Thursday 12 August 2010

We should seek guru only within ourself

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.


Anonymous said...

Dear Michael,

I am surprised that you would take this position. Ramana clearly stated that for the VAST majority, both the inner and outer Guru is necessary.

What I'm about to say might be sacrilege to many seekers, but it came to mind and may have some speck of truth - or not.
Ramana came to Thiru to be with his Guru (Arunachala). Seekers came to Thiru to be with Ramana. Ramana life the body 60 years ago!Isn't it high time to start searching for another living realsied Guru? The Guru might be in Kansas, Liverpool, or downtown Chennai. Wherever it may be, go there and surrender at the Guru's feet, in the same way that Ramana did to Arunachala, and seekers did to Ramana while he was alive.

If Ramana appeared tomorrow for a one-time only darshan, I can imagine him saying "Hey, wake up, you came here to be with Ramana when he was alive, but Ramana left the body 60 years ago! Arunachala is not your Guru. Ramana is not your Guru. Start looking, wherever it may lead you. Find a living realised Guru and surrender. That Guru and I are One. The body and face that you call Ramana was and is not important. Arunachala and I won't be hurt if your journey takes you away from Thiru. We only want you to go forward to Realisation."

Now that would shake up Thiru and the Advaita world! A good strong dose of crazy wisdom to shake things up and get the stagnating waters moving again.

The SatGuru does more than show you atma vichara. Guru stirs the pot, challenges conditionings, comes to know you one on one and so can better help navigate the various stumbling blocks and pitfalls. Guru tells you to keep going when you are convinced you have reached the end. The Guru is Truth embodied, and so carries a vital transmission that helps break though knots and blockages, and that Grace cuts the final thread. Guru is this and much more. Physical Guru is indeed essential. If one is not found, at least towards the end of one's journey, call it karma, luck, or circumstance, the hard truth is that it will be next to impossible to reach Realisation in this lifetime. It's nothing personal. There's always the next life. There have been countless before this one.


baskar said...

While it is possible that it could not be entirely true to state that we should seek guru only within oneself, it seems equally incorrect to posit that Physical Guru is indeed essential.

What is the justification for taking such extreme positions? To mu knowledge, Bhagavan is quite clear that the guru is nothing other than the Self. And I think he was never against having someone in a physical form as one's guru. If anything, he seems to stress that the guru is not limited by name and form.

I think if one is inclined to seek the guru within, he is entitled to do that. He is not advised to looked down upon those who are worshipped in their physical forms as Guru.

Similarly, if one is inclined to find a physical guru, he is entitled to do so. In fact, Bhagavan is quite clear that what matters is not the quality of the teacher, but that of the seeker. If the seeker has the right temperament, and is mature enough, anyone can serve as his guru. So, it is stressed that he needs to develop his own maturity before seeking out someone as his guru.

I don't know whether I have been clear about this, or not.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

The same force that drew Ramana Maharshi to Arunachala on that momentous day, is the same force that draws you to Ramana and Arunachala today!

Anonymous said...

Dear Om, So you want to revolutionise Advaita, stop the stagnation, throw in some crazy wisdom. It is hard to compare any other guru to Ramana. His perfection is legendary. I think it's pointless trying to change the scene and the face of Advaita and it may be better to just keep quiet. It's true, because only "who you are" is what
the writing is evoking ...

Anonymous said...

Talking about the next life: Reincarnation being a metaphor for
the repetition compulsion, the
sticking with the familiar, the
identification with separation ...

Anonymous said...

perhaps all true.

But I can guarantee that if Ramana Maharishi lived next door to you, you would be at his place daily.


Anonymous said...

Somewhere I have a novelty birthday card which shows the Dalai Lama
unwrapping a 'gift'. It showed only wrapping paper on the floor and the Dalai
Lama shouting in joy, "Just what I always wanted ... nothing!"

Anonymous said...

Enlightenment is subtle, since it is extremely difficult
to realize. Enlightenment is all-pervasive, as it has the nature of
infinite space. Enlightenment cannot be realized, either physically or
mentally. Why? The body is like grass, trees, walls, paths, and
hallucinations. And the mind is immaterial, invisible, baseless, and

-- Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra

Anonymous said...

