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Why do we need a spiritual guru?

The Ram Rahim case has shown us how gurus have feet of clay, bound to fall apart at the slightest pressure. It’s also proved blind loyalty of some followers, which goes beyond any court of law. But, at the end of the day, isn’t a relationship with a guru-mentor simply transactional, in these modern times? […]

Written by Anuradha Varma | New Delhi |
September 5, 2017 8:59:13 pm
gurmeet ram rahim, asaram bapu, sadhuguru, indian spiritual guru, why need a guru In this age of quick fixes, is it really possible to find a true guru?

The Ram Rahim case has shown us how gurus have feet of clay, bound to fall apart at the slightest pressure. It’s also proved blind loyalty of some followers, which goes beyond any court of law. But, at the end of the day, isn’t a relationship with a guru-mentor simply transactional, in these modern times? Whether it’s peace of mind you’re looking for, a cure for a chronic ailment, a lucrative job or retrieving cash from a debtor, there’s usually a trade-off.

Gurus, even the really cool ones, who don’t believe in rituals, ultimately tend to give birth to a corporatised power structure, where they are at the centre, with the power residing among those “followers” who enjoy close proximity. Often, the kindness that is preached is not visible within the group, which can take the shape of competition to take charge of projects or messy affairs, such as one follower having an affair with another’s partner. Sometimes, as people grow more dependent on a spiritual mentor for life’s big decisions, they have found themselves pledging property or making regular instalments towards a temple or the leader’s pet project. A power centre can also decide who has more access to the guru, sometimes charging for an exclusive audience or giving preference to those with deep pockets. Unadulterated spirituality is rare to find.

So, why do we look for a guru? Having been fed lines like “when you’re ready, the guru will appear”, when a guru manifests somewhere in your periphery, it makes us feel special, like we are the chosen ones. Someone who will answer life’s big questions, accept us for who we are and give a sense of belonging. Someone, when life gets hard, will look at us kindly and tell us it will all be fine, eventually.

Sadguru Jaggi Vasudev writes in his blog, “If I were a moral teacher, I would try to change you. Because I am a Guru, I do not try to change you…My intention and my work are to bring clarity. If you see things clearly, if you know that the whole universe is one – not because someone says so, but because you see so – everything will change. If you see existence the way it is, not the way you think it is, everything about you and your relationship with existence will change.”

But, in this age of quick fixes, is it really possible to find a true guru? Or do are we actually seeking a mentor of sorts? Someone with whom you can have a dialogue, enjoy an exchange of ideas and who can dispel the darkness in your mind and heart? Brahmakumari Shivani and Deepak Chopra are good examples of those who seek to enlighten, as they speak or write about our existential dilemmas and how to navigate life itself. Sometimes, a good book can do the job, without the need for a spiritual guru. It depends on what we’re looking for. For those who live their lives on the periphery of society or the underprivileged, a guru, even one like Ram Rahim, is someone who gives them social sanction and provides support, through a strong sense of community. Maybe it’s time we started widening our limited vision to envelop the lesser fortunate. Give them a lifeline, so that they don’t fall hook, line and sinker for a self-serving guru.

It serves us well to reach out to others, filling our lives with more meaning. In the book The Power of Meaning: The True Route to Happiness, author Emily Esfahani Smith talks about how one needn’t trek to a distant monastery to figure out life’s great secret. She also points out how happiness and a meaningful life are two different concepts. Smith quotes a 2013 study, led by psychologist Roy Baumeister of Florida State University, which surveyed 400 Americans aged 18 to 78. It found that “the pursuit of happiness was linked to selfish behaviour—being a ‘taker’ rather than a ‘giver’… Having more meaning in life was correlated with activities like buying presents for others, taking care of children, and even arguing, which researchers said was an indication of having convictions and ideals you are willing to fight for. Because these activities require investing in something bigger, the meaningful life was linked to higher levels of worrying, stress, and anxiety than the happy life.” While meaning and happiness can be at odds, “meaningful endeavors can also give rise to a deeper form of well-being down the road”, the book states.

The moral of the story? Look for something bigger than yourself. That’s where real fulfilment, and happiness lies, not at the feet of a guru!

(The writer is an editorial consultant and co-founder of The Goodwill Project. She tweets @anuvee. Views expressed are personal.)

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