Looking for a guru is an understandable sentiment.
Life today is perceived as overwhelming by many of us. The sheer pace of change, the range of choices, the relentless compacting of space & time, not to mention the staggering challenges of being, well, a person with all that that entails. It can be a veritable clusterfuck.
If indeed there are people that have somehow figured it out, wouldn’t it be nice to meet them, learn from them? Get their advice on the myriad of essential decision we’re supposed to make all the time. What to do for a living. Who to date or marry. Hell, what to have for lunch.
There are indications in all traditions that these guides genuinely existed and even that they still do.
If it wasn’t for the fact that there are innumerable cases of these folks being caught with the hand in one cookie jar or another. Usually one of the three most popular ones: money, sex or power. Often all three.
We’ve heard enough of these stories that we can easily come to the conclusion that IF real gurus ever existed, their time is over, nowadays everyone is a phony.
Or are they?
Perhaps it’s worthwhile to look at our expectations from a guru. Infallibility is often the biggest one in one form or another. They are supposed to be perfected beings, so they better be always right, always impeccable in every way. If they have indeed figured it out they would be always happy, always kind, always lovable. Well, that’s a bunch of BS.
In the East it is said ‘If you want a perfect guru, choose a dead one’.
After all, it is unseemly to speak ill of the dead, so once they have passed, any imperfections are often forgotten or at least never mentioned again.
Not always, some teachers were so notorious that all we’ve heard about them is the scandals. Notorious might not mean fake or useless though. There are tons of famous teachers of old that were both, incredibly inspiring, potentially enlightened and at the same time problematic to say the least. Think Osho or Milarepa.
Yet, the mind is a fickle mf, deep down we want a perfect teacher even if they have perhaps never existed. The masters themselves do not tire to tell us that they are not perfect, they carry shadow or outright darkness just like the next guy, in fact, we should probably be most cautious of those who don’t make these disclaimers.
If someone appears to be too shiny, so perfect indeed, it might be wisest to steer clear. As long as we are in a human shell we carry karma (mental patterns of conditioning), which will express themselves in one way or another. What gets suppressed too long will find the most nefarious outlets as we see in churches all around.
Even in the most pristine forest there’s decay and rot everywhere, it’s the nature of nature actually, we just might not see it until we start digging. To fool ourselves that something we don’t see isn’t there rarely helps, does it?
Now, going around as a spiritual teacher and telling everyone our failures and weaknesses may not be the best advertising either, but it’s what’s called authenticity, it gives the students a down-to-earth example along with consolation that they are not totally hopeless, allows us to maintain a degree of self respect, fostering self love, capable of undoing so much harmful programming many of us grew up with.
So a good teacher will talk about their shadow, their ways of facing it, the times it worked and the many times it didn’t. Nobody indeed is perfect, the question is how we deal with the imperfections.
When evaluating or accepting a teacher remind yourself that perfection is not the bar, real-ness is. Having the ability to remind you of what you are, be it with words, practices or their sheer presence. Their shortcomings are what makes them human.
Naturally, there’s still a limit to what’s acceptable vs what’s just f’ed up – that discernment (along with many other things) grows with our practice. Milarepa was literally a mass murderer and still became of the most inspiring figures of Tibetan spirituality. Hang in there.