None of us needs to be encouraged yet again to follow our inner guru. Not a day passes without somebody posting another homily from the Dalai Lama or Martin Luther King or Albert Einstein or Big Bird reminding us that the deepest truths lie within our own hearts. Yes??
Actually, sometimes following your inner guru can be a whole lot like the 1212 CE Children’s Crusade, when a charismatic 12-year-old French boy who had received a holy vision persuaded several thousand other young, poor & disenfranchised folks (he must have been a real good talker) to embark with him on a journey to the Holy Land, to free Jerusalem from the infidels. None of them ever made it: some turned back when the sea did not part for them as prophesied, some starved, some perished in a ship-wreck, and the rest were sold into slavery, probably by their fellow-Christians. Not one of them made it to the Holy Land alive. Where, by the way, their plan had been to subdue the unbelievers with love.
When you imagine you’ve found your inner guru in your own bosom, you might want to pause and reflect. Don’t get too excited; don’t get too carried away, as they say. Consider that your inner guide might, just might, be delusional.
It’s because of misadventures like this that humans long ago invented teachers. Of course by now we’ve all heard enough horror stories about out-of-control teachers—drugs, sex, rock‘n roll, AND money—to be properly cautious. But somehow we keep giving our inner teacher a complete pass.
It’s as though, since some teachers can’t be fully relied upon, the only possible option left is to trust solely your own mind. What happens when your own mind is a house of mirrors? You know.
This is why humans long ago also invented practices. Practices outlive teachers, generally. Real practices incorporate the experiential wisdom of many generations. They’ve been tested & tweaked, and the trash tends to get thrown out. Over time real practices grow and evolve to suit the changing needs of their practitioners, remain relevant and suitable. So when in doubt, trust the practice.
But here comes the fun part: real practices always come packaged in flesh-and-blood teachers, and the depths of any real practice can only be fully passed on by person-to-person transmission, by putting yourself in the room with a real, live teacher, and by giving yourself over to that teacher, at least provisionally. Books won’t get you there, YouTube won’t get you there. A dead guru won’t get you there. Why? They can inspire you (we all love that), but “Dead gurus don’t kick butt” (which we’re not so fond of).
What’s a poor boy to do? Nobody ever said this being-human thing was going to be easy. We’re all just wanderers on the path here after all.
My only suggestion is try not to go it alone. Get a teacher. Do your best to find a real teacher teaching a real practice. And then spend real time with them. A lot of time, as much as you can, even when it’s not convenient. Don’t waste time telling yourself, or anybody else who will listen, what you think you already know about the practice. Look, listen, taste, feel, smell what the teacher knows—or imagines she knows. At the very least you’ll have pleasant company on the road to bedlam.