With yesterday’s Guru Purnima holiday, I also started writing about gurus and their initiations and followers. Traditionally, a guru initiated only a small number of disciples. It was a one-on-one relationship that had had to each of them. They all lived in his community called ‘Gurukul’ where they shared and lived and learned from him. After some years, the disciples may have taken off for their own adventures, making space for new disciples but returning again and again to their guru to seek advice and blessings or to greet him and honour him on occasions like yesterday.
Today, things look slightly different. The first and foremost difference: today’s gurus are popular celebrities, who live a life very similar to film stars. They have their programs, they have stage appearances where disciples are waiting for hours, just like fans of rock stars, just to get a glimpse of them and they have tour buses with which they go from one performance to the next. Instead of entry tickets, they have many different ways to get their income, including rituals, donations and merchandising. Huge crowds await them wherever they go and it is a huge honour if you ever get close enough to get a word directed at you personally.
It is physically not in any way possible for them to give initiations in the traditional form – they cannot meet every single one of their fans and have a personal talk with them! And so they proclaim in very big form: I am a guru who doesn’t give initiations! It makes them look even greater and special in the eyes of their disciples. These people get fooled into believing that their guru is greater and better than any other guru ever before – because he doesn’t give initiations, the number of his followers is growing and growing.
Some of these disciples already have themselves the feeling that guruism isn’t exactly the greatest thing of all. They don’t actually want the traditional way of bondage to one guru and believe that what they have is much more developed while they actually devote themselves in the same way – just that their guru is doing a mass-production of disciples. When asked about this, they often deny however to be following a guru and say that this man is their ‘mentor’. It is a fashionable way of saying the same thing.
Their disciples devote themselves fully and completely to their guru, creating an illusion of a close relationship which doesn’t actually exist. They speak of a special bond in between them and their mentor but their guru wouldn’t even recognize them if he met them on the street. Congratulations, you have a father figure who doesn’t even know who you are!
Sometimes this imagination of closeness to this man can be dangerous, too. The definition of the word mentor implies a closer relation than any of these people will ever have with their gurus. Once they realize that their imagination is just that, an illusion, that they were actually always strangers for this person, they can fall in a deep hole of disappointment. Then they feel as though they have no direction in their lives, and that they have wasted years of their lives for an illusion.
I think this modern guruism is even more dangerous for people.