Anyone who listens to as much of the Beatles as I do knows what a guru is. Ever since I discovered that Maharishi Mahesh Yogi taught spirituality to the Beatles, I wanted one. And when I first picked up my yoga mat, I needed one.
When I trekked part of the Himalayas I had my first opportunity to seek out the experience I had always wanted. India is the home to enough Gurus, temples, and ashrams that it’s been able to become a business venture for others. We spent our time walking, eating at dabhas (which are stops for food and coffee) and local farms, and sleeping before we finally reached Dharamsala, famous for the Dalai Lama, but also consisting of many other temples and spiritual leaders.
We arrived at a small temple where there happened to be a local guru and his disciples sitting on an elevated platform. All of them were passing around what appeared to be a hookah and coughing after each inhale.
As me, my cousins, and a group of other tourists joined the group, we were each told we could have a seat and could ask the guru anything we wanted to know. There was a plate in the center for us to drop our rupees in exchange for spiritual advice. They kept passing the hookah amongst each other and answering questions.
He got to me and I realized there was nothing I really wanted to know about myself. I wasn’t worried about my career, my relationships, or if I was on the right path; I just wanted to make sure I would live the most extraordinary life possible. So I asked him what I could do to make my life full of wonder, and how I could live my life to the fullest. Guruji took a hit of the hashish again, and then closed his eyes as if he was searching for the answer within himself. I prepared myself for an answer that would completely change my life, for the secrets on how I could travel the world and experience the unbelievable. When he finally spoke, he said only six words. “The answer is within yourself, Nupur.”
No way. I felt so much disappointment in this moment. I’d read Eat, Pray, Love enough times to really believe that this would be a life-changing experience and I would return home a totally different and wiser person. I had truly thought my encounter with a guru would transform me into a totally new person. It worked for John Lennon, didn’t it? I tried to dig deeper. There had to be more. There must be some sort of physical way to achieve my spiritual goals, beyond what is within myself. I want to travel. Is there a certain place I need to go? A certain someone I need to meet? The Guruji told me that I would need to meditate and heighten my yoga practice, and then I would know all I needed to know. “There are many crops growing in the outskirts of the village to help you find your way,” he said. He took another hit and moved on.
He began talking to the woman next to me, who was there with her husband. Before even listening to her question, he seemed to know her answer. “You seem confused.” She nodded. He asked the husband to leave the circle, and soon enough was telling her how the man with her was not her soul mate, not good enough for her, and she needed to separate ways with him immediately. She objected, saying that this was not at all what she was confused about, but more so about her career and her parents and every other aspect of life. You could see her husband in the background, unsure of what was going on and equally uneasy. Before he invited the husband back to sit down he mentioned that she should stay with him to learn meditation and his practice in yoga. He then moved on. And kept moving on. He gave the advice that I heard in all my yoga classes, all seemingly revolving around trusting yourself, unless he invited someone to abandon their entire life to stay and study yoga with him.
We were offered a place to sleep in the storage room of the temple, cramped with every other tourist who had come to see the guru and seek his advice. The next morning, we left the village. When I returned to America, gurus seemed to be making a large profit in the yoga scene. Everyone had one. And they all would say the same thing to me. “Nupur, like my Guru says, you just need to look within yourself.”