the day, we were restricted geographically and culturally. We couldn’t get on a train, hop on a plane, or surf through the web. If we wanted to study yoga or meditation, we might even need to live with our guru, and offer service in return.

We pay for today’s freedom in other ways, with a certain restlessness, not only of the body, but mind, heart and spirit as well.

I don’t belong to a single family or faith.

I go to one teacher for her brilliant understanding of anatomy, another for her rigor and subtlety, another for meditation instructions, another for her completely original view of the path.

I read literature, I watch dance. I study as much as I can. It all informs and confuses me.

Thank god. Heaven help me if I ever really believe I’ve found the answers.

There is a Koan: If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.

One interpretation is, if you see the Buddha as someone, or something, other than yourself, then you cannot realize your own Buddha nature.

So I work with what is, and know that I may always have many teachers.

Not only the ones mentioned above, but my husband, my girls, my body, the dogs in the park, the senile cat in my house, mother nature and all her difficult beauty, this lovely visiting bhakti student; the many others who come back week after week, and even those that never return.

These are all my gurus, and I do believe that they guide me toward the greatest teacher of all.


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Apprentice Editor: Carrie Marzo/Editor: Travis May

Photo:  Paul Serrano / Pixoto



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