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Is a Guru Necessary

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by Sangharakshita

Aspects of the Higher Evolution of the Individual

90: Is a Guru Necessary? Friends, tonight, as you've just heard, after a period of some 8 weeks, we come to the end of our current series of lectures - a series which has dealt week by week, in one way or another, with the subject of the Higher Evolution of the Individual - and we end this series with a question. We end it with a very important, not to say vitally important, question; a question which arises, which cannot but arise, which inevitably arises sooner or later whenever one genuinely tries to evolve, tries to develop, or even just tries to be oneself in any authentic manner; especially does it arise if one attempts quite specifically with relative consciousness and awareness to follow what we usually call, what we usually refer to as, the spiritual path. And this question arises with all the more force and is all the more relevant, and all the more imperatively demands an answer, when one tries to follow that spiritual path in one or another of its oriental forms. And that question is, of course, the question that stands as the title of the lecture this evening, `Is a Guru Necessary?'.

Now, I'm quite sure that as soon as this question is asked, all sorts of pictures arise in people's minds, especially if they sit back and close their eyes, all sorts of beautiful, all sorts of wonderful pictures. Some people may see brilliant blue skies, some may see beautiful white snow peaks, and a little further down, just above the snow line, they see snug little caves; they may even see in their mind's eye pictures of well-built, square-looking, solid, picturesque, remote, Tibetan monasteries situated in the midst of beautiful scenery in inaccessible valleys, little Shangri-las and so on, and they may even, if they remain daydreaming and visualising long enough, see in their mind's eye benign, smiling pictures of wise old men with long, white beards, with starry eyes, and they may even see, if they look and gaze a little longer, they may even see pictures of bands of devoted disciples sitting at the feet of the wise old men, and gazing spellbound into their eyes. And perhaps they may even see pictures of these disciples, these lucky disciples, situated sort of floating up into the air, floating up into Nirvana with hardly any effort on their part at all.

But this evening, we are not going to indulge in pictures of this sort. We are going to banish all such pictures quite ruthlessly, and we're going to leave them aside, as it were, at least for some time. We're not going to let our imaginations run away with us as soon as we hear the magic word guru. Now, we're going to consider the whole question of `Is a guru necessary' in a comparatively sober and matter-of-fact fashion. We're going to try to understand what a guru really is. We're going to try and understand what a guru is not, and this should enable us to say, of our own accord, for ourselves, whether a guru is necessary or not, and if he is necessary, in what manner, and to what extent. We shall also, towards the close of the lecture, be taking a look at some of the attitudes, eastern and western, which can be adopted in relation to the guru. Now, we're going to start with the negative first, and we're going to proceed after that to the more positive. We're going to try to understand, in the first place, what a guru is not. We're going to consider this question under four main headings. We're going to try to understand, in fact to see, that a guru is, first of all, not the head of a religious group, that he is not a teacher, that he is not a father substitute, and not a problem solver. First of all, the guru is not the head of a religious group, Now, by a religious group we do not, of course, mean a spiritual community. We spoke about the spiritual community and what that really is last week. By a religious group, we mean - or rather by a group of any sort we mean - a number of what I described last week as non- individuals organised into a power structure. This is what we call a group. We went into all this rather thoroughly last week, and we saw that groups in this sense of the term, organisations of non-individuals into power structures can be both religious in the more conventional, more established sense, and also non-religious. And the religious groups, in this sense of the term `groups' , are of several kinds. We've got sects, we've got churches, we've got even monasteries and groups of monasteries. And these all have their respective heads. If one turns to them, if one thinks of them, one finds that these heads usually have very long and very resounding titles. I tried to look up, as a matter of interest, the title of the Pope, but I discovered it was so long I couldn't include it in my lecture, and we usually find that heads of these religious groups, not only have very long and resounding titles, but are also regarded with great veneration, with great devotion, by their followers, in other words, by other members of the group to which they belong, and of which they are the head. But if one looks into it a little more closely, one finds that the other members of the group, the followers, are not devoted to the heads of the religious groups for what they are in themselves, what the heads of the groups are in themselves as persons, as individuals, but for what they represent, what they stand for - if you like, even what they symbolise. Now you might think that they stand for, or represent, or symbolise something spiritual, and in a sense they do, but that isn't what they really represent, or what they really stand for, or really symbolise. What the heads of the groups really represent is the group itself. They're the heads of the group. That is their principal, their main significance. So therefore, members of such groups usually feel that an attack, for instance, on the head of their group is an attack on the group itself. Any disrespect shown to the head of the group by people outside the group is interpreted, is felt by members of the group, followers of the head of the group, as disrespect shown to the group itself.

Now, in this connection, there's a little incident in the life of the Buddha. The scriptures relate that a certain monk, a disciple of the Buddha, happened to be travelling on foot, and as the road was long and dangerous, he went along with a number of other people. There were many dozens of them, so a number of them happened to be walking in front. He was walking behind, and he couldn't help overhearing what they were saying, and he soon came to realise that they were talking about the Buddha, his master, talking about the Buddha's teaching, and the Buddha's spiritual community. So he listened, but as usually happens with people who listen, or listen in or overhear, he did not hear very much good about the Buddha or about the Buddha's teaching.

In fact, the scripture says that the monk, to his astonishment and dismay, heard these people speaking in dispraise of the Buddha, running the Buddha down, criticising the Buddha, saying he was no good for this reason and that reason, and listening to this, this monk became not only dismayed, not only shocked and disappointed, but he started becoming very very angry indeed.

And he thought, `Who are these people? Just listen to them running the Buddha down, running his teaching down.' He was getting more and more angry, and his anger was sort of burning within him as he was walking along behind them. So some days later he happened to see the Buddha, in fact he went to see the Buddha, and his anger was still burning within him, so he told the Buddha the whole story. He thought, apparently, that the Buddha would be angry too, to hear that people had been running him down in this way. But what did the Buddha say? The Buddha said: `Look here, you know that I have sometimes spoken about anger. Now, you're angry, but what have I said about anger? What have I said on the subject of anger? Have I said that anger is conducive to the attainment of Nirvana? Or have I said that it is not conducive to the attainment of Nirvana?' So the monk had to hang his head and admit that the Buddha had said that anger, indulgence in anger, was not conducive to the attainment of Nirvana. So the Buddha said: `Look, you are supposed to be a monk, a disciple of mine. You're supposed to be aiming at Nirvana. Why then this anger? Why have you allowed it to arise in your mind? By becoming angry with these people for speaking in dispraise of me and my teaching, you have merely placed an obstacle in the way of your own spiritual development and evolution.' Now, the Buddha didn't even let the matter rest there. He said: `All right, suppose someone does speak in dispraise of me, runs me down, criticises me, or my teaching, or my order, my community', why get angry? Just consider the matter quite objectively.'. If the criticism is justified, accept it and act upon it.

If it isn't justified, just put the whole matter aside, and forget about it. But there's no point, there's no need to get angry.' In other words, the Buddha was saying to the disciple, to the monk, that he should not treat him, not treat the Buddha, just as the head of a religious group. If we look deeply into the matter, we can see and understand that the monk was not really angry because people were criticising the Buddha. He was angry because people were criticising the group to which he belonged, his group, the head of his group. In other words, he was really angry because he felt that people were criticising him. Even questioning, doubting his wisdom, his intelligence in being a member of such a group and follower of such a person.

Now we get, I'm afraid, examples of this sort of thing, even in the Buddhist East today. I myself encountered a number of examples, especially, I'm afraid, though it may be simpler if I heard (?) more from this source, ...

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