By Rev. Jesse Herriott, D.Min.
A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting someone that would help me to meet who I would consider a very honorable man. Mona Joshi, the Atlanta director of the Art of Living Foundation has to be credited for telling me about H.H. Ravi Shankar’s Atlanta visit. John and Alice Holliday-2 African American teachers with the Art of Living Foundation along with Dean Carter from Morehouse College joined forces to create an event that would bring Sri Sri Ravi Shankar back to Atlanta, GA. Adored by millions around the world, I suspected that if (and that’s a big IF)-I had the opportunity to meet His Holiness face to face he would be as guarded as other spiritual teachers sometimes are. Not only was this teacher, open with me, but he shrug off his entourage and personally walked around the room and talked with everyone that was at the event.
It would be a disservice for me to not thank Dean Carter’s secretary, who I’ll call “Mrs. D”, for skipping me through the red tape so that I could get to the event. It’s those little moments that you can see that the Universe is on your side, and what you desire really indeed does desire you. So, in a James Bond sort of way, I ended up at the event, along with so many other great men and women-college presidents, Lieutenants of Dr. Martin L. King Jr., and many other great people.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar was scheduled to be at the event in order to receive the prestigious Gandhi-King-Ikeda peace award, and have his portrait mounted in the MLK hall of preachers-which is a great honor in itself. His Holiness’ mission as of late has involved campaigning to respond to a recorded one-million acts of violence around the world with one-billion acts of non-violence. And I believe that it’s a noble campaign-one in which we all should endeavor to pursue in our own lives.
Back at the gathering, when it was my turn to meet His Holliness, I braced myself for what I thought would be a simple wave and dismissal. Yet, what I encountered wasn’t the persona of someone otherworldly-I encountered what Bishop John Shelby Spong describes as a person who lives their life so full of compassion that those who walk with him see God at work in that life. His Holiness was kind, open, and very much down to earth. In fact, we shared laughs later on that evening while the crowds were mingling. Stereotypes can be a pain, and when you are doing the best you can, with what God has given you, it is terrible that certain stereotypes can keep you back from performing the work in which you were called to do. Well, this teacher didn’t allow the Guru-myth to keep him from being who he is, and after my encounter, I won’t allow the Guru-myth from allowing me to see the beauty in that sacred tradition.
Bishop Craig Bergland, an interspiritual Bishop and presider of the Universal Anglican Church puts it this way:
“Some people resist the term Guru because they associate Gurus with cults that kidnap people and isolate them from their families and friends. That’s a mistaken understanding of Gurus and spiritual teachers. Formal Gurus are steeped in contemplative, mystical practice, affording them insight and perspective on the spiritual journey. Our best informal Guru may well be the person who shares our bed.”
Mona Joshi, the Atlanta director of Ravi Shankar’s philosophy, The Art of Living Foundation had this to say:
“In popular culture today, we use the term “Guru” a lot and in reference to individuals that are experts categories such as fashion, economics , making it sort of commonplace. However, from the eastern tradition, the word “Guru” in Sanskrit actually means “one who dispels darkness, or one who shows you your highest nature.” So a Guru isn’t someone who tells you what to do or what not to do: rather a Guru is someone who cares for you unconditionally and helps you to realize your potential.”
In today’s culture, there are about as many teachers as there are stars in the sky-metaphorically speaking: but for those that feel the call to find a guru to help them discover their highest potential, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar represents the model of teachers that we need. There are problematic individuals in every group or institution, and to blatantly dismiss all of them would be a disservice to the planet. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and others like him are indeed helping others to dispel the darkness in their lives, and I pride myself in being apart of that tradition of teachers. So I don’t believe that Gurus are a bad group of folks, and I don’t agree with those that trash them, or suggest that we don’t have to have them. I think that healthy teachers allow you to stand on their shoulders and not in their shadows. We had teachers in k-12, as well as college—-what’s wrong with having teachers in Earth school too? It doesn’t make you less than who you say you are if there are others that you model your way of being after…….just be sure not to lose yourself in the process. But a real teacher would never let that happen, at least not while they are in your life.