Saturday, June 29, 2013

Do I Need A Guru?

I grew up along the coast in central California where snow was unseen (except once and it produced great excitement among children and adults alike). In later years, living at Ananda Village in the Sierra Nevadas northeast of Sacramento, CA, it most certainly did snow a few times each winter. I would eagerly look forward to the possibility (at least if I was home snug before the wood stove). I learned that if you have to ask yourself, "Is it snowing?" then the odds are it is not snowing. When snow falls, you see it, and like "good" art, you know it when you see it!

Many of us who are teachers for Ananda's spiritual work (worldwide) quote our founder, Swami Kriyananda, when he was once asked this question, "Do I need a guru," in replying "No, not unless you want to know God."

How many meditators, and would-be meditators, have attempted to meditate on our own, with no instruction? Such people, which included myself long ago, fill our classes at Ananda. Meditation isn't all that complicated, yet almost no one who tries it on his own sticks with it or finds it satisfactory. Many will at least read a book or, these days, go on the internet to learn. But even such sources all too often prove ineffective. If they were effective, our meditation classes would have dried up years ago.

You see, it is inescapable that even for the most routine tasks we instinctively seek human counsel if the task requires even the slightest bit of finesse or art to it. This ranges from cooking and laundry to musical composition to scientific inventiveness and research.

How much more so, then, for the art of examining one's own, inner human consciousness? I think that because introspection requires no set of monkey wrenches nor yet an advanced doctorate degree, we are lulled into thinking "I can do it myself." But the seeds of our ignorance and the filters of our biases are embedded in the very looking glass of introspection through which we peer.

There's something and someone for everyone. My wife, Padma, is from South America where, growing up, they had a saying, "Every pot has its lid." In examining both marriages and gurus, one can see that there is indeed someone for everyone, ignorant or wise. Put another way, we get what we deserve. Ignorant seekers, eager for a shortcut, find self-serving, ambitious teachers. Through their experiences, however painful, such seekers have the opportunity to learn and grow, or merely blame and sow more seeds of confusion in themselves.

Why not consider the possibility, rather likely considered from the big, broad point of view of the human experience, that this world was created intentionally and that the intention and purpose behind its creation is benign, indeed, essentially imbued with goodness, wisdom and love?

If we have questions about life, why not consider the possibility that someone else, other than our self, has found the answer? Yes, we must be true to ourselves but in seeking truth, which presumably exists whether we discover it or not, what harm is there is seeking counsel from one who has discovered it already? Why waste time or follow unnecessary or even harmful detours? Why not use our reason as a starting point?

In my early adult life of spiritual seeking I never doubted that I didn't have all the answers. That didn't stop me from having my early, male adult phase of being the world's greatest "Know-it-all," but even as I reserved the right to pronounce judgement upon all the other fools in the truth parade, I was, for all that, still reading and seeking as voraciously as I was augmentative and inclined toward self-conceit.

I was fortunate, I believe, in being guided at a young age (26) to Paramhansa Yogananda's teachings and to his most accessible direct disciple, Swami Kriyananda. Neither Yogananda's nor Kriyananda's influence at any point suffused my own right to think for myself, for even then I was not inclined to fall head over heels for anything or anyone. Rather, what they offered (the one in his writing and vibration, the other in his example as well as his writing and counsel) resonated with me on a deep, calm level that satisfied heart and mind in a balanced way. Perhaps because I was born under the sun sign of Libra, I have little of the fanatic in me. Passion and commitment, yes, fanaticism, no. So, yes, I count my blessings in this lifetime and pray that in the next I waste not my youth and years upon frivolity or worse and that I find my path to freedom as early in life as I may be blessed to do.

I have seen others fall, by their emotional temperament, into the romance of religion: the guru who hugs people; the guru who looks like the poster boy sage; the teacher with the commanding presence and charisma; the teacher who has millions of followers; the teacher who promises powers or blessings at their mere touch (perhaps for a few dollars or with a simple, almost effortless technique); the teacher who proclaims himself the world teacher, superior to all who have gone before him! Yes, I've seen it all.

