This week, I blogged about why I’ve never had a guru. More specifically, I wrote about the misguided notion that some individuals have a special relationship with the Divine—whether that means they’ve achieved enlightenment, or Truth, or the ability to transform bread into the body of Christ. I argued that we should be seeking truth in ourselves and in the Sacred, not in our devotion to another human being, no matter how charismatic they may be.
This is a complicated topic, and I don’t pretend to have a thorough understanding of it. But there are a number of writers who have written in depth about it, and on this Great Stuff for Writers Friday, I’d like to share some of their work.
The Guru Looked Good
For ten years, Marta Szabo worked at the ashram that would later become Elizabeth Gilbert’s meditation haven in Eat, Pray, Love. Szabo’s experience was hardly as blissful as Gilbert’s. In her book, The Guru Looked Good, she details the reasons she became a follower of Gurumayi, the ashram’s charming leader, and why she left. She blasts the ashram’s reputation for taking huge amounts of money from its followers, and describes the plight of “enlightenment junkies” who end up spending many years and thousands of dollars in their search for inner peace, often ending up broke and lost.
If you find the topic interesting but aren’t up to reading the book, check out this 2010 article in the New York Post, in which journalist Sara Stewart profiled Gurumayi and Szabo’s work or Szabo’s own blog on the topic.
Without the Guru: How I Took My Life Back after Thirty Years
Michael Robert Finch shares a similar experience with a different spiritual leader, Guru Maharaji, in Without the Guru: How I Took My Life Back after Thirty Years. While some readers have called his book “self-indulgent” and one-sided, most praise Finch’s clear-eyed look at what one reviewer calls the “cult of worship around a guru,” and I think it is worth a look for anyone interested in the topic.
Karma Cola: Marketing the Mystic East
Long before Elizabeth Gilbert journeyed to India or Gurumayi came on the scene, Westerners flocked to India in the 70s in search of the meaning, purpose, and community they did not feel they could find in Western traditions. In general, Indians were startled and amused by their earnest devotion to gurus. Gita Mehta critiqued both the starry-eyed foreigners who came to her native country for enlightenment and the gurus she feels manipulated them in her insightful Karma Cola: Marketing the Mystic East. Some readers feel the book (first published in 1980) is out of date, but given the ongoing popularity of spiritual tourism in India, I’d say it is still spot-on.
Although all of the works described above deal with the problematic guru-devotee relationship, Asian traditions aren’t the only ones that have a special class of people believed to have unique relationships with God. Gary Wills is a devout Roman Catholic who once studied for the priesthood and is devoted to the Church, which makes his recent book, Why Priests? all the more interesting. Wills argues that the special place given to priests in the Catholic tradition is unbiblical, unnecessary, and unhealthy for the Church—and he uses his impressive scholarship to prove his point. Although different from the relationship between gurus and their followers, the special power attributed to priests places them about the rest of us, and it is exactly that claim to special spiritual power that Wills protests. Interestingly, so did Martin Luther, 600 years ago.
Causes Jill Jepson Supports
Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife, Interational Society for the Protection of Burros and Mustangs, National Wildlife Federation,...