“This is the end, my only friend, the end” – Jim Morrison, The Doors
A reader asked: “What are your thoughts on the need of a guru? Ramana Maharshi said that the guru and the self are the same so it seems that a guru could be unnecessary?” Nowadays a lot of people say that they teach in the Ramana Maharshi lineage. However, Ramana himself repeatedly observed, “I did not have a guru and I will not have disciples”. Although he himself is often cited as the sadguru (teachers teacher) he refused to be classified in this way.
As already hinted at in my previous post on “Personality Cults and Charlatans”, gurus are making poor headlines in recent years. It seems that nowadays the vast majority of gurus and lineages are bogged down in allegations of or investigated for sexual misconduct, money-laundering and hoarding, tax evasion and power-mongering (i.e seeking to control their followers). When I hit the guru-trail in the late 70’s my parents, teachers and priests warned me of exactly that. In hindsight I must admit they were right but today a lot of priests and Western authorities, too, are having the very same allegations pointed at them.
But let me start my inquiry with Ram Dass’ 1973 statement that the teacher shows the path and the guru ‘is’ the path. I see here a dangerous projection. I am now over 35 years full-time in the spirituality trade and one thing that seems to have crystallized is that everybody is 100% responsible for their thoughts, emotions, feelings and actions. This includes all mystical and spiritual experiences. I believe that there is only one person in the world that can cause you to have a spiritual awakening. And that is you yourself. The questions is: under what circumstances does your mind and your conditioning allow you to have such an experience. For many of us the answer is, when we are in the presence of somebody who we can project onto the ability to bestow such an experience on us. Even though you may seem to have such experiences mainly in the presence of your guru, the architect of the experience is 100% you and you are only projecting the ability to bestow it onto the guru. Let me explain.
The only model our postmodern Western society offers us for seeking true love is to go on dates and to try the luck of the draw. Following this model as do many other modern people, I was faced with repeated relationship breakdowns. The myth that I hadn’t found the right one yet, the only one that could make me whole, suggested that I keep going. It was then that I came across the work of Jungian psychotherapist Robert A Johnson. In his 1983 book “We: The Psychology of Romantic Love” Johnson argues that Europe lost its own indigenous spirituality around the time of the setting of the King Arthur epos. After we lost our direct personal access to spirituality (Johnson goes into great detail but this is beyond the scope of this article) we projected this need onto our erotic relationships and started to believe that there is the one person out there waiting to make us whole. You then find yourself in a relationship in which you burden your partner with this enormous load but they are incapable of living up to your expectations. Since we believe this to be our birthright and our partners duty to supply it, seeing them failing fills us with resentment. This builds up until we leave the relationship to seek love and happiness somewhere else. Johnson suggests that happiness and wholeness needs to be found in ones own spirituality. Once one has found this feeling of being fulfilled, this abundance of the heart can then be shared in a relationship.
For me that teaching was revolutionary. I resolved to not even think about a new partner until I had found myself. I took a lot of time off, sitting in the forest alone, listening to all sounds, watching the surface of lakes or oceans, watching sunsets and moonrises (a quick disclaimer here: I previously have been criticized along the lines, “Maehle is obviously one of the lucky few that could afford a life spent at the feet of gurus and sitting in meditation. Some of us actually have to work.” Truth is I made a conscious choice to put my spiritual pursuit into the foreground and not to worry about money. This meant that up into my mid-thirties I barely owned more than the clothes I wore on my body). In that time of finding myself something grew within me. I learned that the entire vast universe and all beings are one within the Divine and the Divine is within my heart. From that realization I experienced intense love for myself, the whole world and all beings. I learned that when I experience ecstasy (or bliss as it is sometimes more piously called) it is not because of what I experience but because ecstasy is my innermost nature. The ecstasy is not contained in the stimulus but it is contained within me. It is the essential nature of my consciousness (the Hindus call this sat-chit-ananda, truth-consciousness-ecstasy).
Armed with that realization I came out of seclusion and firmly thought that I would now stay alone for the rest of my life. What was the point of having an annoying relationship in which I have to compromise if I by myself am already pure ecstasy? Little did I know! It so happened that the very first woman that I bumped into after this spiritual awakening became my wife and I’m happily married to her ever since. To this day I think it happened because I didn’t need her and I didn’t look for her. Interestingly, Monica a couple of years previously had also read Robert A Johnson’s book and was at the same stage of having recognised her individual wholeness. It is only when you do not need another person, when you can be alone, all-one and free that you can also be in a relationship and be free. The key here was the withdrawal and radical giving up of our projections. I ended the projection that some woman out there owes it to me to make me whole, to make me complete.
What does that all have to do with the guru? Similarly to the myth of romantic love there is the myth that out there is the one guru, the one spiritual teacher that is waiting for you to make you whole. You only have to find the right one and it will happen. This is again a projection that is disempowering you. You are only projecting the power to achieve spiritual completion onto an external agent. Often at the core of this projection is a feeling of inner unworthiness, which may have originated from not feeling loved and supported enough by a parent (often of the same sex as the guru you are now projecting on).
I want to invite you here to totally and radically drop that projection and accept the fact that you, like every guru, however powerful and wise they may look, are created in the image and likeness of the Divine. There is no person in the entire world that can eject you from the Garden of Eden or from the Secret Chamber of the Most High, or from the mythical Kingdom of Shangri-La, but you. And there is no power but you who can again open the door and let you back in. In fact there is no door to be opened because you have never left. We are born in a state of eternal grace and our oneness with the Divine is so willed by the Divine, which is omnipotent, eternal and infinite. It is not something that we or any other human being, even a guru, can produce or undo do for that matter.
But what we can do is to live in a state of ignorance of our oneness with the Divine. We can find all sorts of justifications for that such as we are unworthy, we have sinned, our mind doesn’t stop thinking, we need more money or more love, conquer more asanas, meditate longer, etc. But it is really ourselves who have built up these imagined walls. Believing ourselves to be powerless we then look for a parent or master figure onto which we can project that power. But this is really only our own power that we have externalized and projected onto somebody outside of us. We are yearning then for such a father or mother figure and the figure promptly materializes as the guru, similarly as the partners in our failed relationships promptly manifested. Whenever we are in the presence of the guru we then feel one with or loved by the Divine or in no-mind, or aware of awareness (put in your own wording). But the power behind it is our power, we are allowing us to reach that state in the presence of the guru because we cannot allow it simply in our own presence.
A good spiritual teacher will slowly give you tools and practices that replace the presence of the guru. Some teachers will also give you non-doing to undo all that has been done but that’s really only semantics. Important is that the teacher has to make herself obsolete and reduce dependency on the teacher with reliance on the students own self. Which brings me back to the initial statement of Ramana Maharshi, “the guru and the self are the same”. The spiritual path is a road home to yourself, to find that original guru of which all external gurus are only reflections. The guru in your own heart.
To be continued
- Ashtanga’s Flawed Teacher Accreditation Process - June 9, 2018
- Mary Taylor’s response to Karen Rain’s interview - May 31, 2018
- My Initial Response to Karen Rain’s Interview About Sexual Abuse - May 17, 2018
- Ashtanga Yoga Stories from Norman Blair - May 15, 2018
- Yoga’s Culture of Sexual Abuse by Matthew Remski - May 15, 2018
- The Five States of the Afflictions - May 12, 2018
- Mayurasana (peacock posture) - April 28, 2018
- Uniting Opposites in Asana - April 13, 2018
- On Civilization in Crisis and What Yoga Could Do - March 14, 2018
- A Brief Overview of the Eight Limbs - March 10, 2018