-(in Hinduism and Buddhism) a spiritual teacher, especially one who imparts initiation.
-an influential teacher or popular expert.
If you’re reading this blog on my website, you have no doubt seen the “Globetrotting Guru” alliteration, which is meant to be a clever description of what I have been up to. It’s not my favorite title, but it’s catchy. I’m highly suspicious of anyone who claims to be a guru, and if you too have had an unpleasant emotional response to reading this headline, I commend you. Clearly, you’re a thinker.
The first definition “a spiritual teacher, especially one who imparts initiation” sounds a touch creepy to me. Just the word initiation, meaning “the action of admitting someone into a secret or obscure society or group, typically with a ritual”, could make one think of some character in a hooded robe and perhaps a bizarre blood-letting scenario involving candles and baby animals. Of course, it goes without saying that if someone is calling themselves a guru, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are involved in any snake-oil, waco-level cult activity, this imagery is just to illustrate a point. But even in a more innocuous sense, the first definition of guru brings to mind an outdated dogmatic relationship where two parties are mutually participating in the delusion that one of them has obtained some secret to life, and the other is existing behind a veil of ignorance and illusion. One is an act of exploitation, the other is an act of acquiescence.
The second one is probably a more appropriate definition for how the majority of people are using the word guru today. And in that sense, I have had many teachers that I would consider to be gurus. I have been strongly influenced and inspired by my instructors in the past, to the point that I would idolize them, worship them, and even fall in love with them. If you’ve ever had the experience of hearing the feelings and ideas that have been rattling around inside your heart come to life effortlessly and eloquently from a guru’s lips, then you know how incredible that can be, and what a feeling of awe and connection you may start to have for that person. I have had several teachers and mentors in my life that I would sit, obediently and awe-struck in front of, basking in their wisdom. I would also secretly hope that they would notice what a good student I was, I would want them to see that I really understood what they were saying, and I would wish that I could gain some sort of recognition from my beloved guru. I wanted acknowledgment from the ones that I idolized that I was indeed something special. What we sometimes fail to recognize is that the reason why some things resonate so clearly in our hearts, although expressed by our gurus in a way that perhaps seems larger than ourselves, is because these gems of wisdom have actually been within us all the time.
We humans have the tendency to get wrapped up in the longing for approval by the ones that we respect or even idolize. Our tendency is to become attached to that with which we connect. And that attachment is what perpetuates the illusion that we are somehow not capable of the same greatness as our idols. The attachment is what holds us in our position as students, disciples, followers. Conversely, it is just as easy (and dangerous) to become accustomed to being in the Guru’s role. When you know that people are listening intently to what you say, respecting you, loving and idolizing you, you are apt to become inflated and afflicted with the same illusion that may have brought your students to your very feet. They haven’t yet discovered that you are just as trapped in the illusion as anyone else… but it’s only a matter of time before Dorothy and the gang discover what’s behind the curtain.
Not all gurus are trying to “trick” their disciples, in fact very few are. Most are genuinely interested in being at service to their students and would balk at being described as a Guru. It has been said that the aim of a good instructor is for their students to outgrow them and in a sense, to surpass them. At a certain point, it seems inevitable that the student become disillusioned by their teacher. This sort of detachment has happened for me not only as a student but also as an instructor. But, in my opinion, it is a necessary stage of advancement and evolution for both parties, but one that can be very disappointing and scary for anyone participating in the student/teacher, disciple/guru relationship. The level of disappointment is proportional to the degree of attachment within the relationship. Since the titles of teacher/student or guru/disciple define one another, once the disillusionment occurs, the student is then left responsible for his/her own advancement, and the teacher can be left questioning his/her own path.
Even though we may be inspired by our teachers, mentors, elders, and gurus, it may benefit us to be aware of how much authority we give these people in our lives. Having said that, perhaps it’s important to enter into these relationships not so much with a sense of skepticism or suspicion, but with an attitude of understanding that our gurus are human too, so that when the inevitable man behind the curtain is revealed, we can shake his hand, offer our deepest graditude, and move confidently forward in the next phase of our journey.
Me and my Guru, Duncan Trussell