When I was a member of an India-based spiritual group, Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB), the guru who led the organization frequently would say, "We need teachers in every aspect of life. Mysticism and spirituality are no different."
Here's the problem with that statement: if I can't tell whether a person is more competent at something than I am, why should I accept him/her as a guide, teacher, consultant, handyman, or whatever?
I got to thinking about this today after reading a response to a comment on a blog post about financial dealings of the current RSSB guru, Gurinder Singh. Tucson, a regular Church of the Churchless visitor, quoted from a previous comment, then shared his own perspective:
Another amazing one:
"What if you were a teacher or professor before you got called to be SatGuru, and you loved it - it was your pride and joy. Wouldn't you be tempted to keep up with what was going on in the world of education? Wouldn't you jump back in there a little if you could? Or if you were a computer geek before being Guru, wouldn't you still want to keep up with the IT world and technology, if you got the chance to? But when Baba Ji [Gurinder Singh] does some business transactions, his old profession, and we are ready to burn him at the stake! We are ready to call him a fake, an infidel, and we want to shun him. This isn't very fair of us, is it? Take care."
--It is amazing how satsangis [RSSB initiates] rationalize inconsistencies in the guru's behavior and what he teaches.
Here we are talking about a Sat Guru who supposedly has access to the highest spiritual region (Sach Khand), the bliss of which makes this world (Pinda) seem like a latrine in comparison. Sawan Singh made that analogy. Also, RSSB teachings say unnecessary involvement with worldly concerns such as intense involvement with business transactions and making lots of money is detrimental to spiritual progress.
Why is a guru who has access to the sublime bliss of Sach Khand (heaven) in need of great amounts of money or the pursuit of wordly interests and hobbies associated with a world that is supposedly, from his perspective, a pit of shit in comparison to the exalted region he has access to?
The person who was quoted argued, in essence, that a spiritual guru won't do anything differently than anyone else. Likewise, it's often said that a guru won't outwardly appear to be any different than us unenlightened beings.
If there's no way to tell the difference between a guru who supposedly has realized the ultimate truths of the cosmos, and an average schmuck, why should anyone devote his or her life to following what the guru teaches?
Here's what I said back in 2006 in a post titled, "God-man or Asshole: the guru conundrum."
Ever since I met her, I’m been trying to convince my wife that I’m God. It just seems so obvious: I understand Windows XP and can fix her computer when something goes wrong; back when we used a VCR, I could program it to do whatever we wanted; I know how to hang a picture so it is centered perfectly over a piece of furniture.
Yet my husbandly divinity remains unrecognized. For some reason Laurel focuses more on such things as: my inability to put the kitchen sponge in its holder, rather than on the bottom of the sink; my incapacity to fold t-shirts properly and place them neatly in their designated drawer; my reluctance, after cutting off a slice of bread, to reintroduce the whole wheat loaf back into the bag where it is supposed to stay fresher.
Guess I should start calling myself a guru. Then my human failings could be construed as signs of my godliness.
...it turns out that there is no way to judge whether a guru is merged with God. If the guru acts perfectly divine, this is proof that he is an enlightened being. If the guru acts imperfectly human, this is proof that, in Savarese’s words, “He chooses to play the role of an ordinary man much of the time.” Why? Because, “If he didn’t he would attract all manner of miracle seekers and not the truth seekers he was meant to meet.”
Pretty good gig. Perfection means godliness. Imperfection also means godliness. It’s akin to a band being able to play as many off-key tunes as they wanted, because the audience would believe them when they said “We mean our songs to sound that way; if you are our fans, love the way we play them, not how you want to hear them.”
I'm learning Tai Chi from a guy who is obviously expert in it. My wife and I are taking ballroom dancing lessons from a woman who can clearly demonstrate her skills. Today I took our Toyota Highlander to be serviced at a dealership where the technicians are certified to know what they're doing.
But when it comes to salvation, enlightenment, or God-realization, lots of people are amazingly trusting that a supposed "guru" (the specific title differs in various religions) actually can walk the spiritual walk, and not just talk the spiritual talk.
One of my favorite sayings of the current guru, Gurinder Singh, is "How do you know that I don't just have the gift of gab?" (I'm not sure if he's still using this line in his talks, but he did fairly often in the early/mid 1990's, when I saw him numerous times).
Yes, indeed. How do we know that anyone has special expertise in some field? We can confirm that a mountain climber knows how to scale difficult peaks. We can document that a computer technician is able to get balky machines running smoothly again.
Yet where's the evidence that a guru is any different from you or me when it comes to knowing what, if anything, lies beyond the physical reality that we experience now? How could we tell that a guru is able to get one's mind/soul in good working order?
I like to visualize a "Who's the Guru?" game show, somewhat akin to the 1950s-60s "What's My Line?" The goal would be to pick the satguru ("true guru") out of a bunch of impostors.
How could this be done? What questions would be asked? Of course, the biggest question is whether the game even is possible, since the producers of the show would have to find a genuine true guru themselves.
This isn't a fantasy game. It is being played by millions of people in every corner of the world.
Heck, make that billions if we have a expansive definition of "guru," one that includes ministers, imams, rabbis, priests, yogis, and others who claim some special knowledge of a divine aspect to reality.
Skepticism is called for. The Emperor actually may have no clothes. (For those unfamiliar with this Hans Christian Andersen story, the plot is wonderfully apropos to the theme of this post.)
An Emperor who cares for nothing but his wardrobe hires two weavers who promise him the finest suit of clothes from a fabric invisible to anyone who is unfit for his position or "just hopelessly stupid".
The Emperor cannot see the cloth himself, but pretends that he can for fear of appearing unfit for his position or stupid; his ministers do the same. When the swindlers report that the suit is finished, they dress him in mime and the Emperor then marches in procession before his subjects.
A child in the crowd calls out that the Emperor is wearing nothing at all and the cry is taken up by others. The Emperor cringes, suspecting the assertion is true, but holds himself up proudly and continues the procession.