A Few Thoughts on Gurus by Joseph Campbell


Note – Sikhs bow to no human authority. A Sikh’s one and only Guru/teacher is our scripture, the Siri Guru Granth Sahib.

Joseph Campbell – excerpt from An Open Life (New Dimensions Foundation, c. 1988):

Q. What about the desire to follow a guru? We see religions and cults based on the teacher-disciple relationship flourishing everywhere.

A. I think that is bad news. I really do think you can take clues from teachers–I know you can. But, you see, the traditional Oriental idea is that the student should submit absolutely to the teacher. The guru actually assumes responsibility for the student’s moral life, and this is total giving. I don’t think that’s quite proper for a Western person. One of the big spiritual truths for the West is that each of us is a unique creature, and consequently has a unique path. . . . Now, if there’s a way or a path, it’s someone else’s way; and the guru has a path for you. He knows where you are on it. He knows where he is on it, namely, way ahead. And all you can do is get to be as great as he is. This is a continuation of the dependency of childhood; maturity consists in outgrowing that and becoming your own authority for your life. And this quest for the unknown seems so romantic to Oriental people. What is unknown is the fulfillment of your own unique life, the likes of which has never existed on the earth. And you are the only one who can do it. People can give you clues how to fall down and how to stand up; but when to fall and when to stand, and when you are falling, and when you are standing, this only you can know. And in the way of your own talents is the only way to do it. (pp. 73-74)

One of the typical things in the Orient is that any criticism disqualifies you for the guru’s instruction. Well, in heaven’s name, is that appropriate for a Western mind? It’s simply a transferring of your submission to the childhood father onto a father for your adulthood, which means you’re not growing up. . . . So you’re still bound; you’re still a submissive and dependent person. (p. 75)

There are two responses that are quite natural to the guru. When anyone becomes a model for you, you tend automatically to imitate him. This is the spontaneous identification, and it’s through such identification that something inside develops in you. The second phase is finding your own self. I think that wearing Oriental clothes or assuming Oriental names is not the correct way to go about it. You’ve displaced again; you have mistaken the clothing for the message, and not everyone who says, “Lord, Lord,” is going to get to the kingdom of heaven; not everyone who wears a turban is a released spirit. That’s one way to get caught again. Then you mistake a certain attitude or manner of living that has nothing to do with the spiritual life. (p. 89)

To make believe that you’re Japanese [India, etc.] is just to run off on a detour and get stuck in the woods. It’s not in the manner of dress or speech; it’s the manner of experience and illumination. So I think the guru can be a delusion. But everything can be deluding. The thing about the guru in the West is that he represents an alien principle of the spirit, namely, that you don’t follow your own path; you follow a given path. And that’s totally contrary to the Western spirit! Our spirituality is of the individual quest, individual realization–authenticity in your life out of your own center. So you must take the message form the East, assimilate it to your own dimension and to your own thrust of life, and not get pulled off track. (p. 90)


1 Comment

Filed under Fighting Authoritarian Groups, Multicultural

One response to “A Few Thoughts on Gurus by Joseph Campbell

  1. Sandra Smith

    I love Joseph Campbell works the Power of Myth is good and I can understand it.I have had the vhs for about 15 years and keep going back to it
    thank you,it is a good learning tool.

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