In the 20th century, it was “My therapist says … ” but more and more in these early days of the 21st century, we’re hearing “According to my guru …”
Guru simply means ‘teacher’ in Sanskrit — it doesn’t mean ‘Indian teacher’ or ‘teacher of Hindu beliefs.’ A guru is a special kind of teacher who leads us toward spiritual evolution. This is especially helpful for people who want to move forward, rather than dwell on a painful past. One way that we, as students of life, can progress is by seeking a role model — someone who personifies spiritual enlightenment — or a personal guru. But how does one accomplish this?
How do You Learn?
The first thing you have to ask yourself is “How do I learn — through imitation or conversation?” In other words, if you’re the kind of person who likes to ‘watch and then do,’ or ‘imitate’ the teacher, you’re sitting pretty because you have your pick of thousands of potential gurus, both living and passed on, as long as they have left a legacy of writing or, even better, a legacy of recordings and videos that are easily available online. You can attend satsang (sitting in the company of truth) at a keystroke. In this day and age, we are not always able to sit in the personal company of our guru, so we make do with recordings and writings.
If, however, you learn through conversation, through the ability to ask your own questions and receive one-on-one answers, you’re going to have to be a little more resourceful. Check your local paper, and see if there are any readings or lectures scheduled for the author of your favorite spiritual book. If you don’t have a favorite and you don’t know where to start, begin asking around for a referral — query your friends, your yoga instructor, or even the always-cheerful waitress at your favorite cafe … “Where do you find spiritual guidance?” “Who do you recommend?”
After you gather referrals, use a little personal discretion regarding whom you choose to follow. You have to ask how long they have been teaching and what they expect from their students. You have to observe how they move in the world. Because you are so ready for a guru to guide you on your path, you might mistake a magnetic personality for a guru — so here are three things to watch for:
1. Do They ‘Walk the Walk?’
Does your newly found guru have amazing life-affirming meetings, where they speak of love, peace, and the ability to adapt quickly and objectively to changing circumstances, but then seem overly annoyed at the glitch in the sound system? Do they claim to know the secret to finding your soulmate, but have been divorced twice or single for 20 years? These could be signals that you need to keep looking — the advice may be good, but it will be hard to follow it when the transmitting device is sending mixed messages.
2. Is It ‘My Way or the Highway?’
Whatever your guru’s message, it should include a caveat, such as “This is what worked for me, but enlightenment takes many roads, and you may find certain variances on your path.” Not everyone needs to give up material wealth and meditate underneath a Bodhi tree. Buddha did that because he found that being Prince Siddhartha and having wealth and power didn’t do much for his spiritual life. On the other hand, Bill Gates, while acquiring great wealth, has evolved into a caring individual and a wonderful philanthropic instrument of abundance for many people around the world. A true guru will see these two paths as equally valid for spiritual evolution.
3. Is the Belief System Inclusive or Exclusive?
In other words, does your Buddhist guru welcome Christians to satsang? If the knowledge offered is anything close to ‘Truth’ with a capital ‘T,’ then all should be welcome. As Christ said, “And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” He was a guru who understood the wisdom of inclusion.
Finally, no matter whom you choose to emulate, know that ultimately we are our own teachers. Fulfillment is contained within, and in seeking, we allow the world to find us.
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