The Way of the Guru


By Trish Reyburn

One of the best things I’ve ever learned is the spelling of the word guru. Have you ever thought about it before ?
G-U-R-U: Gee, you are you.

G-U-R-U: Gee, you are you.

When I told my mom that I was going to become a yoga teacher, she looked shocked and dismayed. Then, in a most pleading tone she asked, “You’re not going to drink your own urine, are you?”

That seemed to come out of left field for me, but it turns out my mother knew more about the ancient yoga tradition than I did. Wandering sadhus (holy men) drank their own urine and it is mentioned as a practice in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, a fifteenth -century manual on hatha yoga.

It was never an issue for me to consider, so it was easy to reply to my mom, “Are you crazy? What are you even talking about?”

Instead of drinking urine, my concern was finding a guru. Back in the 1990s – way back in the last millennium, for goodness’ sake – it seemed important that I find the right teacher. So, like any young American girl, I went shopping for one.

My first encounter with my potential yoga master happened immediately after I graduated from a month-long training at Kripalu Yoga Center for Health and Healing. I took a trip to Naples, Florida, and, while practicing some asana on the beach outside the Ritz Carlton (no, I didn’t stay there), an Indian man approached me and offered to be my guru.

“I’ll be your guru,” he offered. “Come to my house tonight and I will give you your first lesson.”

Naturally, I was apprehensive, but my travel companion encouraged me to go. The teacher (whose name I cannot recall) gave me a poster of the nadis, which are the pathways of prana, or universal life force energy. I have that poster hanging on the door to my office today. I went to the meeting but never returned to that guide;, I wasn’t ready. He made me feel more nervous than intrigued.

The chant artist, Bhagavan Das, also offered to be my guru. I was tentative, but still accepted his offer, as I didn’t know how to say “No!” at the time.

Later, I would learn to say: “Beware of anyone who offers to be your guru.”

Beware of anyone who offers to be your guru.”

The concept of the guru is so counter to the American do-it-yourself mentality. I experienced a streak of irreverence through my whole life. I did not want to bow down to anyone, nor did I wish to touch their feet. I went exploring nonetheless and I found great masters along the way.

Yoga will make you powerful but what you do with that power is up to you. Although not all so-called gurus abide in their hearts, I have luckily been in the presence of some that are most certainly heart-centered, and doing their practice for the betterment of the world.

My first such encounter with such a guru was Sri Anandi Ma. I traveled to the northwest corner of Connecticut to be initiated into her group. Two of my good friends were already her devotees and I wanted to check her out. Everyone was dressed in white (for the purest of frequencies) and seated closely together on the floor, waiting for the guru to arrive.
Her energy entered the room before she did.

Her energy entered the room before she did.

I’m sure you’ve heard the word “aura” before. For most of us, our energy body is about 6-10 feet in diameter, but Anandi Ma’s was vast! It felt like a wave of contentment entered the space before her physical body came in. The wave was palpable and amazing.! To be in the presence of someone like her, who has been steeped in meditation for decades and lives on a higher plane is something that I wish for everyone. Her energy field changed my energy field.

But I still decided against joining the ranks.

I’ve had similar experiences with other living gurus, such as Sai Ma, (a powerful Shakti wielder,) and Amma, the hugging saint. Those powerful beings could launch their shakti across vast space.

I followed the Siddha Yoga tradition for a while as well. I drove an hour to participate in weekly meditations. I thought I had found my way, at last! The leader of the organization was Swami Chidvilasananda, another woman who was handed the reigns from her guru, Swami Muktananda. Within months of my participation, the swami had decided to give up her teachings and move into silence.

I stopped driving an hour for meditations.

And I stopped desperately looking for a living teacher.

While all of this was going on, I had met Baba Neem Karoli on a CD jacket. All my favorite chant artists had him in their lives. Bhagavan Das was his first western devotee and had thus introduced Ram Dass to Baba. Be Here Now by Ram Dass, inspired in great part by their meeting, started a revolution in the late 1960’s and Ram Dass spent his life sharing the message of Baba Neem Karoli, his guru.

In Sanskrit, the word guru is translated as “the heavy one.” 

The one who holds the weight. 

Not everyone who practices consistently is gifted with enlightenment in this lifetime, but Baba Neem Karoli  was one of the few.

He passed out of his body on September 11, 1973 when I was about to turn four, yet he has had the strongest impact upon my life!

Baba came to me in the music that he influenced: Krishna Das, Shyamdas, David Newman, Jai Uttal and many many more. It seemed that all the chanting artists were devoted to this master. What was his message?

Love All and Feed Everyone

Baba didn’t require anything from his disciples. There was no asana or pranayama practice, no need to abstain from anything and no need to attain anything either. His presence was his offering. People received what they needed by just being in his presence –  which is why I was searching for a guru in a body.

As fate would have it, Baba is my guru.

He has come to me in dreams and visions;, there is no doubt in my mind that I belong to him. It is a relationship I have cultivated in prayer and in action, and it continues to grow as I grow.

But what was I saying at the beginning? Gee, you are you.

Any great teacher/sage/guru will help you see that.

In my opinion, the age of the guru is over. People are finding their own way to divinity. Each of us is a source of divine light and we don’t need anyone as a go-between. Still, when you “hang” with beings of high vibration, you can also attune to that level of consciousness.

If you have the chance to spend time with the enlightened ones, in body or in spirit, I suggest you go for it.

(Cover painting: by Nancy Marcus Newman)

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