This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

The role of the guru

The relationship between disciple and master is one of spiritual filiation. The teacher is to the student’s ‘second birth’ what the biological father is to the first birth, these being the births of spirit and water, respectively. This notion of ‘spiritual fatherhood’ is what is conveyed through the word guru, which actually bears a secondary meaning of ‘ancestor.’ In the Arab world, the term shaykh, or ‘elder,’ bears a similar meaning. The role of the guru is to ensure the transmission of doctrine by facilitating its transmission to the next generation in an unbroken line. This has its analogy in the Catholic doctrine of Apostolic Succession, which affirms that a Church which cannot tie itself in a real way to the tradition cannot claim anything more than an ‘ideal’ affiliation with it. Protestants, then, would be considered Christian in ‘intention’ but nothing more, having denied the only principle which would allow them the access they desire. We will deal with these questions in greater detail when discussing initiation. To return again to the centrality of the guru, Easterners seem to be free of the notion that all things can be learned from books, and insist instead on a real relationship between student and teacher in order to ensure true understanding of the tradition in question. Westerners, come to think of it, do not even stop at considering books as good as teachers, but actually seem to suggest, at least by their behavior, that the teacher represents an unreliable element, something to be eliminated as much as possible in favor of ‘hard data’ such as can be stored in computers and referenced when needed. This is of course what happens when a society replaces the notion of ‘understanding’ with that of ‘memory’ and makes intelligence a mere matter of memorization of so many concepts; in this context, it would then be true to prefer the computer to the human. At any rate, in the East, the tradition is immaterial and the texts relating to it, however important they may be, are not confused with the knowledge they are meant to convey. Texts, any texts, are supports for the realization of truth; and this realization, even if it makes great use of texts, can only be ensured under the guidance of a master who has already completed the task.

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