What is it with us Westerners and our fascination with wise men (and a few women) from the East? The insights of Asian cultures have interested us for centuries, but it only took off in a big way when the Beatles went to India and embraced Maharishi.
My own personal history in search of the perfect guru probably pretty much mirrors that of many other boomer seekers. I was too young for the heyday of the Theosophical Society and Madame Blavatsky, though my grandmother was a great fan (yes, it runs in the family). I caught the tail end of Krishnamurti, but my first full-on encounter was with Maharishi’s TM movement in the early 70’s. I handed over my money to TM and got the special mantra that would lead me to a higher plane. When I still hadn’t even glimpsed it after several months of dedicated mantra muttering, my commitment wavered and I never reached the levitation level (though I doubt I could have afforded it). I believe TM is still handing out those “personalised mantras” for a fee and some people are still buying into it. You do know research suggests repeating “Coca-Cola” could be equally effective? Just to be clear, I’m not disputing the benefits of meditation, it’s just the packaging that I can’t help questioning – like all those layers of cardboard and plastic that encase some products.
In 1980 I came across another guru from the Indian subcontinent, Muktananda, who operated on a less global scale than Maharishi but had an ashram on Collins Avenue, Miami Beach, which I was inspired to visit. After a month of early rising, more assiduous chanting and anointing with peacock feathers I returned home not much the wiser. The main thing I took away with me was a bronchial condition that plagues me to this day – those ashrams can be hothouses of disease. Of course it was all supposed to be “purification by the guru’s grace” (lucky me), but if so, I haven’t felt the benefits yet. Muktananda died not long after my visit and his successor is said to be the lady guru in Melissa Gilbert’s book Eat Pray Love (bless).
I managed to elude Bhagwan Rajneesh, who later reincarnated as Osho, though whether this was for legal or spiritual reasons isn’t clear. Like Rajneesh/Osho, a whole subschool of gurus taught the path to enlightenment via the genital region. Those who came of age in the Summer of Love found this approach particularly profound.
Since enlightened beings from afar have begun to grace us with their presence, a number of Westerners have also stepped forward to lay claim to divinity. They may not have the credentials of the East, but all come with tales of how they saw the light. And, they promise, we can do it too. But not without them to first show us the way.
With all my experience of gurus, I think I’m just about qualified to join their ranks. It’s not like I have to go to guru college and gain a certificate, after all. Who could disprove my claims of enlightenment, especially when it can take so many forms? For a crash course in how to set yourself up as a guru, take a look at Kumaré. You’ll see it’s much easier than you thought.
Having said all that, I would be the first to admit there are many people from whom I have learnt valuable insights. I just don’t think they necessarily have to come in a certain guise. They could be from anywhere – north, south, east, west. They might live next door. Or even in the same house.
And finally, here is my special free mantra just for you: Be Your Own Guru. Keep repeating and who knows what might happen.