There is far more to a guru than the spiritual experiences he or she has had and the interpretations given to them.
There are so many spiritual experiences that everyone has during a lifetime of seeking, ranging from the spectacular, but meaningless, to the usual crowd of experiences that most everyone has over many years of training: various sorts of inner emptinesses or Voids in one’s inner, subjective world, bliss experiences, awareness of one’s sense of presence as being separate from the body, various kinds of love experiences of Consciousness itself as well as of objects, experiences of God, awareness of flowing energies within, sometimes with attending colors and emotions, devotional experiences, surrender experiences, initiation and Shaktipat experiences, etc.
In my traditions, Self-Realization experiences of two sorts, of the manifest self of an embodied, energetic being with a full range of affect and humanity, associated with a divine aspect of witnessing the dynamic power core of the universe which is the divine.
Then there is the realization of the Self as beyond Consciousness, the Absolute, the Witness, ParaBrahman, untouched by anything in Consciousness, beyond even immortality.
Then there is the Self-Realization of Zen, as a human being immersed in the world as an energetic being in existence, but also being a “man of no rank,” untouched by the world, untouched even by love or death, totally at home with his or her life, no matter how mundane or outwardly grand.
THERE ARE ALL THESE KINDS OF EXPEIENCES A GURU OR TEACHER MAY HAVE, BUT THERE IS MUCH MORE TO THEM THAN JUST THEIR SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCES. THERE ARE THE INTERPRETATIONS AND EXPLANATIONS THEY GIVE THESE EXPERIENCES. THIS IS THE ATTENDING PHILOSOPHY THAT EXPLAINS WHAT THEY MEAN.
There also are the methods he or she uses to bring their students to realization of their realization, ranging from an infinite number of meditations and techniques, from the Just Sitting of Soto Zen, to the Koans of Rinzai Zen, to Vipassana of the Theravadins, to the meditations on the various kinds of emptiness of some Tibetan schools.
Other teachers focus on the energy body, or Subtle Body awakening the internal flows of energy and visualizations, Kundalini, the use of love of the Guru or another as an awakening device.
The more experienced teachers use “cooking,” to help awakening students by frustrating them, or acting in ways contrary to their deep beliefs as to how awakened being should act, or by exposing their inner conflicts, rage, anger, jealousy, and pride that prevent their free-flowing manifestation. There are so MANY people posing as teachers or healers that have not been cooked enough. They remain fragilely self-defended, and ill at ease with themselves.
Lastly, the Guru is much more than any and all of these. He or she brings 30, 40 and even 60 years of training to the table in his role as spiritual teacher with students.
There are so many current “teachers” who have had a couple of awakening experiences and immediately become teachers, traveling the world with tip of the iceberg awakening experiences, and extremely shallow understandings of various spiritual states, the human mind, and of human emotions. I am talking about the entire current crop of spiritual teachers who have had five or ten years of self-inquiry, or have had a few experiences, and set themselves up as teachers.
You see, a real guru is someone who has actively explored his or her beingness for 30 years or more and who has studied under one teacher for many years, and who has met and studied under many other teachers.
This person has seen it all, so to speak, and embraces spirituality as a life-style, not just one or more awakening experience.
This person has lived with and seen Gurus, great and not so great, famous and not so famous, and has no illusions about how a Guru will or should act.
The teacher has been cooked by many gurus and has penetrated at least one tradition very deeply as a devotee, a student open to learning, and who has interacted with hundreds or thousands of other seekers through the years, practiced decades of meditation, chanting and Mantras, Kriya Yoga, pranayama and other yogic practices. He or she is not stuck in the after effects of a single awakening experience, but has had many large awakenings, and maybe dozens or hundreds of small awakenings.
This teacher is recognized by a teacher by masters because of his or her stability, seasoning, ability to tolerate disasters and munificence equally. He or she may be legendary of outbreaks of rage, such as Muktananda, and to a degree, Seung Sahn Soen Sah, or a paradigm of calm acceptance of whatever arises, like Thich Thien-An.
What they have that is different from lesser teachers is a long lifetime of experience dealing with other teachers, other traditions, and with hundreds if not thousands of students.
It is rare to be able to study under someone like this, like Robert Adams with 55 years of post-awakening experiences and 17 years of traveling in India studying under dozens of other masters.
It is rare to be able to study under a Maezumi with 40 or 50 years of study and practice as a sixth generation Zen master in his own family.
It is rare to get close to a great teacher like Muktananda who was a master of cooking thousands of students and awakening them with Shaktipat and other methods.
Being with a master is not only with a person who can help you “awakening” to aspects of who and what you are, but who can provide exposure to an entire lifestyle of living. A Guru is not only someone who can help you discover yourself, but also gives you a way of living and being with others that is entirely different form a conventional life: a Guru also gives a lifestyle model, whether you totally accept it or not, a lifestyle of self-assured, grounded, manifestations of the power of a realized, embodied living truth of a tradition.
So many of the new teachers never had a teacher, they just read books and “realized” who they were from books or a chance exposure to one or two teachers. They have not been cooked or tested. They have not been stressed by a teacher to their limits and beyond. They have not had their “realizations” matured by adding decades of life and teaching experiences. Some of these older teachers never trained under teachers, feel their life experiences along with their own, solipsistic cogitations, make them a guru, although they avoid that label like the plague.
If I were to choose a teacher though, and just beginning, I would pick someone at least 50 years old who has had at least 30 years on the path, and who is well-received by other mature teachers. Then stay with that teacher a long while. Imbibe everything. Soak up what he or she has to offer before moving away. Don’t waste your time with immature and self-proclaimed teachers unless you accept them only like you would a college instructor, as someone just a step or two ahead of you.
Real teachers may be very hard to live with because they constantly expose things in you that you are terrified to see: rage, fear of annihilation and death of self, jealousy, vulnerability, feeling clumsy and inept. All these things you will feel around a good teacher, one who presses you, tests you, fries you in your own arrogance and self-proclaimed specialness.
Do you have the courage? Good luck!