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Is a Guru Necessary

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by Sangharakshita

... especially as regards Ceylon. I found that there were some Ceylon Buddhists, for example, who'd hunt through books on comparative religion and dictionaries of religion and philosophy and so on, looking for unfavourable references to Buddhism. And when they found them they used to get very very angry, and very very upset and very excited. They'd write off to the publishers and call public meetings, and organise protests and demonstrations, and you'd think that they'd really want to - well, almost to hang, draw and quarter the person who was responsible for the unfavourable account of Buddhism. But, the interesting thing is that they were always fully convinced that by getting upset and angry and excited in this way, they were thereby showing their great devotion to Buddhism, their great faith in the Buddha, their great orthodoxy, their great loyalty. But one can see quite clearly that what they were really doing was just exhibiting their group spirit, which, of course, has nothing to do with the Higher Evolution at all.

Now, we can go a little further than this; we can say that the guru is not only not the head of a religious group, he is not even just an ecclesiastical superior, not just someone a bit higher up in the power structure of a religious group. Sometimes one has the experience that prominent religious personalities come from the east, and they are usually preceded, they are usually heralded, by quite a bit of advance publicity. And, sometimes in this publicity one is told that this particular personality is in charge, for instance, of an important group of monasteries, or that he is second-in-command of a very ancient and historic temple, or sometimes - and I've had this experience in India - one is told simply that he is very wealthy. I remember once I was in Calcutta and a very important monk was expected from Ceylon from a very famous temple, and I was told by the head monk for the temple where I was staying that I ought to go and see him, he was very important, and very influential. And I said, `In what way?' So he said, `He's the richest monk in Ceylon.' So I was expected to go on that basis and pay my respects to him. In this way one is expected to be rather impressed by facts of this sort, and expected to regard people of this type, who are merely higher up in the ecclesiastical structure, as gurus. But a guru is not this sort of figure at all, and people of this sort are not really gurus at all. They may be organisationally important or influential, but they are just that, nothing more.

Well, secondly, the guru is not a teacher. It's comparatively easy to understand that a guru is not the head of a religious group, but I think it will be news to quite a lot of people that he is not a teacher either. Not even a religious teacher. Most people think that is just what a guru is supposed to be. He's a teacher, a religious teacher, a spiritual teacher, a spiritual master. But then what is a teacher? Well, a teacher, obviously, is one who teaches, who imparts knowledge, who communicates information. A geography teacher obviously teaches geography - facts and figures about the earth; a psychology teacher teaches psychology - facts about the human mind, the human psyche, nowadays not only facts, but also figures. Now in the same way a religious teacher teaches religion. Well, that may be the theology of a particular religious tradition, its doctrine, its doctrinal system; it may be the general history of all the different religions of the world. But a guru, as such, is not a religious teacher. He doesn't teach religion. In fact, he doesn't teach anything at all. Of course, people may ask questions, and he may answer those questions, or he may not: it all depends on him. But he's got no special, as it were, vested interest in teaching. If nobody asked questions, well, he just wouldn't bother, he'd sit quietly as it were and amuse himself. The Buddha himself has made this perfectly clear. For instance, in the Pali scriptures he says in several places that he's got no ditthi, no dristi, which means no view, no philosophy, no system of thought. He says, `There are lots of other teachers who've got this teaching and that teaching, and this dristi and that dristi, this philosophy and that philosophy to teach. I don't have anything, I've no dristi, no view, no philosophy which I am trying to teach, which I am trying to communicate to people, no system of thought.' He says the Tathagata, the Buddha, is free from dristi , free from doctrines, free from philosophy, free from teachings. He is quite emancipated from them; he has nothing to do with them. And then, in the Diamond Sutra, the Buddha says that he's got no Dharma to impart. We hear of all these Bodhisattvas and disciples sitting and waiting, expecting the Buddha to teach them something, or to impart a Dharma, doctrine or teaching, and the Buddha says `I've no Dharma to impart. I've nothing to say, nothing to teach'. Then, in the Lankavatara Sutra, the Buddha goes even further than that.

