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Noumenon:Newsletter for the Nondual Perspective

Guru, Disciple & Beyond:

Speculations on Non-Dual Consciousness for the 21st Century

Let Davidson

To the Only Guru There Is,

A Song of Gratitude fills my Heart.

Save the Guru

As modern western culture speeds relentlessly towards its much desired and dreaded millennium, it is no surprise that impassioned voices are announcing a new spirituality and realisation for the next century. We do seem to be witnessing and participating in a transformation to a new stage in human evolution and a greater revelation of consciousness to itself. There is much of value in the provocative new visions of a globalisation of consciousness, democratisation of hierarchical relationships, and upgrading of traditional teachings relevant to twenty-first century concerns and culture. The growing demand for freedom and equality is also calling into question the traditional guru-disciple relationship which is now being viewed by many as an outdated spiritual form of a waning patriarchal society.

A vivid example of this thinking is Andrew Harvey's critique of gurus in the July-August 1995 Yoga Journal,1 in which he decries the 'exploitation of the guru system' and abuses of current teachers as spiritual counterparts of sexist authoritarian oppression. He calls for a direct, unmediated realisation of the divine for a new age in which gurus, he claims, have outlived their usefulness. Harvey's lyrical voice is certainly worth hearing. Clearly, the only authentic realisation one can have of the Absolute is direct and unmediated, and I find his passionate mysticism honest and impelling. Nor would I disagree with Harvey's claim that '90 percent of the so-called masters in the modern world are not enlightened at all but are in fact occult magicians.'

It is also obvious that while easterners have had thousands of years of familiarity with the guru-disciple relationship, westerners have had relatively little experience here. The tendency of some teachers and students to project subliminal co-dependent needs, power drives and sexual desire into the relationship does lead to abuse and to the upsets western devotees feel when they discover that their idolised teachers have feet of clay. Yet I would still say that Harvey's categorical and dramatic rejection of gurus is more a reflection of his own disturbed experience with his former teacher, and the logic of his egalitarian sexual politics, than of a clear awareness of the true dispeller of ignorance that awakens us to the light of our own being.

To save the baby from the bathwater, I would like to explore a definition of 'guru' consistent with the non-dual tradition, that is also relevant to the legitimate concerns we have for appropriate spiritual relationships in these changing times. In my world, there is room for the guru, perhaps because I have been fortunate to participate in an authentic lineage of non-dual realisation represented by such towering masters as Sri Shankara, Huang Po, Ramana Maharshi, J. Krishnamurti, H.W.L. Poonja, Nisargadatta Maharaj, and their disciples, who are in the no-nonsense business of igniting freedom in those around him.

No Teacher, No Student

We come to direct terms with the guru when we see it primarily as a function, not a person. I am speaking here of the impersonal Absolute itself which liberates us from identification with the 'I'-thought and the egoic survival mechanisms that sustain separation and suffering. The guru-function is an activity of the Self, the indescribable, underlying source-essence of all there is. The Self as being, consciousness can mysteriously imagine itself into existence as all worlds and beings, then through its maya [appearances] seems to forget itself and becomes hidden in its own egoic, finite manifestation, and finally, through grace, reawakens itself to its always-already unitive nature.

The guru is an expression of grace in consciousness' eternal play of forgetting and remembering which it enacts for its own delight and entertainment. The grace begins with the intuitive stirrings of remembering who we are, which may launch us on the search for our own forgotten nature. The search itself is the pull of the guru. When the seeker is ready, when the seeker's desire for truth is burning, then the Self-as-satguru [teacher of truth] may manifest as an individual guru to pull the seeker home. The guru is a projection of that readiness and desire for one's own Self. The guru need not be a human being, need not be in visible form. The guru is whatever form truth takes to arouse itself. The guru shows up in form to turn the student's attention within to one's own Self. The relationship with the physical outer guru lasts until the disciple knows directly that the inner guru is one's own Self and the essence of all there is.

