Saturday, February 16, 2013

When Gurus Go Bad

Yet another spiritual teacher has been caught up in a sex scandal. Here's my (unorthodox) view of that sort of thing

In olden times, your teacher was god, period. And I don't just mean your Zen or yoga or Tibetan Buddhist teacher, I mean any teacher. We associate the Sanskrit term "guru" with high-level spirtuality, but it applies to any teacher/disciple relationship. If you were studying to be a musician or a ditch digger, your teacher was your guru, and you cleaned his house and washed his clothes, and did literally anything he instructed you to do. He was akin to God, and it's only natural that these relationships were prone to exploitation, sexual and otherwise. For eons, that's just how it was.

(And still is! Even in the modern era, parents still molest their charges, as do priests. We have an instinct to subjugate and exploit those subservient to us, and neither cultural norms nor legislation can ever completely suppress human instinct.)

In the West, the old-fashioned style of mentor/disciple relationship is obsolete - except in spirituality. Western spiritual students, who don't understand the context, believe that spiritual accomplishment makes their teacher uniquely worthy of unquestioning obedience. In other words, spirituality transforms people into supermen - perfect human beings who'd never operate in anything but your best interest, and who've completely extinguished their base human instincts.

An understanding of the context sheds a lot of light. Before, every teacher of everything was superman; perfect, and deserving of your unquestioning compliance. There was nothing unique about spirituality. But as teacher/student relationships in other realms have modernized, spiritual teacher/student relationships have remained staunchly traditional, leaving the impression that spiritual teachers are an entirely different breed of teacher.

They're not. Even the really really good ones are still just teachers. And human beings can be great at stuff without being perfected supermen. Because there's no such thing. Human beings remain animals, no matter how diligently they cultivate their divine nature.

Our culture still retains an anachronistic tendency to deify people of great accomplishment (spiritual or otherwise). That's why we are shocked when celebrities and sports heroes behave badly. We expect our heroes to behave immaculately in all realms, not just the ones they've mastered. And we are, again and again, disappointed.

There are no heroes. There are just individuals who act heroically at some given time.

One final piece of the puzzle: the West has modernized teacher/student spiritual relationships in just one single aspect: they're now co-ed. It's a horrendous mistake. Teaching styles should either be completely modernized (no more teacher worship) or else completely restored to monastic-style sexual segregation (with as many checks in place against homosexual predation as possible). The way things stand is just begging for trouble.

Interesting Zen books:
"Zen at War" explains how many of the greatest 20th century Zen teachers banded together not only to defend and acclaim Japanese Imperialism and genocide in World War II, but to subvert peaceful Buddhist teachings to justify them (check out the interesting Amazon reviews at that link).

"The Dude and the Zen Master", by Jeff Bridges and zen teacher Bernie Glassman. I haven't read it, but it sounds intriguing, and will surely bring new interest to this great teaching.

Eugen Herrigel's "Zen and the Art of Archery" is an un-missable classic (no relation to "Zen in the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance", which has as much to do with Zen as jazz dance has to do with jazz).

Previous Zen-ish Postings
The Monks and the Coffee
Problem Solving Solved
Insanity Versus Revelation
....and the Zen story underscoring my recent posting The Stories We Tell Ourselves

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