Is Guru a 4-Letter Word? by Mariana Caplan | Center for Integral Wisdom
Letters from Swami Sivananda to Swami Pranavananda. The Guru-Sishya relationship is indeed the divine link that holds together the past and .. They will begin to think in terms of humanity, to practise the universal religion of cosmic love. Thank you very, very, very, very much for your kind letter, expressing what you feel. If you regard the person as guru and yourself as disciple, then they are. A God-realized guru can help his disciples whether or not he is in “Your letter's assuring words of devotion and loyalty to this Cause and the.
Few teachers were allowed to come to America. Two who did and successfully propagated Hindu teachings were Paramahansa Yogananda, who established the Yogoda Satsang movement later the Self-Realization Fellowship inand Swami Prabhavananda of the Vedanta Society in California.
Inwith the repeal of the Immigration Act ofAmerican Hinduism began a new phase. An influx of Hindu gurus entered the United States. Open-minded young people sought alternative answers to personal and social problems. Social unrest encouraged unconventional ideas and The guru's temper tantrums are often interpreted as lila, the Lord's play, or as opportunities for the follower to overcome ego attachments.
Spiritual hunger formed the soil in which the seeds of Hinduism, as well as other philosophies, could rapidly grow and bear fruit. As of the late s, there were approximately 73 active Hindu groups specifically aimed at Western converts. Some are small, with only five or ten members in one ashram. Others have several large ashrams across the United States and Canada and are affiliated with international groups.
Most current groups were started by swamis from India rather than by American followers, but there are exceptions, such as the Rudrananda Foundation, which runs the Eldorado Mountain Yoga Ashram outside of Boulder, Colorado. Some of these groups are based on the monistic Vedanta philosophy of traditional Hinduism. Some focus on achieving a personal sense of the divine.
Several are led by women. Almost all have some form of yoga as well as specific rules of self-discipline such as celibacy and dietary restrictions. All regard some form of guru-disciple relationship as essential. Some practice this relationship in its traditional Indian form, but many Americans experience a relationship significantly different from what is customary in India. In the first place, the intensity of the discipline or asceticism practiced here is much lower than in India.
The Vedanta Society, for example, has strict precepts governing behavior.
A Great Guru And His Ideal Disciple
As far back asconcern about the lack of monastic discipline among American followers caused the Belur Math, the home order of the Vedanta Society in Calcutta, to send regulations for the American centers to follow. Swami Prabhavananda responded that these "Indian rules could not possibly apply to the American centers.
Devotees meditate, attend satsang and darshan seeing or being in the presence of a revered personperform seva, and chant, but they generally continue to live in the larger community, working, marrying, and having children. In America today it is uncommon for the student to live with the teacher for years in an intimate relationship of mutual caretaking.
In fact followers can be so numerous that many of them have little personal interaction with the guru. The strong one-on-one education and guidance traditionally provided by the guru is now often reserved for a privileged few. Most devotees make occasional pilgrimages to the ashram, where interaction may be limited to darshan in a room with hundreds of other people. The guru may not even be physically present, appearing only through videotape or photographs.
How does one develop a life-changing bond of love and, trust in a few moments of exchange? Its members regard the true guru ultimately as a blissful loving power that is activated by the human guru through kundalini energy. This bond of love results in a transformation of the disciple. If the disciple's relationship with the guru is a right one, the goal of oneness with Absolute Reality will be reached no matter what.
Face To Face; Confronting The Guru - Disciple Relationship
A serious Catch arises here. How does a disciple reach this internal power of "blissful love" and achieve a "right" relationship to the guru when there is little or no personal contact with the guru to begin with?
If the student can do this without personal interaction, doesn't that make the guru unnecessary? Disciples respond by saying that simply meditating on the guru enables one to interact with and receive guidance from him or her.
In practice this concept of the guru may represent a healthy blend of East and West.
The disciple has a teacher to provide the necessary philosophical and practical guidance, yet is still responsible for his or her own practice and development, thus avoiding some possible difficulties. Still it appears the American disciple depends upon the psychic abilities and extraordinary powers of the guru. It is this aspect of the relationship that is most fraught with difficulties.
If a student does not have close interaction with the guru, how can he or she be certain the guru's abilities are authentic? How does one develop a life-changing bond of love and trust in an occasional few moments of exchange? The student's psychological health may even be suspect if he or she can establish a trusting, dependent relationship with someone more or less unknown.
Even considering the tremendous spiritual power of some gurus, this can reflect a questionable practice of suspending one's judgment in favor of hearsay, public relations, or one's own personal projections. By this view, a student must have faith in the guru no matter what action the guru takes. In turn the guru will reveal the disciple's remaining ego attachments. Surrender need not mean giving up autonomous thinking, but rather rising above the ego, releasing ego-based desires, and allowing the guru from his or her enlightened perspective to guide and mold the student.
Listening to the guru's instructions, contemplating the guru's words, must be integrated into one's whole life. A SYDA follower has used the analogy of making pottery. The student is the clay spinning on the wheel; the guru within, the inner teacher, is the hand inside pushing hard to mold the clay, while all the time the other hand the human guru offers support outside the pot so the clay does not break or collapse. The guru must have some power over the devotee if this molding is to take place.
This analogy, however enlightening, still leaves the question of how the guru can provide this support "outside the pot" while remaining so inaccessible.
Unfortunately the level of codependence and dysfunction in our society creates a tremendous possibility for abuse in the authoritarian nature of this relationship. See Janet Jacobs' Divine Disenchantment: Deconverting from New Religions, Indiana University Press,for an excellent discussion of this subject.
