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.