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How We Limit Ourselves by Placing Gurus on Pedestals

I traveled to India, principally to sit with a renowned guru and to receive initiation from him. Every day for three weeks, I went to his concrete home in Benares, the spiritual heart of India, where we sat and meditated in a dimly-lit room for two hours. He answered my questions. I don’t remember what my questions were nor what his answers were. One of the few memories I have of that time was when he suddenly pronounced that,

“Men should not have sex with other men.”

At the time, I didn’t know what to make of this pronouncement, but I have thought about it from time to time since. Is it true? Well, apparently men do sometimes have sex with other men, so it can’t be true that they should not. If a man is having sex with another man, then that’s clearly what’s happening; it’s not that it should or should not happen, it’s just what’s happening.

This applies to thoughts as well. Presumably at least one man was having sex with another man in the thoughts that were passing through the guru’s mind. Even though there were presumably men having sex with each other only in thought, that neither should nor should not have been happening. It’s just what was presumably happening.

I remember sitting in a large audience, listening to a spiritual teacher. She was talking about a conversation with her guru. They were in a car traveling from the airport, when she pointed out of the car window and said, “A lot of people from the community like to go for walks there.” The guru, who grew up in the area, said,

“I thought that was a dump.”

The message was very clear that we as a spiritual community should not visit that area anymore because the guru had revealed that it was a “dump.” Is it true? Well, that area used to be a dump. It used to be a place where trash was dumped, but then it was converted into a wildlife preserve. So it’s not really a dump anymore.

What was being revealed by the guru in the statement, “I thought that was a dump” was simply that he thought that it was a dump. He must have had memories of it being dump. He may or may not have been claiming that it should not be visited. But even if he thought that it should not be visited, would that be true? Well clearly no, because it was being visited. It was being visited a lot, by both people and animals. It was neither true that it was a dump nor was it true that it shouldn’t have been visited.

There’s a story I heard about a guru who was sitting with his principle disciple in a large room. The walls of the room were covered with peeling paint. Apparently, the plan was for the community to give the walls a lick of new paint. A conversation between the guru and his principle disciple is reported to have occurred in that room, and it was presumably witnessed by another follower of the guru.

“This new wall color is beautiful, isn’t it?” The guru asked. His disciple smiled knowingly.

That’s it. That’s the whole story. Well, except for the interpretation. The interpretation that I’ve heard is that the guru was visualizing the new walls, and that for him they were somehow “already painted.” The story is that the principle disciple was also seeing this and that they were both “manifesting” the new wall colors somehow with their minds.

What is much more likely is that they were both witnessing the aliveness of the flakey walls and simply commenting on the ever-new perfection of them, as they were appearing.

So what’s the moral in these stories? What’s the lesson?

The lesson, if there is a lesson, is that we have a tendency to place people up on pedestals, to imbue them with special powers in our minds, to think that every utterance has some special, deep, and esoteric meaning.

We tend to place others on pedestals partly so that we can feel safe in believing that we can never attain what they have apparently attained. That way, we can never realize that the limited self that we think we are is just a story.

That way, you can stay “down here” forever and never attain what the guru has. In reality, the guru has nothing that you don’t. The guru is just an ordinary person, like you are.