Is “the Guru” real or fanciful?


Do you need a guru?  Is the guru real or fanciful?  Is the whole notion a delirium or a precious help to spiritual seekers?

Given the many scandals involving gurus over the last few months, from many quarters, it might be good to have a place where people of all persuasions can contribute to some understanding of what the guru is, isn’t, must be and must never be. While no one can have a personally-designed guru, we ought to be able to figure out how to recognise the genuine from the shonky. But how?

Here are a couple of pointers to start with:

Unconventional Behaviour

PRO You would expect some unconventional behaviours from the guru. Part of the point of having one is to become aware of the conditioned patterns of your expectations. So a guru worth his salt will be able to prick the bubble of your preconceptions
CON Someone who is anti-social will do that, too. If you allow a trusting relationship with someone who is not capable of empathy, truthfulness or the discipline of ethical behaviour, that will really tear apart your fantasies. So can a sociopath be a guru?

Can’t appoint your own

PRO You can’t have the relationship on your own terms. That is a given, otherwise it only engages the same old ego negotiations that social relationships support, and nothing changes in you
CON A one-sided relationship is very convenient for someone who wants absolute power

Humanity of the guru

PRO The guru is allowed to be human, with the frailties of a human individual
CON Why should a frail human individual trust another frail individual?

Getting something from the tradition

PRO Even a tainted lineage and a flawed guru can deliver the teachings of a tradition
CON But there is supposed to be more than just teachings. I can read a book otherwise

Getting beyond the ego

PRO There is indeed something that the guru can give that no other can – the realisation that self is not the ego, and a clear experience that the personal  self, or ego, has no substance. No one can see that until it is shown to them
CON The guru might not be able to see his own.


PRO The guru is a conduit of shakti, or the power of grace
CON Come off it, that is the leverage by which a narcissist makes people dependent on him. Shakti is not the prerogative of anyone to dispense

Does the guru have to be enlightened?

PRO An unenlightened guru can be the catalyst for the disciple’s enlightenment.
CON The guru must be enlightened, or he  is a fraud. Or at least he has to be honest.

Fantasies operating in spiritual life:

  • The guru’s fantasy of the disciple, and the guru’s fantasy of himself
  • The disciple’s fantasy of the guru, and the disciple’s fantasy of himself

Perhaps whatever it takes for us to pierce those fantasies – to discover the simple truth of self, and the simple truth of guru – is something to be highly valued… but how can you  find your way through  illusion??

Well, these are just a few of the possibilities that might come up when disillusionment hits the fan, One that is bound to come up is, “How much can a koala bear?” Or rather, how much pain is enough for liberation , or should there be none at all? On that account, one of Rumi’s poems says, “if you want to become a jewel, you have to accept the grindstone” . But then, when is the guru the master jeweller, and when is he just a brilliant narcissist who gets people in, and then has no idea of how to relate to them without harming them?

LINKS:  Scandals old and new

Swami Satchidananda, and Amrit Desai
Swami Muktananda
Sai Baba
Swami Satyananda
Swami Shankarananda
Kaushtub Desikachar
Castration Demands by guru
Australian Hare Krisha Guru and his sex slaves

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