Author: David Christopher Lane Publisher: The NEURAL SURFER Publication date: February 1997
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THE GURU HAS NO TURBAN: TOWARD A NEW DEFINITION OF "PERFECT" MASTERS [Graffiti on Soamiji's Well] Part One a continuing series February 1997 THESIS: It seems obvious that our gurus, prophets, and sages are much more human than we wish to believe. Yet, despite all the indicative signposts which clearly demonstrate the frailities of our beloved religious figures, we persist in inflating them to wholly unreasonable heights of glory. One of the more celebrated, if inappropriate, honorifics we have bestowed on our chosen gurus is the term "Perfect Master." It may be one thing to call a teacher a master (he or she may know more than us in a certain subject), but it is quite another to call such mastery "perfect." The first and most troublesome problem is one of definition: what do we actually mean by "perfect"? My sense is that we fundamentally misunderstand the honorific and we do not fully understand the implications involved when applying such terms to living human beings. My argument is a very simple one: The guru is NOT perfect, at least not in the ways that we may assume. But despite the fact that we can easily demonstrate the limitations and fallibilities of our gurus, we somehow hold on to the naive concept that a Guru can be an all-knowing and all-powerful being. In writing this series I had two options: 1) to write a third person narrative and keep a somewhat detached voice, pointing out the inherent mistakes we make when saying the Guru is God; or 2) writing a first person narrative, more or less, in which I take my own spiritual tradition to task by citing certain empirical examples of how the guru is NOT all-knowing or all-powerful. I have opted for the latter course, knowing fully well that I am going to offend many people in the process, particularly my friends and maybe even myself. But let me say right at the outset that I am not anti-guru or anti shabd yoga. Rather, I am very very fond of my own guru and my own path, but I have come to realize that there is way too much hyperbole and too much ideological work going on when it comes to "Perfect" Masters. In short, if I may invoke the vernacular, this subject of "Perfect" gurus is replete with B.S.--so much so that clear thinking on the subject has given way to cultic silliness. I think we are much better served by critically accepting the humanness of our "Perfect" gurus than in intellectually torturing ourselves with spiritual gymnastics, such as: "No, my guru is not yawning because he is tired [God can't yawn], but because he is swallowing up the disciples' karmas [yep, this was told to me in India by an earnest devotee who didn't blink in the telling.] Let us start with the first order of silliness: The Master has a "Perfect" Body. THE BODY 1. Although a large number of devotees in shabd yoga traditions will accept the physical limitations of their respective gurus, there is still a significant contingency which will implicitly (and, at times, explicitly) argue that the guru does indeed have a "perfect" body (whatever that may mean?). I still fondly recall meeting a young man who got really upset and left his spiritual path after finding out that his guru was bald. He told me that a true guru cannot go bald and when he saw his guru without his turban he was shocked.... No hair! When I tried to counterargue with him that the guru's body is just that.... a body like yours or mine, he didn't buy it. In fact, he went on: "Yea, not only is my guru bald, but he also wears glasses. How can God wear glasses?" 2. It so happens that many middle-aged gurus have a bulging waistline. They have what my father had: a growing pouch! But, unlike my father, who knew his increasing girth was due to late night binges of ice cream and candy bars, certain disciples feel that the guru is fat for a spiritual reason. You see, it is just not kosher to say, "Yea, my guru is getting fat; he likes to eat and doesn't get much exercise" (a pretty solid explanation). Rather, some argue that there must be a "higher" reason or meaning. These range from: "Oh, he awakened his kundalini and that is why his stomach is pot shaped; when the shaktipat arises, the stomach protrudes." "My guru is not fat! He is literally eating the disciples karmas in his own stomach." "The God-man is not fat. He is full of life in the solar plexus." 3. I have met a number of gurus (whose disciples claim that they are God in the flesh), who have been physically ill or sick. I remember meeting with Agam Prasad Mathur at his home in Peepal Mandi, Agra, India, and noticed that he was not feeling well. Now from my perspective it looked like Agam was suffering from a bad cold or flu. I felt sorry for him since his health was not up to par. Yet, his disciples didn't say "Yea, guru has a bad cold." Rather, there were all sorts of dramatic explanations revolving around karma. "You see, Dave, the Master is taking on the karmas of his disciples and he is literally paying off their debt in his own body. He is so compassionate. The Master himself, of course, never suffers. He is always enjoying the divine inner bliss." Well, that's a nice way of "explaining way" Agam's obvious suffering, but such metaphysical trapeze work seems