Critics of Guruyoga point out its dangers. That they do means that the subject of their various diatribes is not the true Guru. They are looking at pretentious posers — pretenders to the throne. Moreover, these dangers really exist predominantly in the minds of said critics themselves. They also help to form the procrastination of the complacent and justify the enjoyments of the pleasure-seekers. In the “doubting Thomas,” for instance, if arrogance, jealousy, pride, resistance, inadvertence and the like were effectively done away with by preliminary practice and austerity early on, the distinction between the true teacher and the fake would be clear to begin with. And, regarding the outright ill-wishers, they only stew in a homemade broth of denial and complaint, “barking like village dogs on the heels of an elephant,” to quote Sri Ramakrishna. So, whereas some have been duped and damaged by “false prophets” greatly due to their own blindness, others just lack the subtle insight or the determination to follow the spiritual path for more than a few months, despite any antecedent commitment to the ideal.
The problem of false teachers, apparently false teachers, and short-sighted students which plagues the path of Guruyoga is put into clearer perspective by certain profound teachings found in the revealed scriptures. In the Avadhuta Gita, Dattatreya states wonderfully “Of the teacher — even if he be young, illiterate, or apparently addicted to the enjoyment of the sense objects, even if he be a servant or a householder — none of these should be considered. Does anyone shun a gem fallen in an impure place? In such a case one should not consider even the quality of scholarship. A worthy person should recognize only the essence. Does not a boat, though devoid of vermillion paint, nevertheless ferry passengers?”
Milarepa, the wandering writer of divine hymns in the mountains of Tibet, also notes the mind’s tendency to find fault — even in these most critical situations involving luminaries: “When you accompany your guru, do not look upon his merits and demerits, else you will find mountains of faults. Only with faith and loyalty will you find your way.” And further: “When you give service to your guru, refrain from thinking, ‘I am the one who works, he is the one who enjoys.’ Should you have this kind of feeling, quarrel and discord will certainly follow and your wish for enlightenment can never be fulfilled.” Thus, the entire matter rests upon the presence of imperfections in one’s own mind. One sees everything through the distortions of these. As Sri Ramakrishna says, “If one puts on glasses with yellow lenses, everything will turn yellow.” This is why Christ declared, “Before removing the mote of dust from the eye of another, remove the beam of wood from thine own eye.”
The definitive measure regarding the authentic Guru has been given to us by Adishankaracharya, the great Advaitin. Akamahata, Avrijina, Shrotriya, and Brahmavittama — if your guru has these four qualities, that is, desires only for your enlightenment, lives a pure and simple life, can transmit to you the essence of the scriptures, and is a knower of Brahman — then you may fall at those hallowed feet in devout supplication. Following this formula without compromise, none should go astray. Applying this formula to the host of potential gurus, all frauds and fallacies should be revealed. The Great Master concurs: “Everyone will surely be liberated. But one must follow the instructions of the guru; if one follows a devious path and teacher, one will suffer in trying to retrace one’s steps. It takes a long time to achieve liberation. A man may fail to obtain it in this life. Perhaps he will realize God only after many births.”