Thursday, November 09, 2006

Stuart Resnick On Guru's "Magic"

File under: Gurubusting

On a day when nothing was coming up on the radar, Stuart Resnick pulls in at the list with a great piece about his experience at Swami Muktananada's ashram in India – way, way back in the early days – when Gurumayi was not yet a guru but a young woman with perhaps a slightly different nasal profile:
When I was in Swami Muktananda's ashram in India, the teaching that was universally accepted among the devotees was that the guru had special powers to control magical invisible energy ("shakti") upon which the good feelings and special experiences we got were dependent. Such thinking, when strongly and constantly reinforced by the group and the authority figure, has an unexpectedly powerful effect.

When I left the ashram, many people expressed to me that they were worried that once I left the guru's presence, I'd no longer be able to get the feelings and experiences that they saw as dependent on the guru's shakti. I've heard similar ideas expressed in various guru groups, and I conclude that there are people who remain physically within the group and mentally within the group-think largely because of these worries.

About 3 to 4 years after leaving the ashram, I did my first Zen retreat, and found the experience more remarkable and subjectively more worthwhile than anything I'd experienced through depending on a guru. In the Zen setting, neither the teacher or the group suggested any magical invisible energy; there was no suggestion that such experiences were dependent on anything but my own efforts, intentions, and beliefs.

Having gone through this myself, I'm reporting back to anyone who's like my old worried ashram-mates. I'm saying that depending on external authority and energy didn't prove necessary for me. I'm doing this for the benefit of anyone who doesn't want to be dependent on gurus or ashrams, but feel they have to be, having been convinced by the authority and group-think, and lack of reasoned questioning.

This isn't to suggest that people shouldn't learn from teachers; I continue to do so. This isn't to suggest that everyone should avoid gurus who claim magical powers; I like to visit them myself sometimes. It's only to suggest that it's not necessary to do so, and that questioning the authority and the group-think doesn't have to have negative consequences.

All of this is one element of the equation. The other, as quoted above, is whether one WANTS to believe in the external authority and energy. My reason for not wanting to is that I don't want to throw away my freedom. Also: just as an understanding of evolution is so much more beautiful than believing "God did it," I find that questioning and experiencing for myself is so much more satisfying than following a belief from a group or authority.

If other people prefer to believe in scriptures or gurus, or who find Creationism more interesting than Darwin, God bless them every one. I don't feel I'm doing any harm to such people. The people I feel connected to, though, are the ones that value independence.

5 Comments:

At 11/10/2006 12:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

jody,

Nice blog. I dig the guru bashing. They could use it.

Nonetheless, from my perspective this critique of magical thinking does not cut deep enough. The critique of magical thinking comes from Freud who was deeply ambivalent about telepathy and the contagion of thought. In my direct experience (of course I could have self-manufactured it and I welcome the doubt) certain holy sites such as arunachala did offer environments in which self-enquiry was "assisted" by the environment. Certain supposedly "realized" individuals have also offered that environment.

I don't know how or why such things occur, but in my subjective experience they have. Curiously, there was no such occlusion or attachment to these places or persons but the exact opposite. I had no problem leaving arunachala even though certain misguided westerners were declaring me enlightened when they met me there. Or maybe because of that! Actually, the heightened enquiry came with a so what. next.

I eschew all such terms as realized or enlightened. I prefer your self designation of pugnacious "know it all".

Most of the gurus are false indeed, but there are some genuine ones and most of those will try to send you away or try to help you become more self-sufficient.

--easy

 
At 11/10/2006 11:33 AM, Anonymous facedog said...

I agree with easy. These experiences of being "assisted" by a teacher or a sacred place don't come because of faith or blind belief. I've known lots of people who have faith who never get "assisted". I would never be with a teacher who claims to be doing this for someone.

Stuart mentions going to a Zen retreat and having the same kinds of experiences. I have found that where a lot of sadhana is being done or has been done, that is a good place to settle. Why? I don't know.

 
At 11/10/2006 4:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As far I am aware Swami Muktananda never "prided" himself in magical powers. Au contraire. He was very much against Yogis who would impress their devotees with magic tricks.
Thank God that the focus of his successor, Gurumayi, is on experiencing the power within and not on being around the physical guru - which is the reason (probably) why she has not been giving any public programs for almost 3 years now.
IMHO those who need to be around a physical guru for their well-being are afraid to do the work of spiritual growth themselves. They expect the Guru to do it for them.

 
At 11/11/2006 10:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel very much like Stuart does and came to this by a similar path of having been involved in groups that had a "powerful" teacher at the center. So I came to this conclusion based on my own experience and my own contemplation. What I wonder is if there is any difference between how I have arrived at this conclusion about self reliance, and how others come to the conclusion, based on their experience and contemplation, that their guru is powerful and necessary.

 
At 11/11/2006 3:37 PM, Blogger CHUCK said...

Anonymous said...
"As far I am aware Swami Muktananda never "prided" himself in magical powers. Au contraire."

What a pant load! He prided himself in his so called shakti, he prided himself that his dick could curl back and poke into his own belly button, and he prided himself on his ability to bed little girls. His sucks-ccessor prides herself in her surgically enhansed looks and in her ability to enslave her head-up-their-ass devotees.

How do I know this?

Jody told me so!

 

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