I was recently invited to a private gathering where I would get to meet and receive teachings from an esteemed Indian Guru. Being the glutton for spiritual experiences that I am, I was very excited about the opportunity.
Back in graduate school I had studied Hinduism as part of a World Religions course. I was attracted to it because of it's relative diversity and openness. To me it seemed flexible and friendly, and not at all judgmental or punitive.
Then last year I read Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. In this great memoir, the author chronicled her four-month stay in an Indian ashram. I was inspired by her story because of the dramatic transformation she experienced during her visit. This was a different take on Indian spirituality, though, because of the rigors of ashram life, which demanded devotees to participate in various meditation and work practices that sometimes were highly challenging. Still, I was very attracted to the wisdom of the culture.
When I heard the Guru speak the other night, however, I found myself unexpectedly resisitant to her teachings. Instead of being open and receptive to the obvious wisdom being presented, I found myself engaged in a distracting inner dialog.
My main issue was that the Guru presented a precise series of spiritual practice that were required to be followed to the letter. While I realized that these age-old, tried and true practices had helped millions of Indian people, as well as others move toward enlightenment over several centuries (while we Westerners were floundering around in our spiritual wasteland) my guidance was very clear that I should take it all with a grain of salt!
Well, this felt uncomfortable, and I kept going back and forth between genuinely appreciating the unique experience, and hearing an annoying voice in my head saying things like, "I am not getting up before dawn to meditate," "I have my own guidance...," and "Gurus are so last century." Oh dear...
It took me a few days to reconcile the experience, but in the end I realized again what I have realized many times before, and that is that there are as many good paths as there are people, and what works for one person isn't necessarily going to work for another.
Sometimes differences are cultural, and sometimes they are based on our inherent temperament, maturity, or some other factor. I realized that if I had been raised in India these practices would have seemed natural to me, but that my western background and resulting path had made it difficult for me to appreciate why I was being asked to do things so differently than I have come to do them.