By Suma Varughese May 2004 One of the issues I feel strongly about is the need to become a spiritual teacher only after attaining enlightenment. One of the issues I feel strongly about is the need to become a spiritual teacher only after attaining enlightenment. Traditionally, I understand this was the norm, but in our own speeded up times, few have the patience to sit through this lengthy process. While the number of genuine gurus are legion—I myself have met many in the course of my work—there are a good many who have clearly not attained liberation. As a matter of fact, I make a distinction between enlightenment and liberation. Enlightenment is to see the truth, and liberation is to be the truth. Between the two lies the lengthy process of eliminating all that comes between oneself and the truth. In other words, the conditioning must go, so too all the fears, doubts, personality traits, habits, etc, that we have picked up in the course of living. Only then will we be permanently established in union with God. Many, I suspect, begin to teach in the initial euphoria of having an enlightenment experience. Everything seems so clear, we understand everything about life and God. Alas, this clarity seldom lasts. An enlightenment experience is a half-way house, meant only to spur you to make that state a permanent one. To teach from the midway state is dangerous both for the guru and disciple. The work that a guru has to do in relation to his students is extremely subtle and sensitive. He has to awaken the seeker from the somnolence of mundane reality and point him in the direction of the transcendental. To succeed in the task takes endless patience, absolute compassion and complete focus on the God within. As the sadak (seeker) gropes blindly, often tiring and giving up, or running in the wrong direction or acting from misguided motivation, the guru must sit like a rock, unflinching and unreactive. No matter what rubbish the acolyte throws up, be it rage, infatuation, confusion or disinterest, the guru must absorb it and guide him gently back on the path, letting him go when he wants to, receiving him back when he wants to, viewing him all the time from the highest perspective of being in potential what the guru is in actuality. And all the time he has to mirror for the student the enlightened state, for it is in absorbing it and studying it from the guru that the student gets it. All these tasks are impossible to perform unless we have voided our conditioning and karma and are established in equanimity. As long as we have buttons to press, needs to meet, desires to fulfil and emotions to vent, we will be reactive, thereby not only increasing our conditioning but that of the student too. For the greatest transforming agent is the love and acceptance of the guru. By being in that space the student learns to accept himself and through that acceptance he begins to change. This is so important that no amount of book knowledge or ability to do yoga or whatever can substitute for it. In the love of the guru, even the worst among us get fresh lease of life and a licence to change. The transformation of Angulimala by the Buddha hinged upon the latter’s faith in the murderer’s divine nature. Such unconditional love and acceptance can only come when one is fully liberated and free of all fears and desires. Apart from this, the road to liberation is a long and winding one, with many twists and turns. One who has travelled the full route alone has the right to be a travel guide. Only he can tell you how long the terrain you are travelling on will last, what lies ahead and how much longer the journey is. In other words, only he has perspective. So how does one distinguish a true guru from a fake one? It is not always easy and therefore it is imperative that when we enter spirituality, we also learn to sharpen our intuition so that we know instinctively who to trust and who not to. But here are some obvious pointers. Avoid anyone who seems to be even remotely interested in power, fame, money or sex. I do not say that such people are not liberated, but there is a chance that they may not be, so why take the risk? Secondly, how free do you feel around them? True gurus give you enormous space because they have voided their personalities and therefore have no need to impress you or control you. They are completely honed to their essential selves and therefore give you the space to be yourself. Incidentally, because they have voided their personalities they are also unassuming and unpretentious. Therefore, if you come across an individual who seems to cut a dash, who exudes charm and magnetism, tread very carefully. Also examine if they wish to control you in any way. Do they attempt to manipulate you, or play power games? Avoid them like the plague. The very foundation of the spiritual approach rests on granting the other freedom of choice. The guru is well aware that God himself has granted this right to man and therefore he would be the last to interfere with it. Lesser mortals, though, can never resist the temptation to make others dance to their tune. It is in the student’s interest to choose his preceptor with care. The kind of learning he is entering for is no ordinary one. He is required to perceive afresh, to trust the guru’s version of reality without actually having any personal experience of it, at least at first. To gain anything at all, he must keep his mind completely open, but this makes him vulnerable to abuse. Therefore, he must find someone worthy of that supreme trust that must be reposed.
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