Spiritual Relationships & Gurus

swan heart

In my life I’ve encountered lots of different spiritual practices and philosophies, from New Age and Self-Help to Theravada Buddhism and Kashmir Shaivism. I’ve gained from almost every teaching I’ve read, some more so than others of course. But spiritual teachings have not been the things that I have found most healing in my life – it was my relationships that really helped me grow and feel whole. Specifically it was a long-term, loving and supportive relationship that helped me grow the most.

Sure, the spiritual teachings gave me insights, transcendental experiences and made me feel happier in many ways, but it was through a caring and trusting relationship that I allowed myself to open up, love and forgive myself. I was accepted in the eyes of another, and that allowed me to accept myself, to love and be kind to myself.

I was accepted in the eyes of another, and that allowed me to accept myself, to love and be kind to myself.

Much of our self-image is created through our relationships. Children learn about what is good and bad behaviour from what other people say to them and how other people react to them. They learn if they are beautiful or ugly, too fat or too skinny, clever or stupid, naughty or polite, ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – all these are learnt through what other people have fed back to them. Relationships create self-esteem – both high and low.

It seems fitting therefore, that if relationships and interactions with people can destroy a sense of self-worth, that relationship can also be beneficial in repairing a negative self-image which in turn can repair all sorts of resultant negative self-isolating coping strategies.

…if relationships and interactions with people can destroy a sense of self-worth…relationship can also be beneficial in repairing a negative self-image

In a spiritual context, I think this is where the Guru-disciple relationship traditionally has been so powerful. For those who don’t know, a Guru is simply the Sanskrit word for a spiritual teacher. Literally the word means ‘heavy’ (heavy with spiritual teaching), but a more creative etymology states that guru means ‘dispeller of darkness’ or ‘bringer of light’.

Whilst I have never had a guru (I consider life to be my guru – how new-age!), I can see how the dissemination of a spiritual teaching tradition in the context of a caring supportive relationship with a Guru could work wonders. I was always reading books in order to understand the spiritual stuff and never had that opportunity to learn at the feet of a guru – and when I did I never really trusted them anyway. In fact being near a guru, especially their feet, was the last thing on my mind in my journey. And the ones who demanded unconditional faith – that set my alarm bells ringing straight away. There have been so many gurus, both East and West, that have used, abused, manipulated and extorted their followers that it’s difficult to keep count of them.

There have been so many gurus, both East and West, that have used, abused, manipulated and extorted their followers that it’s difficult to keep count of them.

But there have been countless examples through the ages of how spiritual seekers, through simply trusting their guru, went on to attain liberation. The example of Nisargadatta Maharaj springs to mind – he trusted his guru’s advice to remain in the ‘I AM’ and after 2 years or so he was apparently self-realised or enlightened.

Traditionally in the Indian subcontinent, a guru may be someone who the family knows quite well. They would usually be male, but not always. In more ancient times the spiritual seeker would often live with the guru, perhaps even for several years before the actual spiritual teaching was taught. Up until that point they would be simply living in the forest with each other: talking, cooking, eating, working the land. They would know each other as brothers would, and in that context there was time for respect, trust and mutual affection to develop. The spiritual aspirant would be able to scrutinise the Guru and see if he truly lived his teaching, or if he only spoke of the Holy but did not embody it.

I feel nostalgic for that kind of ancient exotic guru, someone versed in the highest spiritual and meditative teachings, someone who deeply cared for me and I also cared for, someone I could give myself to and in whose love and spiritual presence I could heal myself.

But that was not, and is not my life. Instead I am thankful for my soulmate and wife, and the healing she has brought me through both the ups and downs of our relationship. Yes, I said earlier that life is my guru, but so is my wife.

Do you have a ‘guru’? Or have you had many ‘gurus’ in your life? Remember, a guru doesn’t have to be a person.

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7 thoughts on “Spiritual Relationships & Gurus

  1. Like you, life is my Guru, but also my husband has been my Guru. He is a seeker of spiritual teachings, and in that also embodies what he learns. It’s been quite an interesting and helpful journey for me. Great post, by the way.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have had four people that I consider as my gurus as my relationship with them was based on direct initiation from them and practice within their lineage and tradition.

    I have had a number of people who I have spent time with and consider teachers as they have had a profound influence on me. This includes all of the women I have had relationships with and especially my daughter Kelly, who kept me grounded in this plane of being as she was growing up. I may be being Shiva but she still had to get to nursery school own time! 🙂

    In my spiritual life, there seem to be two distinct periods. One was spent with gurus, undergoing various practices and teachings. The something stopped happening, and this “recognition” or whatever one wants to call it was confirmed by several non-dual teachers I spent time with in the second period of my spiritual life.

    Even though I didn’t know all of the wording and rules of this new spiritual non-dual game, I was soon called “neo-advaita,” by those who consider them authorities in the spiritual circus because my view is simple and all inclusive. Nothing to do, no where to go and no one to be. Everything and everyone is already This. And yet This does not in any way exclude seeking, practices or whatever an embodied being finds themselves doing.

    I still do certain yogic practices because they are very good for my body, brain and over-all health and well-being. I am life positive, and this includes the body, as everything is an expression of This. This is the Play of Consciousness.

    One of my favorite quotes:

    “Be like the bee that gathers pollen from many flowers and then makes its own honey. Learn from the greatest masters you can find, then practice and assimilate what you have learned.” – Abhinavagupta

    And I deeply appreciate how This is being expressed through you, Tom Das!

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  3. Thank you, Tom. For me, my husband is my guru. He is very patient with me, not interested in spirituality, very grounded. Sometimes I feel like a balloon going up in the sky, and I see him as the rope that pulls me back down to earth.

    Liked by 1 person

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