The message of the non-dual guru is simple and direct: This is it, you are it. Face your Self and be what you are, the eternal truth, peace, joy, all-pervading being, consciousness itself. In this tradition there can be no path to that which you already are. In most teaching lineages there is the complicit assumption of both teacher and student of the unenlightened dilemma that must be solved by practice, sadhana or movement toward a goal. The great radical masters offer relief from this perpetual source of suffering in their pointing to the immediacy of the Self here and now. If there is any injunction at all, it is simply to be, to be aware, to be silent. Out of compassion they may sometimes offer provisional evolutionary approaches to some seekers. Yet the true gift of the non-dual guru is to offer you the empty mirror in which you see yourSelf to be that same emptiness prior to all individual identity, thought or spiritual practice. In the purity of the non-dual realisation is the Lion's Roar: 'No teaching, no teacher, no student.' 2

The traditional domain in which this transmission occurs is called satsang, literally, the presence of truth, the company of awakened being itself. In this ancient practice of disciples gathering at the feet of the master for meditation and dialogue, the very presence of satsang, the power of silence, the field of consciousness itself, can generate awakening in the disciple. In true satsang, guru and disciple form the inseparable polarities of a totality in which there is the unmistakable recognition of our ongoing union-the ultimate non-relationship. In this awakening, consciousness-as-seeker recognises itself in consciousness-as-found, and it is seen that the two are-and always were-transparent forms of the single identity of being.

The true guru is above all an executioner, who plays the game of friend, father, mother or spiritual guide in the same spirit that the Chinese Zen Master Huang Po informed his devoted students that all the Buddha's teachings were 'like pretending yellow leaves are real gold, just to stop the flow of a child's tears.' 3 The child-like dependence that clings to relationship with a teacher eventually becomes resistance to the ruthlessness of true awakening. If you see the guru as a person to whom you enter into personal relationship, that almost inevitably opens the door to the psychological projections that distort the purity of the non-relationship. The oppression and abuses of the spiritual patriarchy that Harvey and others decry are sustained as much by the dependency of the disciple who clings to the I-am-not-it of separate individuality and the consequent need to be saved by a teacher, as it is by any sex-power-fame drive of the person-as-guru. It is obvious that the two poles require each other, and many teacher-student relationships have played out a spiritualised co-dependency.

The non-dual realisation is the end of the spiritual twelve-step dance. In the past few decades westerners have been seeing the core structures of egoic attachments to drugs, alcohol, work, accomplishment, perfectionism, love, helping, shopping and materialistic consumerism-ultimately, of course, attachment to the 'I'-thought itself and its constellation of survival strategies, the last of which is our attachment to the guru who will save us.

When the seeker recognises that the guru is none other than one's own Self projected out as other, this awakening is the ultimate grace of the true guru. If we see the guru as a function of ourSelf, we can release our attachments to our teachers and, perhaps, forgive them their human foibles. Paradoxically, the impersonal guru function can occur even in the individual teacher's betrayal or exploitation of students. This often very painful experience may well be the catalyst which opens seekers' eyes and spurs them to see through their illusions and attachments. It seems even individual teachers are unwitting playthings of the mysterious lila [the divine play of the Self] by which the Totality awakens itself. The individual mind cannot grasp the ineffable perfection of the play of consciousness. The revelation of abuses in the relationship is a wake-up call for western spiritual practitioners to realise that there can be no intermediary, personal or conceptual, between you and yourSelf. This is true devotion.

The wonderful, impossible paradox of the non-dual realisation is that full recognition of one's impersonal, transcendental nature allows the individual remnant to realise its most fulfilled expression. One lives the joyful mystery of being the invisible context and the immanent manifestation simultaneously. It liberates the individual personality to flourish as a perfect instrument of the Self which is enacting everything. So many of the awakened sages live on with distinct, even accentuated, personality. Being simultaneously the ocean and the wave is the exquisite dance by which the Self ongoingly expresses its inconceivable perfection.

In this freedom the non-relationship of guru-disciple can take both personal and impersonal forms. On the one hand there is intense gratitude and devotion to the guru for the overwhelming grace of awakening ; on the other hand, there is the matter-of-fact acceptance of the ordinariness of what is. The disciple may or may not further the specific teachings of the guru, may in fact break with the guru and the teachings, go one's own way and evolve one's own teachings. The teachings are in continual evolution over time, a function of cultural context, inherent tendencies, evolving circumstances.

Cyberspace Satsang: Speculations on a Guru for the 21st Century

The evolution of consciousness occurring now in the last years of the twentieth century may well bring us a new experience of the guru as awakener within a unique new version of satsang. We see in history that spiritual forms and traditions have been transformed through geographical migration and historical change. One vivid example is the spectacular transformation of Buddhism as it was carried from its original base in India to Tibet, Southeast Asia, China, Japan, and now the West, in which it spawned richly varied practices, teachings and, I would dare say, realisations as well. As the explosion of spirituality and technological innovation continues to affect consciousness in contemporary, high-tech society, it is just as likely that the non-dual realisation may find new forms and relevance to the emerging culture on the new frontier of cyberspace.