A renowned Zen master said that his greatest teaching was this: Buddha is your own mind. So impressed by how profound this idea was, one monk decided to leave the monastery and retreat to the wilderness to meditate on this insight. There he spent 20 years as a hermit probing the great teaching.

One day he met another monk who was traveling through the forest. Quickly the hermit monk learned that the traveler also had studied under the same Zen master. "Please, tell me what you know of the master's greatest teaching." The traveler's eyes lit up, "Ah, the master has been very clear about this. He says that his greatest teaching is this: Buddha is NOT your own mind."

Anonymous said...

No one really has a story. How
can anyone say I came from over there; I went this
way; and by doing so I arrived here. The truth is I
was never over there; I was always here. Here is
all there is.

Anonymous said...

You must come out of hiding behind any
superstitious beliefs and find the COURAGE to question, EVERYTHING
otherwise you will continue to hold onto superstitions which
distort your perception and expression of that which is only ever awake.

Anonymous said...

There seem to be two kinds of searchers:
those who seek to make their ego something other than it is,
i.e. holy, happy, unselfish (as though you could make a fish
and those who understand that all such attempts
are just gesticulation and play-acting,
that there is only one thing that can be done,
which is to dis-identify themselves with the ego,
by realising its unreality,
and by becoming aware of their eternal identity
as pure being.

--Wei Wu Wei

Anonymous said...

On my visits to the monasteries in Tibet, the polished furrows in the rock, worn into the mountain by centuries of passing feet, moved me far more than the shrines to which they led.
Who were the men and women who made them?

Anonymous said...

There's something in us, in our nature, which
compels us to discover. I remember a very powerful
moment with the old guru who I studied with,
Nisargadatta Maharaj, who taught the way of Nisarga
Yoga. "Nisarga" means natural. The basic
translation of his name was "Mr. Natural". He was
this 80-year old cigarette-smoking man. He had a
little cigarette stand. He was kind of a
combination like Krishnamurti and Fritz Perls. He
would put you on the hot seat when you came in and
ask you about your spiritual life. One day we were
in a room about this big. People were coming in and
asking questions. Somebody came in and asked a
question and was a little bit dissatisfied and
left. And another person raised their hand and
said, "Maharaj, what will happen to that person who
came and asked that question and left? Is it all
over for them in this life? They didn't stay here.
You are a great guru, and they weren't interested,
and they went home." And he twinkled at that
moment, he really lit up, and he said, "It's too
late. Even the fact that they put their foot in
this room, even if they hadn't asked the question,
means that somewhere in there there's a seed of
really knowing who we are and what this life is
about. Not what you were taught in elementary
school or what's on TV or the newspapers, but a
deep seed of knowing our true nature, that wants to
discover; it's like coming home. The fact that he
just walked in the room means that that seed has
started to sprout. And no matter if he tries to
forget it and goes back and gets lost, sooner or
later that will manifest in awakening."

Jack Kornfield

Anonymous said...

As long as you have the idea of influencing events, liberation is
not for you. Nisargatta

Anonymous said...

Dear Michael,

I think I made some funny spelling mistake in my short comment. Can you delete my comment and post:

"Nisargadatta, Wei Wu Wei, Jack Kornfield and all the others are not neccesary. Sri Bhagavan taught us everything we need.

Thanks again for your blog and your book.


Anonymous said...

Sometimes there would be a rush of noisy visitors
and the Silence of the monastery would be shattered.

This would upset the disciples;
not the Master, who seemed just as content
with the noise as with the Silence.

To his protesting disciples he said one day,
"Silence is not the absence of sound,
but the absence of self."

Anonymous said...

'One thing' holding many conversations within itself;
how many 'languages' are there, expressing right now?
Are we to treat only words as language, or does language
also encompass DNA, species mutation, and even the

Anonymous said...

Nome has set himself up in America as some sort of spokesman for advaita and Ramana Maharshi. Nome's talks seem to be warmed over Ramana Maharshi teachings. Pretty dull after a while, not particularly related to present moment exploration or revealing of his direct experience.

Anonymous said...

Ashtavakra Gita
When the world shines forth,
it is simply me that is shining forth.

Anonymous said...

If you're not properly interested in
Enlightenment, you'll never achieve the benefits pointed to by those
whose interest is real, or essential. You'd be, what is derogatorily
described, a dilettante. Dilettantes do not achieve anything, because
they can not extract the pith - the important or essential part.

