Pattabhi Jois & Iyengar

How To Avoid The Pitfalls of Guru Worship

The fact that we hurt each other is hardly surprising. That we are able to turn a blind eye to each other’s suffering, neither. Truly, we all want to believe we are not found lacking in integrity, but when we’re up against it; we are apt to even put aside that which we thought we most believed in. Then again, we are capable of actions of inexpressible kindness too. The human condition is a confusing and mixed bag, easy to see then how we are inexorably caught up in the attempt to find a consistent source of knowledge from which to take our stance with confidence.

That our revered teachers are found lacking should not surprise us and does not need dwelling on. That is the nature of an ideal, which remains true in concept alone. To exist in the human dimension is to be subject to be opposing forces, the light also has to be balanced by the dark in order for it to mean anything. But the realisation that perfection is simply a dream we dearly wished to believe in, does not undermine our very noblest endeavour whilst alive of trying to achieve it.

With the current collapse of so many gurus and spiritual leaders we may be tempted to wallow in apathy and the all proposition that there is nothing left to believe in when these representatives have been discredited. With so much conflict we may choose not to do or believe in anything, which could feel comfortable, but also entails a senseless retreat into stagnation of our possible relation with reality.

An externalised ideal is a useful orientating concept in itself, it’s just a question of how it’s used. From these figure-heads we derive motivation and a rough surmise of the territory in which we are traveling. The problems only start when we take this element of ‘technique’, as it were, in our relation to them, as the embodiment of the thing we are searching for itself.

This is such an easy temptation as it negates the need to face the disquieting revelation that the responsibility for the quest for meaning, ultimately, is ours alone. Secondly, we get to preserve our sense of security in the comfort that comes from attaining knowledge we can believe in.

This all comes down to the mistaken way we relate to knowledge and meaning. Taking meaning as comfort and knowledge as the derivation of this feeling of certainty: the security that arises out of the feeling of knowing, we continue to find ourselves in a position of submission in order to receive that which we feel we are lacking. Indeed, that we feel a sense of lack or insufficiency is beyond the need to question. The error arises from our response to this, which is to try to fill the hole, rather than embody the hole itself.

Filling the hole is a very familiar process to all of us. It usually entails signing up as a fully paid member of any team or group. Strength in numbers seems to ally our doubts, and we can opt-in to a structure of belief based on submission to the top based on the fictitious belief that they are adequately placed to give us the sense of meaning we wish for, in the ideal they embody. Again, this is not to say that hierarchy is not useful and to be respected, simply that its generally related to in the wrong way; as an end in itself to be worshiped and venerated, rather than a simple tool to be utilised.

The possibility for this scenario to go array is all too obvious when we have given over our power in this way. Then again, it’s also an obvious psychological reflex.

We feel the need to externalise our quest for understanding, indeed by definition, if we are looking for an understandable knowledge, it has to be at some distance from us in order that we can relate with it from the individual standpoint we inhabit.

In this way, we allow for the building-up of a protective shell of facts around us, the obvious response to being confronted with the absolute chaos and uncertainty that whirls around us.

Ultimately, we have unrealistic hopes as to the simplicity of our endeavours. We assume the answer can be fairly easily found in some kind of ‘holy grail’, whether this be a football team, company or even a yoga style. We get to keep everything we already know and simply add onto it, filling the meaning gap leading to our sense of pervasive inadequacy. So, in fact, our submission itself isn’t even of the right quality. We only defer in order to delegate the whole difficult matter to the notion of faith, faith in another, in a chosen ideal or set of concepts; but most fundamentally, taking shelter, complacently, in the hope that the future will be different, will finally feel ‘enough’.

We expect meaning to be logically consistent, involving some undeniable sense of wholeness, which it does not; hence we need to keep deferring our success in locating it to a constantly receding future. However, the only place where our search for meaning can be at all self-justifying is within our very selves. It’s the only place where meaning can ever be actually felt, be more than a concept demanding faith and that type of submission that may only be from cowardice and laziness.

Real submission is a different way, a diametrically opposite way of relating to our quest for meaning, knowledge and certainty. Ironically, it is in this lack that we are trying to cover over, that the only possible and incontestable source of meaning and certainty actually resides. This is arrived at through the paradox of embracing uncertainty and unknowing finally revealing the very same qualities we tried to attain by cultivating their opposites.

But whereas that endeavour always took us into illusion, and the need to idealise almost always arrived at disillusionment, or worse, stepping into the hole feels honest, and, in that, we can start to feel secure. Being present with ourselves in moment to moment reality, the darkness we took for confusion starts to be simply appreciated for its texture. The tapestry of daily existence, however repetitive and mundane, ceases to be so when we are no longer shuttered behind the protective barrier of assumptions we took to be useful.

However, just like you can never get blood from a stone, or an orange from an apple tree, you can never get meaning from concepts. Whilst, truly tempting for us all; providing, as they do, intelligible answers to our fear of the unknown, the ever-encroaching void we seek to push away, we should only use them until we start feeling our own inner strength sufficient in order to enter it. Here, meaning flows freely, but we also, with this true submission, which involves abandoning everything we thought we were, don’t feel comfortable in the way we had imagined.

Instead, there is only the sense of ‘rawness’, an openness to experience which will entail all things; both the ostensibly pleasurable and the painful. To deny the dualistic nature of the human condition, would, indeed, be to negate the very pressing reality of our impending death. For this reason, we retreat into an illusory world and take refuge behind the very teachings and teacher who are meant to convey us into the true reality of facing up to our actual experience. These, whilst significant, entities should only be there as long as we need them to be, as long as we need to hold on to the idea of knowledge.

At some point, we must jump into inhabiting, quite profoundly, the mantle of self-responsibility. From here the stream of meaning flows freely and is never questioned. Somehow, within the lack, inconsistencies, and uncertainty comes a new state which is whole in its emptiness continuously being filled, disgorged and created afresh.

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