Thursday, November 23, 2006

Gurus 101

File under: Reference

We were doing a little housekeeping on the discussion list and came across a link provided by longtime guru commentator, Jan Barendrecht. It's as much a guru 'bible' as anything we've ever found online. It's definitely somewhere to send people who don't quite know what you mean when you talk about gurus.

Update: A kind reader has pointed out that the Next Switch article is only a dated version of the Wikipedia article, which is an even better reference for those trying to understand the cultural extents of the phenomenon guru.


At 11/24/2006 5:46 AM, Blogger hanuman said...

Wow, really great link, but hey, its just another Wikipedia-copy (not up to date), haha... See: Link to the original article

At 11/24/2006 8:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jan Barendrecht's article is a prize.

What is noteworthy is that it makes very clear that the guru based traditions do have texts which advise seekers to apply discernment when seeking a guru.

This is very, very different from the attitude in many parts of the 'seekers circuit' where you're told to have total faith, abandon common sense, and that any sort of prudent fact-checking hinders the spiritual quest.

In his book 'The Light at the Center' Agehandanda Bharati described how people became gurus in India.

He made it clear that there is no oversight and no quality control--and no official place to go and complain if a guru abused power. Its not like in the West where a priest or minister is accountable to a bishop, or to a congregation.

One of the tragedies when many gurus came to the West was that they could exploit Westerner's ignorance of the traditional cultural context of the guru student relationship. The 'export gurus' could get away with selectively quoting scripture and emphasize the students' oligations to the guru and omit mentioning the guru's obligation to the student.

In a lecture entitled 'The Guru as Heavyweight' given at California Institute for Integral Studies in 2002, David Svoboda
gave this advice when looking for a guru:

'You need to pay attention to your own emotions and mind states when you are with this person. If you find yourself fantasizing about how much fun it will be if you become famous and have young beautiful disciples gazing adoringly at you---then this guru is not the right person for you.

'Leave and find someone in whose presence you settle down and become insightful and kind. That other guru may actually be an excellent teacher for someone else, but not for you.'

Another bit of advice is to beware of any situation, whether at an ashram or even secular employment, where some persons are made favorites, others are made scapegoats, and where there is a lot of anger, anxiety and competition. If you are told (or subtly nudged) to keep secrets or conceal information, this is a sign to leave, immediately.

Any sort of secrecy or cover up erodes spiritual practice, no matter how exciting it initially feels to be in on gossip. Its not worth it--leave.

A Buddhist should always check a relationship against the guidelines of the Buddhist ethical precepts. No teacher, not even a crazy wisdom teacher, can overrride the precepts. Anyone who claims that the guru is more important than ethics--leave while you still have a chance.

At 11/24/2006 11:16 AM, Blogger jody said...

Thanks for the correction, Hanuman. I've made a note of it on the blog post.

At 12/09/2006 7:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is only here in the west (or westernized India) that people accept gurus without a background check or without looking for quality control.

I spent some time in a vedanta ashrama near Bangalore. I would not name it to avoid the charge of propogating my own brand. Suffice it to say that almost all of their background is known and verifiable. Another healthy aspect of a genuine tradition is peer review. There are always several peers of your favourite teacher who have known him since long and are teaching independently. You can get a decent peer review for any teacher before committing to him.


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