, August 14, 2014
I rarely write book reviews, largely because everyone’s needs and interests are so varied it seems presumptuous to suggest what anyone else “should” read. So I don’t mean to twist anyone’s arm with the following, despite my own great enthusiasm for this book. I do feel very strongly that that this book and its author deserve a wide readership, for they have been as important to me as Adyashanti and Eckhart Tolle (yet quite distinct in content from both); all of them beautifully synthesize and translate eastern thought into especially practical, westernized terms. But on the other hand it’s extremely important with books of this genre to have the right one in one’s hands at the right time, the book that most directly speaks to one’s own most pressing questions and concerns, and to not be easily satisfied til you find it.
So my main goal here is to only pique the interest of those serious about self-transformation enough to at least flip through a few pages of Scott’s work and see if it beckons to them, taking full advantage of the “Look Inside” option. One can also go to his website and survey the free book introductions he has written for his own guru’s works, and other material. Please do that rather than just rely on this review. In just a few minutes of random thumbing around one can have a reliable sense of this man’s uniquely worthy work, and if you are at all like me, be drawn to it like a magnet. I am pretty confident that you will then also find this quality sustains itself throughout his work; it is not a flash in the pan unlike many who attempt such writing prematurely.
I hope it will not work against this book’s popularity that the title contains the word “guru;” it will be a shame if that prevents one from looking further into it. The full, actual meaning of “guru” after all is “dispeller of darkness,” which broadly includes any source of true wisdom, not just the common, western-stereotyped one. But in the US it seems that the word “guru” automatically arouses in many a wholly negative image (as it did for me for many years), due to decades of ethnocentric caricatures of authoritarian swamis full of metaphysical gobbledeegook, all ultimately about increasing their own bank accounts at their hypnotized disciples’ expense.
Also, for about 60 years, J. Krishnamurti made a shrill denouncing the very notion of “guru” a cornerstone of his own cushy career, adamantly struggling, absurdly, to portray himself as not one, and emphasizing instead that one rely on nothing but one’s own awareness and insight, that one “turn one’s back on society,” and so forth--the spiritual equivalent of the lone cowboy, the “self-made” man, and similar exaggerated ideals of an actually silly, totalistic self-sufficiency. This trashing of all gurus was and is over-the-top, young-man thinking, and something he unfortunately never revised.
But K found a ready-made audience for this view especially among the west’s secular crowd, those already steeped in high ideals of independence and freedom, sick to death of the fraudulent manipulations of mainstream christianity, and correctly determined to turn “the pursuit of happiness” radically inward. I was part of this crowd, and without doubt gained much from K’s general perspective, much of which I shall never forget or lose sight of. There is surely much merit in his work overall, and some partial value even in his self-contradictory prejudice about gurus, as a warning for evading the many charlatans that do thrive so easily in a relationship so intimate, in which one is so vulnerable to exploitation.
But after a few years of listening to K repeat the same monologue I realized it was incomplete, and that there was something badly amiss in his own inability to have a spontaneous dialogue on the public stage, among other inconsistencies. It turns out that K was living a double life that fell far short of the public image he created of himself and the philosophy he espoused. Moreover, as his fame spread he turned more and more into an authoritarian personality that he himself had so decried. Near the end of his life he bitterly declared that no one had really gotten his message--which of course we hadn’t since he himself hadn’t truly lived it, nor could anyone have done so given its seriously imbalanced incompleteness. He eventually even admitted that he had “wasted” his life as “a religious entertainer,” again after decades of assuring us all he was not on stage to “entertain” anyone.
This sort of confusion is especially tragic because it is so easily remedied, with the help of a guru. Doutlessly, K’s own life along with his unique but partially-developed message would have all been much improved had he been able to really and respectfully listen to someone he could trust to challenge his own extreme views and statements (such as Anandamayi Ma, who did supportively chide him directly about his anti-guru stance). For it is only too easy for almost anyone to become overly invested in and thus blinded by some key aspect of the hugely complex, conditioned side of themselves. This is precisely where the wise counsel of an outside observer, with no personal “investment” in our inner creations, can quickly pop a much needed hole in our excessive fixations, over-valuations, unconscious beliefs, etc.
