In today’s world, spiritual gurus have a bad rap. Many people go in search of a spiritual guide, someone who can help them escape the ego and achieve enlightenment or at least spark some kind of spiritual awakening. But since so many teachers have taken advantage of their students, we are often quite suspicious of anyone who purports to have access to a higher state of consciousness and the wisdom to show you how to reach it yourself.
So deep is our suspicion that when we encounter an authentic teacher, we still tend to shy away from treating them as a guru because, even if we don’t think they mean us harm, we believe that taking on a guru means treating them like a celebrity.
The Real Meaning of a Guru
We no longer understand the meaning of a guru. A guru is not a spiritual celebrity. It’s not someone you worship and hope to get approval from, join their inner circle and feel like you’re among the “chosen.”
The guru is a vehicle for training your mind to see the world differently.
Specifically, you are meant to see the guru as an incarnation of the divine in human form. You relate to him or her as if they were a manifestation of Spirit or God standing before you.
And this is where the misunderstanding comes in: You do not prostrate yourself before this person as if he or she were in fact God. That mistakes the guru as a substitute for God. Instead, you see them as an aspect of the divine made human so that you can understand that there is no separation between human and the divine. By treating the guru this way, you learn to see the divine in everybody. In other words, by treating one human being as a guru, you can learn to treat all human beings as gurus, that is, as manifestations of God.
This is the key distinction between true and false gurus. A true guru knows and understands that he or she is playing this role for the devotee. They know that they are divine but that they are not God. They know that they are teaching you to see the divine in everyone. In fact, the true guru has no personal need to be seen as a guru. Their gift is the ability to teach you to see the divine in everyone.
The false gurus come to believe that they should be worshipped as God, and must protect that status at all costs, which is when scandals and abuse ensue.
The True Guru in Practice
When you recognize that the real purpose of a guru is to see everyone as equally divine and equally worthy of all that life has to offer, everyone can be a form of guru. Every single person can remind you, in one way or another, of where you judge some people to be better than others. Judgment is the primary way in which we demean each other and fail to see another person’s divinity.
What does that look like in practice?
Let’s start by what it does not mean.
It does not mean you subjugate yourself to everyone else, satisfying their every whim and sacrificing your own needs. It doesn’t mean you accept abuse and negativity. You don’t simply justify someone’s negativity by saying to yourself, Well, they’re a divine being, so I’ll just put up with this abuse. You can tell if someone is mistreating you, and the spiritual path does not call for abuse.
What it means is that you stop placing people in a hierarchy of bad and good. It means that when someone is hurtful to you and you ask them to stop, you don’t judge them or reduce their value as a human being. It means you still regard them as equally divine, and equally worthy of all life has to offer, even as you’re drawing a necessary boundary.
You recognize that their harmful or hurtful behavior comes from their own internal wounds — the places they have yet to heal.
You recognize that they are still awakening to their own divinity, and to seeing others as divine — just as you were once asleep with the ego.
You recognize that they are on their own path toward enlightenment in this school called life.
Your realize that drawing boundaries does not require judgment.
Everyone Can Be Your Guru
All of which leads to an equally important truth: Seeing everyone as your guru means taking responsibility for your own emotional reactions.
The people who annoy, bother, or upset you — whether strangers in the street, close friends, or anonymous groups of people about whom you have lots of ideas — those emotional reactions are your perceptions of who they are.
That you feel annoyed or upset is your responsibility. No one makes you mad. You become mad in response to an action or word from someone else.
Every interaction becomes an opportunity to ask yourself: What is this person showing me or reflecting back to me? When confronted by the words and actions of another that trigger you, turn inward and ask yourself, honestly: Why does this upset me?
The answer will always point you to some deeper message or belief you hold about yourself, often about your worthiness or being lovable. In other words, a belief that runs counter to your status as a manifestation of the divine. Your belief that you are not lovable or good enough or worthy is a belief that says you are not divine. It is where you have stopped seeing yourself as Spirit in human form.
A guru thus teaches you to see the divine in everyone — including yourself.
Treating everyone as your guru means that you see everyone as a vehicle for self-awareness.
Will you always “successful” in seeing the full divinity of every person you encounter? Certainly not. But, paradoxically, the moments of “failure” are not true failures. Each time you are triggered, someone is showing you how you can be more compassionate, more empathetic, more trusting, or even more loving to yourself by showing you where you need to draw stronger boundaries and to look within at the reasons for your emotional reactions.
The moment you “fail” and begin to judge them, to forget another person’s divinity, and to forget your own divinity, that is the moment when they have become your guru again.
An earlier version was originally published at https://blog.sivanaspirit.com on August 24, 2017. This version has been substantially revised.