Thoughts on Finding a Guru

Over the last several years I have received many letters and emails asking questions about gurus — how to find a guru, or at least a good saint, to spend time with being the most common. I’ve decided to address this query in this New Year’s update.

The word guru literally means “heavy” in Sanskrit, and a guru is someone who will “ballast” you as you move into subtle realms, and will provide “weightiness” to your spiritual endeavors. Everyone has the potential to have a guru, and if your desire for a guru is sincere you can trust that the universe is paying attention, and waiting for the right moment to deliver a guru to you. What you cannot know is when you will meet your mentor, which is why it is essential that you be prepared to wait, for however long it may take.

The experience of working with a guru is not always pleasant, and can in fact be quite challenging. It therefore behooves you, in the meanwhile while you wait, to prepare yourself. Here are a few suggestions that I hope will be of assistance to you:

Create a sankalpa or sincere intention that you will do the work, come what may. The spiritual path requires discipline and fortitude, so each time you are deterred you should commit to bring your focus back and keep moving forward with openness and curiosity. If you are sincere in your efforts, Nature is sure to aid you.

Maintain a daily routine. Ayurveda proposes that we perform daily acts or dinacharya, which involve cleaning the sense organs, oiling the body and things like performing yoga asanas or other means of physical movement, preferably in the morning, in order to transition into the day slowly. These rituals help us to counter the quick-paced, complex world we live in while also developing our discipline as we practice day by day. This is essential to help us with the next recommendation, which is to

Steady the mind. Whether you employ yoga, meditation, talk therapy or some other technique (or combination of techniques), it is most valuable to work to keep the mind calm and to learn to observe your thoughts without becoming those thoughts. Everything that happens in life is constantly changing, and we cannot in fact know the reasoning behind or the ultimate outcome of any particular experience. We need therefore to learn to quell our reactivity and just observe.

Learn how to sit for one hour without changing your position, whether in a cross-legged position or in a chair. Taking time every day to be still and step out of the confines of the physical body helps to cultivate a detached and calm state of mind. One way to learn how to sit is to go on a retreat where you spend most of your time in silence and meditation. Being on retreat in a natural environment helps moreover to re-connect us to the divinity that is all around us.

Develop a relationship with the sadguru without form. The sadguru is the guru in charge of making you achieve liberation. Even if you have no idea of who your sadguru will be you can develop a relationship with him or her right now by visualizing yourself holding his or her lotus feet and not letting go until your eventual meeting.

Hone your intuition. Many of us try to use our mind or our emotions to make our way through the world, when what we really need to do is to learn to listen to our gut (by becoming quiet, calm and still). Once gut feelings start to come our way we need to possess the courage to act, or take no action, depending on what the situation requires. Interpreting these messages may require divination, via Jyotisha, I Ching, tarot, a pendulum, tea leaves, or any other method that works for you. It is not the method you use that matters, but the faith applied and the connection you are opening to the Supreme Reality that allows Nature to guide you.

Let Nature be your teacher. In the absence of a single sadguru, you can still accept good advice from the many teachers available who can aid you on the path. Even if you have a sadguru, you may find yourself learning from other gurus, as I have. Moreover, every being in our lives, from an ant to a pesky aunt, has something to show or teach us. Guru Dattatreya had 24 gurus, including a python, a honeybee, and a prostitute, none of whom knew they were his teacher. When we are receptive, anything and anyone can lead us directly to the divine.

The turn of a new year, the new moon, the beginning of a new season or month, or any auspicious day is the perfect time to make a new niyama, a contract with yourself concerning how you would like to proceed ahead in your life. It can be helpful to start small, choosing one new thing to focus on or add to your life and establishing yourself in that practice before moving on to another. Following these recommendations with sincerity and devotion will without fail deepen your relationship to the divine and move you ahead on your path. Tatasthu!