How to Find Your Guru
By Jenya dasi
The guru question always bothered me. I felt drawn to deeply follow one path, but my skepticism arose around the advice I’d heard about how to identify a guru, that person whom the Vedic scriptures glorify as the “eternal spiritual master.” It always seemed a bit contrived – or to be fair, it was simply too difficult for me to decipher.
How then do I find myself happily situated in a dynamic and empowering spiritual discipleship? It started with me asking a lot of questions from the people I knew who already had established a meaningful spiritual path. The answers I received hailed mostly from the extreme ends of the rationality spectrum though, and required my own synthesis to figure out.
I noticed two distinct approaches to answering the question: “How do I find my guru?”
First, I heard the overly mystical approach from those preaching the doctrine of “just knowing.” A friend of mine tells the following story, which I would not call unusual: “I never saw him but heard a recording of his voice on a radio broadcast giving a lecture in English. As soon as he began speaking, I said to myself, ‘This is the voice of my spiritual master.’” I wholeheartedly believed her, because there really are eureka moments on the spiritual path. I’d experienced my own slap in the face of the subtle body too many times to discount the power of realization in making spiritual decisions. However, my left brain was having none of it. I’d heard so many stories like this and they just don’t hit home. Esoteric descriptions of folks experiencing spiritual union at long last with their eternally merciful spiritual master somehow always left me feeling even further away from choosing my own mentor.
Second, I encountered the overly mechanistic approach – one perfected by India’s IIT grads – which calculates the precise formula for optimizing a connection of souls. It works something like this:
Meet Guru X + hear X speak + listen to X’s lecture recordings for Y months + read X’s literature + meet disciples of X + determine compatibility quotient = Match (bingo!) or no match (plug in new variables and repeat).
This is actually incredible advice. I tried it, and it was a transformative process. But something was still missing; it doesn’t explain the choice.
The mystical approach understands that there is a feeling in the heart that comes from contact with a person’s true guru. This cannot be underestimated. Still, quantifiable measures should be offered to distinguish this feeling from feelings you may have about many other teachers. Also, there should be information available about how to take proactive steps to reach the rapturous moment of identifying your guru. The mechanistic approach makes concrete suggestions that anyone can follow. Yet it still doesn’t get to the heart of the decision itself.
Now here’s my synthesis, my own eureka moment: When I was days away from leaving India guru-less, I was hit with some serendipitous advice from the gentleman who helped arrange my train ticket in Calcutta’s dirty and menacing railway station. His thoughtful remarks struck my heart and resonated in my brain. I had plenty of time to reflect on the young man’s wisdom since I had to spend the night huddled on the station floor awaiting my 19-hour train ride the following evening. “Who’s your guru?” my new friend asked. When I said I was still looking and asked him for his suggestions, he said, “Hm, I guess I would say that your guru is the person from whom you take most of your spiritual inspiration and instruction.” This advice really gets to the heart of the matter in a concrete way. The description of inspiration gives a word to that mystical feeling of “just knowing.” At the same time, the advice of my friend in the train station emphasizes the practical element that one must not only feel inspired, but also receive practical instruction from one’s guru.
This synthesis of the mystical and mechanistic approach is a balance of the rational with the intuitive. Such balance is the dynamic tension that must be used to guide the way on the spiritual search. Otherwise we risk falling prey to an unhealthy degree of either submission or skepticism. On the road to the absolute, neither blind faith nor blind doubt will do. We have to tread the middle path. We keep our eyes open, but reach out for a helping hand at the same time.
Jenya dasi is a certified yoga instructor and reiki practitioner living in Pittsburgh. She teaches yoga at local universities and keeps busy directing a local non-profit organization that promotes holistic lifestyle education. A dedicated practitioner of the spiritual science of bhakti-yoga, she has traveled the world to study under the tradition’s most exalted teachers and shares her understanding of spiritual life through writing and teaching philosophy.