Everywhere from the juice bar to the yoga mat has witnessed the pros and cons of Gurus debated as a result. No amount of Valerian or chamomile tea is calming discussions down either. (Don’t know what I’m talking about? Check the links at end of this article.)
So is the ‘Age of the Guru’ bruised, but breathing? Moribund or dead?
In a recent interview with The Yoga Journal Andrea R. Jain, PhD, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis stated:
“The age of the guru is alive and well, although the entrepreneurial guru has replaced the traditional guru…Surrender to a guru is not necessarily different from choosing a brand, such as Apple, because of a deep trust in its products. Gurus have evolved to fit into contemporary consumer culture.”
So alive but…different. Commercial?
I decided to ask Ram Das Batchelder, author of ‘Rising in Love: My Wild and Crazy Ride to Here and Now, with Amma, the Hugging Saint’ – after all, he did leave everything to dedicate his life to Amma, the hugging Saint. He may shine some light on a topic which has many of us divided.
Me: I’ve been wanting to ask you this question for a long time now. Is the ‘Age of the Guru’ dead?
Ram Das Batchelder: Now that’s a funny question! The simple answer is no, and one proof is in this photo:
That’s Amma, one of the greatest divine Gurus ever to walk the earth, yesterday in Munich, prior to hugging several thousand people in a program which went all night long. Her hugs are her way of giving people a blessing, and they’re very potent. Hindu devotional songs are sung all night at these programs, people meditate and pray, and also get a chance to look at material about her world-wide charitable mission, which is uplifting millions of people in numerous ways. Everywhere Amma goes huge crowds come to receive her embrace – in India sometimes it’s 100,000 in a single program. And many people receive a mantra from Amma, thereby formally entering into a Guru-disciple relationship with her. So from these facts alone we can see that the Guru concept is still very much thriving in the modern world.
The Guru-disciple relationship is not like a fad which fades after a decade or even a millennium. The Guru is more like a cosmic principle, which will exist even after our solar system is gone. The Guru-disciple relationship is the loving link between human beings and the Supreme Reality; it’s the bridge between human ignorance and the state of Enlightenment. When the devotee is ready to make real progress towards God-Realization, the Guru will appear in his or her life; that’s a cosmic law, and it doesn’t fade from age to age.
Now, why is a Guru necessary? Well, first of all, I won’t insist that a Guru is required for everyone. We’re all on the spiritual path whether we know it or not, and each one should feel free to follow their heart and their intuition about how to move forward. There are a few examples of people who have attained Enlightenment without a Guru; in fact, Amma is one of them, which is one reason among many that she’s considered a Divine Incarnation, rather than an ordinary soul that attained Enlightenment in this lifetime. Generally speaking, though, for most people a Guru is very much needed to reach the goal of God-Realization, in the same way that an able guide is needed to reach the summit of Mt. Everest. Why? Because it’s a VERY difficult climb, and someone who knows the spiritual mountain well, and can help carry your karmic burden, is usually an absolute necessity.
I guess your question probably has its roots in the commonly held idea that in the modern age we’re beyond such things now. And I understand that; I used to think that way too. After all, this is the selfie-dominated age of “me”, where individuals do whatever they want and couldn’t care less about any nagging interference from some Guru-type telling them what to do. We’re the rebel generation and that makes us cool! That way of thinking has its place; it certainly did in my life. I’m still a bit of a rebel at heart.
The truth is that in my teens and early 20’s I was a bitter, skeptical, angry atheist and wanted nothing to do with any of that spiritual crap. Jesus? To be honest I hated the guy. I felt cheated by the religion I grew up with, which had robbed me of any charisma I might otherwise have had and left me with nothing but some mediocre moral teachings worth nothing in my life. Hinduism, Gurus, spirituality, New Age? To me it was all baloney. In fact, when the American teacher Ram Dass came to my college I turned up my nose at the poster and didn’t go. And afterwards I scoffed at someone who said it was a beautiful program. “What bullshit!” I said. Honey, I was one rude ass.
It wasn’t until a year or so later, when a combination of psychotherapy, acting training and marijuana combined to bring about a sudden spiritual awakening that I opened up not just to the idea but the direct experience of God. BOOM! My life exploded, as direct contact with the Divine blew my mind into a completely new dimension. I actually met an angel. I guess you’ll have to read the story.
