Why you shouldn’t expect your Guru to be right about everything — just one thing

It seems these days you can’t swing a stinky yoga mat without hitting a “fallen guru.”

I could name them. But I’m guessing a few people already have popped into your head. In some cases, the fallout from the fall is huge; in others, the impact seems to be on a narrower, more intimate group. Then there are those where there doesn’t seem to be any fallout at all.

History is filled with stories of gurus (or teachers, or mentors, etc.) who have failed to live up to the image and model of their students. Yep, it’s not like the phenomena is new.

At our workshop last month at Ashtanga Yoga New York with both Eddie Stern and Robert Moses (reminder: tick tick tick on going to India this summer with Namarupa), Eddie offered a pretty simple formula for not getting caught up in a guru-kerfuffle. (We also had this formula from Sivananda.) It’s this:

The teachings are what’s important. The guru is a vessel for the teachings. And they are, in the end, human. And thus fallible — even inevitably fallible.

But the teachings aren’t. The points being made aren’t. The lessons and the path and the guidance aren’t. (I recognize one could argue this — but that’s a different point; this is meant within the traditions in which we are acting.)

It is, I suppose, the ultimate “do as I say, not as I do.” Only a little better, I think. It’s more: “What I’m saying is the truth, tested and passed down. But I’m not the teachings, and I’m only human.”

Don’t confuse the messenger for the message. And don’t dismiss the message because of the messenger’s faults.

Eddie did point out that one would hope and expect that a person invested in learning and teaching sacred texts would embody those teachings — but one shouldn’t be surprised if those teachers fail to live up to every rule and lesson.

Speaking of the Guru, Tim Miller has a birthday coming up — a movable one, at that — and he admits in his blog post this week that he still enjoys celebrating them:

Some years ago I was talking with an SRF devotee on the subject of birthdays. What he said was, “You know you are making spiritual progress when you stop celebrating your birthday.” I must not be making much spiritual progress because I still enjoy celebrating my birthday. From my deeply spiritual friend’s perspective, celebrating one’s birthday is just some vain flattery for the “Ahamkara” (I am the doer), what we would call the ego. Astrologer Robert Hand has this to say about the solar return, “The energies you feel today may not be very dynamic, but you do feel as though you ought to be the center of attention in some way.” The Sun is the symbol of the Soul, and when it returns to the exact position of our birth, it provides us with a spark at the soul level to initiate the birth of a more soulful way of being that better communicates our essence. I’ve always experienced my birthday as an energizing experience, a kind of slingshot catapulting me out of Winter and into Spring.

Tim also offers the helpful reminder that Maha Shivaratri is just around the astrological corner.

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

8 thoughts on “Why you shouldn’t expect your Guru to be right about everything — just one thing”

  1. If we waited for teachers without the human frailties, there would be little, if any, teaching
    Sometimes I feel our human teachers know they are the conduent for something much bigger than themselves and there is a pretty good chance they personally will fall at some point
    What courage this must take on their part

  2. What did Patthabi Jois say again, “I do not call myself Guru, students call me Guru.” I think many people take courses, get certified and call themselves teacher which is the Western Tradition. From my armchair perspective I would think that Indias Great Saints would have been perfectly happy sitting in deep meditation the rest of their lives alone with God. God comes up a lot when you read any teachings by Indian Saints but rarely comes up with the teachings of Western Gurus. Most people are hiding in Indian Culture by dabbling in it and would probably reach greater spiritual heights by delving more deeply into their own families tradition while practicing yoga. Hell the Hindus love Jesus Christ, maybe Santa Clause is an Avatar? I’ll just put on my Teffilin and dovin away then take practice.

    1. “Questioner: How can I make out whom to follow and whom to mistrust?
      Sri Nisgardatta Maharaj: Mistrust all until you are convinced. The true guru will never humiliate you, nor will he estrange you from yourself. He will constantly bring you back to the fact of your inherent perfection and encourage you to seek within He knows you need nothing not even him, and is never tired of reminding you. But the self appointed guru is more concerned with himself than with his disciples.”

      “Sri Nisgardatta Maharaj: I do not ask you to trust me. Trust my words and remember them. I want your happiness not mine. Distrust those who put a distance between you and your true being and off themselves as a go-between. I do nothing of the kind. I do not even make any promises. I merely say: If you trust my words and put them to test, you will discover for yourself how absolutely true they are. If you ask for a proof before you venture, I can only say: I am proof. I did trust my teacher’s words and kept them in my mind and I did find that he was right; that I was , am and shall be the Infinite Reality, embracing all, transcending all. As you say, you have neither the time nor the energy for lengthy practices. I offer you an alternative. Accept my words on trust and live anew, or live and die in sorrow.”

      “Questioner: Is it right to change Gurus?
      Sri Nisgardatta Maharaj: Why not change? Gurus are like milestones. It is natureal to move on from one to another. Each tells you the direction and the distance, while the sadguru, the eternal guru, is the road itself. Once you realize that the road is the goal and that you are always on the road not to reach a goal, but to enjoy its beauty and its wisdom, life ceases to be a task and becomes natural and simple, in itself an ecstasy.”

