There has been much discussion in the yoga world about what constitutes a “real” guru. Some say you need one to truly progress in yoga and others warn against surrendering fully to another, especially with so many abuses of power being brought to light. Again, the Bhagavad Gita can be an excellent resource for discerning worthy leaders from those likely to exploit your trust.
In Chapter 18 of the Gita, three distinct qualities of a dispeller of darkness (one translation of the word “guru”) are clearly described:
18.61 & 18.62 The Divine dwells in the hearts of all...
To the Divine alone go with your whole
In the Gita, Krishna is described as the Lord of Yoga himself, yet even with so exalted a position he does not command Arjuna to rely on him - he directs Arjuna within, to the source of wisdom that dwells in every heart. Does your teacher claim to be the only conduit to the Divine, undermine what you feel in your core to be proper, or devalue your efforts because you could never have the relationship to the Divine that he/she/they has? If so, it may be time to reevaluate their position in your life.
18.63 Thus has knowledge been explained by
Me to you, more secret than the
Secret; after pondering
Completely, then act as you will.*
Krishna is willing to explain - and to explain over and over and in different ways - what Arjuna needs to grow. After that, Krishna says something extremely important: Arjuna is free to act as he wishes. There is no condemnation or dogma involved. Although Arjuna has surrendered himself to Krishna, Krishna reminds him that ultimately, whatever Arjuna does is Arjuna’s own choice.
18.64 Hear again My supreme message,
The most confidential of all.
Because I love you dearly, I
Shall tell you what benefits you.*
A true guru loves a student wholeheartedly. Krishna is not only Arjuna’s guru but his cousin, comrade-in-arms and best friend. There is literally nothing Krishna would not do for Arjuna. Krishna demonstrates this love by speaking gently and kindly to Arjuna, even when Arjuna is clearly choosing a destructive path or being confrontational. And note that Krishna keeps no secrets from his disciple, and shares only what will be of benefit - not what will drag him down and interfere with his unique mission in life.
In this final chapter of the Gita, author Vedavyasa sets down principles for not only what constitutes a worthy student but what constitutes a worthy leader. Try applying these principles to someone you have decided to follow in any way, and notice what you discover.
*All translation is from Atmadarshan’s forthcoming book on the Gita , © 2019 Atmadarshan Laura Santoro.