He says, `Don't be under the impression that I've ever taught anything. You might have heard me speaking, or you might not, but that doesn't mean anything.' He says `The truth is that from the night of my Enlightenment, the night that I saw the Truth, that I became the Buddha, that I woke to absolute consciousness, right down to the night of my Parinirvana' - the night when the body just dissolves, and the Buddha, as we would say, dies, right down to that night, that whole period of five-and-forty years he says, `I haven't uttered a single word'. If he hasn't uttered a single word, well, how can he teach? And if he doesn't teach, well then, he isn't a teacher, hasn't taught anything. So the guru is not a teacher.

All right, thirdly, the guru is not a father substitute. Now what does this mean? We may say, generalising, that, for various reasons, quite a lot of people never grow up. Perhaps this is the most striking fact about the human race as a whole; the majority of its members do not grow up.

We went into this too a few weeks ago. Now, of course, people grow up physically, they develop, Lecture 90: Is a Guru Necessary? Page 3 they expand, they put on weight. They even grow up intellectually in the sense of being able to organise their knowledge into more and more coherent wholes. But they don't grow up in so many other ways. They don't grow up emotionally, not to speak of spiritually. Many of them remain emotionally immature, even infantile; remain emotionally dependent. And because they don't grow up, because they remain emotionally dependent, they want to depend on someone else. They want to depend on someone bigger than themselves, stronger than themselves, someone who is prepared to love them and protect them absolutely and unconditionally. They don't really want to be responsible for themselves, don't really want to decide anything for themselves; want somebody else, some other person, some other power, some authority, even some other system to decide it and settle it all for them. Now, usually when one is young, that is to say, literally young, one depends, one can depend, on one's parents, either father or mother or both. But as one grows - I won't say `grows up' - older, one has to find somebody else. Mother and father may be no longer there, maybe you've left them, maybe they've died, and so on, So you have to find a substitute for mother and for father. And, of course, many people find this substitute, this person on whom they can depend emotionally, in the marriage relationship. And this is one of the reasons why marriage is so popular, and also, on many occasions, so difficult.

A number of people, again, find their substitute, their parent substitute or surrogate in a concept of a personal god. One may even follow Freud in saying that God is a father substitute on a cosmic scale. And the believer expects from God the same love, the same protection, as the child expects from the parents.

It's very significant, I think, that in, say, Chrisitianity, God is addressed as `Our Father'. And again, a father substitute is often found in the figure of a guru, or one might even say, a pseudo- guru, because the guru is not really, not truly a father substitute at all, but only too often the followers try their best to make him such. We've all heard, for instance, of Mahatma Gandhi, great Indian politician, thinker, activist, even revolutionary, some people would say, a spiritual figure, a religious figure. Now, I think it's rather significant that for most of his life, he was addressed by people, especially by his disciples, as Bapu. Now what does Bapu mean? Bapu means father. And I remember that when I was in western India, I was in contact with quite a number of religious groups and gurus and so on, and I found that there were quite a number of gurus, who, for some reason or another, rather liked to be addressed as Dadaji, which means grandfather. And, it seems, that people used to like to address them as grandfather. This rather amused me, so once, just for a little fun, as it were, when I was in Kalimpong, and when I had with me a number of my own pupils, most of them were Nepalese, I asked them, partly from curiosity, partly for amusement, how they regarded me. At that time I was about thirty years of age and they were in their late teens and early twenties, so when I asked them this question, they clasped their hands together in great emotion and great fervour; they said: `Oh Sir, you are just like our grandfather. This, I must say, took me rather by surprise. I've also known in India quite a number of female gurus. They are not very much in the news, they are not so well known in many cases, or in most cases, as the male gurus, but I noticed that these female gurus were invariably addressed as Mataji, which means mother. And I found at ...

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