They are still driven by "interest" and they have no comprehension of
What they are really interested in.

Anonymous said...

Going into the silence is housecleaning.

Anonymous said...

Were that wheel not in love
it would cry
Enough! How long this turning?
every atom turns bewildered
Beggars circle tables
dogs circle carrion
the lover circles his own heart.
I circle shame.
A ruined water wheel
whichever way I turn
is the river
If that rusty old sky
creaks to a stop
still, still I turn
And it is only God
circling Himself.


Anonymous said...

I guess from what Michael says, there was no need for anyone to go to Ramana Maharishi when he was alive, a conclusion which is plain absurd. Why did Sadhu Om go first to Janaki Matha and then to Ramana, and not seek his Guru within himself and why did Michael leave his country and come to India?

In this regard, we should all follow what Ramana said -- what has to happen will happen come what may, and what is not bound to happen will not happen how much so ever you try, therefore, the best course is to be silent.

On silence, Ramana, when told that someone who was maintaining Mouna was all the same writing reams of books, exclaimed, "Oho, that is a great way to be silent." I guess Michael should try and learn from this, rather than commenting about living Gurus and their competence. But then what is bound to happen will happen....It is for us to be silent and let great mean (Jnani's?) like Michael continue pontificating about others through is considerable writings.

Anonymous said...

Buddhists, Taoists and Hindus walk the same path. It's just that their dreams have a slight variation. You can't disregard the pointing finger, the road map. Sometimes they write different books but still it's all under one canopy, a single umbrella.

Jagadamba said...

I agree with you on your statement that 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 '.

Deeps said...

Dear Michael James

Thanks to your article The Paramount Importance of Self Attention by Sri Sadhu Om Swami that comes as a series in the Mountain Path, we (a group of Ramana devotees practicing the direct path) came to hear of the name Sadhu Om. & with this one name opened a treasure trove of what I would call a 'real treasure trove of guidance on Ramana path' - Path of Sri Ramana Part (four volumes/parts), Murugananar's amazing Guru Vachaka Kovai translation by Sadhu Om swami & you & the devotional music of swami himself. Thanks for being a great instrument of divine grace to reach us this way.

We repeatedly study these works, practice the direct path. We go by Sadhu Om swami's thought too that if you have to learn cycling from A to B, learn cycling on that path thoguh seemingly tough instead of wasting time learning to cycle on a n easier path A to C to learn cycling & then attempt A to B - as A to C for all you know might have taken you far away from B, probably in the opposite direction. Dear commenters above, probably this is the reason why Michael James warn you against modern paths/masters - many are highly risky as I can personally vouch for - some have done me endless harm physically & mentally too - some being official world wide renowned indian organizations founded by well intended gurus of course, probably more aimed at giving you mental peace temporarily or material progress or plain charity to teh world. While they definitely have their place in the larger scheme of things, what Michael James says here is definitely applicable to those who aim highest - making your Higher Self as your real Guru.

However note that Michael James had Sadhu Om swami to guide him even if to understand Guruvachaka Kovai etc, Muruganar&Sadhu Om swami had Ramana Bhagavan to guide them even if in silence. So make use of any guidance that comes your way. For starters Sadhu Om works are great for practitioners - Path of Sri Ramana series is priceless. So is Paramount Importance of Self Attention. And know that as you start on the path sincerely your physical upaguru if any needed by you (I know many gems out there in Tiruvannamalai who never needed any other guru that Ramana whom they considered as their very own Higher Self) will be brought to you. Have faith. Keep to the direct path of attending to the I alone - Self-attention, Thannaattam - whenever you can, how much longer ever you can at any time & be surrendered to life & to outcome & see miracles happen. No personal hunting down a guru will be reqd. In fact no person hunting down anythign will be reqd. You will see that you are provided for. This is from personal experience. No theory. SO just try it friends.

& thanks, again, Michael. Wish you put up a PDF of the whole Paramount Importance work on your website & also that you got some time to refresh the Guru Vachaka Kovai all over again based on your own experience (as you mention that your understanding improved towards the end of the book). Rest of Ramana Jnana Bodham is also waiting for your translations.

Namo Ramanaya. May you ever be in/as Him.