There will always be followers for such people. And they are certainly not all "bad," for they, too, are working out their karma towards salvation! We are all, so we are told, inextricably linked. Buddha said that the main reason to love everyone is that we have had a relationship with everyone at some point! Egads! Yuk!

While using common sense and calm feeling, don't pretend to be able to judge the spiritual realization of a spiritual teacher. Simply go by what resonates with you deeply, and take ownership for your decisions, being grateful for what you've received, and loyal to those who have helped you, even as you may be guided in new directions. Can the soul go wrong in its sincere seeking? I doubt it!

A true teacher should reflect teachings that don't, in their essence, contradict universal truth teachings. A teacher who encourages sensuality as a doorway to spiritual freedom runs counter to well established spiritual guidance as well as accepted human values. Teachings that are "too good to be true" (because they satisfy the ego's limited longings) are just that, too good to be true. Indeed, truth teachings really aren't all that different, no matter what garb they wear.

The more important thing is that this teacher, his or her teachings, and the techniques and practices given should feel like "mine." You honor and love your mother and father (hopefully!), and yet in doing so, do not disdain others, so too, your spiritual path is that which feeds your soul's hunger, not that which is somehow the best, like products in the marketplace. You may indeed, in fact most certainly will or have been in past lives, guided to lesser paths or teachers as part of your journey. Get over it, but be real and be authentic to yourself. Maybe you need that teacher who promises pleasure as the door to truth because you need to learn that lesson! If so, when you wake up to a higher truth, don't only blame that teacher, but accept your lessons and move on.

Swami Kriyananda's autobiography, the New Path, chronicles his life with Paramhansa Yogananda, who has long been accepted internationally as a true teacher with a world teaching (Kriya Yoga and practical yogic teachings for everyone). It is rare for one to find a teacher who has achieved spiritual freedom (however defined: avatar, Self-realized, enlightened, etc.). Most teachers, even the most popular ones, are, well, works in progress, no matter what they or their followers may claim.

Thus Swami's life story is worth reading by anyone because it gives a modern day example of what life with a true teacher is like. Most of us are not ready for such a relationship because we are, as yet, still too ego and self-directed. But reading stories such as this will help attune ourselves to right attitudes and expectations around a true guru for when we reach the stage of the adage, "When the disciple is ready, the guru appears."

I recently completed listening to this book (the New Path) "on tape" (actually my IPOD) and, because it is Swami's voice, it was far more inspiring than merely reading the pages of his book. (We sell these things at Ananda and at our publisher's website,

If God exists, then God must encompass and be the source of all that is. If infinity exists, then there is nothing outside of it. To know God must be to achieve infinite consciousness. Can you honestly imagine that? Can you honestly imagine achieving a relationship with infinity?

We must begin where we are and not have false imaginings of what the ultimate end-game is. Thus it is that the universal teaching is and always has been that God sends his "prophets" to instruct humankind. Why is that such a threat? Well, because it is a threat to the domain of our ego.

But there's a further point: if God is the underlying reality of all that is, whether manifested or transcendent, then why should we reject the possibility that the soul can know God, even if in some necessarily limited way? Why should we have to discard the physical form, in what we call "death," simply to achieve God-realization? Why should we view the creation as something delusive and to be discarded, rather than something God called "good.?"

Therefore, why can there not be some souls who come to earth having previously achieved Oneness with God and who have the power to help others to be, as St. John in the the first chapter of his gospel stated, "the sons of God." If we are made in the image of God, we may indeed have been created to realize this truth and to reclaim our birthright, even in human form. Thus, at least, has been the teaching since time immemorial, stated in a variety of languages, forms, and symbols down through the ages. Don't reject this teaching out of hand, in other words.

You cannot perceive the divinity within until you accept the possibility of divinity without (in another, that is). Do not reject those sent by God to free you. Study their lives, their teachings, and their greatest disciples. It is too bad that our culture no longer treasures the lives and examples of the saints (in favor of sports stars and movie celebrities). If you want to know God, get to know those who know Him (Her) already. Serve them, study their lives, open yourself to them with intelligence, honor, and self-effort.

"Knock, and the door shall be opened. Ask, and it shall be received."

Blessings to you,

Swami Hrimananda