to me a long-winded way of avoiding the obvious: The guru is sick! That's okay, most of us get sick from time to time, but we don't need to resort to non credible theories for why we are sick. Indeed, if the guru's body is simply the manifestation of "eating karma" then when he is healthy it is no different than when he was sick. Yet, it is precisely when he is sick that the disciple wheels out the elaborate explanation for why he is in such a state. In the Sociology of Knowledge there is a nice phrase for this kind of posturing: "Ideological Work"--the attempt to reconcile a discrepancy between theory and praxis. That is, what do you when your theology demands a certain ideal and the actual example of it cannot and does not live up to it? One then is forced by the searing breach to engage in ideological work. The bigger the gap between the ideal and the example and the more mentalistic footwork that is demanded. For instance, if you one is brought up in a spiritual tradition where the guru is seen as merely mortal there is not much difficulty when he or she gets a cold/flu. Hey, she's just sick. No need to elaborate. But in traditions where the guru is elevated to Almighty status there can be potential difficulties when the guru shows signs of physical weakness. I remember noting that one esteemed guru in India seemed to get regularly ill after conducting mass initiations. The "unofficial" buzz around the ashram was that the guru was "taking" on the new initiates' karma. Naturally, I had a different hunch of the situation. I noticed that thousands of people would get really close to him during this time and, invariably, a few of them had colds or other contagious ailments. I thought to myself that this was the underlying cause for the guru's illness, since I even seem more prone to getting colds and the like after interacting with large groups of people (particularly when dealing with college students in conferences). Then there are those "embarrassing" things that gurus do, like pick their nose. In India, especially in the Punjab, I have noticed a lot of gurus picking their nose (and I do mean "picking"!). Why? It's dusty. Now this is where I would expect some "karmic relief" theory to be brought out. "No, the guru is picking away at dirt of our soul and his nose is simply the symbol of it." However, I have yet to hear a karmic explanation for nose picking. Maybe it is too obvious or too personal or too funky. But I most certainly do hear karmic theories for colds, for yawning, for back troubles, etc. My sense is that some things are too bodily obvious to demand any ideological work. "No, the guru doesn't pee for himself. He is simply whizzing our sins down the toilet." 4. Let's talk about how gurus eat. I have a dear memory of my own guru eating a particularly sweet Indian delicacy known as a Jellebi (my spelling here is sure to be off). He seemed to genuinely relish it. I like jellebis myself, especially when they are fresh and hot, so I had no trouble "understanding" why he enjoyed the dessert. . . they are good! But when I talked later about my guru's eating habits, one disciple chimed in and said, "No, the guru doesn't even taste food; he does not allow his consciousness to descend below Trikuti (the second inner region in the cosmology of neo-santism). Thus he is only aware of those things beyond the senses/mind." Yea, sure, so that's why he is eating the sweetest thing on the menu, bro, and probably the least healthy as well. I have a truly simple explanation for the guru's eating habits: he eats what he likes just as most of do (with exceptions like diets or being forced to eat my mom's cooking.....) Kirpal Singh liked to drink coca cola and not just one or two. If I remember Robert Leverant's story correctly (when you are 40+ the memory is the first to go, along with one's surfing skills), Kirpal Singh had a case of cokes placed under his podium when he was conducting initiation. Now for a coke addict like myself (coca cola, not pepsi, not lady lee, not r.c., not jolt), I was quite impressed with this story. It actually made me think higher of Kirpal Singh. I thought it was cool that he drank coke and drank lots of it. Coca Cola is a divine nectar. . . the carbonation, the burn, the hit, the right sweetness, the rupture of bubbles where even Jesus appears..... Oh, sorry, I am getting off track. But for some disciples (not Robert Leverant who had no problem with it) Kirpal Singh's coke drinking "needed" explaining. The God-man can't just drink coca cola (please note, it was NOT pepsi!) for its own sake, but there has to be some deeper or higher purpose for it. I got one: he was thirsty. Ajaib Singh, one of Kirpal Singh's more celebrated successors, drank a Campa Cola right in front of me (coca cola had been banned by this time--1978--and one could only get it on the black market.... Don't ask how "I" know). I could tell by watching him that he dug it and he drank it in one huge gulp. I didn't dare ask him "why" since I wanted one too. Then Ajaib Singh let out an apparently satisfying burp. Totally understandable. Any divine reasons? I got one: too much gas. end part one (more on food, body, and other material things associated with "perfect" gurus in the next installment) ------------------------------
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