This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

The function of the upaguru and the question of qualifications

One should avoid trying to define the upaguru in terms of any special qualifications: the term itself means ‘occasional instructor’ and anyone, depending on circumstance, might exercise this function. What matters is not so much the actor as what is affected by them, and it is not inconceivable that the same function could be performed by some lower being, such as an animal or even an inanimate object, although only a human being can perform the function in an active sense. In any case, the upaguru should accept responsibility for the situation as the result of karma, which is to say, simply the anterior causes of things which determine and ‘situate’ us within the events of our lives, and he will then interpret the event within the context of dharma, his ‘vocation,’ embracing it as such. If it seems like we’ve gone into too much detail on this point, and since this description could also be said of virtually any event in anyone’s life, this is only to emphasize that the upaguru is not an ‘office’ to be held but a function to be performed. This point becomes all the more important for those who may be called to perform this function for someone who is mentally or morally superior to themselves. If the function of ‘occasional teacher’ was equated with some type of qualification or superiority, then obviously this would be a mistake and the individual in such a position would have cause to hesitate and redirect anyone trying to solicit counsel from them; but we should insist with full force that because this function could conceivably be performed even by an inanimate object, it can be performed by a human being without respect to qualifications, with the success or failure depending only on the sincerity, humility, and courage with which one accepts it. In other words, once it becomes clear that counsel it being sought of you, the question of whether or not you are properly equipped has already been answered, and this remains true even if the performance of this function means nothing more than pointing the inquirer in the direction of a more adequate teacher or to some beneficial reading. Redirecting an inquirer should not, of course, be the first course, but is a legitimate response and is not necessarily an avoidance of the teaching function but is a normal part of it.

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