Why you need a guru. Why you don’t

This post is entirely an exploration. This is not a disclaimer but necessary identification of what will follow.

Most of the world falls into 3 categories: those who shun a guru, those who revere a guru & those who feel they could use a guru once in a while. Those who shun a guru, typically do so in the space of psychological or inter-personal conflicts. The very same person might revere a Drucker or Nate Silvers or some such expert in a field. Those who revere a guru might do so only in the space of psychological or inter-personal conflicts & only acknowledge domain experts. Those in between treat gurus as people who might be able to give a quick fix or seek a guru as a temporary shelter to gather their thoughts. In this post I do not acknowledge a guru as anyone in these domains or spaces. They are masters of a practice (including psychological guidance) & to revere them or not has very little psychological impact. In the Indian tradition (where the word guru originated), a guru is one who holistically guides the pupil, empowering them to proceed on their own & instilling in them sufficient sense/humility to seek aid when necessary. India has tales of the likes of Eklavya whose guru was a sculpture of a guru who refused to accept him as his student. Rarely ever was the guru solely for a particular skill. Over millenia, the guru became a teacher of a particular skill. Thus, the guru’s influence on the pupil’s well-roundedness waned.
This post restricts attention to a guru who guides a person in spiritual development. Interestingly, you will note, that if you replaced spiritual development with any skill with an added necessity for a more holistic approach, encompassing the other facets of life, the post still holds much relevance. The need to focus on this narrow set of gurus lies in the broad impact they have on many a person.
Those who have no inclination towards spiritual growth, don’t need a guru. Those who attempt to reconcile with Fate or their own equations of Destiny might find solace in the words of an individual, but that is not spiritual development. Those words could come from a maid, a spouse, a neighbour or just about anyone. To chant & sing songs or dance to a frenzy are not aspects of spiritual development. They are at best means to shedding some deterrants to spiritual development but if they don’t serve as that, then they are essentially a narcotic. To follow regimens, gather together with similarly inclined folks, to donate money for any cause, to proliferate “teachings” of an individual or establish large 100 acres campuses of some institution – none of this is spiritual development. One might try hard to convince oneself that this will eventually lead one to that, but so can smoking marijuana or starving oneself in a cave. If spiritual development is not the ardent thirst or if it is but a fringe benefit of it all, then a guru is nothing more than your drug to escape from seriousness. It doesn’t matter whether you associate with him/her a God/Goddess or sobriquets of Baba, Sri, Amma, Devi, Swami or Guru. If the guru is unaware of your presence (and please do not trick yourself into thinking that the guru knows all) & is not aiding you in spiritual development, then the guru is not your guru. If your argument is “All I seek from him/her is his/her blessings & my life is fine” or any similar consolation, then you are effectively treating your guru as some good-luck charm. If you belong to the fanatic group of followers who believes that their guru is the only guru, then clearly spiritual development is far removed from your agenda & there is nothing more to discuss. We can discuss awe-inspiring magician tricks elsewhere.
A guru has the following traits:
  • Does not indulge in sophistry & is solely focused on clarifying (by questioning or hinting or leading)
  • Is immensely involved in your spiritual journey
  • Clearly seeks to liberate you
  • Ensures that the means employed cater best to your nature
  • Does not trade spiritual development for things you currently possess or can procure (esp. of a monetary nature)
All other traits that the gullible human mind associates with a guru are irrelevant. These include:
  • Must be charitable in nature & have built hospitals & schools & regularly provides food for the needy.
  • Must be asexual or never indulge in sex or be disinterested in food & other “material” elements of life
  • Must always talk about love & human oneness & embrace everyone
  • Must have a large following especially a global one
  • Must have some regimen (singing, dancing, breathing techniques, yoga, etc.) associated with him/her
  • Must have some role to play in social improvement or politics
  • Must have some healing or magical powers
How can someone who has a high sexual libido ever guide me spiritually? The same way someone who has no sexual drive can! What is required for your spiritual development can spring from clear mountain springs or from mire. To treat the act of sex as vile makes our very birth an act of vulgarity including the birth of the guru who is now asexual & revered!
Ok, what about love? How can anyone develop spiritually without being told that to love all & serve all is the way? A “guru” who repeatedly tells you that a sunrise is ugly cannot make you not hold your breath everyday morning. On the other hand, any amount of my telling you to love all doesn’t make you love someone who is being brutally critical of you. If the clarity of Love resides in you, you do not need to be told this repeatedly and by not being told, you do not burn down that seed of Love in you.
And what’s wrong with charity? A guru can be charitable only if he possesses wealth. If he does then it will be exhausted some day unless he keeps replenishing it by extracting more from his followers (or indulges in business which is a “material” pursuit). None of the charities or establishments are in the name of the million followers of a guru. They are always in the name of the guru who contributed nothing in terms of charity. “Be charitable”. Now that I have said that & you read that, would you agree to naming your every act of charity as the magnanimity of Eroteme? It gets uglier when we dig deeper into the mechanics of the so-called charity of these organised houses of gurudom. I shan’t go there. To be charitable is irrelevant to spiritual development. It might come of its own accord.
What is spiritual development? What is the ambit of the spirit? What is the spirit? What remains once the chattering of an ignorant and/or mechanical mind have quietened down, in there lies the spirit. Why should I develop that? There is no need to develop it at all. One can keep sharpening the saw of their profession & remain content till their last breath. There is no mandate that everyone must feel a thirst for spirituality & must develop it. Some people feel it well within, some people don’t & some people are curious about it as one is curious how that odd-looking dessert might taste. One spoonful, and they move on.
A spiritual thirst exists in one who is dissatisfied with the routine of life & wishes to understand more. They are not disappointed or discontent with life, just dissatisfied with the amount they know and the routine of life. This might seem like the space of philosophical enquiry. If it remains there, then that is what it is. But occasionally, the spirit within feels a deep connection to the Divine “without”. There is a great dissatisfaction in not knowing the fabric of that connection. There is a constant urge to connect to the Divine & understand all of life, creation, existence, thought, mind, breath, time & timelessness. This thirst becomes prominent when the delights of common life do not distract. A marriage, a new-born child, a new car, a promotion, a death, a travel to exotic locales – none of this quietens the voice of the spirit within. Then, and only then is there a need for spiritual development. Then and only then can the question of whether we need a guru or not, arise.
Like every upheavel, there are phases. Initially there is angst & confusion, followed by a seeking, a searching. Then there might be adoption (of a teaching or guru) followed by practice & doubt. No matter what the phases are, they eventually end in a calm, a placid mind & soul which simply knows without discerning. Once there is union with the Divine, there is completeness & in there the boundaries of life, creation, existence, thought, mind, breath, time & timelessness (as a notion) cease to exist. The nature of the phases is of lesser importance than the necessary character of the nature of the final phase. The roads to there are many.
Does one need a guru in this cycle of phases? Perhaps. Is it impossible to swirl through these phases & arrive at the final stage without a guru? Certainly not. One doesn’t need a guru to connect one’s spirit with the divine. Nothing in the guru can replace for the spirit within. All that the guru can do is channelise & spare the individual the hardship of discovering everything by oneself. The guru can also help re-align an individual’s misdirected curiousity if his/her time is not right for spiritual development. In that sense, the guru is aware of why, how, when & what exactly needs to be provided for this individual’s spiritual development. That would be a guru of the highest order. Most other gurus can help the person discover him~/herself & thus navigate the phases. Whichever mode is employed the guru always lets go of the individual’s hand when they are ready to move on to communion with the Divine. That final leg, is an individual journey. No one can proxy for the seeker. The guru is the boat that might help you cross the choppy waters of the ocean. While the average guru might be able to help you as much as is possible, only the guru of the highest order knows with certainty what will happen from the minute before you arrive at their doorstep.
By this measure, none of the popular gurus out there count. They are celebrity showmen/~women who are clever/creative in how they word things & in mesmerising large audiences. Do they help in anyone’s spiritual development? No. Those who believe they are spiritually realised, will perhaps realise that their spiritual journey would have happened even without these celebrity gurus who give grand speeches & sing songs & do all the publicity stunts they must.

