The Summer of My Discontent – Part 2

As my summer of discontent continues, I’ve been thinking a lot about the teacher/student relationship.  What I found was that this connection changes and deepens as bhakti develops for the student.

The guru/disciple relationship remains a foreign concept to Westerners, who consider it to be suspicious or just downright scary. I’ve written about gurus on this blog before – The Idea of Guru – suggesting that a true teacher is merely a guide, for no one can show you truth; you must experience it for yourself.  Still, there are those who continue to strongly reject ‘the idea of guru’. One such dissenter was Jiddu Krishnamurti, who said:

“You yourself have to be the master and the pupil. The moment you acknowledge another as a master and yourself as a pupil, you are denying truth. There is no master, no pupil, in the search for truth.”

“You must know for yourself, directly, the truth of yourself and you cannot realize it through another, however great. There is no authority that can reveal it.”

My teacher would be the first to agree with this. I believe that Krishnamurti was referring to those who put themselves in authority and their followers into a submissive position; the way organized religions do.  Interestingly, Krishnamurti did have teachers; just not in the usual sense of the word.  His sadhana was a rare one. It is known and accepted that Masters, who were not in the body, initiated him into the process leading to Realization, that state in which identification with the Immortal Self is uninterrupted.

DoF_largeIrina Tweedie describes her personal experience of the guru/disciple relationship and how it evolves for the student in Daughter of Fire: A Diary of a Spiritual Training with a Sufi Master.  Spanning five years, Tweedie’s account of her relationship with her teacher runs the gamut of emotions. In the beginning, ego strongly intact, she dealt with confusion, doubt, and at times, harsh treatment from her teacher.  We should keep in mind that she was a Westerner living in a foreign country while dealing with an Eastern guru; all adding to the difficulties she encountered during her sadhana.  She writes:

“I hoped to get instruction in Yoga, expected wonderful teachings, but what the teacher did was mainly to force me to face the darkness within myself…. I was beaten down in every sense until I had to come to terms with that in me which I kept rejecting all my life.”


Tweedie, in an interview with Jeffrey Mishlove (Thinking Allowed series), dismisses the notion that the guru subjugates the student:

“One doesn’t surrender to the Guru – not really – ….One surrenders to the Light within oneself, the Light of the Soul, that part in us, which belongs to Eternity.”

As you read Tweedie’s diary, you are carried along on her journey of Self-discovery. You watch as her ego, which is where the doubts live, dissolves and she arrives at the place of complete love and maindevotion – a place far from where she started. In The Matrix, a movie with many non-dual themes including the guru/disciple relationship, there is a scene where Neo tells Trinity not to join him in his quest to save Morpheus. Trinity plainly tells him that she is sure that Morpheus means more to her than he does to him.  The devotion they both feel, however, becomes clear as they risk their own lives to save their beloved teacher.

It takes time for the teacher/student relationship to deepen.  The ego needs to diminish enough for the Love, which is the Light within, to replace it.

If my summer went according to my plan, then I never would’ve acknowledged the depth of feeling for the guru that arises with spiritual practice. This experience was a great gift for me. This is the way sadhana works. You may not get what you want, but you get what you need and no one could ever predict what that might be.

Advertisements

The Summer of My Discontent – Part I

Summer vacation for a schoolteacher is a sacred time. I plan, in fairly great detail, how I will spend those days.  I’m going to do yoga ‘x’ number of times a week, read more books, eat healthier, etc. But it’s not just my summers that I plan; I try to plan most everything. It’s my way of controlling the future. You can probably tell where this is going.

During these summer months, I had plans of spending as much time with my teacher as possible. It’s more challenging to maintain a good spiritual focus during the school year as working lends it’s own brand of distractions, and since I’ve never really been good at walking and chewing gum at the same time, I’ve always looked to my work breaks as opportunities to place and keep my focus on more spiritual pursuits. That was the plan.  The first week into my summer, the plan got flushed. My teacher’s ill health is preventing him from seeing students and this state of things will probably continue for a while. You get what you need in sadhana – and usually what you need is not what you want.

So, during these past few weeks, I’ve been reminded of the time before I moved here. Living in New Jersey early on in my process with no teacher or fellow students nearby, I had to work to keep my practice front and center. Being physically close to your teacher is not required, but it does help.  It has also given me some insight as to how the teacher/student relationship changes over time, which I will address in part 2.  Basically, all this has made me realize that I needed to take more responsibility for my sadhana, much like that time in New Jersey.

Lately though, I’ve been more worried that my teacher may not be here much longer. I have no reason to think this, he should be fine, but during these past weeks without him, I’ve been wondering what it’s going to be like when he does leave his body.  He’s been preparing us for this inevitability, giving us the tools to make it easier to continue on our path without his physical presence.  After the death of her guru, Irina Tweedie, author of Daughter of Fire: A Diary of a Spiritual Training with a Sufi Master, began to realize that even though her beloved guru was gone he was still with her, and that she could have contact with him whenever she wanted. Oddly, in some ways, she felt that her real spiritual training began after her teacher’s death.

Sadhana is a conspiracy. It peels back the layers of the personality and forces you to know who you are. Not who you are as an ego, a character in this play, but the ‘You’ as the Immortal Self. That is no small task and, if you’re paying attention, you will understand that everything that happens is just another step in the long journey leading back to Yourself.

Photo credit: Red bench near Kilt Rock, on Skye Island (Scotland, United Kingdom). By Two Wings (own work)

The Idea of Guru

People bristle when I tell them I have a spiritual teacher. They probably think I’m part of some cult and half expect me to talk about the flavor of Kool-aid I was given to drink. Can you imagine what people would think if I use the word ‘guru?’ Actually, I do use that word. What the heck, they think I’m over the edge anyway. Why disappoint them? And besides, I’m finding I like ruffling a few feathers.  I enjoy challenging people’s perspectives.  Nevertheless, the idea of a guru is a concept that many find disturbing.

There are valid points to this argument. Jiddu Krishnamurti strongly opposed the idea of a guru and he rejected organized religion and spirituality as well.  He did this most publicly in 1929, when he gave a speech in which he stated, “…Truth is a pathless land.”  Krishnamurti felt that the spiritual search for enlightenment can only be found in one self and if we follow a guru or church we become enslaved by the authority and power they wield over us.  And, of course, he is right.  You just have to look at the hypocrisy that is rampant these days among certain organized religions and so-called spiritual leaders. But there have been spiritual Masters through the ages, who have had gurus and have themselves acted in that role.  There have also been followers of organized religions, saints in the Catholic Church for example, who attained to realization (enlightenment). St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila both reached enlightenment and they endured great hardship because of people’s reactions to their experiences. So how do you know who or what to trust?

The guru/student relationship is demonstrated beautifully in the first (and best) Matrix movie, a film that is remarkable in its parallels to non-dualistic philosophies. Morpheus puts Neo through a series of difficult trainings with the purpose of showing Neo his true identity. “I’m trying to free your mind Neo,” Morpheus tells him, “but I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through it.”  Morpheus never told Neo, “Do what I say or you’re going to hell.”

So, let’s take a look at the qualities of a true guru or teacher.  A true teacher doesn’t demand you ‘follow’ him/her. He/she doesn’t have ‘teachings’ but will help you know the Truth.  A true teacher is one who will help you navigate the unfamiliar territory of the spiritual landscape without an agenda, without judgment, and without demanding anything from you, until the veils of illusion are stripped away and you realize who you really are.  Remember, it’s your sadhana; you are the one who has to walk through the door.

There is the Buddhist proverb, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” This is a true statement. I know this from personal experience, as do many people I know.