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Do we need a guru to guide us on the spiritual path?

We all have an innate need to anchor ourselves. How we do it varies—some pray, others meditate, some practise yoga, others tai chi. The reason why we seek spirituality doesn’t vary all that much. Sure, one might say they do these for peace of mind, others for better wellbeing, and some for health. But there’s a common factor behind these reasons—what we’re after is self-improvement. Not just in an everyday, practical sense, but also in a larger, spiritual sense.

It’s true that spirituality is a natural part of our lives. Whatever the spiritual practice, it blends in seamlessly into our everyday life. It becomes an integral part of our belief system carrying us forward in our journey. Sometimes, this self-practice might not nearly be enough to move us ahead and help us grow spiritually. When we actively pursue a spiritual journey, self-practice might not quite make the mark. Because, soon, we might find ourselves unequipped for the journey we embarked on.

While we might not necessarily view our spiritual practice as something that requires teaching we might find ourselves full of questions we wish we could discuss with someone well-versed in the practice—a guru. Many might question whether we even need a guru to walk the spiritual path. But a better question might be ‘When do we need a guru to walk the spiritual path?’, as the need for a guru is rather self-evident.

Many read holy scriptures—some for knowledge and wisdom, others for spiritual needs. They read various translations of the originals and probably carry, for life, the underlying messages in those texts. Needless to say, it’s imperative that those messages be true to their original texts. “Even assuming one can find profound knowledge through scriptures on their own, there’s no replacement for a guru. Only he can answer the questions that your mind encounters in any spiritual practice,” points out, Sanskrit and Vedic scholar CV Giridhara Shastry.

An individual would be hard-put to understand how much energy they channel during meditation and how much of it is actually good for them.

Shastry has a point. There’s a very good chance we might be led astray without the guidance of a guru. It’s not uncommon for astrology enthusiasts to get carried away by horoscopes. Most are aware of their sun sign, some of their moon sign, few of their rising sign. Hardly anyone knows that every planet in their chart resides within a zodiac sign and in turn a nakshatra (asterism). So, when various websites on the internet publish forecasts, they might be only partially accurate, if at all. Many even succumb to making life-altering decisions based on these generic readings!

Yoga trainer Rajesh Jain has a different take from Shastry’s. He’ll tell you a guru doesn’t have to be a person. He says, “Every individual has an inner voice that guides them. So, there is a guru within each individual.” Jain’s view is rather similar to the idea of ‘sat’ described in the Upanishads. ‘Sat’ (the seed of truth) is the universal spirit or the ‘Brahman’ that guides every individual on their spiritual journey right from birth. It’s believed that this sat determines our life path and the deeds we perform to complete that journey.

But how many of us are in sync with our sat? And how many of us are able to tap into it without the guidance of a guru? We might assume that meditation is one of the best ways to tap into it, but do we even know that not all meditations can be practised by everyone? Several individuals seek a kundalini awakening (spiritual emergence), through meditations, in the hope of unfurling their sat. Many are often in a hurry to achieve higher states of consciousness and spirituality without any concern for their physical limitations. According to Arhatic Yoga practitioner and pranic healer Cynthia de Leon, meditations can draw in divine energies that could cause over-congestion in the chakra (energy junctions in the body). She explains, “The volume of energy channelled could exceed the chakras’ capacities. It is like plugging an appliance of 110-volt capacity into a 220-volt socket! This could result in an unsafe awakening of the kundalini, bringing about adverse physical, psychological and mystical (karmic) results for the meditator.” An individual would be hard-put to understand how much energy they channel during meditation and how much of it is actually good for them. A guru’s experiential knowledge is imperative in such instances, for only s/he’d know the right amount of energy that’s needed for an individual’s safe spiritual awakening, de Leon says.

It’s easy to think spirituality is a free-flowing, natural aspect of life. But if we want to truly strengthen our foundation to spiritual awakening, we’d do well to pursue it with a guru’s grace and guidance. If not, we might find ourselves groping in the dark after a point. Interestingly enough, they say ‘guru’ means the dispeller of darkness. And it’s easy to see why. A guru is someone who’s been there, done that; and knows what’s right, what’s wrong; what’s good, what’s bad, and everything in between and beyond. It’s a feat the guru has to his credit, a feat we’d have a hard time achieving without his help.

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