“So who’s your guru?”
During a sound check, a musician noticed various photos of Neem Karoli Baba and Hanuman on the glass of my harmonium, not knowing I had borrowed the instrument. My band, Blue Spirit Wheel, was headlining a yoga-themed new year’s eve event in St. Paul.
This is a common question in yoga circles. Yoga has many limbs, and thus many gurus (of asana and pranayama, service, bhakti, meditation, etc). “Guru,” by the way, not in the levity of its common usage in the west, as a cool way of denoting an expert, like “interior design guru” or “sports guru.” I use “guru” in its respectful, honorable signification of a profound teacher.
However, fielding it regularly has not made me feel comfortable with responding that I have never had a guru. But this time, I responded instinctively, easily. “Everyone is my guru.” I smiled. “You.”
I have never minded not having a guru. But I often feel self-conscious—at my lack of embarrassment, of all things—because some people believe that having a guru is validation, or some sort of certification of legitimacy.
I struggle because I recognize that gurus are humans, and thus flawed. I have rarely encountered, in person or in study, someone I believe to be fully enlightened/ascended. Unfortunately, many, many gurus have engaged in scandalous and inappropriate behaviors. Osho and Sai Baba are common examples, though there are plenty more. Moreover, there are far more false than genuine gurus, wherever you are. My respect for anyone cannot ignore the moments when power often corrupts.
Because I studied with him in Mysore, people often assume that Sri K. Pattabhi Jois is my guru. As one of my most influential and profound teachers—absolutely. Which is why I worked and saved money for two years to study with him. As my guru—decidedly no (though not due to any past scandals). He is a good example of my resistance to following a person or even a person’s ideas truly unconditionally.
And yet, I have been envious of devotees, of their external support structure, their resource in the form of another human being with whom they can commune and discuss and learn.
Most of my life has felt uncharted, and I have often wanted a guide. Not just for direction, but also proof that the path actually goes somewhere.
Though I have never met him, Thich Nhat Hanh has been a teacher via his books and ideas. One of the most well-known is that the next Buddha will be a sangha (community). This belief has been true for me. Rather than finding a guru in the course of all my studies and practices and travels, I have created a community of fearlessly loving people who all teach and guide me in various ways.
Not only do they help chart my path, they know me well enough to call me out on my misbehavior. They are fearless enough to confront me on my own insensitivity or unkindness. Kind enough to listen when I struggle. Poised enough to bolster me in my own darkness. Encouraging enough to help me push myself and remain vulnerable. Willing enough to champion my intentions and efforts. Supportive enough to enjoy my triumphs. And receptive enough to accept all of those from me.
This time of year, people often talk about needing another Martin Luther King, Jr. Of course we do. The struggle for civil rights—for many disenfranchised groups, not just those determined by skin color—is far from over. A War on Poverty would be far more productive than any armed conflict.
But wishing for a leader can also divert attention taking responsibility for the injustice we already recognize. We know the lessons from many different teachers. And we have the means to support each other in community.
Not because we all agree all the time. No one does, not in any sangha. But we know live more intertwined than ever before, and thus we have to coexist.
Globally, we are a community. At the most fundamental levels, our priorities are the same. Isolation is an illusion.
And so I am humbled and grateful for my sangha that keeps my heart and mind and work and play and practice in the collective.
SK © 2015