You know when you have a really long, hard day and you can’t even remember what it was you wanted to do when you were done? You know, the thing that made you get yourself out of bed and 6 a.m. to walk the dog, make tea, clean the kitchen briefly, shower, get dressed, pack your lunch, gather your things for a ten hour day and get to the car to warm it up and drive? The kind where you end up eating buffalo chicken morsels from a grocery store deli while standing up at the kitchen counter even though you’re on a health kick? Yeah. I had that day today. Sometimes when I am exhausted like this and a little confused, I open one of my books to a random page and ask for guidance.
The book I opened on this rainy Thursday evening is Thirty-Seven Practices of Boddhisattvas. The opening line goes something like this:
When you rely on them your faults come to an end
And your good qualities grow like the waxing moon.
Cherish spiritual teachers
Even more than your own body—
This is the practice of Bodhisattvas (31).
This is very interesting for me at this time. I spent much of last evening, on my yoga mat thinking about the recent Anusara hoopla. And really, who in the yoga world isn’t really thinking about it right now? There are numerous postings on Elephant Journal and other yoga sites discussing the sticky mess John Friend is in, his senior teachers leaving the fold, and the path that Anusara might now take or not take. If you don’t know, essentially Anusara is a yoga, which was “created” by John Friend and a group of his students. It is the most rapidly growing yoga practice in the country and JF was recently exposed/suspected/accused of having had affairs with his students, manipulating his fellow teachers, and cheating his employees out of their retirement accounts. As a practitioner of Anusara, I guess I am interested.
Anyway, I actually don’t spend much time reading these types of yoga blogs. Mostly because yoga for me is just pretty personal and I am not sure what is gained by these types of discussions. And also, I have an honest aversion to “teachers.” But here I am writing about it anyway. Hmmm.
See, I grew up the world of hippie communes, ashrams and spiritual communities. I am so grateful for my upbringing as much of the paradigm I was raised under valued a deep, reflective, spiritual approach to existence. My mother didn’t lie to me about the suffering of the world or the suffering I would have to go through to live in it. She didn’t push me into a career or life based on her expectations. My bedtime stories were about the Buddha or stories about prophets and saints. I was raised in a rural, land-based ethos, which espoused the ideals of community, personal expression and peace. Pretty cool, really.
But I also have a serious distaste for much of what accompanies the “spiritual” lifestyle. I don’t think bad things happen because my chakras are out of alignment. I don’t buy into the twisted interpretation of Karma that wants me to view all the negative things in my life as something I had coming to me because I unknowingly in some other lifetime, created it all myself. I don’t want to talk about my chi or my past lives much.
I’ve seen so many people use spiritualism as another guise to further their selfish and wounded agendas in the world. Trungpa Rinpoche called it “spiritual materialism” and it refers to the idea that even our identity as seekers of a spiritual life can be just another head-trip we use as an excuse to avoid being a good person. And when it comes to teachers, let’s just face it; John Friend is not the first or the last great “teacher” to disappoint his fans/disciples.
Everyone from Trungpa Rinpoche to Gandhi was suspected of, or actually diddling their students. So, are we missing the point? Time and time again, the teacher reminds us to seek the guru within and not to seek it in the world or in our desires. And yet, we also somehow all need a teacher to help us along the path don’t we? We need a preview of what it might look like and feel like to live in an elevated space. It’s a curious paradigm. That’s why this line about Bodhisattvas stands out to me: Cherish spiritual teachers. I wonder what that really means. I keep coming back to this question. Where does the Guru live?
In the tantric tradition of Tibetan Buddhism and Anusara yoga as well, the idea is to fully embrace embodiment. What does that mean? To me it means using our experiences, both positive and negative, as vehicles for transformation, as a way further in towards the truth. The Guru can help this process. And really the Guru is our heart. It is the weighty substance of truth. The Guru is a help in yoking our faults and driving them towards liberation, rely on your faults.
Getting on my yoga mat last night, I put in my headphones and listened to kirtan while I practiced. I felt the ecstatic rhythm of my body aligning with the singing. I felt the joy of my breath and the movement my limbs know how to make now after years of practice. The rest of the world melts away as I come into union here, on the floor of my quiet apartment, far from my beloveds. I am grateful for my practice. I am also grateful for the people who have shared it with me and welcomed me in.
I have had many yoga teachers over the years and many other types of teachers. Each and every one of them has given me a gift that I carry with me. And I know my most beloved yoga teachers are not perfect. The aren’t sleeping with their students most likely but they are definitely human beings. Yet here’s the thing that happens in a classroom, or in the teacher/student relationship: both individuals are transformed. Rhetorician Kenneth Burke used the word “consubstantiation” to refer to this idea. When we use language (or practice) as a way of meeting, we for a time, share a substance and it elevates us beyond our individual differences. In fact, even our conflicts are valuable in this moment when each person has an opportunity to both hold their own perspective and consider the perspective of the “other.” This is the dialectic we all have the opportunity to learn from.
I see this in my classroom all the time—this coming to an experience openheartedly. I feel it when I practice with my yoga teachers. We all get to be a little bit better by sharing some of who we are and by allowing others to be.
Beginner’s mind tells me that the form of the Guru is always changing, though the essence remains the same. That is something to truly be treasured.