Sep 1, 2009


As a contrast or antidote to my recent musings on Indian gurus, here is a very witty, irreverent blog site that seeks to inject a bit of 'reality-check' into the situation. It goes by the delightful name, Guruphiliac, and contains enough salacious gossip (pop stars and gurus) as one could possibly hope for, together with some sharply critical views, very wise cautions and some equally fair comments about genuine spiritual seekers. Ammachi's organization does come under scrutiny for cult like characteristics (see postings on her below). Some of it may be a bit too cynical and unsubstantiated, but it is worth perusing for some healthy skepticism. Another very entertaining blog site on the subject, which provides a real service, is Salo's Guru Rating Service. Here you will find ratings for literally hundreds of self-proclaimed spiritual teachers, with links to both positive and negative evaluations. I'm happy to report that the site gives Sri Ramakrishna, Sri Ramana Maharshi, Eckhart Tolle and Ammachi (though only after some doubts) it's highest ratings (among many low ratings for an astonishing range of teachers), though how these ratings are arrived at is not clear.

Andrew Harvey has written very eloquently about the dangers of the Indian guru system, after his disastrous experience with Mother Mera, another prominent woman teacher from India, whose devotees also use the language of 'divine incarnation' to describe her. This should strike a note of caution in anyone. Andrew has now moved to the strong position of 'no gurus whatsoever,' which is perhaps a bit too extreme. The primary lesson to be learned is not to worship another human being, however spiritually advanced she or he may seem to be. There are some genuine masters out there (amidst a depressing sea of fakery) and some few individuals will feel the call to closely associate themselves with these rare teachers. No doubt motives will be mixed and we will encounter elements of the 'crazy cultists' among them, so careful discernment is necessary.

To illuminate this reflection, here are two anecdotes, the first about Sri Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi, who I offer as the paradigmatic example of the genuinely enlightened Guru:

It is 1947. Fifty years have passed at five o'clock the doors open and early morning devotees enter quietly, prostrate themselves before him and sit down on the black stone floor.... Why did Sri Bhagavan, who was so modest, who insisted on equal treatment with the humblest, allow this prostration before him? Although humanly he refused all privileges, he recognized that adoration of the outwardly manifested Guru was helpful to sadhana, to spiritual progress. Not that outward forms of submission were sufficient. He once said explicitly, "Men prostrate themselves before me but I know who is submitted in his heart." (taken from Ramana Maharshi and the Path of Self-Knowledge, by Arthur Osborne, pg. 126)

The second anecdote comes from a friend of mine who attended one of Ammachi's darshan sessions. The time was the late 1980's and 'Charlotte' was both a friend and teacher of mine at San Francisco State University where I was completing a MA in English. Charlotte's mother had recently died and feeling in need of some comfort she decided to attend Ammachi's darshan along with several thousand others at the Civic Center in San Francisco. After waiting for several hours, Charlotte received her turn with the Indian teacher. Ammachi drew her into her arms and pressed her against her bosom. At that moment, Charlotte felt a shudder pass through Ammachi's body. With her hands on Charlotte's shoulders, Ammachi pushed her some distance away, looked at her with great compassion and then pulled her back in and said in her ear, "Oh my dear, dear daughter. I am so sorry." Charlotte said she felt an energy of warmth and peace flow through her own body that left her deeply consoled. And that was the end of her blessing. However, the point of this anecdote lies with Charlotte's final comment to me. "No, I did not go home, quit my job, pack my bags and become a groupie and follow Ammachi all around the world or join her ashram in New Delhi. This 'little moment' was enough." To which I say 'Amen.'

My own point in referencing these spiritual teachers outside the Christian/Catholic tradition (whom I consider to be genuine) is simply to inject a dose of healthy relativism into the stultifying one-note orthodoxy of official Catholicism. The position that affirms the absolute uniqueness of Jesus as the world's 'only savior' is linked psychologically with the absolute prohibition against abortion, followed by equally one-note prohibitions against same sex unions and women priests (all tied to the defense of the sacred masculine). We see here an entrenchment of the ego, identified with its own absolute positions as a primitive defense mechanism, and feeding it's own sense of power and uniqueness by abolishing all ambiguity. As William Lindsey at Bilgrimage has noted in some recent very vivid posts, official Catholicism - in the US in particular - has been reduced to the very loud banging of one very large drum: no abortion! Of course, there are reverberations and echoes to this single-note banging, among them - no more queers, Jesus is the only Way, and get them women off the altar! (As an aside, given the priest-pedophile crisis and some recent revelations at Queering the Church, which suggest girls may make up more than two thirds of all victims of abuse, perhaps it was not so wise to allow young girls onto the altar as servers, a sad comment one is forced to make (even in jest) in these very sad times!)

As Eckhart Tolle has stated very eloquently:

We are witnessing not only an unprecedented influx of consciousness at this time but also an entrenchment and intensification of the ego. Some religious institutions will be open to the new consciousness; others will harden their doctrinal positions and become part of all those other man-made structures through which the collective ego will defend itself and "fight back." Some churches, sects, cults, or religious movements are basically collective egoic entities, as rigidly identified with their mental positions as the followers of any political ideology that is closed to any alternative interpretation of reality.

Does this not sound like a perfect description of the present day official face of Roman Catholicism, and even more so of those disturbing organizations which now wield such an unhealthy influence in the Church, Opus Dei and the Legionaries of Christ? 'We are unique and superior because of our absolute, purist positions with which we identify'. To take abortion only as one example, to admit that the fetus, while surely human, does not develop the potential for full human personhood until roughly the 12th week of term and that, therefore, termination of the pregnancy might in some cases by justified, is to admit a degree of moral ambiguity and uncertainty that can be threatening to the insecure ego. It is not a position of absolute moral purity (the sacredness of the fetus is inviolable) with which the ego can totally identify. It requires a large measure of acceptance of moral ambiguity, tentativeness, a cautious refusal to rush to judgement, and an acceptance of one's own inner moral ambiguity as well, an ability to face one's own inner darkness, and see beyond the darkness to the light of G-d's loving acceptance. It requires the ability to live with uncertainty in a spirit of trust and to refuse the temptation to cling to false idols for security and prestige. 'We are unique because we are the followers of the world's only savior and we are unique because we are the vigilant protectors of the innocent and the unborn. Their innocence is ours!' In the grip of such an obsession, one may not compromise. What a powerful drug this has become.

But the walls will not hold. For all of the ferocity of the present attacks by those who are shoring up the defenses, the walls will come crumbling down. I'm living in a country, The Czech Republic, which is getting ready to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the collapse of Communism, an entrenched collective egoic identity system if ever there was one. The system always had to be right, it's leaders infallible, its doctrinal positions pure so that those who identified so fiercely with the system could feel invulnerable by association with absolute power. This system collapsed not simply through the force of its own contradictions, but through the heroic efforts of many quiet resisters, who refused to give up over the years, until finally the walls came tumbling down.