The Reality and Not the Illusion of Having A Guru
By James Bean, Copyright October 2009 — All Rights Reserved, Exploring the World Religions Column
The Reality and Not the Illusion of Having A Guru, Part One : “Incommunicado — No Personal Interviews!”
Awhile back I was reading an announcement about a series of public events being held for almost a month in a couple of different US cities. Then at the end of the email was this fascinating bombshell of a sentence: “No interviews or personal meetings will be scheduled during this time period.” This is referring to what used to be the practice (in some circles) of individual followers being able to schedule some personal, private face-time with the guru. During the “personal interview” one could have the opportunity to talk to one’s spiritual master about the spiritual or mundane affairs of life. The teacher would set a certain amount of time aside for this purpose of meeting with souls and offering spiritual direction and guidance being the guru, in other words. The role of being a guru and working with others is still on the to-do list apparently, just somewhat further down the list. Personal contact with the teacher, and group meditation, are just the first of many spiritual principles to be abandoned when a group experiences growth beyond the threshold of manageability.
One-Way — No Way
What happens when a group with a belief-system that there can only be “one” valid guru on Earth at a time, desires to promote, grow, expand, market some more, and swell their ranks, to the degree that it is no longer possible for everyone to have at least some opportunity for one-on-one encounters with the master? No more personal interviews? A friend of mine, who also read the same email announcement with the devastating “No Personal Interviews” clause attached at the end, said something quite profound and authoritative: “Maybe you can recommend a good book for me please, maybe another lesser-known Teacher? Big names don’t have time for small people any more.” I find that to be such a powerful observation. After reading it, I knew it would be something I would quote for many years to come.
And, in groups where gurus have an overwhelmingly large numbers of followers, letter writing may not necessarily provide one with an avenue of communication either. One may still not actually make genuine contact with the master or receive back any real, direct, personal guidance. Often, with some large Eastern paths, there is an approach of having on file many pre-authored, standardized letters in anticipation of people writing, asking for guidance or blessings. Such are the predictable vicissitudes of life that standardized replies can be written in anticipation of people’s future letters voicing concerns about deaths in families, marriages, divorces, career choices, questions about success in business, and so on! By churning out these ready-made replies, it’s possible for guru-helpers to process large amounts of mail. Good for them I suppose, but what about the needs of the people!? Thus, assuming you receive a reply at all, and there is even some doubt about that, there is a likelihood of ending up with something to the effect of Standardized Reply Letter # 47, signed, Yours Truly, Autopen (Signature Signing Machine), not an actual reply to specifically your sincere attempt at writing a letter. One may find that their questions remain unanswered.
The notion of the inaccessible teacher is very much at odds with the traditional concept of living masters and their role in the lives of their students as “Light-givers.” Light-giver is the classic meaning of the word guru. Mystical or contemplative paths, East and West, usually advocate some direct contact between teacher and student in person, or at the very least encourage communication via letter or phone, and these days we can add email and online chat to the list as well. What would be the point of having a guru you can hardly ever, or perhaps maybe even never, communicate with? Might as well turn to past holy books, opening a page randomly for guidance. For mystical or esoteric paths with an advanced meditation practice and ethical system however, old scriptures written on cuneiform tablets, scrolls or parchments are not enough. The illusion of guidance provided by photocopied letters signed by signature machines, or the illusion of intimacy, waving at a someone in a motorcade that passes you by, is also not enough, is not adequate, can not honestly be called guidance from a living teacher, is not an encounter with a Satguru, is not discipleship, is not personal contact or spiritual direction.
Empire Builders vs. Original Source Groups
There are pluses and minuses with both approaches to spiritual paths. Big groups have millions of followers. Their “golden arches,” if you will, are visible in many cities. They act as corporate chains, spreading around standardized creeds and recipes, sharing with humanity at least some ideas that emanate from a traditional school of spirituality. With their visibility they do introduce many people to concepts and practices they may not have been aware of or exposed to previously, and that’s generally a good thing.
