What is the Role of a SpiritualTeacher: Guru or Friend?

What is the role of a meditation teacher: guru, friend or mentor?

"A Brother may not be a friend, but a friend will always be a Brother."--Benjamin Franklin

"All want to be the guru, but very few indeed want to be the disciple. But you know that rain-water doesn't collect on a high mound; it collects in low land, in a hollow."--Ramakrishna

"A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself."--Oprah Winfrey My first response is friend. The age of guru worshipping in the West I see as fading away and that the message that we are One can come from any source. But is that the only message we are to learn? And are we, who see information as the new form of currency, and who live in a society (America) without any traditions, blinded in our own special way upon the spiritual path?

As a Waldorf teacher I am called Mr. Stagnaro by both parents and students. At first I recoiled from the formal use of addressing me. However, when I got out of the personal me and saw it as simply a way of showing respect for the role I was occupying, the sacred role of teacher, then I began to appreciate it. As a teacher I am not a friend to my students—at least not in the normal way of friendship. I see myself as a mentor. I am not equal with them in the realm of time and space. In the Infinite there is not two. When the Buddha reached enlightenment his previous students met him once more and addressed him by his old name in a familiar way. He corrected them that they needed to address him by his new name of the Buddha, not for his sake, but for theirs. We live in such a time that many of my students address their parents by their first names. The intention of the parents is to be democratic—to show their children that we are all equal. However, my 13-year-old son--despite what he thinks!—does not have as much wisdom about living as I do. He is not my friend. I am his parent. Maybe in another life roles will be different.

Yes, we can get all the information about enlightenment, meditation techniques and anything else we want in this information age. The same is true with education. The big tendency is to learn in cyber schools. No need for human interaction. The information is the important thing now. The human is not. As a Waldorf teacher we are taught that teaching is not about the information we are conveying, but about who we are who are standing in front of the children. They learn how to be a human being by watching the teacher strive to do his best and failing most of the time. I had a dream last night where I had a group of adult students playing a sort of soccer game with me. I was the goalie (as a child this was my dream to achieve in adulthood) in a very large goal and they were trying to score with a very small ball. After I stopped a couple of shots I realized that being a teacher was not about stopping all the shots, but how I reacted to the goals. If I could stay in cheerfulness no matter the score, then I was teaching.

I think there needs to be a middle way to approaching the teacher-student relationship. For the teacher’s sake, as well as for the student, worshipping the teacher/guru can be dangerous and lead to emotional dependence and abuse. However, seeing every teacher as just a friend or an equal does not promote humility, something that is generally lacking in this country. Just as a parent and child relationship is not hierarchal but only two roles in time, so is the teacher-student relationship. It is so easy to go from teacher to teacher, just like we do in our relationships, if we don’t like everything about the person or what they say. Seeing a teacher as a mentor seems to be healthy as it recognizes that there is someone who has more experience and greater abilities than one may have, yet it implies that this is a temporary situation of disparity, that there will come a time when the student must leave and go his separate way, to perhaps become a mentor to share what he has learned. However, just like in most relationships, it takes time to develop such a mentoring relationship, with much acceptance of human faults.

There is a danger of coming to the Truth as though we should be given it. In America we expect to get everything we want. Right now. People who work the land and are in tune with nature view life differently. There are seasons and work to be done. And nothing is certain. We think the rain should come when we want it to or stay away if we don’t, and we are creating technology to manipulate the weather to suit our timing. We don’t pray for rain. We demand it. The same with enlightenment. We need to be humble and cherish what our teachers give to us as a precious gem. When all the wisdom becomes so commonplace why cherish it. It’s just more of the same. Also, love needs to have a place in all this, for with love comes reverence and respect. And love manifests in relationships, whatever roles they may be. I find it a lot easier to love and find refuge in Ramana or Ramakrishna or Jesus or the Buddha than I do with Google or Amazon.

Janaka Stagnaro

Hindu Meditation Techniques
Spiritual Counseling
Satsang or Meditating Solo?
Ramana Maharshi
Hafiz: Just Looking for Trouble--Wielding the Sword of Discrimination
Mindfulness Meditation Techniques Basics
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