How Can You Recognize a True Guru?
From a recent comment left by @You am I:
To understand Advaita Vedanta there are many texts like vivekachudamani, atma vidya, avdhoota gita etc etc ..
But AshtaVakra Gita stands out as the one which shows the guru-shishya dissolution in action.Janaka the shishya ,becoming one with Guru and attaining the silence where there’s nothing left to say.
I am curious to learn from you as to why would AOL teach you ashtavakra gita if they didn;t want to convey this central message of the text?
This is a very good question, and I can only give you my best guess at an answer based on a number of observations I have made. I will say outright I am no expert on Hinduism and as such feel free to correct me on any points on which I have erred:
1) The previous thread has reaffirmed for me something which I have suspected for some time, that Hinduism is one of the most complex if not the most complex of all of the worlds religions.
2) The teachings of Hinduism are contained within a large body of scriptures written over several thousand years which includes the Vedas, Upanishads and Gita to name but a few.
3) The scriptures are written in Sanskrit, and they are also greatly open to interpretation.
So far so good, these observations raise a very important question, and that is, how on earth does one go about learning all the tenets of Hinduism? Surely it must take years of study, including the learning of sanskrit, before one can reach a point where they can become “proficient” in Hinduism? Most people in today’s society cannot possible take years out of their lives to to dedicate to the study of these scriptures, so that leads us to the next observation:
4) One or more individuals can spend the required time to study the scriptures, and then impart this knowledge to those wishing to learn it. These individuals “become” Gurus, and those wishing to learn from them become their Disciples. I quoted “become” for a reason, and the following questions elaborate on this further:
How does one actually become a Guru?
My limited understanding is that somehow a Guru is “self-realized”, “God-realized”, “enlightened”, but I am not really sure what any of these terms actually mean, since they aren’t something which I have any direct experience of. Is there some kind of process, or call it a path if you will, that one can follow in order to become a Guru? I am vaguely aware that there is some kind of Guru-Disciple succession or lineage whereby knowledge is transmitted orally from Guru to Disciple, but I am unaware of how a Disciple eventually, if at all, becomes a Guru.
How does one recongnize a true Guru?
Any individual can give themselves the title of “Guru”, display various signs that one would associate with a Guru (such as wearing a white robe, growing long hair and a having a beard), he can through existing disciples spread rumours that he has divine powers (siddhis), and he can claim to have some knowledge of ancient scriptures. But all these things are surely external signs, and can very easily be faked, so how can we really tell whether that person is truly a Guru (self-realized, enlightened) or not? I have to date been unable to find anything in any textbook or website which can give me the answer to this, but if anyone can provide one it would help me and a great many people here tremendously knowing this.
Now, applying everything I have written above to Art of Living, I want to make the following observations:
- I would postulate that most if not all who come to Art of Living are not experts on Hinduism, and so rely on SSRS to guide them. As discussed already in fact, many are completely unaware at the outset that it is even a Hindu organization, or at the very least that its teachings stem from Hinduism
- Most are led to believe from the outset that SSRS is self-realized/enlightened simply because he has given himself the title of “Guru” (as well as the honorifics “Sri Sri” and “His Holiness”), he wears white robes, has grown long hair, and has a beard, he encourages his teachers and other diciples to spread “Guru stories” which make people believe that he has supernatural powers (siddhis) such as being able to control the weather, and he has at least some knowledge of ancient scriptures
- SSRS has presented a number of commentaries on ancient texts including Ashtavakra Gita, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, Bhakti Sutras and Bhagavad Gita
- Since I have postulated that most if not all followers aren’t experts on any of these texts already before they come to AoL, their faith in SSRS will be so strong by the time they watch these commentaries that they will believe he is being completely faithful to the originals. Any who do happen to already be experts may not necessarily take the time to watch any of them. Interestingly enough, it is only at much later stages of involvement that most people are encouraged to watch Ashtavakra Gita at all, and it is highly coveted by teachers. Followers are also discouraged from watching it by themselves in their houses, and instead are encouraged to watch it together in groups and discuss what they believed the saw afterwards. This may also add another layer of interpretation to it.
- Since SSRS knows that people look to him as an authority on these scriptures, they will believe anything he tells them. Whilst he can remain as faithful as he can to most of the content in any given scripture, he is giving his interpretation of them, and as such this allows him to make any subtle modifications he deems fit. Especially to anything which may expose him or his organization.
- Disciples are unaware of any deviations in the commentaries from the originals, and so accept everything SSRS tells them. If they have watched these in groups as encouraged, then there will be those in the group who may sway the interpretation in any way they deem fit.
We have already shown across this blog many ways in which AoL differs in its teachings from Hinduism, so what I have given above is a very plausible argument. I can also say for sure I’ve listened to various commentaries by SSRS on Bhagavad Gita and Yoga Sutras and they differ greatly from a number of other commentaries I have also read.
So to answer your original question, AoL’s teaching of Ashtavakra Gita may not be 100% faithful to the original, and it may leave out anything which may expose them such as what you have mentioned.
This is of course just a hypothesis, and is open for discussion.