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.

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The Question of Free Will

Ever say or do anything the whole time thinking, “why am I saying (or doing) this?” We have all experienced those moments when we question our words or actions. We are told we have free will, the ability to choose what we say or do. Well, then, how do we explain those times when we just couldn’t keep ourselves from speaking or acting in a certain way?

I’ve always questioned the idea of free will. Sure, I thought I was the one making all the decisions, but I realized that some of those decisions were just a product of certain behavior patterns, dictated by psychological, biological, sociological and perhaps even theological conditioning. For example, think of someone close to you. Now imagine a choice that they will have to make. It could something as simple as what they will choose to eat in a restaurant or what color shirt they will buy. You don’t have to be the amazing Kreskin to know what they will choose. If my mother were given a choice between a blue sweater and a green one, she would choose the green. I know this because green was her favorite color.  If you know your significant other hates broccoli, it’s not a leap to know he/she won’t order it in a restaurant. But to the ego, it was its free will to choose the corn over the broccoli. Even if we do recognize that our conditioning may dictate (or dare I say predetermine) our actions, we are still hesitant to ask the question,  “Just how free is our free will anyway?”

Spiritual and religious traditions stress the notion that everything that happens is a result of the will of God.  But there seems to be a caveat to this idea. When things go well, our egos take the credit – “I did that” or “didn’t I make a good choice?” When things don’t go so well, we say, “It wasn’t meant to be,” suggesting that a Higher Power is in control. So in other words, we pat ourselves on the back in good times and blame God in bad ones. Christians will say, “It’s in God’s hands,” or “Let go, let God” – another hint that we reach a point where we are forced to loosen our illusory grip on what we perceive as reality. The key word here is ‘forced.’ It seems that it is only when we think we can’t ‘do’ anything about a situation do we relinquish our imagined control.

As students of non-duality, we are taught that we cannot be the doer of anything. We are also taught that the only control we have is where we put our attention.  As St. Teresa of Avila said so eloquently in her poem, As I Found The Source, “…Nothing on their own have your arms ever done, the movements of your feet are caused by the waves He stirred…”

This is not an easy concept to get, because we are so entrenched in duality, in separateness.  And really it’s supposed to be that way. That is how our egos are wired. But, even if you not on a non-dualistic path, you can still catch glimpses of non-duality. Meditation, prayer, being out in nature, are all tools you can use to experience Oneness.

So maybe you didn’t really choose to have that pizza, but you can choose the focus of your awareness. You can make it one of love and compassion or you can make it one of fear, which gives rise to all the hatred, competitiveness and greed we see in the world. You have the free will to choose.