Is a true teacher one who acts as a guide, helping you find your own way or one who tells you where to go and how to get there? How far do you go when following a teacher or a guru?
Spending years in the yoga world meeting teachers, people who have followed teachers and people who are desperately searching for something to believe in had me pondering questions such as these at one point or another. I've seen folks give themselves over to a particular teacher or guru; I've seen folks "break up with" said teacher or guru; I've seen people search for just the right teacher or guru for years traveling to the far reaches of the globe to do so. I appreciate the dedication to seeking more and wanting to better oneself.
I just can't help but wonder if it's truly necessary to find a teacher and/or guru and travel far and wide to do so. What if we stayed home and became our own teacher and/or guru?
This question seems to be addressed in the movie Kumare (currently playing in select theaters) in which a Jersey resident Hindi-raised filmmaker created a fake guru persona earning him plenty of followers who had no idea that he was a "fake."
Just the other day a woman was relating a story to me regarding her friends' association with "a very spiritual man" who would fly in his private jet to offer his teachings to others. The woman considered her friends to be misguided, scoffing, "How is it that a "spiritual" man has a private jet? He sounds more like a business man than a spiritual one." Interesting point.
Spiritual man or businessman aside -- the fact is that he wouldn't have a private jet if people didn't pay him for services/teachings. If people have a burning desire to find, then it would follow that they will pay -- sometimes big time -- for the seeking. The man behind Kumare is quoted as saying that the movie is about "the general absurdity of what we all believe."
I believe it is Ronald Reagan who is credited for the quote, "Trust, but verify." I take this tact when dealing with teachers and/or gurus. I listen, I take it all in, but in the end I let my gut decide. For me it comes down to feeling what's right, not following someone else's version of right. This comes with a price, yes, for I've left teachers, relationships, practices by going inside for truth rather than looking for it outside.
Just a few weeks ago I was in a situation where someone who believed fully in something was trying to convince me that it was right for me. This person wasn't trying to force me into following her way -- she was simply very passionate about her method and found it to be transformative. It didn't feel right to me, despite the fact that I respected her commitment to the method and her obvious success with it. Regardless of what she said, I found myself thinking (in addition to feeling all sorts of NO sensations in my body), "Nope, not for me."
Have you ever had that experience when you meet someone who appears to be "perfect" in that he/she has the qualities you admire and seek in a friend or mate and yet you find yourself feeling not right about him/her? On paper the positives of this person are adding up, yet the reality is that you have a niggling feeling that's telling you to run, even though everyone you meet is singing this person's praises? Do you listen to your gut or do you enter into relationship with the person? I've done both at one time or another and I can tell you that the time I didn't listen to my gut led me down quite an interesting road (one on which I learned a whole heck of a lot) that ended with my never doubting my gut no matter how shiny and sparkly reality (or is that perception???) seems.
This is one of the challenges I have with the million dollar yoga industry -- it often tempts and attempts to convince you to seek outer wisdom and heed it over inner wisdom. Go on a retreat to a distant land to find yourself. Follow this teacher or that teacher to find yoga nirvana. Pay this fee to get what you lack. Buy this to make you feel spiritual. I squirm each time I meet someone who has been neutered by what he/she believes to be spiritual teachings. These folks believe that they can't show any "negative" emotion, for it will mean that all of their yoga and meditation have been for naught if they can't handle everything and everyone they encounter on an even keel. I somehow doubt that eliminating all emotion makes you an enlightened person. I think it has something to do with what you do with the emotion (reaction)...And I think that denying your feelings doesn't create inner peace but a fierce inner battle (and a healthy dose of judgment) that leaves you feeling anything but peaceful and more like lacking and a "failure" at being a "spiritual" person.
Mark Whitwell, one of my favorite yoga teachers, offers a different view on going outside vs. going inside in this article. I like the emphasis on intimacy with ourselves and others. Yet, now can we be intimate with ourself when we spend so much time looking outside of ourselves for truth, meaning, and a life path?
Sort of like the song says, "Looking for love in all the wrong places..."
No, following a teacher or a guru is not a bad thing -- as long as it's not following blindly or without question. And don't forget about your most valuable resource -- you (and your gut).