Who’s your guru?

In my last post I wrote that nothing is all that different about life as a Hindu. But that’s not entirely true. Yes, I have early morning devotions (I read some where that devotions at sunrise were customary). At their core they are not all that different from what I’ve done in the past. There a few other minor things that are different. My altar is different. I don’t let my son touch anything on the altar if he hasn’t washed his face and hands (low level purification standards, but very taxing for a three year old).

One outward thing that has changed is my diet. I’ve been wrestling with whether or not to adopt a vegetarian diet while practicing Hinduism. I have given up eating beef, as the cow is sacred. The cow is a giver of life, providing milk for its young and for humans. As a nursing mother, I can relate! I feel like honoring the cow is honoring the work I am currently doing as a mother of an infant. But what of other forms of meat? And what about other dietary restrictions?

I’ve read that vegetarianism varies in India depending on location and culture. But all the literature I’ve read insists that a yogi/ni or serious spiritual practitioner cannot eat meat and expect to progress on the path to enlightenment. Various Ayurvedic sites suggest giving up this or that (like garlic and onions) according to whether a person is one dosha type or another (vatta, kapha, pitha). Alcohol is often considered a no-no. Some sources for tantra yoga say that meat and wine are acceptable in ritual meals. What’s more confusing is that some gurus expect this and other don’t. But I don’t have a guru. After all, as a friend pointed out last week, this is my own ashram. Therefore, I am my own guru.

That’s an interesting point. Many years ago I used to joke that I was going to baptize myself. Now I’m building my own ashram. Oh Niki, forever doing it on your own! And yet – if I am not my own guru, if I don’t internalize and take ownership of my own spiritual core, no external guru’s wisdom will ever take root within.

But how do I find a guru? In Wales? There is a Hare Krishna community nearby, and while I hope to check it out in the next few months, I have no desire to be dedicated to Krishna. I’m more of a Shakta I’m discovering. Do I really need a guru?

Until recently I didn’t realize that yoga, and many paths of Hinduism, was an initiatory tradition. The guru passes his or her ‘spiritual energy’ to the practitioner through touch, a glance, a word, and sometimes even via distance. This is known as shaktipat. I think most Western yoga enthusiasts just think we follow our favorite yoga teacher to retreats and that’s that. Without the ‘activation’ of a guru, mantras, even Om, are worthless. Reading online I found a couple of discussion boards with people suggesting that we just need to cultivate the guru within. I have several thoughts about this.

Firstly, I think this is true. We do need to cultivate our inner guru. Off the top of my head I can think of many qualities that I would like a guru to have: discernment, brutal honesty, patience, humor, skill, knowledge, wisdom, love and that…. that intangible something that when you meet a wise person you walk away thinking ‘Wow! I want what they’ve got!’ Those are all qualities I’d like to develop in myself.

Secondly, I think a guru is important for beginners. Being our own guru is advanced work. I liken it to writing music: you can’t break the tonal rules if you don’t know what they are! If ‘rules’ is too much of an authoritarian word for you (it is for me), then thinking of the guru as a trusted, honored guide may help. We want some one who has traveled the path, can alert us to possible pitfalls and obstacles, help us through those troubling spots and share the wisdom of the journey.

Thirdly, gurus are a big part of the greater Hindu tradition. This highlights my previous questions: do I need a guru (yes) and where do I find one (I have no idea). Since I’m only doing this for three months it seems a little silly to hunt one down. Many traditions, yoga included, have some form of the aphorism ‘when the student is ready the teacher will appear.’ Perhaps I shall find a guide for my journey this summer. Perhaps I won’t. But I do know that one would be welcome and helpful.

For the time being I shall continue to develop my own inner guru. And I’ll also go vegetarian. I think to fall back on the ‘some gurus don’t require it’ is lazy, and I’m already struggling with laziness in other ways. I admit I don’t want to be vegetarian. I’ve been veggie before, but I don’t wanna be one now, I pout. So until a guru tells me otherwise vegetarian I will be.

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About Niki Whiting
  • http://www.projectconversion.com Andrew Bowen

    Teachers are important. I have a Mentor lined up for most of my months. In the end however, much like The Hero’s Journey, our mentors must fade away so that we can trust ourselves. Remember, many spiritual teachers often abandoned their teachers in order to found their own way. Buddha is a great example within the Hindu tradition. You’re doing just fine.

    As for going veggie, I’ve done it for six months now and there are days when the craving is almost insatiable. The best way I’ve found to cope with this is to remember my Hindu teachings, to see that I and everything are one in the same. Why would I want to cause suffering and pain to myself?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/awitchsashram myownashram

      I don’t think I *need* a guru because I can’t move forward on my own. I’ve made it pretty darn far without one. But, I do recognize the wisdom in the traditions that call for one. How did you go about finding your Hindu mentor?

  • Kerry W.

    A lovely post. If you do veg., please be sure to get all you need as a breastfeeding mom. I know it can be done, but I also know it’s a challenge and that babies are exhausting. Good luck!

