A friend recently wrote to me asking:
My question is about the role of the teacher. When you read about spiritual practice it seems to me that most writers consider the intimate contact with a living (enlightened) teacher to be necessary. Since I don’t have a teacher and I can’t see how to meet one anytime soon (living in a small town far away from anyone in the least interested in atma-vichara) these writers create a nagging doubt in me. Am I just fooling myself? Should I just give up and live my life to the best of my ability and try to be ‘normal’?In reply to this I wrote as follows:
People who talk of the need for a ‘living’ guru have clearly failed to understand the true nature of guru, and when they have failed to understand this they also fail to understand the true role of guru.
As Sri Sadhu Om used to say, guru alone is living, and we are all dead. That is, guru is the one ever-living reality, and we who have forgotten this reality are in effect dead, because we take this mortal body to be ourself.
Sri Ramana always emphasised that guru is not a body but the eternal self, and since self is immortal, guru is by definition ever living.
If by ‘living’ guru we mean a person whose body is living, we are mistaking a body to be guru. Such a ‘living’ guru will one day be a dead guru, so what is the use of such a guru for us, who seek immortal bliss?
You say that you understand how to practise atma-vicāra. How did you come to understand this? Was it not by studying the teachings of Sri Ramana? Is it not clear then that he is your guru?
Guru is ever living in our heart as ‘I am’, so to experience him as he is we must turn our attention inwards, away from all outward appearances. The only reason why guru appears outside in human form is to teach us the need to turn within and discover that he is none other than our own essential self. When he has given this teaching, the body in which he appeared has served its purpose, so when we have read his teachings we no longer have any need of any outward guru (other than his teachings to remind us and support us whenever our effort to turn inwards falters).
If we go in search of another ‘living’ guru because the body in which our guru appeared is dead, that ‘living’ guru can do no more than give us the same teaching: to find the real guru you must turn within. But if we have failed to understand this simple teaching from Sri Ramana, how can any other guru help us?
Belief in the need for a ‘living’ guru will only appeal to those whose mind are strongly extroverted, still believing that the appearance of this external world and all the people in it is real. But if we have understood Sri Ramana’s teachings, we will not feel any need for any outward help other than his teachings.
If his teachings have not convinced us that we can experience the truth only by vigilant self-attentiveness, the only help we can receive from the outside world is the repeated disappointment we will inevitably experience from all our efforts to find the truth in anything other than our essential consciousness of being, ‘I am’.
You are certainly not fooling yourself by trying to practise atma-vicāra, which alone can reveal the reality, but you would be fooling yourself if you were to imagine that a ‘living’ guru could provide you with any help that has not already been provided by the teachings of Sri Ramana.
He is in our heart, giving us all the help we need, so we should avail ourself of his help by turning our mind inwards and thereby lovingly surrendering ourself to him.
In this connection, you may also find it helpful to read three other articles in this blog, Where to find and how to reach the real presence of our guru?, Is a ‘human guru’ really necessary? and Let us not be distracted from following the real teachings of Sri Ramana.