In the course of a fiery discussion on how so-called gurus milk unwary disciples of their money as well as precious intangibles, a friend mentioned that Papaji (a devotee of Ramana Maharshi who later became a guru in his own right) had bluntly prophesied that in the not-so-distant future, a lot of money would be made out of drugs, guns and satsangh.
Now drugs and guns have always been money-spinners for unscrupulous individuals who worship Mammon—but making money out of satsangh? And what does the word mean in the first place? Etymologically satsangh derives from two Sanskrit words: sat (ultimate truth) and sangha (the company of spiritual friends). It means a gathering of seekers whose primary interest is to awaken the divine within themselves—and who seek strength and support as they tread the tortuous yet amazing journey into inner space. Often gurus hold satsanghs for their followers, and today’s so-called gurus are known to charge big bucks for the privilege of meeting them in such a forum.
How did things get to such a sorry state? Well, according to some, mankind is right now mired in the evil of what eastern philosophy calls Kali Yuga. Some claim we have left this evil age behind, while others say we are in either the thick, or at the tail end of it. Since Kali Yuga is characterized by a ghastly deterioration in human ethics, I personally believe we are still in this age.
So it is not hard for me to believe that the once pure guru committed to freely spreading the living truth is now capable of being a deceiver. Look around and you will see many who are motivated not by the spreading of light, but in attracting adulation, power, sex, and money from the gullible and the desperate who flock to them.
During my intense study of Mahayana Buddhism, I came across eighteen points given to a student who wishes to find the right guru. Computer crashes and several international moves have led to my losing this information, but, as I recall, the points were unflinching and clear and pointed to how important it is to locate the right teacher if we are genuinely interested in becoming completely free of desire and fear.
Today I see many seekers who, unable to find what they want in their own religious paradigms, come east in quest of a higher truth. But despite finely honed minds and higher education, they do not take the trouble to gain a solid foundation in eastern philosophy—one that can help them discern the sheep from the wolf, and the shepherd from the predator. Watching this confusion has led me to mull over this critical subject and to come up with my own two bits to offer those who care to listen.
The seeker has first to determine whether she wishes merely to learn effective ways to lick wounds, or whether she is interested in the ultimate goal of permanent liberation from the twin drives of desire and fear, which sages say cause all our suffering. If it is final freedom one desires, then only a satguru will do for the final leg of our inward journey.
Now gurus come in many guises—a parent, friend, colleague, teacher, partner, enemy, even an animal or a thorny situation. When one is finally prepared for the great leap into the spiritual heart, one hopefully encounters a satguru—a being who has watched you being marinated by the myriad sufferings and joys of life and decides to give you a final teaching to completely erase your egoic suffering.
In the old days in India, the relationship between guru and disciple was a long one. The disciple served the guru and sometimes observed him for up to a dozen years before deciding whether he was the right teacher to lead her to moksha. Today, given that lots of folks barely have time to breathe, how can a human easily differentiate between a true and a false teacher?
Here is one way: First simplify the meaning of enlightenment—one who has transcended desire and fear by merging into his true nature or sat-chit-ananda. (Sat: Being, I-Am-ness, Aliveness. Chit: Consciousness, Awareness, Intelligence, Gnosis. Ananda: Fusion of Bliss and Peace.)
If a guru claims to be enlightened, it would mean his inner fountain of bliss is suffusing him with a peace and joy impossible for ordinary humans to fathom. Dwell deeply on this aspect before you commit to any spiritual teacher: for instance, would an enlightened being be inclined to organize events designed to attract needy followers willing to pour money into his coffers, adore him, and spread his fame? The answer would have to be a resounding no.
If you find yourself attracted to one who implies he is enlightened, make sure you do your homework before you sign on for what could be a disappointing ride. Carefully observe whether this person’s talk matches his walk, whether his ego is running the show, whether he is growing materially rich via his disciples, whether he has random sexual liaisons, et cetera, et cetera.
This is not to say that the pursuit of ordinary human happiness is wrong; it is to say that if a so-called guru is engaged in these kinds of activities on the sly, one must beware. The liberation teachings are so precious that no true teacher would ask you for money or sex or adulation in exchange for pure teachings. If you can’t find a guru you can commit to, be patient, continue with your inner work, and ask for help, for it will surely come.
The culmination of my own search came in the form of Ramana Maharshi, the great south Indian sage who teaches Atma-Vichara or the investigation into the Self that we truly are, immortal, blissful, loving, wise, fearless and connected to all beings.
Greetings from Arunachala, the sacred mountain believed to be Shiva the Destroyer, and who promises to destroy the egoic-mind so we can experience ourselves as immortal bliss!