There is an old joke about two patients in a mental hospital who keep arguing day after day because each thinks he is the Messiah. In Abrahamic monotheism, of course, there is a God and you are not He. In Christianity, He has one human incarnation. If one person is the Messiah, no one else can also be the Messiah. Islam misunderstands incarnation altogether, asking how God can simultaneously be in heaven as well as in a person on earth (which always struck me as an odd question, along the lines of, “If the sun is 93 million miles away, how can it be streaming into my living room?”)
Hindu theology is not a theology of a distant God completely separate from humanity. What Hindus call God is that Being who resides in all beings. God is Being itself, or That Which Is. There is nowhere God is not.
A guru is someone who shows you God’s light. It’s literally from the words darkness and light, as in the person who leads you from darkness to light or the person who dispels your ignorance like the rising sun dispels the night. God’s light is actually omnipresent, but unless someone shows it to you, you cannot see. Similarly, radio signals are all around you, but unless someone shows you how to use a radio to tune in to them, you don’t hear them.
My guru, Shree Maa, is considered a manifestation of the Divine Mother. This can be confusing to people from an Abrahamic background, because there are other gurus who are also considered manifestations of the Divine Mother. What about Mata Amritanandamayi (Ammaji)? What about Anandmurti Gurumaa? Or Anandamayi Ma? What about Amma Sri Karunamayi?Which one is really the Mother Herself? If this woman is the Divine Mother, then that woman must be lying about her credentials. Mustn’t she?
But this is not at all the case. It’s possible for someone to be a false guru; that is, they don’t know how the radio works and they can’t tune you in to it. But it’s also possible for there to be lots and lots of gurus simultaneously. It’s not the same concept as the Messiah, where only one human in all of time can be the Messiah and all the rest are false. At our best, with our egos cleared away and our true Self shining through, each of us is the Divine Mother. She is everywhere. There is no place She is not.
If we’re all potentially Divine, how can there be fake gurus? Well, all glass is potentially a mirror, but there are a lot of pieces of glass you can’t see any reflection in, let alone a clear and unblemished reflection. Some glass is so dirty and smudged that it doesn’t even look like glass at all anymore, let alone a mirror. A fake guru is basically someone who is pretending to show you God’s light and all you’re really seeing is the person’s own ego.
When you’re seeking a guru, keep your sense about you. Is this person displaying all sorts of useless “miracles” that don’t serve any purpose beyond being cute magic tricks? Is this person all about showmanship? (This doesn’t rule out the possibility that someone is enlightened; I took karate from a senseii who was always putting on wild shows that had little or nothing to do with actual martial arts, and the people who came to those shows rarely became true students; a handful would usually show up for one or two classes and drop out.)
Humans are easily ensnared in all manner of temptations; the wannabe guru crowd seems to be especially susceptible to scandals involving sex and/or money. Keep this in mind and don’t submit to the first person who claims to have some sort of secret knowledge.
Think about it like this: maybe this person can plug me in and I can hear radio for myself. Or, maybe this person has a shop of baubles, lots of little electronics that don’t work and not even enough knowledge to know they don’t work, let alone fix them. Either way, you have to have a supply of inner strength. Either this is your path to enlightenment or a detour in a second-rate gift shop. You have to be okay within yourself, so that whether you find what you are looking for here or need to move on and look for it elsewhere, you aren’t thrown off-balance.
[Note: This is part of a collaborative series on Issues in Hinduism. You can read Ambaa’s post False Gurus and Godmens here.]