The problem with gurus

Recently yet another religious scandal has emerged; Sogyal Rinpoche, a well-known Buddhist teacher and with whom I once shared a retreat has resigned after being accused of physical, sexual and psychological abuse of his disciples.

I have travelled the world and have found that there are many good and sincere people to be found in all religions (because of who they are and not because of their religion). However, wherever there is religion (I include all religions and all sects in this), there is abuse. Sometimes it is more systematic and organised in both its perpetration and cover-up and other times apparently more sporadic and isolated.

It is our birth right to find our own path. If we are sincere in our search for truth then we must be brave enough to live with uncertainty. This is not easy, nor is it comfortable. However, if simply to take the burden of questioning off our shoulders, if  we don’t want to undertake the hard work to truly know ourselves, then we sadly sacrifice that birth-right for a false sense of certainty. We lose the chance to find the own path – our own truth. Be clear that there is no single path; how could there be? We all start from a different place.

The guru-disciple relationship is ripe for abuse and often leaves the disciple stuck, addicted to or yearning for euphoria. A teacher is like a finger pointing to the beauty of the moon; what is important is for the student to see, contemplate and appreciate the moon for themselves. Sadly, what too often happens is that the student becomes fixated on the finger and never sees the moon; they wrongly believe that the secret is the teacher (the finger). Sadly there are teachers and religions which encourage this, always to their own advantage.

True growth, development occurs when we develop our relationship directly with the mystery of existence, with the connection and experience of life. Teachers (greater and lesser) are there to indicate the way, but it is we that must find the path, not get stuck in worship or euphoria. One of the reasons that I have incorporated much of the Buddhist philosophy in my life (the philosophy, not the religion) is because of this teaching (which I have paraphrased) of Siddhartha Guatama – The Buddha:

Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumoured by many. Do not believe in anything because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find something that agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.

It is our duty to ourselves to establish regular practice that will help clear our vision of distortions; to also contemplate and experience the truth of compassion toward others and toward ourselves; and experience the reality of connection, of gratitude of impermanence. Teachers can indicate and train us in how to explore and experience them but it is we that must do the work.

Author: Geoffrey Molloy

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