In my punk music phase (forgive me) the Stranglers sang “No more heroes anymore”.
We need to wake up and smell the incense. The Piscean age marked by an inclination to surrender to powerful leaders or rely on hierarchical organisation(s) “with the answers” has passed - not yet entirely, but we see the signs of that implosion all around us. The movement of the age of Aquarius is sabotaging forms and behaviours that cling to the old paradigm. It flattens hierarchies, shuns the old reliance upon “great men” and demands cooperation, collaboration and right-relationship in the way we do things.
Rear-guard actions by the fearful (viz. political populism, fundamentalist religions or authoritarian regimes) will only temporarily stem the tide.
The search for meaning and purpose in life, the longing for the Real (as Evelyn Underhill calls it) and the soul-seated desire for a healthy connection to self, others and the world – the very stuff of spirituality – is caught up in this wave of transformation no less than any other facet of the way we humans do things.
Our surrender to the guru principle is changing too. Yet again I read about another guru being promoted, with or without his (and it is most commonly a ‘he’) encouragement as the answer to our needs - the spiritual guide who will save us, heal our wounds and lift us to enlightenment.
There is a discernible pattern here that has almost been reduced to cliché. They are invariably oriental, at work in the “developed” west and have gatherings of devotees to attend to their every need and/or promote their works. They tend to be devoid of immediate family responsibilities and relationships like marriage, raising kids or caring for a frail parent. There’s an inclination to get caught up in scandals, usually of a financial or sexual nature or exploitation of their followers (pace Sai Baba or Osho, and see Anthony Storr’s Feet of Clay for a searing critique). The freedom from the normal rules of engagement in society may liberate them to do all the work on themselves to get free of the clinging power of the ego and expand their consciousness.
One search person I have met is the Dalai Lama – despite the devotion around him he seems not to have let it corrupt his essential humility and willingness to serve. Nor has it distracted him from his daily regime of spiritual practices that keep him in loving awareness. The freedom to devote themselves to the spiritual life and surrender to the Divine will, perhaps from childhood (e.g. Mother Meera), is not always used to expand consciousness and the capacity for loving service. For some, the trap of unquestioned devotion by their followers leads them to ego inflation, abandonment of their work on themselves and distortion of their ministry. An unhealthy dynamic can be set up where devotees worship the guru rather than which the authentic guru serves, and the guru in turn comes to believe and act from their own narcissistic image.
One of my greatest teachers, Ram Dass, pretty quickly divested me of any inclinations I had to see him as my guru. He knocked me out of that unhealthy projection and reminded me that the teacher and the guru are not the same: “the teacher points the Way, the guru is the Way”. The authentic guru shines with divine light and wisdom simply because they have been cleansed of the veils of the ego that would separate them from God and us. His own guru remained firmly rooted in India, refused a huge following, lived humbly and remained meticulously unsoiled by scandal. The authentic guru has “done the work” (or been receptive to having the work “of the spirit” done on them) to cleanse themselves of ego desires and distortions that would otherwise worm their way through into their behaviour. Sooner or later, those who have not done the emotional work of getting free from the lingering inner shadows (wanting sex, power, attention ……) will fall flat on their faces even unto the prison cell or death - and unfortunately take a lot of people with them. No matter how they fix you with those deep brown eyes or touch you with that power to make you feel healed and so special, sooner or later it all comes unstuck.
But it’s too easy to lay error solely at the unreconstructed not to say false guru, for there is a dynamic at work in which we play a part. Our deep-seated feelings of unworthiness, powerlessness, unlove-ableness or whatever, are likely to be projected onto others who can heal these wounds for us. Thus we often simply cannot believe that the thing we seek is right under our own noses, literally, in the very heart of our being. A healthy guru (actually an unhealthy guru is an oxymoron when you think about it) does not transmit, give us something or change us into somebody else…he or she simply allows the radiant presence to work through them. It is not they who do it, but the One at work in them who responds to the One in ourselves longing for Home, Union, At-One-Ment. In some magnificent, co-creative act, when guru and seeker come together the spiral dance of transformation in both is made manifest.
Jesus said (“You are Gods”, John 34-38), guiding others not to seek the deepest truth about themselves outside but within. The swirl of the divine spirit, forever pressing in upon us, fulfils its ineluctable destiny of uniting soul and Beloved. We do not need to look to others to fix us or give us spiritual enlightenment – that power is already in and at work within us…if we do the work of showing up, paying attention and applying ourselves fully without attachment.
Gurus and teachers can help us find our Way Home. There is a hierarchy at work – the oak tree and the acorn are not the same – but it is one of sacred trust, service to the Self and rooted in sapiential authority. It is not an old paradigm relationship of master (or mistress) and slave, power and control, or self-serving worship. We get lost up a cul-de-sac of the spirit (for them and us) if we are seduced by the old hierarchical model of the higher transmitting to the lower. In the life of the spirit there is no high or low, simply a gorgeous dance of reciprocity between beings of mutual sharing. Yes, the wise and enlightened have something to give us, but our gift to them is having someone to give to, and to give something that neither they nor we own. “Not ours, but Thine”. Whether this wisdom, this gift of the spirit that has burst through in infancy in a child peculiarly uncluttered by ego or though long and patient work of self-annihilation into Self, the outcome is the same. Whatever we receive is not theirs or ours, but a gift given to be passed on, and on…..
So, if you are a seeker, hang out with a guru by all means, but with the discerning eyes and ears of the heart fully open. Otherwise the way we may have come to understand that peculiar spiritual gift that is the guru often goes off kilter. Beyond the fog created by corrupted and false gurus and our own predilection to surrender to them rather than the One they serve, the guru model is still present and worthy in the search for awakening. It’s just that, as the saying goes, sometimes you have to kiss an awful lot of frogs before you find the handsome prince(ess). I’ve got “mine” after all, although he is long dead. Gurus do not have to be embodied, nor does the guru principle have to be embodied in only one person come to that, but may manifest in the collective.
But that, dear reader, is the subject of another missive.