What Amma Teaches Us: The Real Meaning of a Guru

January 3, 2016


What value does a guru like Amma have? The guru in Western culture has something of a bad rap. Sometimes the guru appears as a spiritual swindler who brainwashes someone into parting with their time and money. Other times, the guru is just a fadish figure, someone that people gravitate to as the "latest spiritual flavor" before moving onto the next one to the come down the pike. Whether swindler or fad, the real meaning of a guru has been lost in the West. 


The guru provides a human form for the divine; a physical manifestation that allows people to have access to what is otherwise an immaterial and omnipresent divinity. The guru is generally assumed to have attained a level of mastery over thought and emotion, and through that mastery the guru maintains a deep connection with the divine. For their devotees, they become a surrogate for and a conduit to the divine. The fundamental role of the guru is as a teacher: to teach devotees how to access the divine. Just as the guru is a human who is intimately connected to the divine, so too can the devotees learn to connect in the same way.


The guru teaches this not only through spiritual teachings and wisdom, but also through the cultivation of unconditional love and devotion.  As the devotee increases their devotion for the guru, they are learning to love another human being as a divine manifestation, as if there were no difference between the guru and God. That is why many people have become devoted to figures like Sai Baba and Amma. There are, of course, many others. Jesus Christ is certainly the most well-known (and misunderstood) of gurus.  


But too many devotees get stuck there -- the guru is treated as a proxy for God and elevated to a worshiped status. They forget along the way that the guru is human. They miss the fundamental point of their devotion to another human being: to learn to see the divinity in all human beings. Just as the guru is connected to the divine, so too are the devotees, and everybody else too.  It is in our inherent birthright as living beings that we are connected to the divine. That many people do not live their lives according to that precept is the result of their conventional belief systems about what it means to be human.  


The devotion for the guru is not supposed to lead to the elevation of the guru above all others, but rather to the devotee's expansion of love for all beings.  I see this mistake occur most commonly in events with Amma. People who claim to be devotees, who have seen Amma year after year, and no doubt have a deeply sincere and profound love for her, nevertheless treat others and behave in ways that don't actually reflect Amma's teachings. They love and adore her, but will push others out of the way, break rules to get another hug, and generally act in ways that reflect the ego, not divine love. They are devoted to her, but do not try to emulate or embody her. 


Based on my experience, Amma has been elevated to the status of the Divine Mother, rather than being treated as one incarnation of the Divine Mother. As a result, she has become something they are not -- and never could be. Amma is divine, and we are human. They seem themselves and everyone else as "not Amma." Amma is to be worshiped, but not emulated. So the devotion that they extend to Amma is not extended to everyone else. This misses the fundamental point of all gurus, and what Amma teaches if we listen: we are all Amma. We are all equally divine. How you treat others is how you are treating Amma.  


But when devotees maintain this separation, it allows them to put Amma on a pedestal and treat everyone else as if they were not divine but entirely ordinary. So the lesson to be learned is that the guru is a vehicle to train you to see the divine in everyone, yourself included. Treat everyone like your guru -- equally deserving of unconditional love. By doing so, you actually begin to embody the teaching of the guru. To simply replace God with your guru, and see yourself and others on a lower plane, is to miss the point of the guru altogether. 

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