the Guru principle: Introduction

To encounter a living Master is worth more than all the books and websites in the world. Why? Because the essential message of the transcendent cannot be put into words, as the Buddha well knew when he started teaching. The problem with the living Master is one of authority however. History confers authority on figures such as Jesus or the Buddha all of whom started out at the street corner, pulpit, or soapbox just like contemporary Masters, but history persuades us of their validity. When we encounter a contemporary teacher we have to make up our own minds without the conventional sanctions of mythology and tradition.

'The presence of a living Master is more important than any words they say, or any words to be found in print through history. Study of the words is an adjunct, particularly for the jnani aspirant, but cannot replace the Master'

The direct impact of a living Master on one's spiritual journey can be incalculable, but the cultural climate of the Westernised world is hostile to this precious encounter : stories of negative encounters outweigh stories of positive encounters by ten to one. This may be partly due to a spiritual wound in the collective psyche of the West that remains unhealed : the experience in Europe and America of the Inquisition.

Note that the expression 'Guru principle' is taken from the book In Defence of the Guru Principle by Andrew Cohen (see Bibliography). This book is a defence against well-researched volumes such as Anthony Storr's Gurus: Feet of Clay, which set out to expose bad practice amongst spiritual teachers. The next section looks in more detail at the risks and rewards of involvement with a spiritual teacher.