Would we recognize an enlightened being if we met one? We have ideas of what an enlightened being would be like. A serene, sexually ambiguous and benevolent master floating above a lotus flower, perhaps like Lord Brahma in his infant form arising from Lord Vishnu’s navel. He opens those big as a jersey cow’s innocent baby eyes and creates the universe. A universe wherein we exist also as serene beings touched by his grace. Then he closes his eyes and the universe is destroyed with all of us in it. That’s an enlightened being.
When Mahatma Gandhi was imprisoned a contemptuous guard gave him a lice infested uniform and charged him with cleaning the dirty prison latrines – and Gandhi said thank you. Because Gandhi recognized this as a lesson in fortitude and humility, and in this circumstance, viewed the prison guard as his teacher. This prison guard had no love for Gandhi and no desire to further him on his path, yet in that moment he was Gandhi’s teacher.
The Guru by definition leads the disciple from the darkness of ignorance to the light of conscious loving awareness. Carl Jung has said “There is no coming to consciousness without pain. People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own Soul. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”
Guruji Iyengar has said that “You must go deep inside your own cave and find the darkness there” Go inside your own cave. No need to make that trek to the Himalaya’s to follow a famous celebrity tour guide to the wise yogi dwelling in an ancient dug out with the cool souvenirs. The cave is within – yes, go in there.
The Guru challenges us to go but we resist. “No, it’s dark and scary in there, I don’t much like caves, I have things to do; it can wait until tomorrow or next year. And what is with this teacher anyway who is prodding me and scaring me? They are mean, really mean.” Do they have our best interests in mind? We are convinced they don’t get us, like an Arjuna we waver clinging to our world. And just then when we’re at the tipping point, like Lord Krishna when he revealed himself to Arjuna, the teacher suddenly bares to us the truth of who they are. Whirling blades and blazing fire manifest before us in the form of our teachers frightening imperfections. At this moment we are as crestfallen as a child upon first realizing the humanity of a parent.
Need our teacher be perfect?
To earn the love of Eros, Psyche was given three lessons by the imposing and famously jealous goddess Aphrodite. Her first task was overwhelming in scale. Sent by Aphrodite to sort a mountain of grains and told by the scathingly beautiful goddess she must separate each variety into mounds. She was given the dark hours of the night to complete this first test. Overwhelmed and confused by the immensity of her task, Psyche began labouring at her job. Have you ever bundled lavender? You will know this kind of thing can become a meditation. Forced to submit, Psyche went to work, mindfully separating each grain, and as she did so she entered a meditative state. Given time to reflect, she began to listen more clearly than before and in doing so she cultivated valuable gifts: patience, surrender, receptivity, awareness, humility, wisdom and love.
Just as Mahatma Gandhi found a lesson in his nightmarish experience with the prison guard; like Psyche, the student is left to parse the lesson from their own experience.
With each subsequent task given by the teacher, each more daunting than the last, we rise to the occasion. Clarity begins to come, the light begins to dawn, easing across our horizon, spreading its rays of awareness, gradually, we realize that we are our own teacher.