I’m sitting with ten people at the foot of an empty chair; we’ve been there for an hour. He’s late – he’s always late – and when he finally appears it’s with an entourage. He’s tall, unsmiling and dressed like everybody else on this spring evening in 1987. If you passed him on the street you might think, “doctor? … accountant?” and you would be wrong. In fact, this man is the revered guru of a large spiritual organization and we watch pensively as he sits.
Guru doesn’t waste time. He wants to know if anyone in Australia is worth teaching and – when no-one answers – he offers an observation: “I look around me at the faces in the street and all I see is supreme arrogance”. The room is tense, contracted and still no-one speaks. He looks at each of us in turn and says, “Will you follow me?”
One after another we say “yes”. It’s my turn and – in a voice I hardly recognize as mine – I say, “No”. He raises an eyebrow. “Why not?”
“I don’t know you”, I say, shocking myself with this bluntness (I’m not an assertive type, preferring to please) and stiffen for his reprimand. No scolding today; he must have other things on his mind.
It’s twenty-five years since that meeting and its intensity is still vivid. I’m forever grateful I declined his offer as he ended up leaving his family, running off with someone else and pretty much disappearing from public view.
Fast forward two decades and here we are sitting at the feet of yet another guru. At least she’s only kept us waiting ten minutes. No questions about following her – this one is confident. Someone arrives late, is chastised and then told to sit down. We then spend the next thirty minutes being berated about our attitude. At this point, guru has lost me forever.
Two years later and I’m sitting on a chair almost at the teacher’s level. So far, so good. No-one’s been ridiculed publicly and the organisers are pleasant. Their guru appears occasionally over the ensuing days in short DVD snippets. That’s very good … until it isn’t. I do a little digging, just in case, and find an unpleasant guru surprise. I’m amazed his indiscretions are less public as he’s famous.
My disillusionment with gurus is now boundless, so I’m delighted to encounter a profound article by American writer Charles Eisenstein who says the age of the guru is over. No one person can hold the guru energy any more, he argues, because they are no longer surrounded by the traditional structures that helped keep them insulated from corrupting external influences. These influences have become much stronger in our post-modern culture – to the detriment of the guru tradition.
If this is the case, and it has been in my experience, who can we look to for spiritual guidance? Indeed, do true spiritual teachers even exist in these cynical, commodified times? What’s more, if they do how can we spot them? Are they characterized by any specific features? I believe they are and I will elaborate in Part Two of this article to be published next week in Midlifexpress.
Related Post: Waiting For Guru (Part 2)