ON ' GURUS ' AND SPIRITUAL
It is interesting to note that in almost every field or specialty, common sense tells us that we need guidance and such is sought from experts. But when it comes to spiritual matters the greater majority have no hesitation in choosing themselves as both expert and advisor. This despite the Muslim aphorism that he who uses himself as his own director has Satan for his guide.
This situation is understandable when one recognizes that religion has been reduced to the realm of private opinion and when one considers the innumerable providers of spirituality - it comes in every shape and form - placing one's trust in others with regard to this critical matter is almost impossible. And yet ironically we find many giving their trust to individuals with no traditional affiliations and who proclaim themselves through the media as guides to any and all - usually for a healthy fee.
is legitimate to use the term "guru" with any preceptor of a
professional nature. Thus a surgeon or a musician can refer to his preceptor as
his "guru." But in the present paper we are discussing gurus who are
giving spiritual direction. Now in
Moreover such real gurus are most unlikely to take on westerners or the simple reason that they have not lived as Hindus for a long period of time. Living within a traditional form, models the soul and as such prepares the individual for the spiritual life. If one doubts this, one has but to ask such potential chelas (penitents) what caste they belong to. They immediately tell you that they don't believe in castes. Now like it or not, the Caste system is intrinsic to Hinduism. It is a little like someone saying they are Catholic and claiming that they don't believe in the Real Presence. (Those wishing to understand the caste system are referred to The Religious Basis of the Forms of Indian Society by Ananda Coomaraswamy, Studies in Comparative Religion 15, 1983).
as a Hindu within the traditional culture is equivalent to what Tanqueray calls
"external direction." So stringent is this principle that when an
orthodox Hindu (the term orthodox is defined as right faith and true
Another dangerous tendency is to adopt spiritual exercises developed within one tradition to usages outside that tradition. I recently came across a Catholic retreat master who sent individuals up into the mountains on "vision quests," a practice used by American Indians. Or again, the use of yoga, not for exercise, but as a spiritual method is rampant - one could give many other examples especially among "New Age gurus." Usually such individuals have little if any real knowledge of the traditions from which they seemingly adopt such techniques, apart from what the read in books - and books convey but the externals.
a previous age and time things were different. As with all the great religious
traditions, Christianity also insisted upon the importance of spiritual
directors - experts in helping one come to a knowledge, love and consequent
appropriate service of God. In general the principles of direction were divided
into two categories. The first requirement was submission to the form of the
Tradition in question. As Tanqueray, a Catholic authority says in The
Spiritual Life: "God, Who established His Church as a hierarchical
society, willed that souls be sanctified through submission to this
Church." Thus when Saul (
Beyond this, those who are called to the spiritual life require a guide for what has been called "internal" direction. As Tanquerey points out, "Progress in holiness is a long and painful ascent over a steep path bordered by precipices. To venture thereon without an experienced guide is highly imprudent." It is extremely easy to deceive oneself as regards one's own condition. As St. Francis de Sales says: "We are unable to gaze eye to eye upon ourselves, we cannot be impartial judges in our own case, by reason of a certain complacency, so veiled, so unsuspected that the keenest insight alone can discover its existence; those who suffer from it are not aware of it unless some one points it out to them."
The importance of spiritual direction has always been recognized in Christendom. Cassian who spent long years among the monks in the east speaks of this in both his Book of Institutions and in his Conferences. And what Cassian said with regard to the eastern monks was repeated in the West by St. John Climacus in his Ladder of Paradise. It should not be thought that this need was limited to those in the religious life, for both Augustine and Jerome in their correspondence with those in the world repeat the same admonitions. Down through the ages the same principles are inculcated. St. Bernard speaks of this in both his letters and his sermons, and indeed he states that "whoever constitutes himself his own guide, becomes a disciple of a fool.".
St Francis de Sales tells us that a spiritual director must have three principal qualities, charity, knowledge and prudence. Charity is a supernatural and paternal affection which makes him see that those under his care are spiritual children confided to him by God Himself - As St. Paul said, "My little children of whom I am in labor again until Christ be formed in you" This charity is not weakness, but a firmness coupled with frankness. Secondly knowledge is important, and St. Theresa of Avilla teaches that this is more important than holiness. There are those who are indeed holy, but unsuitable to the task of direction. Without a knowledge of mystical and ascetical theology, how is it possible to direct a person who is traveling in such paths? Finally, prudence and sound judgment are needed in order to direct souls, not according to one's own judgement, but according to the motions of grace, the temperament and character of the penitents, and their supernatural attractions.
the spiritual director is a blind man seeking to lead the blind, as
unfortunately happens often, then it is better to seek another. But if one
cannot find such, than as St. Theresa of Avilla says, it is better to remain
without one, to trust in God who has permitted such a thing, rather than be
guided by a blind man. However, those who would follow a Christian path, prior
to "giving up" their search for a director, would do well to acquaint
themselves with the literature on spiritual direction - the writings of
innumerable saints and theologians such as Tanqueray (The Spiritual Life)
and Arintero (Mystical Evolution). St. Catherine of
finally, those who find themselves faced with the task of direction must
realize that the very obligations that fall upon their penitents applies above
all to themselves. If they do not sanctify their own lives, if they do not let
Christ live in them as He did in