I see the possibility of a new version of satsang emerging in the globalisation of electronic communications we call cyberspace. The convergence of global telecommunications, the Internet, World Wide Web, networked computers and information technology, commercial online services, electronic bulletin boards, satellite and broadcast radio and television, cable networks, virtual reality-multimedia-entertainment, is forming an expanding and internally proliferating interdependent web of connectivity that is integrating our physically separate individual and corporate intelligence into a shared collective mind. This rapidly unifying communication is bringing us together into an emerging planetary field of consciousness, a phenomenon Teilhard de Chardin referred to as the noosphere [noos=Gr. mind]4 and what Peter Russell called the global brain. 5

The increasingly sophisticated high-tech telecommunications infrastructure is actually beginning to approximate the workings of consciousness electronically and so provides ever more subtle channels through which the all-pervading Self can circulate and reveal itself. The evolving hardware, computer technology, networking capabilities, fibre optics, increased bandwidth, blazing modems, facilitate the flow of digital on-off impulses of light travelling almost instantaneously through a timeless, spaceless continuum of immediate communication.6 Electronic bits of information, literally consciousness 'in-form-ation', make up a constant flow by which the unity informs itself. Similarly, the ingenious multi-media projection of three-dimensional 'virtual reality' is beginning to replicate how mind creates the sensory experience of the physical manifestation itself, revealing the diaphanous, empty, holographic nature of the universe. Technology, the extension of mind, is rapidly providing the instruments by which we can see through the maya of form to the underlying light of consciousness itself.

Cyberspace, then, is an extraordinarily vivid and dramatic technological-electronic expression of the play of consciousness now progressively revealing its unity. Our great opportunity now in cyberspace is to see through the electronic extensions of mind to recognise our identity with this deeper reality, already present within every breath, within every bit and byte, which is the light and screen on which information, multi-media and virtual reality are being projected. This is an upgrade of Ramana Maharshi's image of the movie screen as the Self or ground upon which the moving forms of light are projected. 7 For a new generation, the computer screen and the dancing multi-media images may well be coming straight from Arunachala: the guru who could manifest as nothing less than a sacred mountain may well claim cyberspace as its domain as well.

Within this field of consciousness are rapidly growing electronic clusters of people world-wide who are beginning to relate and communicate with one another as new high-tech versions of satsang. My vision is that this cyberspace community is an emerging satsang within which the impersonal global guru may function to awaken a segment of the planet's population to their identity as being consciousness. I see the intense rush to cyberspace in our times as the pull of the guru itself, for those souls who are ready for Self-recognition. Like the moth hypnotically drawn to the flame, the ripe mind is lured inexorably to its source. For many, the draw to cyberspace is the call of mystery itself. Beneath the surface objectives people seek on the Internet and World Wide Web-business, communications, information, education, entertainment, sex, relationship, community-is the deeper pull to ultimate fulfilment. These drives are subliminal subsets of the mother of all drives, the unconscious yearning to drink of the sacred, to realise we are universal consciousness itself.

Despite the presence of every human experience and desire imaginable on the Internet, I would argue that for a certain segment of the population, cyberspace is a spiritual experience. The spirituality is in both the medium and the message. There are strong, vibrant discussions of spiritual and philosophical content on the Net, discussions of ultimate things and the most extraordinary array of old and new religious forms, rituals and sentiments. This is an arena in which ultimate questions are being discussed fervently, almost as if the medium itself-a projection of light-encourages inquiry and self-reflection. As Sherry Turkle pointed out, the computer is not only a business tool, it is a 'metaphysical machine,'8 which can trigger meditative awareness, the flow experience, and deep speculation on ultimate questions in the very process of browsing the Web and sending e-mail. Sitting silently in front of the computer with such focused concentration could have the power of a meditation retreat. The computer late at night is the sacred ritual of many souls who may well come to recognise their own light reflected on the screen of consciousness.

The unique capabilities of global telecommunications create a special satsang-like quality for the new virtual spiritual communities on the Net. In the past, 'place-based' communities were shaped and defined by culture, race, language, geography. Now we are seeing clusters of discussion groups forming electronic communities that are bonded by spirit, floating in the non-local domain of conscious space. Drawn together by spiritual interest, sharing vision, beliefs, interests, passions, rituals, and inquiry, these satsangs literally occur in the timeless, placeless, universal, intangible reality of cyberspace which is increasingly taking on the qualities of consciousness itself.

