Gurus and Teachers

Recently someone posted on Facebook about a well known spiritual guru who was exposed as having sexually abused some of his disciples. This by itself is not news – we’ve become inured to reports of similar transgressions by spiritual leaders of all stripes, for many years.

There were several comments to the post disparaging gurus. I posted a comment that “guru yoga is one of the hardest paths”. By this I mean that the classical path of becoming a disciple to a guru as a means to spiritual progress is fraught with peril – for both the disciple and the guru. In some situations it can be extraordinarily effective – when the student is right, and the guru is right. But this is unfortunately not always the case.

There is a distinction between “guru” and “teacher” here – at least as I see it. A teacher could be anyone a little further along the path that’s willing to share tips and give feedback in a somewhat formal relationship. This is popular these days – the teacher and the student.

On the other hand, the guru-disciple relationship is very different. The idea is that enlightenment (or whatever you call the ultimate spiritual goal) is so difficult to attain, so precious, so desirable, that any means, any cost is justified, and that a true guru, having attained that goal, knows how to guide you there, and that this path calls for the utter destruction of the ego. It is the ego, the idea of a separate self, that separates us from the divine – when this is gone we become united with the divine.

Traditionally, the guru assumes that – as in love and war – that all is fair. Any and all means are acceptable if they lead to the eradication of the ego. From the outside this can appear abusive and frightfully immoral – though usually gurus are gentle and considerate.

What it all boils down to is the overarching desire for the ultimate goal, for illumination, enlightenment, nirvana. Once all your desires are unified, you are willing to simply do whatever it takes, including giving your guru your “power of attorney”, as Sri Ramakrishna advised. My thinking here is that once you have that level of desire, of passion, of focus – then whatever path you choose will work – including guru yoga.

I have been close to this path – I lived with a guru as a disciple for many years. I remember when a cabal of disgruntled students came to me with rumors of unethical behavior on the guru’s part. I was angry – to me the behavior was fine so long as a disciple was brought closer to the goal – the true crime was that the disciple wasn’t. And the rumors turned out to be completely false – he was always deeply ethical and compassionate.

Later I was grateful to find that there were other paths that can lead beyond the trecherous mountains of the separate ego. And I have taken one of those paths.

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