The thing is, I didn’t know anything about the spiritual path at all at that point; I didn’t even know there was a path. All I knew was that God was real, and that He had contacted me directly and sent me an angel, and that because of that I must be super-frickin’ awesome. In fact, I thought I was the Messiah for a couple of years, a comical delusion which led me through an intense 2-year rollercoaster ride of wild highs and suicidal lows. It wasn’t until I finally discovered meditation, and saw through the silliness of my delusion, that I began to understand the spiritual path at all. The discovery of the Saints of India, through books such as “Autobiography of a Yogi” by Yogananda and “Miracle of Love” by Ram Dass, gave me an awesome spiritual education. They made it clear that not only was I NOT the Messiah for Christ’s sake, but that there were full-realized spiritual Masters alive in the world today, peers of Christ, fully merged in God, with all kinds of amazing miraculous powers. And one of them, waiting out there somewhere, was my Guru, subtly guiding me to awakening, and ready to personally lead me to Enlightenment.
So when I finally met Amma, and discovered through my own inner experience that not only she was a fully divine and omniscient Master, but that she was MY GURU, it blew me away completely. Here was God in a human form, giving me not only sweet hugs but subtle inner-plane teachings which were taking me higher each day, and filling me with a love I’d never dreamt of. So, for me the Guru was a great savior, and remains to this day the primary focus of my life.
Now, the thing about your question is, I think it’s easy to look on a Guru-scene from the outside and scoff. I know it is — I did it too, and maybe sometimes I still do. “Look at all those idiots bowing down to that fraud!” It’s fun, as long as it’s someone else’s guru you’re knocking. And of course there HAVE been many false and flawed Gurus, so it’s easy to get the impression from the media that all Gurus are just snake-oil salesmen and there’s no such thing as a true Master on the planet today.
But it just doesn’t happen to be true. If we’re cynical at heart, our skepticism will probably prevent us from finding a true Guru. Only the sincere and dedicated seeker will find one. The media will only find the frauds.
Now, there are other reasons people tend to roll their eyes about Gurus. I think there are a lot of devotees who kind of give the Guru thing a bad name. They proudly tell everyone they’ve found their Guru, put the Guru’s photo on their wall, maybe change the way they dress, but then don’t really live by the Guru’s teachings or aspire for what the Guru is really here to give. The Guru is an open door to Enlightenment, but as disciples we have to make a very strong and sustained effort to walk through that door. If we don’t, and just make the Guru another trophy on our ego’s mantle, we’ve done ourselves a disservice, and helped give spirituality a bad name. But, c’est la vie. I think we’re basically all doing the best we can, and even if we screw up royally, with each lifetime we’ll be learning and progressing towards the divine goal. Enlightenment is the ultimate destiny of each and every soul, so there’s no point in despairing about our own lack of progress, or getting too down on anyone. It’s going to work out fine.
The thing is, Amma is kind of unique, in that she’s actually more than just a Guru. She’s considered to be a Divine Incarnation, more like a World Teacher. Although the spiritual teacher aspect is always there with her, she is also focused full-time on compassionate service of humanity. Her goal is literally to save the world and bring in a new age of love and compassion, or at the very least keep the planet from falling all the way to total chaos and destruction. So even for those who are not yet aspiring for Enlightenment, there are many ways to connect with Amma and be of service to her mission. She runs an excellent full-service hospital, with most treatments free for the poor, 50 schools, a great university, and hundreds of projects to serve the impoverished and the victims of natural disasters around the world. She’s built 45,000 houses for the poor, and recently donated $30,000,000 for projects that will build toilets for poor communities in India; among other things this will help purify the Ganges River. Anyone can volunteer to help in her mission and share their talents in service of the world. And when we do that, we’ll be earning a rare kind of good karma and receive a very special form of grace, which may blossom in our next lifetime into Enlightenment.
I guess the bottom line answer to your question is this, Alex: true Gurus, rare though they may be, are those who have merged completely in the Supreme Reality. They may appear to be human, but they are actually God in human disguise. Religions and beliefs may change and fade from age to age, but the Supreme Being is changeless and inherently immortal, and the Guru embodies that Supreme Reality, making it accessible to humanity. That Divine Being is actually our true Self, the true Self of all beings, and the Guru is here to wake us up, once and for all, to what we really are. Billions of universes may explode in fireballs, but the Supreme Being, which is the Guru’s true nature (and our own), will remain forever pristine and forever alive, awaiting the heartfelt cries of a true seeker.’
So I throw the question open to you lovely blog readers. What are your feelings on this? Let’s talk! Leave me a comment below…
© 2015 Alex Clarke
If you want to know more about Ram Das Batchelder’s book Rising in Love: My Wild and Crazy Ride to Here and Now, with Amma, the Hugging Saint’ then read the Being through Balance and Bliss review here or buy a copy here.
The Guardian: The Lamas who give Tibetan Buddhism a bad name
Yoga lunch box: Scandals involving Gurus
Yoga Journal: Is the Age of the Guru Dead?
Think body electric: Yet another spiritual sex scandal?
The Huffington Post: A Light look at Naughty Gurus