Paradoxically, the anonymous and depersonalising aspects of electronic communication create conditions for the intimate communion of satsang. People often feel much freer in cyberspace to cut through superfluities quickly and seem more willing to reveal, confession-like, their inner-most essence, which they otherwise usually keep locked up within. The electronic transmission of disembodied intelligence provides greater freedom from the personal characteristics that often distract attention from the Self. Here is the opportunity to see through the usual identifications-physical appearance, age, gender, race, culture-that mask the underlying source identity itself. This electronic or light-based global communication could well become a true communion in the deepest meaning of sharing the intangible reality that we actually have and are in common-freeing us to recognise the luminous all-pervading buddhamind mysteriously in dialogue with itself.

So could this be a contemporary domain for the non-dual guru function? Cyberspace may or may not produce the guru as embodied personality-certainly many individuals are already showing up on the Web and in newsgroups to claim a teaching role or provide collegial spiritual support . Yet I see a new possibility emerging here, consistent with the Internet's fundamental character as an self-organising, egalitarian and freedom loving community that resists authority, control and external regulation. Perhaps we will see the emergence of the guru function as a communal expression. Perhaps cyberspace itself is the progressively materialising face of a global guru, manifesting as the collectivity of evolved souls who remind one another of their prior unity and identity. Perhaps the 'we' of the cyberspace community is the first-person self-talk of our greater Self. I remember David Spangler, one of our contemporary prophets, at the Omega Institute in the early 80s, musing that in our time the messiah would be a collective entity, not a solitary individual. It makes sense that in the great age of the global collective, the guru would also be a global presence. As Christ said, when two or more are gathered in my name, I am with you. So what occurs when millions of computer users face the screen of Self and together inquire 'Who am I?' Could this not evoke the very liberating power that satsang-the company of truth itself-has released for millennia?

Cyberspace represents the same paradoxes as the non-dual realisation: it is at the same time globalising and decentralising, bringing about a collective unity of consciousness while simultaneously allowing the flowering of individual empowerment and self-expression. The one and the many, the invisible light and the multiple virtual forms of multi-media and information, the harmony of transcendental unity and the proliferating immanent manifestation. And all of it consciousness' eternal play of entertainment and self-knowing, projecting in infinite space. Who is to say what new surprise the infinite creativity of the great Mystery will reveal in this ongoing dance of awakening?


  1. Catherine Ingram. 'Teachers & Seekers.' Yoga Journal, July-August 1995, pp. 58 ff.
  2. Call off the Search - Freedom Here and Now with H.W.L. Poonja, a film by Jim Lemkin and David Godman. 1993. See also Wake Up and Roar. Satsang with H.W.L. Poonja. Pacific Center Press, 1992-1993. I, 135-145 & II, 17-28.
  3. John Blofeld, ed. The Zen Teachings of Huang Po. New York: Grove Press, 1958. p 63.
  4. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. The Phenomenon of Man. New York, Harper & Row, 1959, esp. pp. 163 ff.
  5. Peter Russell. The Global Brain. Speculations on the Evolutionary Leap to Planetary Consciousness. Los Angeles: J.P.Tarcher, 1983. New rev. ed. The Global Brain Awakens. Global Brain, 1995.
  6. See especially Nicholas Negroponte. Being Digital. New York: Knopf, 1995.
  7. Be As You Are. The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi. ed. David Godman. London: Penguin/Arkana, 1985, pp. 27, 36-37.
  8. Sherry Turkle. The Second Self. Computers and the Human Spirit. Simon & Schuster: New York, 1984, p. 16.

Let Davidson, Ph.D., long-time student of Advaita Vedanta, Buddhism and the Perennial Philosophy, has studied for the past three years with Sri H.W.L Poonja, a master in the tradition of Sri Ramana Maharshi. A seminar leader, organisational consultant, historian, and avid online participant in cyberspace, Let is dedicated to sharing non-dual consciousness. He can be reached at Mastery Training & Consulting, 412 Linn Street, Ithaca, New York 14850, USA. 607-277-0267 tel/fax. Internet: [email protected]

Yes, this is the teaching of non-teaching. The rest is preaching. The teacher has no teaching of his own. The teacher is pushed to speak and has no responsibility for what is spoken. Simply, you live as a free man, an immaculate, empty man. This is the best teaching that one has to give somebody. Sit absolutely quiet. No thought.

This teaching is the best teaching which no one can reject and all can benefit from.

H.W.L. Poonja Wake Up and Roar p.143

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