For those intent on treading a 'spiritual' path with sincerity, the issue of what 'we' bring to the table, in terms of our needs and expectations, can lead us to venture into realms of subtle, often subconscious motives and the laws of 'cause and effect.'
The above cartoon by Leunig depicts a trend that we often find in our modern times, particularly in western societies. This is because there is little understanding of what the 'Guru' really means and what it stands for. Here again also, one can equally say the same about the role of a 'disciple.' It is little understood.
Many of the present day 'gurus' seem, sooner or later to fall far short of our initial ideals and expectations.
In these times it almost seems that just about anyone who has a charismatic, charming or magnetic personality can become a 'Guru,' but this, of course, is bound to lead, eventually, to disappointment, disillusionment and frustration.
Without understanding 'who and what' the 'guru' REALLY is, it seems inevitable that he or she will at some point 'fall from grace.' As a result, there is a good deal more cynicism with regards to Gurus, far more in Western societies, than in Eastern ones. In the East the 'Guru' is a long held and well established tradition and one that has been assimilated into the culture and general life style of the people over millennia.
Do we need a Guru?
This question comes up often.
In the first place it is paramount to understand what the 'Guru' really is and what it actually stands for. We are conditioned to believe that a 'guru' is a man or woman who has achieved realisation and who can guide us towards the same exalted state.
However, in essence, 'guru' really stands for the 'Self,' Rigpa, God, the Natural Essential State; what ever word or phrase one likes to use to describe 'divinity.'
It has so many names, yet in essence it is formless and One.
Ramana Maharshi, (the peerless Sat-Guru of Arunachala) always told His disciples that they should not identify with His body, He said "Guru, is in essence, beyond form."
That may indeed be true, but for ordinary people like you and me, who live and move in this world and who identify with the world's forms and happenings, we find it much more accessible and comprehensible to connect with the 'self' or 'god,' when it shines through the form of another human being, be it a man or a woman.
We have a deeply entrenched habit of anthropomorphising our 'gurus,' to make them appear more like us.
Intriguingly though, the Maharshi said that the Hill of Arunachala was His 'Guru.' To us this may seem strange and incomprehensible because if we look at Arunachala it just appears to be an ordinary Hill made up of dirt and rocks.
But, to the Maharshi, it embodied pure divinity and silence. He composed numerous verses in praise of the Hill and each one attested to His devotion and sense of complete identification with the essence of the Hill. This is something which is difficult to comprehend with the mind.
He showed us that 'Guru' need not appear in a human form, that in fact, 'Guru' is something that goes far beyond form...
And yet, He, Himself appeared to us as precisely that; a 'Guru' in a human form. He lived in this world as one of the most exemplary 'Gurus' of our times. In many ways He was exceptional, yet also perfectly attuned to the age in which He lived. This is the 'trademark' of an 'Awakened Being,' absolute relevance and timeliness.
Most of us are only able to identify with a 'Guru' who can reflect 'the truth of our being' through a human form that we can recognise, identify and interact with. As long as we identify with form, so long will we need a Guru to appear to us as a fellow human being. And this brings us back to the original question...
Do we need a 'Guru'?
Some Masters will say yes, while other will say no. The majority say that we do; that a Guru is absolutely necessary in order to achieve the ultimate realisation. In the vast majority of cases, disciples are given that final push, 'to recognise their true nature,' by the grace of a Guru.
Yet, to all appearances, the Maharshi did not appear to have a Guru, His was one of those very rare cases which, seemed to take place quite spontaneously. Yet, there was a 'catalyst' for the Maharshi's realization and this came in the form of a 'death experience.'
His story is well known and well documented so we need not recount it here. In so many ways His presence and life provided for us a peerless example of the 'Supreme and perfect Guru in human form.'
We can more easily recognise and follow such a 'Being' and he/she will give us the needed 'push' towards the 'Self'. Without that initial impetus, it is very unlikely that we can permanently awaken to 'reality.' Fleeting 'realisation' may take place, and these days many seem to have a taste of this, but to become firmly established in the awakened state requires something more.
Take, for instance, the case of the Maharshi, He awakened to His inmost self at the age of sixteen years, without the apparent intervention of a 'Guru' and yet He was almost immediately drawn to Arunachala and spent the rest of His life on or near the Hill.
What He 'recognised' in the moment of his 'awakening' did not change and yet He spent His first decades on the Hill, to all appearances, in silence and samadhi. The presence of Arunachala provided the impetus and grace, with which to peel away every last vestige of self identification with the body, to become fully established in the awakened state and then merge that state with seemingly 'normal' activity in the every day world.
The 'unlearning' of realisation and full awakening to truth may be instantaneous, but a process of adjustment and rebalancing subsequently enables a Jnani to 're-engage' with the world from this fully awakened state. This can take decades and the result is that every last fibre of self identification is completely and uttered dissolved so that what remains is but the 'shell' of the old form, through which 'awareness' shines in its purist expression...
In Maharshi's case, all the 'work' had already been accomplished in previous lives. Coming into this life, His 'merging' into the One was as seamless as that of a ripe mango falling from a tree, nothing could have prevented it. Such 'readiness' is seldom seen.
We often hear it said that "The Master is within." Yet until we are fully established in the reality of that truth and recognise it within ourselves, we will seek it outside ourselves in the form of a Guru.
"When the wrong identification of oneself with the body ceases, the Master will be found as none other than the Self."
Guru or no Guru? There are likely to be conflicting views on this for a long while to come and yet both views are correct in their own way. It is really all a matter of perspective on the one hand and karma on another. Those who claim that a Guru is needed and those who say that one is not needed, it all depends upon the point of view and the readiness of the disciple.
I am including a quote from Lakshmana Swami, who achieved realisation in the presence of Ramana Maharshi shortly before that great Master passed away;
"Staying here is very beneficial, the power that is flowing from Arunachala stills and purifies the mind. Devotees who live and meditate here will make good progress.
The grace of Arunachala can take you to the final state of Sadhana, which is the effortless thought-free state, but for the final destruction of the ego, a human Guru is required."
The Maharshi stated very clearly that 'realisation' in the presence of a qualified Master is not the result of the "teachings, lectures or meditations, he may be giving. He said these things are secondary aids only, that the primary and essential cause is the Master's grace."
And what is 'grace?'
None other than the Self/Silence, incarnate and flowing effortlessly and constantly like the sun which bestows its light and blessings on all without discrimination.
When the Master's grace encounters a disciple who is ready, it will ripen him/her spontaneously. Just as the sun, if shinning through a magnifying glass, focuses its rays on dry leaves; a disciple who is 'ready', will likewise and surely ignite to the fire within.
Our 'work' then, is not to be searching for a Guru, but to become responsive, receptive and ready, so that we will receive the 'grace' of the Guru when ever and where ever we may encounter that grace and be ready to 'ignite/melt,' under the intensity of that focussed energy.
May we open our hearts so that we will recognise the true Guru, 'lest He pass us by and we know Him not...'