Demystifying the Guru Thing


The Full Moon of July-August is important in the Vedic tradition, recognized as Guru Purnima, or the Guru’s Full Moon. Traditionally, this is a time to give thanks to our spiritual teachers for what they bring to our lives.

The presence of the gurus is rare in the West today, their presence veiled as a nearly mythological suggestion in our world wisdom tradition, as sages, senseis, druids, medicine men, prophets and mystics.

Your true teacher is your attitude toward life itself. At the same time, the presence of a spiritual teacher can bring a rare opportunity for clarity and acceleration on the path of spiritual realization.

My First Meeting with a Real Guru

My first encounter with a real guru was in Rishikesh (Northern India).

I was spending a few weeks in an ashram, but found the “gurus” there hard to understand, and lacking in inspiration. They were well-versed in the scriptures, but would fall asleep in the morning meditation classes!

One morning, a friend from Ireland suggested that we go check out a teacher on the other side of the Ganges. He was from Canada, she said.

We went together to meet this large and beautiful man, who looked like Morpheus from the Matrix. It turned out that he was a Canadian engineer, of Quebecois-Haitian descent. His wife (I believe) was sitting in the back corner of the room with their child. He was simple and natural, but embodied a great silence.

When he spoke, he seemed to effortlessly bridge my semi-Christian, semi-mystical understandings with the Vedic concepts that I was encountering through my yogic studies. He re-assured us that we would not go crazy by immersing ourselves in this spiritual stuff, and that our minds would become clearer, more succinct and more agile (he himself was a trained as a professional engineer).

This was my first face-to-face real encounter with the transcendental truth, and his presence provided great re-assurance until I would meet my own teacher, Berdhanya Swami Tierra, a few years later.

Giving Up Suffering

The word guru comes from Sanskrit, often translated as “dispeller of darkness” (gu=”darkness, ignorance”, ru=”dispeller of”).

The guru or spiritual teacher’s job is to show us how our “darkness” or ignorance operates, to point us toward the false ideas or understandings that limit our experience of reality and freedom. Their teachings allow us to experience more fluidity, more grace, more intelligence and more enjoyment of our day-to-day lives.

Anecdotally, I have been told that the spiritual teacher’s job — which basically involves showing people their egos all the time  — is not really as glamourous as it sounds. Historically speaking, humans have mostly preferred to cling to suffering and separation rather than to live in unity consciousness. At least, so far. There have also been several instances of abuse of the teacher-student relationship, which I have seen firsthand and should not go without mention. Ultimately, you must always be your own guide.


Life Carries You

Imagine life as a ride down a great river.

Each person’s experience of the trip down the river is different. We each travel at different speeds, take breaks in different places, and experience the current differently as  we go along our way. Ultimately, though, the river is the same for everyone, and we all have the same final destination : the ocean.

For some, there is a great desire to understand the movement of the river : this is also known as the call toward self-understanding or spiritual awakening. Often, the call will come after a few nasty run-ins with the rocks or a few near-drowning experiences, the great “wake-up calls” of life.

An intense inner calling will inevitably result in the help of another — potentially appearing in the form of  a guide, a teacher, a muse or some form of higher inspiration — who offers the possibility of seeing life in a new way.

A teacher is one who has fallen in love with the river, who has learned to navigate its currents with agility and lives in a state of non-separation. A true teacher can teach you how to become a better swimmer, but ultimately, the return to source is your own.


Guru Purnima: Celebrating Our Teachers

My teacher, Berdhanya Swami Tierra, has always invited us to use this Full Moon to refresh our own connection with our inner teacher, the one who guides and brings clarity to all our life experiences.

It is also a time to reflect and give thanks for the continuum of teachers we have had throughout our lives — beginning with our parents (our first spiritual teachers), our role models, our elders, our children, and of course, those who challenge us.

On this day, may you recognize the great one in you who is both teacher and student, both wise and unfinished, both dignified and playful.

Jai Guru Dev.


In love and gratitude to Berdhanya Swami Tierra, for teaching us to navigate the river in grace, effortlessness and enjoyment.  

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