What’s Love Got to Do with It?

Devotion is a tricky thing, especially for a Westerner.  Displays of spiritual/religious fervor are supposed to be confined to church on Sunday or inside the privacy of our homes. In other words, kept behind closed doors. Those of you who are of Italian heritage, like myself, will remember the crucifixes that hung in every room of the house, including the basement. I could never figure out if they were there as displays of reverence or to ward off evil spirits.

Unfortunately, where there is still that element in society where might makes right, devotion is neither admired nor taken seriously at any level of consideration. I remember back in the 60’s, when the peace sign first became popular.  It was considered, by some, to be the sign of the chicken since the symbol resembled a chicken’s foot. People who wanted peace instead of war were branded as cowards. Devotion has gotten an equally bad rap.

The West’s discomfort with displays of devotion could just be a cultural thing, as it doesn’t seem to be an issue in other parts of the world. Or, it could go deeper than that. Devotion is love. That could be where the problem is. Maybe we don’t know how to love. Be it loving others or ourselves, maybe we just don’t know how. As it is generally understood, love revolves around the ego, so that love is completely conditional. The real thing is unconditional. Love with no strings, no expectations  – love that is totally free of the demands of the ego – is not a familiar concept to most people.

As a result, spirituality/religion tend to be more a mental exercise rather than an emotional one, like having to memorize the catechism in school, the emphasis being on dogma rather than devotion. Early in my sadhana, as now, my teacher would read us works by and about Indian masters such as Ramakrishna (probably the greatest saint India has ever produced), Swami Ramdas, Shivom Tirth, among others.  Their words were filled with love for the Sacred.  They stressed the importance of keeping our awareness on the Divine so that we may experience that love. Remember, what we think we become, so by keeping our thoughts on the Absolute we become the embodiment of love, which projects outward into world, which, let’s face it, could use a lot more of it.

Devotion is love. When you open yourself to the possibility of letting love into your life everything changes. You become filled with the love that you are expressing. Japa, kirtan, and contemplation are all tools to help the sadhan along the bhakti (devotional) path. The bliss that is felt during and after kirtan or contemplation is unsurpassed by anything the material world has to offer.  It is not to be found in any book. You do not have to be in a church or temple – love is within. It needs to be felt, but, just like direct spiritual experience, you can’t make it happen. It has to evolve. And as you progress in your sadhana, it will.

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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.