It is common that people feel the need to subscribe to a particular ideology or teaching, but when I listen to followers talking, I often pick up on an egoic need to form an identity, or associate with a tribe. People love to talk about the teaching or teacher they subscribe to. They will sometimes even argue about the validity of other teachings as if there can be only one worthy perspective. This is a watered down version of the same impulse that triggered religions to wage war on one another.
For me, the mark of a true ‘guru’ is that he or she doesn’t identify as one. I’ve chosen several teachers in my time and the Sufi teachings were very influential for me; Gurdjieff is one, Adyashanti is a firm favourite, as is Osho. Osho openly told people not to ‘follow’ him; he and Adyanshanti both realised that to worship anything or anyone is to give your power away; it is to see yourself as less worthy, and to feel that the answers are not within you.
Nobody else can think for you
Through discernment, I also learned not to take on board everything my favourite teachers said. For instance, I very much like Mooji’s wise words, but I noticed that at a satsang, he answered questions about ayahuasca when he didn’t seem qualified to do so. It was clear that his advice was not based on any direct experience of this complex medicine. The person he was advising might have missed out on a life-enhancing experience if she’d adopted his attitude to it.
Similarly, Osho was quite clearly a real human being with issues and blind spots. That doesn't mean he had no genuine wisdom, but it probably does mean that his every word should not be 'taken for gospel' indiscriminately. Yet again, more evidence that thinking for yourself is key. Thinking for yourself can be scary - it makes you accountable for your own mistakes. On the other hand, it makes you see that you are powerful, capable, creative.... and the master of your own destiny.
Nobody on Earth has the answer to everything
A true teacher does, as Khalil Gibran wisely said, “not bid you to enter the house of his wisdom but rather leads you to the threshold of your mind”.
Once we start subscribing to only one teaching or teacher, we become exclusive. We tend to forget that the message is more important than the messenger.
When we pledge allegiance to say, only Buddhism, we dismiss new information and look to this one teaching for all answers. Can you think of any person or teaching, historical or otherwise, that had the answer to absolutely everything?
What’s more, some of the famous teachings we still subscribe to today are relevant to the time period in which they were created; they’re no longer a reliable reference for this modern world.
Our teachers are fallible human beings too
We tend to put people with obvious wisdom on a pedestal; yet each ‘guru’ revered for their wisdom is or was a fallible human, just like the rest of us. They still possessed quirks, made mistakes, etc.; how do you think they attained such wisdom? They probably weren’t born with it; nor are they immune from error, even after 'enlightenment' - the definition of which is at least somewhat subjective, anyway.
So disconnected is the modern world that we’re not taught to utilise our true capacity for knowledge and wisdom. We become stuck in unhelpful mental habits, focusing on trivialities and only ever looking outside for the answers. We aren’t going to find the secrets to the universe in any one book or teacher. They can be great guides, but they work better synergistically; the more perspectives you consider, the more open-minded you are, and the more likely you are to develop your own wisdom.
Life will teach you what you need to know
Experience is probably your best teacher, provided that you honestly evaluate it. Challenging experiences give us opportunities to grow and become stronger, and life’s lessons tend to occur in a cyclical manner. To me this is evidence of divine influence. Did you ever feel on top of your game, like you’d really grown and understood... invincible, even? Then bang! Curve-balled out of nowhere – you’re back in a mess again. You might then ask yourself, haven’t I learned a thing?
If you’re paying attention, you’ll notice the impulse to respond in a similar way, but this time you’ll have the awareness that you’ve been here before and that you can now act differently. Choosing a new way is how we learn and grow, and wisdom follows. Developing wisdom doesn’t mean life gets easier though. For you to grow further, your problems may need to become more complex. You just get better at handling complexity, and responding in more effective and compassionate ways. This brings peace.
You’ll be guided to the right teachings
We start to see that duality prevails, but contrast is necessary so that we do not stagnate. If we run to a trusted teacher for a solution to every problem, we dampen our innate ability to understand and resolve. Sometimes no resolution is even necessary; we might eventually realise that most of our problems are ghosts. They seem real, but it's just the ego looking for something to fix. After all, that's its job.
The universe also has a way of guiding us to the right teacher or teaching for the moment, if we simply remain open. Life is peppered with synchronicity, and it's all pointing you in auspicious directions... if only you have the eyes to see. For those who haven’t seen the controversial documentary Kumare, I highly recommend it. Charming ‘Kumare’ impersonated a spiritual leader to exemplify the point that people are too willing to hand over their power.
Plant medicines ayahuasca, huachuma and mushrooms are powerful teachers. For me, they’ve been some of the most influential teachers in my life because they know me inside out; far better than I know myself. This is one thing that the most perceptive ‘guru’ could never authentically claim. Like ayahuasca, huachuma and mushrooms are ancient, wise teachers; they lead you to the threshold of your own wisdom. When you come to these teachers, you’ve probably been guided; when the seeker is earnest, the universe provides.