I’ve been trying to think of an analogy lately for what’s been a mostly private, but near total preoccupation of my life for the last thirty-two years: my relationship with three gurus in succession. Each guru was from a different tradition, but each was spiritually authentic, and each was in some intangible sense “the same” — although my last and present guru is of a somewhat different order — something I may or may not take time to explain here. The analogy I’ve come up with is facile, maybe even cliché, but as I’m out of my range here as a writer, it will have to do as a start.
So imagine that you live in a remote but much-to-your-liking forest. You’ve been there a while and you go on walks sometimes — meandering through trails, moss, log piles, and leaves among the great trees. One evening, you notice, or you feel you see, a kind of glow of light in the density ahead. You keep walking in that direction, and finally come upon what is: an orb of light. It’s in the shape of an upright egg or lingam. It’s not more than about five feet high, but it’s really there — radiating softly in a clearing in the trees.
As you approach this orb of light, you notice that you feel oddly happier, more at ease, and also quieted inside in a way that makes you feel, in an unlikely way, reverent. You move more slowly toward it, but with greater interest. Then, you are only a few feet away. The orb has not moved or changed in any way. It’s just there. Emanating light, and a subtle, palpable force. You can feel this. The force presses you back a bit, but it is also alluring, and feels almost intimate as if it’s something you've known before.
You sit down before the orb. This seems natural and right. Part of you is thinking: “This is impossible. This must be imaginary. I’ve lost my senses. What the hell.” But you put your hand on the forest floor and the pine needles poke your palms, confirming you’re at least dreaming if anything. And at the deepest level of your being you feel invited to stay. And so you do.
As you sit there quietly contemplating, you feel drawn into the “state” of the orb itself. And it is magnificent. All love. All peace. All silence. A deep bliss. These words mean nothing. You can close your eyes and drift in what seems like a state of unity with all that exists. You’re lost in an exalted state, self-forgotten, not even sure for how long. The orb seems to transmit a kind of power that pins you to your seat and even lovingly, or inherently, doesn’t want to let you go. You abide. You are present in the company of something extraordinary.
After some time, you fall back into a more ordinary state. The orb is still present. It’s getting dark. Time to go home. You get up, look in the direction of your home, and walk back in a kind of speechless afterglow. The evening passes quietly. You put away the dishes. You feed the cats. You go to sleep.
Hours later, you wake up to sunlight and birds through the bay window. Immediately you think about the orb. You rerun last night in your mind. When you even think of the orb, you can feel it again; you can feel its unique and particular power. How utterly strange. No, it was all real, you think. You decide to go back out there after breakfast and see if it’s still there.
Cut to the future. Your orb of light in the forest exists. Not only is it real, but you've ended up somewhat greedily telling no one about it. A few of your closest friends, that’s all. The first friend you brought there saw the orb and had the same response as you. She sat before it and meditated as though it were the most natural thing to do. The second friend you brought inexplicably did not see the orb at all and thought you were possibly losing it mentally. You stopped talking about the orb to that friend. The next two friends saw the orb and related to it like the first. Again you couldn't explain it, but at least you had some human corroboration that you are at least not alone in your perceptions.
Your whole life since that first encounter has been mostly a story of your relationship to that orb. You’ve lived an absolutely ordinary life for decades — friends, wives, pets, jobs, challenges, failures, victories, all of it — but your real life, your inner life, the who of you, your own consciousness, has never even for a moment really been apart from that orb, and its continuous silent influence. There is simply life before the orb and life after the orb. And the “after” has been so miraculous, so uncanny, so difficult, so hard to talk about that you haven’t talked about it. You’ve just lived it. And that’s been almost enough. The orb has given you things constantly. Insight, transformation, changes of life that correspond exactly to the demands of your own internal growth, unutterable happenings, perceptions of reality beyond the norm, states of conscious bliss, and also a slow and painful drawing out of your ability to truly love. And this is a tiny list — more of the reason why you’ve kept it all to yourself perhaps — the sheer unbelievability of it.
Then one day, like any other, you hike out to the clearing and the orb is gone. Just like that. At first you’re shocked, frightened, and profoundly in despair. Then, in very little time at all, you begin to realize that the orb is not really gone. It is simply no longer visible. You feel the same light, radiance, and power whenever you make any conscious gesture of remembrance of that orb. It is exactly the same as before. You could contact or commune with the state of the orb at any time and anywhere, merely by putting your attention on it. And the great force of the orb still comes down on you, spontaneously, initiating blissful mediation, confirming itself to you.
You continue to live on as always — in relationship to this most miraculous thing, whatever it is. And although it’s physically gone, it continues to reveal its nature to you perpetually, and this becomes the deeper purpose of your life — to be in relationship to the orb, to receive its gifts, and to realize what it is in that state of silent consciousness that it always seems to draw you into, like a magnet pulling metal shards to itself.
So there you have my crude analogy of the guru-devotee relationship. It is flawed in so many ways that it’s hardly worth deconstructing. If you really wanted to build it out you’d have to include large numbers of people finding out about and surrounding the orb, eventually turning the orb’s existence into a tragic religious theatre, and in the end, those same “devotees” end up intentionally killing the orb for exposing to them what it does about the nature of reality and the human ego. Nevertheless, I think this basic analogy does communicate elements of the guru-devotee relationship that, to me, are at its nucleus.
Those root elements of the guru-devotee relationship as I see them in this analogy are as follows:
- The essentially private, intimate, and almost incommunicable nature of the relationship.
- The aspect of it that is a never-ending process of discovery — about the nature of the orb itself or of what my present guru called “conscious light.”
- The reality of gaining access to powerful, unseen energy and unspeakable mystical or trans-human experiences, visions, and phenomenon beyond what is socially deemed even to be real, just as the orb itself might not be.
- The odd way all of the above makes one reticent to even speak publicly about it at all.
- The way in which one’s corroboration of the orb’s real existence, a process both private and apparently self-authenticating, is also shared by others. By those who are sensitive in a particular way, or perhaps by those who are ready to truly make use of what the orb is and what it offers.
- The aspect of the relationship continuing after the orb’s visible disappearance. The sense of there being no loss whatsoever in one’s ability to relate to what before seemed localized to a particular embodiment and physical place.
- The seemingly unending continuation of the orb’s initiating process of growth and self-revelation in you, exactly as it was before the “disappearance.” The immense challenge and ordeal of that process.