Thriving with Gurus: The Radiant Taxi Driver

Some people thrive on being around gurus. In the United States, this is some number, maybe 3% of the population, but it does happen.

In January 2005, I was at Esalen Institute, teaching a workshop, and one day I happened to be walking alone toward the main lodge around lunch time. Over in the parking circle, I saw a man leaning against a car. A taxi driver leading against a Mercedes. He looked totally at home on that spot on the driveway, delighted with himself and with life. He glowed with a pleasure I could see from hundreds of feet away. So I went over to talk to him, see what was up.

I often talk to strangers, see what is happening in their part of the world. He looked like he was from India, and as I got closer I could see he was wearing beads - sandalwood or rudrashka beads. A rosary.
I walked up to him and said, "You look happy."

He said, "I just love this place." From where we were standing we could see the lodge, and the gardens, the ocean, and in the distance, people in the swimming pool.

I said, "Yeah, I do too."

We stood there for a minute, just looking out over the ocean and gardens.

"I have been coming here for several years, to pick people up or drop them off, and it just makes me so happy to see it. So today, I told my boss, 'The roads might be bad. So I should go several hours early, just to be safe.' I said that so I could come and spend time here."

Have you been back to India recently?” I asked.
“Yes, I just came back, I was visiting my family.”
I said, "You look like you have been blessed."

He said, "Yes, they took me to the family guru, and he did a puja for me, and everyone was very happy, and they garlanded me with flowers and made a big deal about it."

We chatted a little bit more, and I enjoyed the light and delight coming off him. He really was shining, like people do when they are in love, and like they are supposed to when they are around their natural religion.

It was interesting to note that the glow of his being was supported by the total accord with his family; he was not rebelling by having a guru. The guy was the family guru. His mother approved of everything, his father approved of everything, his whole family was there with the guru, the family has known the guru forever, and the family is happy that their son is in America making money. It's just blessings all around. As a result, he was entirely happy to be there in America, loving Esalen, leaning against his Taxi, savoring the moment. All his ancestor spirits seemed happy that a new branch of the family is getting established in the New World.

There is nothing parallel to this for an American who finds herself in relationship with a Hoodoo Guru (that just sounds more fun than "Hindu Guru"). I have occasionally seen this kind of radiance in people from India who have contact with a guru, but rarely do Americans seem to glow in this way from being around Asian teachers.

When I see Americans glowing this way it seems to emerge from being in love, walking in the mountains, creating things, doing sports, and being born again Christians.

To my astonishment, many of my old friends from the 60's and 70's and 80’s seem to devolve from their relationship with a guru. The guru relationship just seems to suck the life out of them, but they only discover this after many years or several decades. There are many, many syndromes of illness, abuse and dysfunction, and it is going to take a team of therapists and analysts decades to map out all of the different kinds of damage that occur. The energy dynamics are complex because many cults need to chew people up and spit them out. The threat of being thrown out keeps the others in line, and also feeling special. Every group is different, and cult dynamics can take over even if the guru does not want it.

The situation is further complicated by that fact that every person has a different relationship with the guru and the ashram. Just like in a family, each member is in a different family - their experience may be completely different, depending on birth order. Some people have the magic ability to breeze through very dark situations and be untouched.

No one seems to know who benefits from a guru and what type of person is harmed. The gurus certainly do not know, they seem to be totally clueless, and if people are damaged, then it's their karma. The disciples do not know, and usually only get perspective after ten, twenty, thirty or forty years as they try to figure out how it all went so wrong.

Some people benefit tremendously from gurus, and one day, perhaps, psychologists or guruologists will study the phenomenon and come up with medical studies, saying, "Exposure to a guru is indicated for 4% to 5% of the American population, slightly more in times of world crisis. 40% of those who encounter gurus are untouched and unharmed, and 55% of those who have close dealings with a guru suffer severe confusion and subtle abuse." I do not know what the real numbers are. Every day I work with people who are recovering from their guru addiction, and their situation often is like someone who lost their entire family and all their friends, and they feel to blame somehow.

I am one of the few Americans I know who has only benefitted from being around gurus. I am truly grateful that they have done their best to bring the knowledge of meditation to America. Perhaps a reason I have gained so much when so many of my friends have been devastated is because I am interested exclusively in meditation practice. I'm not looking for a human being to save me. Gurus are all about this idea that they can save you – they are more important than God - literally, that is what their scriptures say - and so they get all these followers around them serving and waiting for the Master to smile on them.

I am only criticizing the guru archetype, as it manifests in a culture it was never, ever designed for – the modern West. This is necessary because the when a good thing is taken out of context, it can become a plague or a pest or a parasite. Keep in mind that I am not talking about gurus as they existed in ancient India, or about a guru in the hills of modern India, doing his thing. I am referring to what happens in modern America when we, who have no background in these things, get caught up in the energy field called "the Guru."

The Guru is Greater than God?