I saw the film Kumari a few weeks ago and was disappointed by it. The premise seems to be that we don't need teachers because they are often corrupt and because we are our own best teachers. The problem is that everything I know, from how to make pancakes to how to drive in five lanes of traffic going 85 mph, I have learned from the patience and kindness of my teachers.
I had teachers in high school that were sexually and morally deviant but I wouldn't advocate getting rid of all high school teachers as a result. Similarly with spiritual teachers. The film Kumari proposes abolishing all spiritual teachers because so many of them succumb to corruption. Its an immature idea similar to having a bad break up and swearing off all intimacy as a result. It might be necessary for awhile but eventually you simply re-engage with a bit more maturity.
What we have begun to see, in America especially, is that people are getting more mature with how they relate to teachers. Just as we wouldn't necessarily ask our cardiologist for financial advice or our dentist for relationship advice so to our spiritual teachers competence is usually specific to certain areas.
Perhaps starting with the Beatles fall out with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi after he supposedly tried to get sexual with Mia Farrows mentally ill sister we slowly and repeatedly have had to face the facts that mastery in one realm of development does not automatically relate to mastery in all levels of development. One might be particularly astute with mindfulness practices, another with the development of compassion, another with mahamudra and yet even masters like this can still have personality "flaws" or places of developmental immaturity based on their own constellation of individuation.
I have been thinking about bhakti this week and how it relates to our post modern cynicism. The hopeful thing in modernity is that slowly we are learning that devotion can happen in increasingly mature ways. So we don't have to throw out the idea of respectful devotion and replace it with a paranoid cynicism. Rather we can begin to be lovingly mature and honest with our teachers and in our devotion.
Bhakti, meaning devotion, comes from the Indo-European root √bhaj meaning to divide or share. Related words are bite, bit, and fission, through the Indo-European √bheid; as well as Bhagavad Gita: the Song of the Lord, or literally “the one with the lion’s share of goodness.” In this context bhaj can also mean to be "attached to God".
In the Narada Bhakti Sutras, verse 2 reads:
"sā tvasmin paramaprema rūpā - devotion is the same nature as supreme love"
Its interesting the use of parama here, "supreme", as it implies that as we mature we change the specificity of our devotion. Devotion can be not supreme, i.e. immature and undifferentiated. Swami Sivananda lists 8 developmental stages of what we place our devotion on.
1. A personal God
2. An idol or image of God
3. An earthly manifestation of God, i.e. Christ, Ramana Maharshi, Lahiri Mahashaya, Mohammed.
4. Ones guru or spiritual guide
6. All sentient beings
7. The organizing principle underlying all life
8. One's own Dharmakaya or "buddha-nature" or inherent unpolluted purity.
And it is in models like this that we begin to see the possibility of a trajectory of maturation from the culturally, nationally or religious specific to the universal compassion and concern for all beings. Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj puts it this way;
“Even faith in God is only a stage on the way. Ultimately, you abandon all, for you come to something so simple that there are no words to express it.”
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