Despite this, we need authentic gurus if we are to build a new culture, a new age, at a higher level of consciousness. Some people believe that higher consciousness will simply descend upon us all, magically, without our intensely working on ourselves. This is wishful thinking. Humans learn from others; that is the purpose of culture. The guru is the embodiment of the pinnacle of culture; culture in the sense of creative wholistic intelligence that functions in pure benevolence and joy; that empty place of consciousness that, though apparently still a human being, is free from the sense of ego; a consciousness that is filled with love, serenity, and timeless, all-inclusive presence.
The guru is not a person, but a function. Yet it is a function that must be learned, refined, purified, rendered impeccable. It is a sacrifice. We must offer schools in which this function can be mastered, and the sacrifice of ego be successfully achieved.
We all recognize that we need teachers of engineering, medicine, and computer programming. Why do we not assume that people will learn those things on their own? Why do we encourage people to get an education at a good school? We recognize the importance of the function of teaching and of being an apprentice. But we refuse to apply that understanding to the most important subject of all: the teaching of consciousness development. This irrational fear of spiritual teachers is crippling our ability to develop new approaches to psycho-spiritual growth—and to having the human resources to meet the needs of our chaotic time.
It is true that in recent years there have been many horrors committed by false religious teachers—from the mass murders at Jonestown to the mass suicides of the Heaven’s Gate cult; the terrorism of the Aum Shinrikyo cult in Japan; the many sex scandals of televangelists and Catholic priests; the crimes committed at Rajneeshpuram by Osho and his followers; the scandals alleged against Scientology, the Moonies, Adi Da, and many others; a list far too long to recite.
As a result of all the above traumas, many people now assume that every spiritual leader is corrupt, and that every spiritual community is a cult, engaged in brainwashing and exploitation. We pass judgment of guilt upon all spiritual teachers, without even offering them an opportunity to prove their innocence. We have thus condemned the most important dimension of our own existence to atrophy, without benefit of assistance; and the most crucial element of human culture, to the dustbin of history. Because of the presence of some counterfeit gurus, we have discarded the real thing. We have tossed out the true Babas with the dirty bathwater. This is an historic error of immeasurable proportions.
We still need to do inner work, we still need psycho-spiritual guides and teachers, we need to have visionary leaders to shepherd new community building, and egoless liberated beings to ground and stabilize our communities. Not only do we need gurus; we need to create transformational schools in which we can form a new generation of incorruptible gurus. We need to be able to train a large number of adept guides who can facilitate the work of spiritual renewal on our planet.
There have been many criminal groups that have printed counterfeit currency, but we have not chosen to stop using money; we have had many corrupt politicians, but we have not eliminated government; we have had many corrupt doctors, but we have not eliminated the practice of medicine; so for our own sakes, we should not eliminate the profession of spiritual teacher, since that calling is vital to the development of our highest cultural values—including compassion, non-violence, generosity, humility, truthfulness, spiritual power, peace, and love.
It is important that we strip the guru idea of its religious embellishments. Gurus are teachers; they are not to be worshipped. We must not fall into idol worship of any kind. So let us not think of putting gurus on thrones and kissing their feet. They do not need to have garlands of flowers around their necks. They do not need to live in huge palaces as maharajahs—or popes. Those who want all that should get jobs on Wall Street. But most spiritual teachers are content to live quite simply. Ramana Maharshi wore only a loin cloth, did not touch money, and lived most of his life in a series of unpretentious spaces, such as a temple basement, a cave, a cabin, or some other very modest lodging. There is nothing wrong, on the other hand, if a spiritual teacher lives in a comfortable house, like any other professional. But the point is that a teacher should model a life free of ostentation and egotism.
It is true that we need to put in place criteria that enable us to discern the true from the false gurus. We need to separate spirituality from religion. We need to learn to test a path and a teacher before committing to them. But it is not in our own interest to condemn them all without such testing. And we must be humble enough to recognize that the ones we are testing are, if they are genuine, at a higher level of spiritual intelligence and a greater depth of intersubjective perception than we are as seekers. So we must establish criteria that have objective, ethical, and philosophical correlatives that enable us to gauge whether we are in the presence of at least relatively egoless beings of refined moral, aesthetic, and metaphysical capacities, engaged in healing without seeking or allowing themselves to be treated like gods or tyrants.
If we do not establish such criteria, then we are asking for more false gurus to plague us. A society gets the gurus it deserves. If we are materialistic, then the gurus we are attracted to will also be materialistic. If we prefer the realm of the senses to the super-sensuous realm of pure Spirit, then we will support gurus who reflect that preference. So it is important to understand what we are looking for. If we seek liberation from the ego, then we must seek gurus who do not celebrate the ego and wallow in it.
