Recently, during a break at the Reiki channeling session I was conducting, a very interesting discussion about Gurus cropped up. The trigger was the question a participant raised, “How can we know whom to follow? There seem to be so many people offering self-improvement stuff.”
After a lot of views had been expressed, bringing in everyone from Dalai Lama to Ramdev Baba to Eckhart Tolle and Jon Kabat-Zinn, I found myself (obviously guided by universal energy) summarizing the follow-able people into 4 categories, which (even in hindsight) appear so well conceived that I am structuring and expanding on them in this piece. On reflection I have added a 5th category, which to my mind completes the thought and seems appropriate. So here they go:
Category I: The ‘Basic’ Gurus
These are the people who have had direct realizations and operate in oneness with universal energy. They do not however attempt to package what they know (or have discovered) into any formal institution of practice. They simply flow along. Many of them are not known to people at large and numerous Indian and Oriental yogis/seekers would fall in this category. If you happen to have one of them take you under their wing, it’s a privilege… but as the Buddha himself had cautioned; take to a guru only after you have studied him carefully for 10 years. So, do so in no hurry. Check for congruity and interpersonal energetic comfort.
Also in this category would be the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi and others who have had a lasting impact on the consciousness of people at large on account of their presence, rather than on account of branding. To have an opportunity to be in the inner circle of such realized beings is an opportunity to be grabbed with both hands. Their congruity of life message and lack of attachment is self-evident in their public nature, and if you align with what they stand for, you have an instant guru.
Category II: The ‘Institutional’ Gurus
These are people who have ostensibly also had direct realizations or at least have managed to raise their vibrations to a high level, which they maintain in equanimity, reasonably at peace with – and unaffected by – all that goes on around them. The key distinguishing feature about them is that they have developed an institution around themselves and are somewhat attached to the branding of that.
Examples would include the bulk of ‘spiritual teachers’ including Sadhguru, Sri Sri, Ramdev, Osho, Satya Sai, Amma-Bhagwan, a host of buddhist Rinpoches, the Pope and other such. It is usually rare to be able to have them as one’s direct guru, but if one aligns with their message, it is possible to work one’s way up the institutional rank and file over a few dedicated years.
Category III: The ‘Reflected’ Gurus
This category is quite literally in the middle. They are not realized beings. They are regular people, passionate about moving up with their energetic presence. They may have authored a few books, run a channel here or there, attained mastery over techniques that produce tangible results and thus have a clutch of followers, of which you can easily become one. They are approachable and therefore perhaps in the trough of the ‘influence curve’ in this categorization (imagine a fruit bowl shaped graph; they’re at the bottom).
To move out of the trough they would either go to category IV or II. Or they could choose to remain in III because of the absolute control it gives them over their own life and practice. The key aspect of this category is that they completely acknowledge their sources, masters and lineages, with gratitude and reverence. They reflect tremendous learning and make it accessible through their personal brands. Yours truly is an example.
Category IV: The ‘Media’ Gurus
Once again, this category is out of the realm of realized beings. Add to that, they are highly institutionalized and they have branded their own programs as though they invented them – with no acknowledgement to source. They invest in branding and people love them for that. They have large social media followings, large conferences, large networks, and due to the power of what has developed, they tend to be in high energy and high vibrational states quite consistently (this is what you have to look for, when evaluating them).
Obviously they are often quoted as authors and influencers and they genuinely make the biggest contribution to the lives of the most people. A relationship with them is – for the most people – short-lived and transactional since direct access to them is limited and usually purchase-based. Examples abound online so profoundly that names are unnecessary.
Category V: The ‘Reluctant’ Gurus
These are people who have a grand following for almost exactly the opposite reasons as the first category. They are usually political/business leaders, sports/film stars, singers/musicians and the like… highly attached to their branding but at the same time (curiously) highly influential when in states of high vibration and oneness with universal consciousness (which may not be consistent though).
These people are gurus on account of the fact that their spoken words are often gospel even though they have no intent of that being the case. They will usually not train followers in any structured way, but they could cast doubt into the practice and preaching of any of the other categories. The way the pharmaceutical company lobbies have effectively killed 5000 years of health wisdom is one glaring example of cumulative category V over I.
There is no objective answer to the question about how we can know whom to follow. The choice is made by the interplay of personal energies between the guru (or the guru’s message) and the seeker. What might now be clear is that there are different categories based on different levels of realization, acknowledgement and motivation, which must be studied carefully (while observing the guru for congruity and vibrational equanimity) before making a choice.
Category II can result in many years of gratification but sluggish progress on a spiritual path. Category III can result is strong long-term relationships wherein both parties gain tremendously and tangibly but trust needs to be established. Category IV can yield quick results, though they are often not sustainable. Categories I and V are more ideological than practically applicable.
Having said that, one can always opt for more than 1 guru from different categories once one has the maturity to distinguish and amalgamate chains of thought. This is in fact the starting point of category III. May their tribe increase!