When a sage is born, shining like a star in a noon sky, some are fortunate enough to encounter him or her personally and to directly absorb his teachings. But after he passes away, other elements take over, and these folks are rarely of the high caliber of their master. Gradually, sometimes over centuries, what was once a vibrant and liberating teaching often becomes a rigid and entrenched institution, guarded zealously by those who do not understand the true essence of what the sage originally taught.
Consider the fundamentalists of all stripes and religions today, who warp, distort and twist what their original teacher said to serve political, power or financial purposes. How, for instance, could the true teachings of peaceful and pure Jesus of Nazareth ever have been used to justify the unbelievable horrors of the Inquisitions that followed centuries later? We can come up with a thousand other such examples, of course, for no major religion is exempt from this madness.
One thing that really bothered me when I began my own spiritual quest is that a certain ilk of teachers would insist that, once you signed on for their teachings, that was it, you could not leave their fold. Yes, you owed them not perfect and total loyalty until you took your last breath! Some also insist that you tithe part of your income to them, and god forbid if you move on to another guru more suitable to your spiritual needs—then you are nothing less than a despised and fickle traitor.
As for me, an innate rebel, I brushed aside anyone who dared to tell me I was not free to obey the dictates of my heart. After I began serious practice, my inner voice began to be insistent and today I consider it to be my highest teacher. Of course it needs to be constantly fed with spiritual practice, or it can lead you astray, by seducing you into believing it is the Inner Guru who is guiding you, when indeed, the sad truth is that you are obeying nothing but the whiny, petulant and selfish voice of the ego.
Consider the case of Gautama Buddha. He left his palatial home close to two and half thousand years ago, whipped by the compulsion to find permanent release from suffering. Until he came to sit beneath the leafy boughs of what was later called the Bodhi Tree (Tree of Wisdom), he studied with many high teachers. From all I have read, I believe that these were genuine teachers. And yet, after he had absorbed all he could from each of them, brilliant and one-pointed Siddhartha knew he had to move on. Having ingested all he could from a series of genuine gurus, he sat down alone and resolved to find for himself the final solution to the existential riddle of life himself. And he did.
Now consider this: had any one of his teachers ordered him to stay put, and Siddhartha had listened like an obedient lad, would he ever have reached his luminous goal? No one can say for sure. But I have such a high opinion of him that I do not think he could have been manipulated. No, Siddhartha would not have allowed anyone or anything to stymie or block his fierce quest for truth in any way shape or form. But if he had, perhaps today Buddhism would not be a world religion that offers millions solace and a sure way out of suffering.
So, if you are in the hands of a teacher whom you feel you have outgrown, or who is just not right for you considering your vision has expanded due to contemplation, study and meditation, bring Siddhartha to mind, feel an immense rive of courage flowing through you, and move on until you find the right teacher and the right teaching to mesh with your highest goal.
Emboldened by the courageous journey of so many who had gone before me, I began my own search as a teenager with classical yoga philosophy (basic eastern philosophy, studied esoteric Tantra, then Japanese Zen Buddhism, then Tibetan Buddhism, the ancient path of the mystics (Sant Math) before wending my way back to Ramana Maharshi’s simple and profound path of Advaita-Vedanta. And here I stay, but only because I know I have finally come home.
Genuine seekers are few. Samsara exercises a potent hold on most humans and it is rare to find someone who puts peace and joy above worldly treasures and is willing to work sincerely towards this end. But if we are one of this group, we must be very careful in choosing our teachers. Some of us are so needy (my opinion is that seekers most often grow up in dysfunctional families, so what they crave is merely a comfort zone, or a better replacement for their birth parents; also, some are highly educated and don’t realize that a radically different form of understanding is required to follow an Eastern guru. This means t they really don’t know what they are looking for, lack the humility to admit this and correct the situation, and therefore can be easily conned). Many find solace with a teacher who assumes a maternal or paternal role and stay put, to the detriment of their innately high potential. To these I would say, come on, be humble and study what a real guru is and decide on your goal before you settle down for life with a particular teacher/teaching. You can make mistakes in all the other areas of your life, simply because they are generally rectifiable, but to choose the wrong teacher, and then to stick to him or her like a leech, does not serve you, either in the short or the long run.
Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who vows to destroy all artificial restrictions and delusions that fetter and bind the mind and spirit, so we are free to pursue the luminous goal of permanent freedom of suffering!