I put the Apostle Paul’s version of Christianity in this category of Empire Building or Corporate Chain Religions. Paul vs. the Essene-Ebionite or Gnostic remnant is a useful analogy here. If one were alive during the First Century in the ancient Greek city of Ephesus on the west coast of Anatolia, it is most likely that you would have heard about the message of Jesus from a representative of Paul’s branch of Christianity. You would receive a version of the gospel edited from a Pauline perspective. At the time it might even seem like the one-and-only perspective. One probably would not even think of Paul’s movement as a distinct “branch” of Christianity. One might assume there is only one group, a single church universal and triumphant. Only after being informed by that tradition for a period of time would there be a possibility or likelihood that one might eventually learn of other branches or versions of Christianity independent of Paul’s “brand,” if you will. One might even at some point be attracted to one of those other “branches,” perhaps with a different apostolic succession linked to Thomas, James the Just, or Mary Magdalene, finding in it much more wisdom, depth and satisfaction, a rich spiritual heritage with genuine Aramaic roots, closer to the original unvarnished message and vision of the historic Jesus, in one’s estimation. Without your encounter with the Big Name Empire Building path, you might have never had the luxury of digging deeper and unearthing other possibilities, discovering a more mystical spiritual community to join… or defect to. Thus, I observe there is a legitimate role for both the Empire Building paths as well as the lesser-known Source Communities that originally, several generations prior, gave them birth, existing in the contemplative quietude of an inner circle of disciples in Jerusalem (before 70 AD) further to the East, Qumran, Nag Hammadi, Hathras, Agra, etc.
It’s always quite liberating to have choices when it comes to the thorny subject of spiritual paths. It’s very, very, very unhealthy to be trapped in an imaginary matrix where there is only one true guru on Planet Earth, only one option. If one has been indoctrinated into thinking there is only one path on Earth for this lifetime, only one choice and no place to run, there is the danger that one could rationalize all their concerns away in the name of protecting their own spiritual condition. Living in a multi-verse where there are multiple options, however, makes one bold and daring, willing to ask the tough questions come-what-may, allowing one to view things fearlessly, free of worry. One develops a wisdom-eye blessed with discernment and high standards.
Learn New Things – Ascend and Discover A New World!
“Cut off have been My people for lack of Knowledge.” (Hosea 4: 6, Young’s Literal Translation Bible) That verse from the prophet Hosea sums up the human condition quite nicely. Being cut off without full access to Knowledge or Gnosis, without even knowing what it is we might be missing, with heredity and environment working against us, sometimes mislead by others, sometimes mislead by our very own ego-dominated self, who is there who is free of this labyrinth of ego, mind, and matter, and therefore can help us escape, too? Who can we trust to be a worthy Sherpa guide on this unfamiliar path of ascension?
I find this passage from the Corpus Hermeticum to be one of the most eloquent descriptions of the awakened soul, trapped somewhere in time, seeking to begin its search for a competent and qualified teacher, spiritual path and initiation into the Inward Life: “People, where are you rushing, so intoxicated and having so fully drunk the strong wine of reasoning unaccompanied by acquaintance [Gnosis, Spiritual Knowledge]? Look up with the eyes of your soul—and if you cannot all do so, at least those of you who can! For the imperfection that comes from unacquaintance is flooding the entire earth, corrupting the soul along with the body that encloses it and preventing it from putting in at the Havens of Safety. Do not be swept away by the main current! Rather, you who can must avail yourselves of a counter-current, take to the Haven of Safety, put in there, and look for a leader to show you the way to the Doors of Acquaintance [Gnosis], where there is Bright Light, pure from darkness, where no one is intoxicated, but all are sober, fixing their eyes on that Being who wills to be seen—with the heart, for that Being cannot be heard or told of or seen by the outer eyes, only by inner spiritual vision.” (The Gnostic Scriptures, Bentley Layton)
The Reality and Not the Illusion of Having a Guru, Part 2
Ascend and Discover
There are unexplored “rooms” within the “interior castle” of the human body, the true temple of the Spirit. What ultimately is to be uncovered along this mystic-journey of inner soul travel exploration is our true identity, which has been given various names: the true Self, higher Self, New Nature, New Adam, “Christ in you – your hope of glory”, Atman, Supreme Soul, drop from the Divine Ocean, the Pearl, Spark of the Light, Nuri Sarup (Light-Body or Radiant Form), spirit entity, or Surat (the attention-faculty of the soul). Eventually the observer will observe its own Self.
