You often find what you’re looking for when you stop looking. As a succession of inglorious gurus combusted before my eyes I became a relentless cynic: I’d simply had enough of them and their fawning acolytes. A decade passed.
What came next was somewhat surprising. In the space of five years my ruthlessly guru – less world became relatively crowded with the appearance of two people: The first, quiet and unassuming and the second, assertive and theatrical. I have come to consider them both to be authentic spiritual teachers.
The first maestro emerged from the void at a meditation retreat nine years ago. He was humble, nondescript and lived like a completely ordinary person. He spoke gently and with an obvious respect for his students. His teachings about the increasingly dysfunctional human condition and how we ended up in this mess were given with such clarity and wisdom I was gobsmacked – it was as if something in me came to attention. Moreover, he gave solid, practical techniques for living as well as reiterating how crucial it was to try things for ourselves rather than simply believe his words. He also said he was only a reflection or our own true nature and what we were seeking was within. Furthermore, when I applied his teaching to life, the world I knew – the world that hitherto had seemed so real – began to look increasingly flimsy and I felt as though I were awakening from a dream.
Three years later, on a warm summer evening in 2008, my second teacher appeared. She, too, was perfectly ordinary – a mother and grandmother living in a small town on the other side of the world. Unlike the laid-back first teacher, however, she was very confronting with a bold and brassy style designed to toss your world view on its head as ferociously as a Category 5 hurricane. Yet, even though she initially confounded me, she was always warm, kindhearted and absolutely determined to expose my own ability to free myself from the suffering created when I believed my stressful thoughts.
I credit these two human beings – so different and yet so alike – with awakening me to what my friend Angie calls the “inner guru.”
If you are interested in locating a true spiritual teacher then look for someone who wants you to become your own wise mentor. I also suggest you observe them closely, over a reasonable time, and be on the lookout for the following features: warmth, respect, compassion, a good sense of humor and clear, practical teaching. Beware of anyone who belittles or publicly criticizes their students and head quickly to the nearest exit if they ask you to follow them.
I don’t have a Buddha checklist – all I have is a cynical attitude and a ferocious Dodgy-Guru Detector. What’s more, I’m accustomed to this detector waving itself around and shouting, “Warning! Warning!” like the robot in Lost In Space whenever there’s the merest hint of a guru in the building.
So, when my Dodgy-Guru Detector has been silent around these two people for nine years, I suspect I’m onto something.