What is worse is when these celebrity-gurus essentially create a binding dependence thereby making the devotee (sic) feel inadequate without the guru. Tales abound & online fora are plenty where blinded followers reveal their fantatic side. To see them thus after sufficient association with a “guru” convinces me that these celebrity-gurus are clearly after something else.

In summary, you need a guru if:
  • Your spirit needs re-connecting with the Divine & you are lazy
  • Your spirit needs re-connecting with the Divine & you are ill-equipped to cross the initial hurdles
  • Your spirit needs re-connecting with the Divine & you are afraid
  • Your spirit needs re-connecting with the Divine & you are confused
You don’t need a guru if:
  • Your spirit needs re-connecting with the Divine & it is strong enough to guide you through the phases (even skip some of them)
  • Your spirit doesn’t needs re-connecting with the Divine & all that you seek is some kind words or salve or sedative/narcotic
  • All you have are questions that need answers. A go-to person is not a guru
Personally, I prefer an anonymous guru who is a realised soul & who can liberate me from my ignorance. Both of us would vanish into anonymity.

It is thus that I re-recognise the wisdom of Master Oogway. Such is his vastness & calm that even when he knows that the messenger is the indirect reason for the unleashing of terror, he doesn’t prevent Shifu from sending him. A true guru is a trikaalagnani (one who is aware of all time and hence, doesn’t fragment it into past, present & future). Master Oogway was that and more. Not only was he the finest in Kung-Fu, he was also at peace in leaving the Jade Palace behind in the hands of a Panda & bunch of people whose Destiny wouldn’t defeat Tai Lung. To be aware of what Time has in store without a preference, is the mark of a realised soul. That is the mark of a guru. Po never sought his guidance, but was touched by it. Shifu sought his guidance with a mind full of doubt & was transformed. Different strokes for different folks.


Master Oogway

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