14 Mar – In India there is a tradition of getting a single guru (teacher), particularly in spiritual matters, and then following him or her blindly doing whatever they tell you to do without question and doing it to the exclusion of all other teachers. That has always bothered me. It is not so much that I feel I must be my own pilot of my ship, though I must. Rather it is that I feel I must see the reasoning behind what someone tells me and I know that all teachers are human and as such do not have all the answers.
A very good example of this came yesterday as we began our walk to see what it could be like walking the Narmada Parikrama. We walked with a sadhu living in the Ma Anandamayii Ashram, someone we knew.
We were going to walk “seven kilometers” down river to meet Narmada Shanka an Austrian sadhu living along the river. He is said to be so insightful that he can tell you whether you should walk or not. Along the way our sadhu from the ashram was going to lead us and show us what it would be like to walk the Narmada Parikrama.
We started. We walked two and a half kilometers along the river. There are many ways to follow the river from right on its banks to far away from its banks on motor roads with many in-between options in the form of animal and human paths. The more of a “purist” one is, the closer to the banks of the river one considers is correct for him or herself.
Our sadhu is a real purist. He led us through unpolished fields of basketball-sized rocks along a wisp of a path. It was tough and heavy on out feet and ankles. We would need high-top, mountain boots to walk it long and safely. After a while we stopped to rest. Our guide assured us the path we were taking was the true path, as we would walk all along the Narmada. It would be all stones like this. It was not what we were looking for or wanted to hear. There was no way I would walk that for ten kilometers (six miles), let alone 2622 kilometers (1625 miles), the length of the Parikrama. We talked a while longer and concluded a walk under such conditions was not ours. We decided to go no farther and our guide left.
After sitting a while and thinking over the situation, we walked back to a place where our guide had taken a right fork on the path. We took the left fork to see where it went. It went up a bit higher from the river and became a wonderful foot path used by people and animals. Petra led as we walked it down the river above the same rocks we were in a short time earlier. This was a different thing. We could walk something like this. So we did. We walked forward up and down the face of the bank along paths sometimes on rock, yes, but mostly on sand and dirt. And we had to step across a stream on rocks.
By noon we were at an ashram seven kilometers (4.3 miles) away where they fed us and gave us a place to sleep a while before returning to Omkarishwar.
The point of telling this is that now we know we can walk the Parikrama should we decide to do so. Had we blindly taken our guru’s idea that directly on the banks of the river was the only path to walk and consequently not explored farther, we would never have known that.
No one can be your exclusive guru (teacher). Only you can be your own guru—and even with that, you must be ready to often question your own advice. I have many gurus (teachers), in India and in the rest of the world. But I follow none of them blindly.