Unmasking the guru.

I have a friend who lives in an ashram in a rural part of  my state. The ashram is comprised of about 20 men and women who live a life of simplicity and religious meditation under the guidance of a spiritual leader, a man she refers to as “the guru”.

The guru leads the community in daily chanting and meditation sessions that begin each morning at 5am sharp. He shares his wisdom in individual and group sessions, where he instructs his followers on what foods to eat, what books to read and virtually every other activity in their daily lives.

She is committed to the cause. She has given up her car, virtually all her material possessions, and I think most of her money. She doesn’t have a telephone or a personal computer. And although she earns close to a six-figure salary, she shares a small room with a changing array of house guests.

My friend is a witty and intelligent woman, a business professional by day, so on a certain intellectual level I respect the choice she has made. There are many roads to happiness, different paths to enlightenment, and what works for one person, may not work for another.

Yet after watching her day in and day out, often sleep-deprived from late-night kitchen duty or a mandatory pre-dawn meditation session, I came to the realization that her life is not truly her own. She has no long-term goals. No ambitions or dreams. Instead of doing the soul-searching she needs to figure out this curious thing called life, she has outsourced the job to someone else.

I began to wonder if she gave it a little time and effort, she couldn’t find the answers she was seeking on her own. In the words of Theron Q. Dumont, “Put forth the necessary concentrated effort and you will be wonderfully helped from sources unknown to you.”

Sure, it may easier to let someone else do the introspection work for you. But to me it feels like copying the test answers from the smartest kid in class. You might get a passing grade but, in the end, you are cheating yourself—and would know more about life, and your purpose in it, by simply looking within.

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