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/awitchsashram myownashram

      Thank you! I am not worried about nutrition. I’m pretty good on that front. I do worry about eating way too many carbs. Until this past weekend I was on more an Atkins/Paleo diet, but I found with that I still had large cravings for carbs that coincided with my baby’s growth spurts!

  • http://pkkush.wordpress.com Pramod Kushwaha

    It is great that you have given up beef! Giving up all sorts of meat suddenly may not be desirable. Rather you can give up slowly or reduce the frequency of eating meat.

    The Guru is only a medium and hence secondary. Primarily you have to be you own Guru. If you can’t find a Guru who can guide you, you can’t afford to waste time in finding a Guru. It is better to be own Guru, because according to GEETA, if the need arises the destiny will lead you to a GURU by itself. GEETA strictly warns wasting time in search of GURU, because searching for GURU amounts to letharginess. According to GEETA you must start spirituality with the available resources because every person is said to be adequately endowed with such resources. And that GURU is also a resource, and if you don’t have one, it means you don’t need one!! Such is the greatness of the GOD who has created this world, yet the people are wasting time.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/awitchsashram myownashram

      Hello there. I agree that to wait for a guru to appear is wasting precious time. I believe that I do the work without one – functioning as my own guru – so that I am ready when the guru does appear. It’s kind of like enlightenment: Enlightenment is essentially an act of grace from ‘above’, an accident if you will, but steady practice makes one accident prone!

      Would you mind telling me who or what GEETA is? I can’t seem to find any information on line. Are you referring to the Bhagavad Gita?

  • http://pkkush.wordpress.com Pramod Kushwaha

    Of course, I am refering to Bhagavad Gita!

  • Genevieve

    Vegetarian….I was vegetarian for 12 yrs until my acupuncturist told me I needed more yang(heat, movement), and to eat some red meat. At first this was extremely difficult, I had a whole belief system behind my choices, starting to eat meat again was a huge challenge and the whole “I am harming another to feed myself” haunted me for a while. I wondered if I would ever be able to enjoy meat. 5 yrs later now I eat meat on a regular basis, my work as an herbalist allowed me to connect with plant world on a deeper level. I experienced an aha type of moment. No matter what we eat, we kill, all of it; meat, fish, grains, veggies, mushroom, seaweed etc… and most vegetarians argue that plants don’t suffer like animals and I beg to differ. Plants have a will to live, they create chemicals to protect them selves from insects and other aggressors, they communicate among themselves, they are working very hard to stay alive and survive. It’s just too subtle for us to perceive, especially if we are not listening. We are treating plants just like slaves, boosting them with chemicals and poisons forcing them to grow on infertile soil. and treating them with absolutely no respect.

    So in my humble opinion eating is a sacred act no matter what you eat, express gratitude and thanks to the being in your plate and try to get food that was treated with respect before it’s death.

    Here’s an article written by Sean Donahue he expresses better than I my opinion

    http://greenmanramblings.blogspot.com/2010/10/why-i-eat-meat.html

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/awitchsashram myownashram

      Thank you for this perspective! Yes, it’s true: we live because something else dies. And conversely our death (ideally) allows other things to live. All things want to live. I’m always blown away when I see plants shooting through concrete; the urge for all living things to grow is tenacious and wild. I think we humans forget that all living things, not just sentient beings, have this urge too.

  • http://western-hindu.org/ Tāṇḍava

    In the unlikely event that you find a satguru (true spiritual guru) he would tell you to come back after trying out other faiths if you truly want to become his shishya (follower). The guru is a life long spiritual guide – in fact longer than a single life in many cases. The spiritual connection cannot be tried out for three months.

    That said I think that trying different faiths before following your spiritual path is an excellent idea. Whatever path you follow you will have respect and understanding of others.

    Aum Shivaya

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/awitchsashram myownashram

      I agree with you completely! It’s one of the reasons I haven’t actively pursued finding a guru. In the event that I find one and we gel and that person is willing to guide me in this project, then I would happily accept, but I think that is unlikely to happen. Several other traditions also believe that the ties one creates through initiation last beyond this life. That is one of the reasons I’ve been so reluctant to commit thus far in my life. But I think that is changing for me.

  • maraiya

    When my mother passed away I found, amid a myriad of other losses and ways she touched my life, that I had lost my spiritual mentor or guru. She’s been gone for 6 years and I’ve yet to fill that post. While I have sought a more direct connection between God and myself and do find myself missing, deeply at times, someone wiser to guide me and to show me connections that I miss. I think gurus are very much needed but sometimes they are awfully hard to find.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/awitchsashram myownashram

      Oh, I had no idea you’d lost your mother. I am so sorry. I think the concept of teacher or guru is a beautiful and important one. Sadly, many people abuse the privilege of being one, as well as the privilege of having one! I’ve always been terrible at being told what to do. I think I’m only now sufficiently mature enough to handle one!

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