The way we use the term ‘guru’ in the west (since we don’t understand it very well) is like a sort of ‘super teacher’.
There are a lot of people that present themselves as gurus, and that has nothing to do with whether they’re gurus or not, in the real sense of the term ‘guru.’
The difference is that a teacher points the way; the guru is the way.
The guru is a cooked goose, all their seeds are burned and they’re free, so when you’re with them, they are a clean mirror, so you only see your own stuff; that’s all you see, you don’t see your stuff mixed with their stuff, because they don’t have any stuff. With the teacher, you never know what you’re getting, because part of what you see is their stuff, and part of it is your stuff.
You can certainly pick very high teachers. I mean I’m a teacher, obviously, I’m sitting up here teaching – I’m not a guru, but I’m a teacher, and the only way you know them is by your intuitive heart; and my suggestion is that the only thing you owe a teacher is for you to get yourself free. You don’t owe a teacher loyalty. A lot of people say, ‘Well, I’ve been teaching you now, support me or take care of me, or sign and promise me you will’ and I think that’s all nonsense. I think you should take what you can from every teacher, and then go on.
I think that the idea should be to focus on teachings not teachers.
If you focus on teachers rather than teachings, you will spend all your time becoming a connoisseur of clay feet; you know, ‘Is this one pure enough for me to take a teaching from?’ while all I know is when I need a teaching of some sort, I go towards somebody who’s teaching that, and I take the teaching, and I keep taking the part of that which feels intuitively right with my own heart; I do not take any teaching from somebody that goes against my own heart. Every time I have done that, there has been a karmic cost to that, because only intuitively do I know what I need, and I must trust that more than I must trust somebody else telling me what I need.
– Ram Dass, excerpt from the 1989 Summer Retreats – The Listening Heart – Spiritual Practice/Daily Life (Q&A)
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