      “Questioner: How can I make out who is a real saint?
      Sri Nisgardatta Maharaj: You cannot, unless you have a clear insight into the heart of man. Appearances are deceptive. To see clearly, your mind must be pure and unnattached. Unless your know yourself-you are the other. Leave others alone for some time and examine yourself. There are so many things you do not know about yourself–what are you–who are you, how did you come to be born, what are you going to do now and why, where are you going, what is the meaning and purpose of your life, your death, your future? Have you a past, have you a future? How did you come to live in turmoil and sorrow, while your entire being strives for happiness and peace? These are weighty matters and have to be attended to firs. You have no need nor time for finding who is a jnani and who is not.”

  3. Sometimes I think it is very important for any kind of student to see their teacher as some form of super-human being. It makes the student-teacher relationship happen at the beginning, and this idolized image remains for a long time.

  4. It is not about being perfect, it is about being honest. For instance, If you are teaching veganism but are honest about slipping up and eating cheese every now and then, that is one thing. If you are teaching veganism and you swear up and down that you never eat cheese, you jump on people who do, knowing good and well that you still eat cheese, that is when I have a problem with you.

  5. I tend to view the western spiritualist student/teacher relationship as a dynamic in the form of the classical Freudian patient/therapist transference/counter-ttransference. Theres much to be learned but also much damage to be done if the aspects of the relationship are not clearly identified and explored.

  6. “Aughar Baba
    Aughar Baba was a great siddha of Kurmachala. Of course that is not his real name–no one knows what his name was or where he was from. Aughar is the word for an ascetic who leads an awkward life. Because of his strange behavior and awkward life pattern, this siddha was called Aughar Baba. Aughar is actually a high stage in a yogi’s life when all rules are finished. It is the highest discipline, without any worldly discipline. Contrary to accepted practice for religious sects. Aughars have no rules for eating, sleeping, cleanliness, or wearing particular robes. For them there is no difference between the water in the gutter and the sacred water from the Ganges River. For them there is no difference between a diet of pure fruit and vegetables and the decayed flesh of dead animals. They are above “good and bad.”
    Aughar Baba was first seen about on hundred years ago in Bhowali, a village near Nainital town. At that time, Bhowali was surrounded by jungles. It is in a valley, encircled by high mountains; in winter no sun reaches it, so it is a very cold place.
    One winter morning people saw a man sitting in the middle of the road, wearing just a gunny sack. Hi hair was stiff and , due to the frost, his gunny sack was like a straight jacket. A few people went near him and thought he must be a mad man because he was so dirty and smelled so bad. Some people took mercy on him and collected wood to make a fire. But they noticed that the man paid no attention to them, nor did he move closer to the fire to warm himself. He was sitting with his arms around his legs, chest pressed close to his thighs. His eyes were closed. Sometimes he would cough and say something in a language incomprehensible to Himalayan people.
    The sun rose and people began to walk here and there going about their daily busisness. Everyone who saw the man stopped for a short while and then left. Some people gave him fruits and some gave him cooked food. At tie he would eat, but at other times he would throw the food into the fire. Once when people were surrounding him, he passed a stool and began to eat it. For most it was a very awkward moment, but one man there was a scholar of Sanskrit and he said that the man was an ascetic of the Aughar stage. From that time, people began to call him Aughar Baba.
    People started making fires at his place and respecting him as a high saint, but Aughar Baba would act like a mad man. He made the place so dirty that people began to think that he was really crazy. He would collect old shoes, hides, horns, empty cans and burn them on the fire. The villagers wanted him to leave because there was the terrible smell of the burning feces and garbage spreading all about. One day he found a dead dog and brought the carcass back to his place to burn it. Everyone collected there and decided to drive him away. A few young boys used sticks and threw away the garbage to make him leave. Aughar Baba started eating the dead dog. This made several people vomit and run away, but a few who were determined to drive him out stayed there. Suddenly Aughar Baba stood up and gave a leg of the dog to a man who was very devoted to God. Without thinking, the man spread his hands to accept it, and Aughar Baba ran away. Then everyone saw that, instead of a dog’s leg, the man had raisins and almonds in his hands. They were very surprised and realized that Aughar Baba was indeed a high saint.
    There is a small river near Bhowali, and Aughar Baba sat down near that river . Now people began to surround him all of the time but, instead of showing any miracles, he would abuse them and act as mad as ever, collecting all dirty things around him.
    He loved children very much and they were all his friends. He would play hide and seek with them, and they would beg him for raisins. Then Aughar Baba would stretch his arms upward and pray God to give raisins. They would appear in his hands and he would distribute them to the children. Sometimes the children asked for fruits or toys, and Aughar Baba produced them in the same way. He would not show these miracles to adults, but they would watch from a distance and see him playing with the children.
    Realy, he was so kind that if any person had a physical or emotional pain and came near him, he would relieve the pain immediately. In mysterious ways–sometimes by abusing or beating–he cured several people who were about to die. Once a young woman came to him with a serious illness. She was desperate for her life. Aughar Baba filled a bucket with water from the river and angrily threw it over her. The woman was very frightened and ran away, but when she reached home she found that her incurable disease had vanished.
    For several years he lived near the river. A few devotees built a hut for him, but usually he sat on rocks on the bank of the river. One day people found him sitting in his hut–he was dead. They built a temple on that same spot in memory of this awkward but great saint.” ~Hariakhan Baba Known, Unknown by Baba Hari Dass

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