For several years in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, I wrote articles about my experiences with Amma for “The New Times,” a free newspaper that was, at that time, available in Washington and Oregon. I have started sharing some of those articles on my blog. I am choosing the articles to post based on their topic, therefore they are not being shared chronologically. The article below was published in March of 1998.
The day after Christmas, while eating brunch with friends, I half-jokingly said that next year I thought I would ask my guru, Amma, if I should come for my annual visit to her ashram in South India. (Normally I just go; I don’t ask.) On my way to the ashram last year (1996), my plane had decompression problems and fell 25,000 feet. This year (1997), less than a week before I was to leave on the trip, I discovered that I needed surgery, now. There for I had to cancel, or at least postpone, my pilgrimage.
While I am abundantly aware of the lessons I had the opportunity to learn from these two experiences, a part of me is a bit tentative about planning another trip to India. What else might happen? After making this statement, one of my friends snapped, “Why don’t you just check in with yourself?” I responded with some ineffective statement, and then kept my mouth shut.
Then, when I received my January 1998 issue of The New Times, my eye fell on statements written by Sobonfu Somé:
“People in the West tend to live unbalanced lives… so they search for a guru of some form to take care of their spiritual needs. The idea of a guru doing everything and all we have to do is show up and tell the guru, “this is what I need, fix everything and I can get out of here” does not work. The guru takes the individual’s involvement away and once the individual’s involvement is not there, nothing can really happen.” [Note: This quote is from 1998. I don’t know if Sobonfu still holds the same belief.]
After dealing with my initial desire to defend, justify, rationalize, explain, and judge, I decided that it is time for me to respond to this way of thinking.
What I have discovered in nine years of being a devotee of a guru [Note: I have now been a devotee for more than 27 years!] is that discipleship is anything but mindless pursuit. I have needed to learn to become – and stay – exceedingly conscious and attuned to what is happening both within and around me, to be impeccable in my actions, and to be fully in integrity. I have needed to learn when to ask my teacher for help and when to find the answer within. I have certainly not “given away my power,” but rather have been learning about what surrender means.
That is not to say that I have not observed people using gurus in the way that Sobonfu described. Several years ago, I asked for time with one of Amma’s swamis in order to share my concern over what I perceived as devotees “following” in ways I judged to be mindless, acting from what appeared to me to be blind faith.
He explained the difference between mature and immature discipleship. He said that the surrender that comes from a mature disciple results from years of testing and observing the guru as well as from watching the growth of both oneself and of other disciples. As a disciple has experience after experience with his or her guru, faith grows naturally. Surrender to the guru and to Spirit/God comes as faith grows.
I find I have judgments similar to Sobonfu’s of the ways I perceive some people using astrology. It seems to me that when individuals make most or all of their decisions based solely on astrological readings, they create self-fulfilling prophesy, give away their personal power, stay stuck in self defeating behaviors and as a result limit their personal growth. I notice that others use astrology as a guide or as a way of helping them to understand what they are experiencing, rather than a tool that has every answer. I guess any tool used in an obsessive and mindless manner is likely to undermine the purposes for which it was created. That is not the fault of the tool nor of the system, but rather problems created by misuse of the tool.
My years with Amma have been filled with an almost unbelievable level of challenge and growth. My personal spiritual process has amazed me. I believe that asking Amma to be my guide and teacher has resulted in speeding up the rate in which the universal “lessons” come and has provided me with the support I need as I move through each challenge. I am thankful that I have someone to help guide me as I find my way through unknown territory. I am also very thankful, and quite certain, that she does not “do it for me.” As far as I am concerned, meeting and going through each challenge is what creates the joy of living. I would not want anyone to do it for me. That does not mean, however, that I must learn all I need to learn without help.
Perhaps instead of criticizing each others chosen spiritual paths, we can instead be thankful that there are so many ways to connect with Spirit/God. With this attitude we will be better able to support each other as we learn the lessons we are here to learn.
“The New Times” articles that I’ve already shared: