Jennifer Warren

Chillin’ at The Zendo, by Jennifer Warren


So, Steve Jobs is a tech guru. Martha Stewart is a lifestyle guru. Charles Schwabb was a financial guru. Guru, guru, guru. We all want to barf now, yes? What is this elevated status we award to anybody who supposedly knows more about a given subject than God? And why is it becoming increasingly impossible to read a magazine or newspaper article about a super successful person without coming across this word?

IMHO, this is not just a case of a word that has been cheapened with overuse. That would be bad enough. It’s also that its common use denoting an expert is woefully lacking. The ancient sanskrit word Guru has two definitions that I am aware of. It means darkness and light. It also means heavy (as in heavy with knowledge). In either case it refers to a special kind of guide or teacher. For most Americans, I suppose the life coach is probably the closest thing we have to a guru (interestingly, there don’t seem to be any super famous life coaches).

Sometimes it’s difficult to find a balance when starting a conversation such as this. It’s hard to know when to keep it light and breezy and when it’s time to get serious. I think the guru principle is an important subject, something the world is ready for, certainly not something to be left out. All the same, it’s a topic I have been avoiding discussing with others until now because the subject of gurus is rather “heavy” (pardon the pun).

I have a friend that I talk to who is normally very supportive and receptive to my yogic ideas and embraces the concept of mind,body and spirit wholeheartedly. That was until I told her my plans for our next yoga group. Sure enough, as soon as the word guru escaped my lips her eyes glazed over, she leaned back in her chair and just stared at me.. It was as if I had suggested that I was planning to become impregnated by an extraterrestrial. It seems the idea of a guru was too wild, even for her.

It’s not just yogis and new agey types that seek out the guru. Certain types of Buddhists make use of gurus too. There is a Tibetan practice called tonglen that I have become curious about. When asked my mindfulness teacher about it he told me it was complicated and I would need a guru to practice it (who knew that a lovingkindness practice could be so full of pitfalls as to require supervision?!) That suggests that in certain situations, a guru is not only an important person, but well nigh indespensible.


Of course, we must be wary of the false guru. Ever since they became popular with westerners in the mid 20th century, there have been scandals involving certain ashrams and certain gurus. Perhaps this started when the hippie generation began seeking answers outside “the establishment”, and in so doing confused open mindedness with naive acceptance of anything outside of the cultural norms of their time.

I believe when you’re being deceived there are always signs, however subtle. Warning signs of a false teacher might be a guru who charges you fees for magical mantras, discourages you from asking questions, asks you to break off contact with family and friends, and demands that you get on a plane in the middle of the night or creates other manufactured emergencies that you are expected to respond to. Sounds simple. Still, it’s not just the ignorant that are deceived. Famous authors such as Ram Dass have written about their encounters with spiritual teachers that turned out to be frauds.

Gangaji, author of “You are That” was very honest about her first encounter with a guru. She was concerned at first that something would happen to her that he would take over her mind. What convinced her was that he did NOT suggest a new meditation, mantra or practice to take up. Rather, he told her to stop everything so that she could experience the stillness and silence within herself. Similarly, the man known in India as “The Guru of Joy”, Sri Ravi Shankar insists that he does not have followers. He says “How can you follow me when I am standing behind pushing you?”

Another way I think of it is if you imagine that you inhabit a dark cave. Of course you’re afraid of spiders and snakes and ghosts that might be lurking in that cave. But, unbeknownst to you that very cave contains a treasure full of rubies and sapphires and emeralds and diamonds and of course lots of gold. The guru, then, is the one who wanders into the cave with a lantern and allows you to see the treasure there. A guru always supports you in the truth, whatever that may be for you.

So, who qualifies as a guru? Just about anybody. The guru isn’t always what you’d expect. He or she may not look so good, might be fat or dirty or cross eyed. He may act strangely, like a child or an ignorant person. He may throw things at you or ignore you entirely. What he does or says doesn’t matter half as much as whether you are changed positively by being in his presence.

It is said that many are the gurus who bear lanterns and rare is the one who lights up the whole world. I like to think of every interaction, every person as a teacher. In that sense, each of you readers is a potential guru to me. Perhaps, collectively we can light up the world. On that note I will bid you good day from the Zendo, and welcome as always, your comments…

Jennifer Warren #WF1092
CIW WA 807 Up
16756 Chino Corona Rd
Corona CA 92880

Categories: Jennifer Warren

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