Such a service is simply invaluable for those open to it, as Hindus have long known--often saving one from the most subtly disastrous mistakes of which we are otherwise often helplessly unconscious and thus, most importantly, spare one years of needless suffering and confusion. As the title of the book promises, Scott goes meticulously into essential aspects of this precious relationship between guru and aspirant, but also much more than that; the guru topic is the central backdrop to many other fine, guiding insights as well. He does so through a dialectic process that is apparently unique to his relatively unknown guru-lineage.
His writing is as richly useful as it is largely because he has lived that relationship thoroughly himself. Also, he was evidently in no hurry to publish his own work until the mature phase of his life. Thus he has done so it seems to me purely out of passion for his subject, wholly independent of trying or needing to make a living from it or relying on sensationalist rhetoric to capture attention. The result is that we are treated, here, to a ripened plum rather than to a work by one still working through their own stuff.
This dialectic approach--which Scott has diligently studied through his gurus and now demonstrates, directly and practically, in his own way--is to me the most fascinating element in his work. This simple, simple means of succinctly contrasting and thus rapidly discerning beyond all doubt precisely what we must let go of, against precisely what must be newly embraced, goes right to the root of the issue, and has the powerful potential, I believe, to revolutionize the guru’s success in transmitting wisdom to those able to receive it. The dialectic emphasis on a balanced interplay of opposites rather than goal-biased expectations of a sudden meditative leap into “enlightenment” is to my mind the far superior and more realistic road to our most elusive goal of merging with the Absolute.
This is not at all to suggest pitching meditation aside, but rather that the dialectical approach enhances meditative effort greatly, something I have verified for myself beyond doubt. I believe this simplest of all logical operations of the mind--in which the conditioned mind is not suppressed or fought with but harmoniously participates in its own, logically-based dethronement--amounts to a much-needed short cut through what has traditionally been a minefield of failure for all but perhaps one in a million.
The best evidence for this last statement is to be found in Scott’s own life. I’ve had the great luck of living near Scott and thus spending perhaps 12 hours or so in his company at this time (having discovered his work very recently), in his classes, at his book signing, and a couple of memorable one-on-one hikes. As far as I can see, this man walks his talk unlike so many others we know, and has managed that while also raising a family, holding down a normal career, and becoming an accomplished pianist--that is, in addition to his steady development into someone properly qualified to be a guru in the full sense.
That he’s done all this without becoming a penniless beggar, living isolated in a Himalayan cave, or staring at a wall for decades--which few of us of course can possibly undertake--surely demonstrates, most convincingly I think, the priceless potential of his and his lineage’s approach to inner freedom. It demonstrates that we do not need to “renounce” society (which is actually impossible anyway, we being inherently social creatures) but rather simply become extremely clear--dialectically and irrefutably clear--right where we are, doing what we must do to support ourselves materially, and using that very situation to highlight and test for ourselves the true inner framework of reality relative to the socially constructed one, which is obviously dysfunctional and increasingly deranged.
Our crying need for facing and actually doing something effective about this difficult fact--of the socially produced nature of much (if not all, in my opinion) of our chronic problems as a species--is also brought out and woven into the Path to the Guru. This is another key strength of Scott’s perspective, an element that is far too often shied away from in other approaches to self-transformation yet absolutely crucial to fully acknowledge and understand. A large part of the problem is that incisive social critique is tricky to take up in a truly balanced, compassionate way. But again, it’s the surgical precision of dialectical reasoning that most judiciously and efficiently cuts away the massive build-up of insitutionalized error we have haplessly, forcibly, inherited. We do that primarily by freeing ourselves of the socially driven, out-dated belief-structures in ourselves--which is much simpler than it sounds, through dialectics--without needing to flee ordinary social responsibilities or any sort of rash attempt to reject society as a whole.
As many others have noted, we are surely not meant to be the pawns of a social machine with a tyrannical inertia all its own. With the help of Scott’s work, his gurus’ work, and much other related work now available like never before, we have the means of cutting this rapidly spreading metastasis off right at the roots, and returning our collective social fabrications to their rightful status of instruments rather than our masters. That can only happen by taking on our most-important-of-all responsibility: the radical transformation of our own consciousness.
In regard to all this, Scott Teitsworth’s work surely deserves a good, hard look.