The syllable gu means shadows
The syllable ru, he who disperses them,
Because of the power to disperse darkness
the guru is thus named.
All that a guru can tell you is: ‘My dear Sir, you are quite mistaken about yourself. You are not the person you take yourself to be.’
Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj
For years before I learned Vedic meditation I sought a spiritual path that could work for me. One of the things that held me back was an unwillingness to put my faith in a teacher. Any teacher. So many in the ’60s and ’70s had been shown to have feet of clay, taking advantage of students for money or sex or both. I didn’t want to be taken for a ride. So I stumbled forward, reading books, trying things on my own. Even going to India the first few times consisted mostly of reading books and trying on my own to still my mind.
I did take one meditation class in the early ’80s. It was with a Buddhist monk from Thailand. Every Tuesday night for eight weeks in West Los Angeles. There were 30 or 40 students. He showed us how to breathe, how to place attention at various places in the body. One night he went around the room, and with each person he asked a question, made a comment and/or touched them, gently, and person after person broke out in sobbing or laughter, releasing stresses in an experience of freedom. It was beautiful. From my place in the back of the room I watched with awe, gratitude, anticipation and a bit of trepidation, because at that time I believed I was not worthy of anything loving and kind. I believed I was different than others, I felt separate and apart from, and I was afraid I would somehow miss what the others were experiencing. Still, I held out hope.
Finally, with just a couple of us left to go, he came to me. Stepping in front of me, his hands folded, he looked at me, quizzically, for the longest time. The room fell silent. And then he said, “Why are you here?”
This was not a question he’d asked anyone else. “I’m here to learn meditation,” I said.
He shook his head, smiling, and said, “No. Why are you here?”
“Uh, because… I… I want to learn how to meditate?”
“Why are you here?” Now he was stern.
I had no idea what he was looking for, what answer he wanted. I tried to start a sentence, “I… uh…,” but I had nowhere to go with it, so I just shook my head. Tell me, I wanted to say. Why am I here? Maybe that’s why I’m here–so you can tell me why I’m here. But the little monk just shook his head again, rather sadly, I thought, and moved on to the other two or three people still left to talk to. And I had missed my chance. For healing. For release. For relief.
Many years have passed, and I have had many teachers, the Thai monk included. Some in the flesh, some from books; some teaching by example, some by challenging me, some by loving me in spite of myself. Many gurus. Many who have helped remove the shadows in me.
Then there is the true guru, the constant guru, the one that lives inside each of us. The Higher Self. Spirit. Soul. That place within where I know myself to be at one with the Divine.
And the mantra given me by my teacher that guides me there, again and again, meditation after meditation. This is my guru. This mantra, and this place within. The remover of shadows that I never need question, never need wonder about, never need distrust. It is as much a part of me as my breath, as my heart. It knows more about the essence of me than I know myself. It brings light where light is needed. It brings me where I need to be. It is the greatest gift I’ve ever been given, because it has given me myself.