Those steeped in a Western monotheistic religion, such as Christianity or Judaism, might be surprised to learn that millions of people in the world today believe that God walks on Earth in a human form – divinely perfect.
Some Christians believe that Jesus was perfect, but his flawed humanity seems to be as important as his divinity. In like fashion, most Muslims consider that Muhammad was a flawless conduit for God's message as revealed in the Koran, but the Prophet himself isn't revered as God.
It's only in the Eastern religions, so far as I know, that a person is viewed as essentially identical with the Supreme Being. These are the "perfect gurus."
Comments on a recent Church of the Churchless post got me pondering this subject. As a long-time member of Radha Soami Satsang Beas, a branch of Sant Mat, I'm intimately familiar with the whole perfect master thing. I've even sat down and talked with a couple of them, Charan Singh and Gurinder Singh.
One obvious fact about perfect gurus is that there isn't any outward sign of their perfection, as this essay describes. Their bodies are imperfect, as they get sick and age. Their minds are imperfect, as they forget things and make mistakes.
So where does the supposed perfection lie? On a different plane of reality – that of soul or spirit. Just as God can't be seen directly, neither can the guru's perfection. It has to be taken on faith.
And believe me, many disciples do.
This is easier to accomplish for native Indians, for example, because gurus are a staple of Eastern cultures. Western minds (like mine) have a more difficult time accepting that outward imperfection masks an inward perfection.
A few weeks ago my wife and I took a Rumba class with another couple. As often happens in dance classes, they got to bickering in a friendly fashion.
"Hey, you should be doing the move like this." "Well, I would be if you were doing your part right." And so on. After a while I saw they were in a big hug, cooing at each other like lovebirds.
However, when perfection is measured against a yardstick, that's different. Who can forget the iconic image of Bo Derek in "10"? (Though I've learned from comments on my most beautiful woman in world post that beauty truly is largely in the eye of the beholder.)
Gymnastics has more definite criteria for assigning a "perfect 10." Yet even here there are subjective disagreements among judges.
So how is it possible to say that a guru is spiritually perfect, when it's so tough to assess physical perfection? Where is the standard for judging how well someone is in harmony with ultimate reality?
This presumes that someone else – the judge – knows the nature of ultimate reality, a.k.a. God. Similarly, it takes a expert who knows the nature of an ideal diamond to assess the relative perfection of a gem.
For many years I've heard disciples speak of their guru as being a "perfect master," or "God in human form." I rarely, if ever, did this. It always struck me as the height of ego to make such a statement, following the adage It takes one to know one.
I'm so imperfect, in so many ways. We all are.
He among us who lacks flaws, let him judge who else is perfect. That person sure isn't me. And I'm also pretty sure it isn't all the devoted disciples who look upon their guru with eyes that see no imperfections in him.
(Regarding the masculine language, I liked the final question on this ExPremie.org page. The suggestion is to ask a guru, Prem Rawat, "Can you think of any Perfect Mistresses?")
As with the couple in our dance class, it seems that often starry-eyed disciples are so much in love with the guru they can't bring themselves to notice any flaws. This is akin to the infatuation phase of a relationship where everything the other person does is just wonderful.
After a few years of living together, those charming eccentricities turn into irritations. The love may be stronger, but the vision is clearer. Ditto with a guru-relationship, ideally.
I don't see any benefit to considering that another human being is spiritually, mystically, or divinely perfect. A student can benefit from a teacher's instruction without viewing him or her as infallible. In fact, it's questionable whether genuine learning can take place without developing an ability to critique what you've been told.
In my martial arts slanted Tai Chi class this afternoon, the teacher said, "I'm going to show you four moves; then you're going to have to figure out what comes next yourself." Now that's good instruction.
Believing someone is perfect and can do no wrong is a stepping stone to cultish behavior. Some gurus are notorious for abusing disciples, sexually or otherwise. Others exercise more subtle forms of control. Regardless, giving up one's capacity to question isn't healthy – mentally, psychologically, or spiritually.
Googling "perfect guru" today, I came across some interesting links in addition to those already shared.
--"The Perfect Guru" strikes me as a parody of perfection characteristics. Others take this piece quasi-seriously. You can decide for yourself.
--A chapter from "Stripping the Gurus" by Geoffrey Falk is about Andrew Cohen. It's titled "Sometimes I feel like a God."
--Here's a "History of Perfect Masters" by a Sant Mat student. See who's in and who's out. Sorry, Buddhists – the Buddha didn't make the list.
--Another "Lineage of Perfect Masters." Some overlap, but there's plenty of disagreement about who qualifies for the Perfect Master Club.