Today I met an honest-to-god guru. I trusted him immediately. He was warm, humble, forthright, genuine, and an evident master. I laid my problems before him. He listened patiently and then gave me some sage advice. I took it. And I’m considerably happier now.
My mountain bike is in much better shape after the ministrations of my guru. His name is Brad. He works at Eurosports in Sisters, Oregon. He taught me a lot this afternoon. I only wish that spiritual teachers were equally capable of resolving my questions and problems. But they’re not.
I could watch Brad affix an Armadillo tire to my rear rim so I’d (likely) never get a flat; I saw him adjust my front brake much more efficiently than I could; I heard him say, “your front tire pressure is 20 and it should be 40” after a quick press of his fingers (and a tire gauge proved him correct); I listened attentively when he said that the angle of my seat was scary and realized, after sitting on it following his adjustment, that my crotch indeed was more comfortable now (an important consideration for me, and all men).
In less than thirty minutes I got more proof of a bike shop guru’s competence than I’ve gotten during thirty years of my connection with a spiritual guru—which I’ve written about frequently in posts under the “Radha Soami Satsang Beas” category on this weblog.
Of course, it isn’t fair to compare the two gurus. Brad was dealing with a material entity, my mountain bike. Charan Singh, the spiritual guru who initiated me in 1971, supposedly has been dealing with an immaterial entity, my soul. I can tell how well Brad knows his stuff by how my bike handles. With my soul, it’s devilishly difficult to fathom what changes, if any, are taking place.
Which points to the problem of having blind faith in any sort of spiritual or religious “guru,” whether this be a human being, holy scripture, angelic entity, theological dogma, organized institution, or whatever. How do you know whether a guru is for real when the domain of his purported mastership isn’t on the physical plane?
If Brad had listened to my concerns about the condition of my bike and merely responded with, “Have faith that all will be well one day; just keep riding with a loose brake and puncture prone tire; if you ever can’t stop or get a flat, know that it is your destiny and be thankful for what the Bicycle God has given you,” I would have walked out of his store.
Yet this is basically the deal offered by virtually every Religion Shop on the planet: we don’t fix your screwed up soul now; you’ll have to wait until after you die to get the proof that our spiritual repair job worked. However, we’re pleased to accept your money, devotion, and obeisance now, thank you.
I realize that most people look to their religion for physical as well as spiritual benefits. Among other things, they enjoy the companionship of fellow believers and the opportunity to engage in charitable activities. But the thing is, if Brad had just made me feel welcome in his shop and pointed me toward the United Way jar on his counter, I wouldn’t have been satisfied.
I wanted my bike fixed! That’s what a bike shop is supposed to do. Likewise, I’m looking for spiritual fixes in a religion shop, not extraneous goodies that I can obtain equally well elsewhere. If it feels like my soul isn’t handling any better after many years of work on it, then I’m going to follow a different approach.
I’m not into endlessly deferred spiritual gratification. That’s the province of religion. My tilt is toward the mystical side of spirituality. That’s the home of people who want to soul-ride fast, loose, and free now, not after death.
Each of us has to decide on his or her own how well a spiritual repair job is going. It’s an intuitive judgment, not an objective determination. I could watch Brad spin my front wheel around until the rim was skimming past the brakes without obstruction. When it comes to my soul, I’ve got to trust my inner sense of what is properly balanced and what isn’t.
When I went into Eurosports today my main goal was to get a Armadillo tire put on. Then, when I was watching Brad install it on the rim, I thought about asking if he could adjust the front brake.
“I could understand if you don’t want to show me how to do it myself,” I told him semi-seriously. “If all your customers could do many of their own adjustments, you’d have considerably less business.” Brad replied, “I want people to know how to fix their own bicycles. Here, this is how you should adjust the brake.”
I watched. I learned. Next time there’s too much play in the brake handle, I should be able to, well, handle it myself. Brad is a good guru. He wants his “disciples” who enter the store to leave knowing what he knows. Or, at least as much as he can convey in the time he has available to chat with customers.
If your religion or spiritual path isn’t doing the same—trying to make you truly independent—it’s time to find a “guru” who doesn’t foster dependency. Ride free. Worship free.