It occurs to me that the definition of “soul” for most is really atman or Spirit combined with the astral and mental subtle bodies or coverings. Those are generally lumped together and called “the soul.” That’s understandable, of course, as it represents “us” as separate individual or individualized “drops” of the Divine Ocean.
There are Realities that we do not see, many things we do not hear, and a vast treasure-trove of wisdom we are not paying attention to. The outer world via the five senses comes pouring in – we are outwardly gazing all the time and dominated by impressions of mind and matter. We have accepted our own reflections (bodies) as the only reality. Thus the need for meditation, and not just any form of meditation, but an initiation into the Mysteries of the Kingdom of Inner Space, so that we may see and hear spiritually, know and explore those realms we inhabit: the astral plane, the causal and mental regions, and ultimately beyond mind and matter, to the purely spiritual region, until there is Oneness. Kirpal Singh’s axiom is: “God plus mind [manas] is man, and man minus mind [manas] is God.”
Swami Bhagirath Baba, a Master from Bihar District, India, said recently: “Moving down from the middle of the two eyes is going towards ignorance, and moving up from the middle of two eyes is going towards Knowledge.” “The beginning of the Turiyaa state has been said to be the Aajnaa-chakra [Third Eye Center] (the Guru instructs about the Point in between the two eyes where the vision of both unites), and the destination of this is in Kaivalya—the State of Oneness—Pure Consciousness.” Swami Bhagirath Baba describes as ignorance or spiritual poverty a situation of only being aware of the world below the Third Eye Center, the material world of the fives senses, but cut off from awareness of the reality that exists above and beyond the Third Eye Center. For Bhagirath Baba and other mystics, above the Third Eye is a kind of tunnel that ultimately quite literally leads to God. Those who have had NDE’s or Near Death Experiences have described this same tunnel. The observer passes through certain visions, sights and sounds, stars, moons, and suns, inner regions or heavens, then bright Light, from Light to Sound, and from Sound to Soundlessness and Formlessness. I even know of several helpful “charts of the heavens,” illustrating the various levels, or regions of Inner Space, this Kingdom of the Heavens that are within. Email me and I will gladly send some Shabd Yoga as well as Gnostic charts to you!
Three Ways We Can Honor the Soul
Kabir once said, “There is no other God like compassion on living beings and worship of the Supreme Self.” (The Bijak of Guru Kabir, published by Shri Kabir Ashram, Jamnagar, India) There are three major ways (no doubt many more) we can honor the soul, the divine within ourselves and others.
1) A Sociable God: Where Two or Three Gather in My Name, I Am in Their Midst
The first way we can honor or acknowledge the soul is through spiritual community, by connecting with other souls. The Eastern term for this is “Satsangha” or “Satsang” (Associating with the Eternal Truth or God), referring to people getting together to meditate as a group, discuss spiritual principals of truth, sing hymns (bhajans, kirtans), and focus on the Wisdom of one’s spiritual teacher, path, mystic order, or tradition. It’s also easy to recognize parallels to this in various expressions, East and West: synagogue, church, mass, message board, chat room, book discussion group, class, teleseminar, friends meditating together, or meeting together, including over the phone, or via the web. These all, to varying degrees may or could contain elements of Satsang in some cases.
