Western Mind and Gurus
Thoughts on why the path of discipleship may not work for Westerners
by Nori Muster

I agree with the wisdom that when the disciple is ready, the teacher will appear. There is no need to impulsively search for a guru, because it is a natural process that unfolds organically on the mystical level.

Many Westerners, like me, simply are not ready for a true teacher. As a naïve young person, I ran out looking for a guru before I was ready, and because it was something I thought I could handle, I allowed myself to ultimately fall under the spell of charlatans. It was an uncomfortable experience, as I have explained elsewhere.

Perhaps life in the West does not lend itself to finding enlightenment. Our culture is geared toward monetary pursuits and competition. To survive, we lead self-centered lives and grow shallow roots. We move from place to place for financial reasons, such as to get jobs, get a better deal on a house, to get better tax rates, and so on. We know nothing about how to treat our fellow travelers, and even less about how to embark on a spiritual journey.

The masses of Westerners may someday be ready for the path of discipleship, but until then, the best course is to follow the Golden Rule, live life in a creative way, and see what happens. If we do our best, given the circumstances in which we find ourselves, then we can trust that we are on the right path.

Some Western people are ready for enlightenment, and so the teacher appears. This happens in its own course. We cannot synthesize it using a drug; we cannot buy it, nor necessarily attain it through attending a seminar. Still, the desire for enlightenment is widespread the the West, and many people can get cheated. Therefore, I present the following words of caution.

An Open Life
by Joseph Campbell
New Dimensions Foundation, c. 1988

Q. What about the desire to follow a guru? We see religions and cults based on the teacher-disciple relationship flourishing everywhere.

A. I think that is bad news. I really do think you can take clues from teachers--I know you can. But, you see, the traditional Oriental idea is that the student should submit absolutely to the teacher. The guru actually assumes responsibility for the student's moral life, and this is total giving. I don't think that's quite proper for a Western person. One of the big spiritual truths for the West is that each of us is a unique creature, and consequently has a unique path. . . . Now, if there's a way or a path, it's someone else's way; and the guru has a path for you. He knows where you are on it. He knows where he is on it, namely, way ahead. And all you can do is get to be as great as he is. This is a continuation of the dependency of childhood; maturity consists in outgrowing that and becoming your own authority for your life. And this quest for the unknown seems so romantic to Oriental people. What is unknown is the fulfillment of your own unique life, the likes of which has never existed on the earth. And you are the only one who can do it. People can give you clues how to fall down and how to stand up; but when to fall and when to stand, and when you are falling, and when you are standing, this only you can know. And in the way of your own talents is the only way to do it. (pp. 73-74)

One of the typical things in the Orient is that any criticism disqualifies you for the guru's instruction. Well, in heaven's name, is that appropriate for a Western mind? It's simply a transferring of your submission to the childhood father onto a father for your adulthood, which means you're not growing up. . . . So you're still bound; you're still a submissive and dependent person. (p. 75)

There are two responses that are quite natural to the guru. When anyone becomes a model for you, you tend automatically to imitate him. This is the spontaneous identification, and it's through such identification that something inside develops in you. The second phase is finding your own self. I think that wearing Oriental clothes or assuming Oriental names is not the correct way to go about it. You've displaced again; you have mistaken the clothing for the message, and not everyone who says, "Lord, Lord," is going to get to the kingdom of heaven; not everyone who wears a turban is a released spirit. That's one way to get caught again. Then you mistake a certain attitude or manner of living that has nothing to do with the spiritual life. (p. 89)

To make believe that you're Japanese [India, etc.] is just to run off on a detour and get stuck in the woods. It's not in the manner of dress or speech; it's the manner of experience and illumination. So I think the guru can be a delusion. But everything can be deluding. The thing about the guru in the West is that he represents an alien principle of the spirit, namely, that you don't follow your own path; you follow a given path. And that's totally contrary to the Western spirit! Our spirituality is of the individual quest, individual realization--authenticity in your life out of your own center. So you must take the message form the East, assimilate it to your own dimension and to your own thrust of life, and not get pulled off track. (p. 90)
Buy this book: An Open Life

Fame, Pedestals, and Power
by Scott Kalechstein

. . . I wonder how prevalent [humanness] is. Maybe it exists in epidemic proportions. Maybe most of the self-help gurus and experts who speak at conferences and fill the best seller lists are all in the same boat with you and me. Maybe every human being you have ever put on a pedestal has been just as imperfect and vulnerable, screwed up and magnificently flawed as we are.

A number of years ago a popular guru was caught with his yoga pants down, and it came out that he had been sleeping with many of his disciples. Thousands of his followers were heart-broken and disillusioned. People were forced to see the inconsistencies in the one whom they had thought had no weaknesses. Although I am sure many simply turned to someone else to look up to, my hope is that some of them used the experience for empowerment and gave up idolatry altogether.

Seekers evolve into finders when life strips away our security blankets, such as the illusion of a Perfect Human Being in whom we can blindly and wholeheartedly put our trust. The stripping away may first invoke a sense of despair, but a descent into darkness can be just the tunnel we need to lead us away from habitually giving our power to others. Facing despair can leave us face to face with the God within, thus ending the game of seeking forever.

This culture promotes having heroes outside of ourselves, which is a sure way of keeping our own golden natures hidden from sight. Fame glitters, and it certainly catches many eyes in this culture, but is not the gold. Putting everyone on a pedestal is an effective way to deny your own personal power and magnificence.

The only way I will ever be comfortable at the top is if there is room for you and my mother and the entire human race. Then we will worship and praise and learn from each other equally, everyone acknowledged as heroes and stars, teachers and students. This may cause a much-needed wave of gurus turning in their robes, but the true gurus will retire in celebration, knowing that their purpose, which was to render themselves useless, has been served.

I am not the giant of my fantasies, nor the dwarf of my fears. Somewhere in between these extremes is my humanity, and in my acceptance of that there is enough peace and happiness to last for a lifetime.


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