Why do we need authentic gurus? Because this is a world of illusion, a labyrinth of false ideas, wrong attitudes, unconscious drives, and we often find ourselves lost in this house of mirrors. We often need help in finding the way home. This help is provided by divine providence, and when we are ready for a true guru to help us, the guru will appear. Without spiritual guides, then when we find ourselves in states of anxiety, confusion, or dark nights of the soul, we will be forced to seek the help of the definitely false gurus: psychiatrists.
Today, psychiatrists have an important function, because we have forsaken higher kinds of guidance. But the misuse of psychoactive drugs as a band-aid over the abyss is a crime against our humanity as well as our spirituality. The more we return to a spiritual culture, the more we can create new forms of spirituality that encompass what is good in current approaches to psychotherapy, but we can put that good in a higher and more open context that includes the soul and spirit and recognizes the reality of the paranormal, of visions, of subtle energy, of meaningful dreams, of near-death experiences and memories of past lives, of the need for rites of passage, of ego death and rebirth, and of liberation from all identifications.
An adept guru knows much more than a psychiatrist or psychoanalyst, and can diagnose our states of emotional suffering much more accurately. A guru can offer a different sort of treatment that truly leads to transformation and transcendence, can transmit healing energy and can see us for who and what we really are. There is no substitute for a relationship with a true guru, if we want to attain our highest potential in life.
The guru function is an archetype that comprises all the following seven categories of social roles and transformational actions:
• Teacher/sage/wisdom source for community
• Judge/prophet/visionary leader
• Transformational catalyst/psychoanalyst/dream interpreter
• Psychopomp/empty center/embodiment of transcendence
• Transmitter of Power/Shakti/Liberation
A real guru has a wide and deep knowledge base, in comparative religion, mythology, philosophy, esoteric metaphysics, science, history, psychoanalysis, aesthetic theory, ethics, sociology, and anthropology, as well as the purely shamanic disciplines. This knowledge enables the guru to put all experiences into an integral framework, to help students translate their past into a higher and more cohesive and coherent narrative of existential significance that in itself can heal many traumas and confusions.
An authentic guru is a shaman, who can enter altered states of consciousness and deal with whatever negative forces there may be in someone’s space; who can conduct an exorcism when necessary; and has mastery of many healing modalities, in order to help people be free of internal obstacles; and to guide them, when appropriate, on inner journeys, either with the help of plant allies or without.
A true guru is one who can mediate disputes, and can play a vital role in communal governance, leadership, and creative problem-solving, because of being trustworthy, neutral, unbiased, in a flow state, and free of projections. A community without someone to play this role accurately will eventually break down into schismatic parties. A guru is someone who can always hold the vision of the whole, who can find a win/win solution, who can understand all points of view, who can translate, forgive, and open the hearts of those who otherwise could not.
A real guru can play the role of priest when such a role is necessary, but without claiming any higher status than others. Saintly humility and simplicity, acceptance of equality, and universal love are marks of a real guru. A guru is one who is more interested in a life of silence, meditation, devotion to God, and freedom from social enmeshment, than in receiving recognition from others. A real guru has no interest in becoming famous or celebrated, but only in helping others to be free of suffering. A guru is one who has the legitimate authority to initiate others, to mandate vows of renunciation, and to invest others who have proven worthy of the title of teacher or guru.
An adept guru is one who is willing to listen; to understand the dreams, the symptoms of suffering, the confusions and hurt feelings of his students; and who has the skill to help them understand themselves more deeply and to purify and dissolve their unconscious psychic fragments and frozen traumatic memories. An adept guru is always available as a catalyst for transformation for those who are committed to the path. An adept guru is a dream interpreter, a spiritual psychoanalyst, and an empath; but also a teacher of meditation and other processes of transformation and ego transcendence. Such a guru is an invaluable resource for those who want to accelerate their inner development.
The highest kind of guru is one who can help you face death, because she or he has already gone through ego death and reached the innermost emptiness. One who is empty of ego, without ambition, without desire or fear, can guide one through the valley of the shadow of death and into the divine light. This is called the function of the psychopomp, who is at home in every bardo state, and who can retrieve souls stuck in hell realms as well as those seduced by pseudo-heavens. The guru can show the way to eternal liberation.
The guru has attained spiritual power, Shakti, and can transmit that power to you—for healing, for gaining strength to defeat internal saboteurs, for stabilizing in inner stillness, for dissolving finally the ego and its constant stream of thoughts. Receiving the transmission of power from a true guru is the highest honor and gift that one can attain. Such divine empowerment is the one thing necessary for success in the spiritual quest.
Ultimately, however, the greatest gift that a real guru can give is to enable you to realize that the only real guru is within. The guru is not the bodily being who stands before one, but the consciousness of the whole. The guru is not a person, but emptiness itself.
This is the final secret that is transmitted, the one that leads to freedom from the illusion of personhood. The ultimate power is that of powerlessness, freedom from the illusion of being an entity in the phenomenal world of becoming; it is the surrender of the ego-self to the Supreme.
This is the real guru function. May you realize the guru within.