As we develop our meditation practice and ethical foundation, one of the fruits of this is the bhakta principal of seeing God in everyone. Eastern cultures are quite advanced in this area. I really like the salutation used by an Eastern religion known as the Kabir Panth, the Path of Guru Kabir: “Bandagi Saheb!” Bandagi is from the Sanskrit ‘vandana’ – a salutation, and saheb is a word for master. Bandagi saheb thus means: “I offer salutation or greeting to the master dwelling in you.” Bandagi Saheb also reminds me of the greeting “Namaste,’” which means: “The God in me bows to the God in you.” Also, in the Radhasoami tradition of India, satsangis greet each other with “Radhaswami,” meaning, Lord of the Soul. The principals of this art of seeing God in others is quite eloquently articulated in a holy book of the East known as, The Narada Bhakti Sutras, which I highly recommend. One can find translations of it online, as well as can order it via any good bookstore or library.
2) The Supreme Soul Assuming Control
The second way we can honor souls is by adhering to ahsimsa values. Ahimsa is an Eastern term for the Golden Rule meaning, cultivating non-violence in one’s thoughts, words, and deeds, to, more and more with each passing day, become truly peaceful in all aspects of life. This means being inspired, not by vague platitudes about inner and outer peace, but by specific ethical principals to be guided by in every aspect of life and living. As of late, rich sources of inspiration for me have been the Bijak of Guru Kabir, the Saakhi Granth of Guru Kabir, and countless Jainist Sutras. The religion from India founded by Lord Mahavira known as Jainism has a vast amount of wisdom to offer about ahimsa ethics, the values of the Supreme Soul.
3) Become Your Real Self In Meditation
The third way we can directly honor the soul is by being the soul in meditation. When we first start practicing meditation, we may believe that we have a soul. If our meditation becomes deep and successful, however, over time we will realize that we are soul. It is the soul that is inhabiting this body and mind. We don’t merely have a soul hidden away someplace – We Are That.
Not All Saints Are Dead
When it comes to spirituality, there are two basic approaches that most have. The most common one is finding a book on spirituality. Many begin the learning process this way. Of course, rather than the pursuit of knowledge leading to mystical experience, it could be the other way around for some. One may begin the spiritual search as a result of something acting as a catalyst. People may begin seeking answers as a result of having an experience that opens them up to new possibilities. In any case, most with a spiritual curiosity may get ideas from certain books, perhaps a book from a popular author. This could be described as an eclectic do-it-yourself spirituality. One is not necessarily tethered to any specific spiritual path, tradition or direction, just some of “this” and some of “that.” Most of us begin this way. There is, however, another approach. Some go from being an eclectic spiritual seeker perpetually in seek-mode to someone who has “found” a certain path or contemporary spiritual movement they resonate with, that feeds their soul like none other thus far in their experience. One may join a living school of spirituality, a mystic order or lineage. Perhaps this lineage or path has been in existence for many centuries. One may find that the wisdom of mystical paths such as Kabbalah, Sufism or Sant Mat is not solely based on ancient scriptures, scrolls, or holy parchments from the past, with a focus of looking back to an earlier time of prophets and saints, like we usually find in the mainstream exoteric religions. Rather – what’s especially noteworthy about mystic paths is, they may have Living Buddhas, Living Christs, Living Rumis, Living Hildegards, Living Kabirs, a Living Master or Meister Eckhart, a Living One: a living mystic or saint with us now, here on Terra firma in the Twenty First Century.
Living Students Have Living Teachers
For it is the ability to truly listen that gives birth to an awareness of a message, and an appreciation of a messenger. An Infinite God could never have a limited number of inspired words, or be forever bound by bookbinders. If there is no inspiration now, how could there ever have been any inspiration in days gone by? There is also no missing element or trace mineral, once present in the water supply during the middle ages or earlier times but now gone, that once caused the appearance of prophets and saints, and accounts for their absence now. What was true then is true now. The same need that brought great souls into the world during past centuries is still with us. My experience and belief is that the age of prophets, apostles, masters or saints is still with us, that there is a Living Gnosis Now. There are living Masters in the world today. The reality and not the illusion of having a guru, begins here, with this openness to the possibility of Living Ones Now. ////////