- Love and Loyalty to the Gurus, the Teachings and SRF(YSS), Handwritten Letters
- Is Guru a 4-Letter Word?
- The Guru-Disciple Relationship – Advice by HH the Dalai Lama
According to psychologist and author Alan Roland, Americans seem to "commit rapidly and completely, or not at all. They tend to relate any doubts that arise, not to the authenticity or ability of the guru, but to themselves as disciples. Some gurus have abused, sexually exploited, and financially profited from their followers. Behavior many would find unacceptable from friends, lovers, or family members is rationalized when it comes from the guru.How to develop a strong Guru-disciple relationship from far away?
Why does this happen? Practices Americans might call erratic or abusive are sometimes used by Eastern masters to stop the rational mind and allow enlightenment to enter. Moreover disciples are frequently well-entrenched in the relationship before discrepancies in the guru's behavior may arise.
This begins what Katy Butler terms "a mutual dance of delusion," 13 leading to denial of one's own feelings and perceptions and ultimately distorting one's sense of reality. Gurus are sometimes believed to be above ethical laws that apply to everyone else. Swami Muktananda provides one of the best-known cases. Introduced to the U. Some of Nityananda's Indian disciples have disputed this claim. By the time of his death inMuktananda was presiding over an empire of 31 ashrams worldwide.
During his lifetime, Muktananda managed to maintain an aura of rectitude. One long-time follower, Richard Grimes, explains how this situation could have gone on so long: He could do anything he wanted.
Though some of them believe Muktananda's great power helped them make spiritual progress, others wonder how far a person can "really grow under a master who doesn't himself live the truth. There was no recourse but to leave, for the guru was the sole appeal. Such a relationship should create equality as the guru uses divine power to help lift the devotee to an independent level of spiritual awareness.
The practice of bestowing great spiritual power on disciples whom the guru barely knows is also a source of concern. Some spiritual work is necessary before enlightenment can be achieved and incorporated into our being. Premature power can harm an unenlightened person. How can the guru be assured that the devotee is prepared for such intensity?
Therefore, as students, you should first watch and investigate thoroughly. Then, second, even after that, if some unhealthy things happen, you have the liberty to reject them.
They may even have received tantric empowerments from this teacher. But then they find they were wrong. They see many flaws in this teacher and discover many serious mistakes he or she has made. They find that this teacher does not really suit them. Their minds are uneasy regarding this person and they are filled with doubts and possibly regret.
What to do in such a circumstance? The mistake, of course, is that originally the disciples did not examine this teacher very carefully before committing themselves to him or her. But this is something of the past that has already happened. No one can change that. In the future, of course, they must examine any potential guru much more thoroughly. But, as for what to do now in this particular situation with this particular guru, it is not productive or helpful to continue investigating and scrutinizing him or her in terms of suspicions or doubts.
Rather, as The Kalachakra Tantra recommends, it is best to keep a respectful distance. They should just forget about him or her and not have anything further to do with this person. It is not healthy, of course, for disciples to deny serious ethical flaws in their guru, if they are in fact true, or his or her involvement in Buddhist power-politics, if this is the case.
To do so would be a total loss of discriminating awareness. But for disciples to dwell on these points with disrespect, self-recrimination, regret or other negative attitudes is not only unnecessary, unhelpful and unproductive, it is also improper. They distance themselves even further from achieving a peaceful state of mind and may seriously jeopardize their future spiritual progress. I think it best in this circumstance just to forget about this teacher.
Premature Commitment To Tantra And Daily Recitation Practices It may also occur that disciples have taken tantric empowerments prematurely, thinking that since tantra is famous as being so high, it must be beneficial to take this initiation.
They feel they are ready for this step and take the empowerment, thereby committing themselves to the master conferring it as now being their tantric guru.
Moreover, they commit themselves as well to various sets of vows and a daily recitation meditation practice. Then later these disciples realize that this style of practice does not suit them at all, and again they are filled with doubts, regrets, and possibly fear. Again, what to do? We can understand this with an analogy.
Suppose, for instance, we go to a store, see some useful but exotic item that strikes our fancy and just buy it on impulse, even though it is costly. When we bring it home, we find, after examining the item more soberly now that we are out of the exciting, seductive atmosphere of the marketplace, that we have no particular use for it at the moment.
The Perils and Rewards of Choosing a Spiritual Teacher Sounds True, June is a new book by Mariana Caplan that offers advice on what to look for—and what to avoid—when seeking a dedicated spiritual teacher.
The book includes a foreword by Robert Thurman. Drawing upon her knowledge as both a scholar of mysticism and lifelong practitioner of spiritual traditions, Caplan delivers a candid, practical, and daringly personal examination of the student-teacher dynamic, featuring: Are you ready to be a student?
She is a psychotherapist, a professor of yogic and transpersonal psychologies, and the Co-Founder of The Center for World Spirituality.
The book manages to cover virtually every aspect of this incredibly important and timely topic, and does so in an elegant, comprehensive, and succinct fashion. I think it amounts to something like the final word on the topic or very close to it. Highly recommended for anybody on a spiritual path or considering one!
What I love about The Guru Question is how Mariana balances her recognition of the depth and sacredness of the relationship between a true teacher and a true disciple, with her recognition of the pitfalls that can arise when we seek from another human being the redemption that can only come from within. Writing from her direct experience with her own teachers, and drawing on the experience of others, she illuminates the mystery of the guru in a way that should be of benefit to many, many readers.