Last weekend we held our “Who Are You?” weekend retreat.  Every time I get to take part in this retreat, I feel awestruck as I watch the changes in people unfold right before my eyes.  One question that came from the retreat was about gurus.  This question comes up again and again and I could write pages and pages on the subject.  Let’s see if I can answer some of the questions in brief.

What is a guru?

First, everything I’m writing is about the external guru.  The True Guru is within each of you and is infallible, it is also like pure water buried 200 feet deep in the earth.  So, what is a guru, the external guru?

A guru is not a superhuman.  A guru is someone who has dug a very deep hole and is able to bring up that pure water in their well.  Because they have been there, they can tell you how to dig your own well.  They can give you dynamite to blow up the immovable rocks.  They can give you a glass of water from their own well to refresh you as you dig.  They cannot dig your well for you.

Do I need a guru?

Do you need a GPS or a road map to go from point A to point B?  No, you don’t even need directions.  It’s not the most efficient nor the safest way to travel but it’s doable.

Do you need a shovel to dig a well?  No, you can use your hands to dig.

A guru is an accelerator.  If you are content to drive without a map or even to walk.  If you are content to dig with your hands.  If you are content, then keep going!  It doesn’t matter if it takes a thousand lifetimes!  If you are content, at peace, then keep going.  If you are running in circles or you have to dig a new well because you can’t dig any deeper or you have realized you can benefit from someone who’s been on the path before you, then find a guru.

How do I find a guru?

You don’t, life shows you your guru.  If you go looking for a guru, you will never find one.  You will start digging one well and when the digging becomes hard, you’ll abandon it and start another well.  Soon, you’ll have dug twenty 10 foot holes and be no closer to the pure water 200 feet down.

“Wait, you just wrote ‘Find a guru’ and now you’re writing ‘Don’t find a guru.’  Make up your mind, Ramdas!

It’s not about wanting a guru, it’s all about recognizing that you need a guru.  You need someone to guide you.  You’ve followed the path the very best you can but you can’t go further on your own.  Some reach this sooner than others.  When this happens, life will put your guru in front of you.  It’s up to you to recognize when that happens.

How do I recognize my guru?

First, does practicing what you are learning on your own create stillness within you?  If yes, keep digging.  If no, dig a bit further to check and if still no, walk away.

Are you dependent on the person who is teaching or can you reproduce that stillness following what you have been taught.  If you can begin to experience it on your own, keep digging.  If not, walk away.

Second, do you like them, do you feel like friends?  Walk away.  Do you find that this person attracts your attention and what they teach lifts you (you feel like friends) but, at the same time, they frighten you some?  This isn’t fear of them but, rather, because they inspire the best in you and that feels intimidating.  If you don’t feel entirely comfortable around this person but the effect of what they teach is so very attractive, stay there.  Keep digging.

This is the knife’s edge that so many people run from and so many charlatans use to their advantage.  The guru will tell you to really see yourself.  This will be uncomfortable or frightening.  The charlatan will say, “Love me.”  This will also be uncomfortable.

Third, your guru will likely be old.  It’s an unusual and rare exception that life would give you a young guru.  If you find yourself attracted to a young guru, it may well be the wrong kind of attraction.

Old is also a relative thing.  When I was 15, my father seemed ancient.  He was 36 but now 36 seems young.  There are no shortcuts on the spiritual path.  A young guru has not faced life’s challenges with steadiness simply because life’s challenges have not yet arrived!

Finally, your guru will have scars.  Your guru will have a checkered or troubled past.  One of the great Buddhist teachers, Ashoka, was responsible for the deaths of 200,000 people.  My guru’s guru was so despondent, he was planning suicide.  My guru had affairs with two students (one of the dangers of and for young gurus) in the 1970s.  He, Yogi Desai, could have fought for control of the board that was trying to oust him in the 1990s.  Instead, he fired the legal team and let the board take everything from him with his blessing.

Ask your guru about their past.  If they refuse to tell you about it or it’s a taboo subject; run, don’t walk.

For those who may wonder at my past.  Suicide and depression for 30 years but the most painful scar is best described in the words of one of my sons:  “Most kids were afraid of the monsters under their bed.  I never was because you were the monster.”  When he says this, which isn’t often, he immediately throws his arms around me and whispers, “But not now.  I love you, Dad.”

Closing thoughts

The charlatan will say, “I can heal you.  I am what you need.”

The guru will say, “I have been where you are.  I can give you a map to where I am but you have to walk the path yourself.  I can encourage you but I cannot do it for you.  You are the Source of your own strength.”

Tomorrow, I’ll write some on the guru-disciple relationship.

Until then,
Jai Bhagwan