The Shadow of the Enlightened Guru


by ChaosNavigator


The Shadow of the Enlightened Guru
by Georg Feuerstein



In his book The Lotus and the Robot, Arthur Koestler tells of an incident that happened while he was sitting at the feet of the female Indian guru Anandamayi Ma, who is venerated by tens of thousands of Hindus as an incarnation of the Divine. An old woman approached the dais and begged Anandamaya Ma to intercede for her son, who had been missing in action after a recent border incident. The saint ignored her completely. When the woman became hysterical, Anandamaya Ma dismissed her rather harshly, which was a signal to the attendants to swiftly conduct the woman out of the room.



Koestler was taken aback by Anandamaya Ma's indifference  to the woman's suffering. He concluded that the saint was, at least in the moment, lacking compassion. He found it perplexing that an allegedly enlightened being, acting spontaneously out of the fullness of the Divine, should display such abruptness and seeming callousness. This story highlights the fact that even supposedly 'perfect' beings can and do engage in actions that seem to contradict their followers' idealized image of them.



Some 'perfect' masters are notorious for their angry outbursts, others for their authoritarianism. Of late a number of allegedly celibate super-gurus have made headlines for their clandestine sexual relationships with women followers. Spiritual geniuses-- saints, sages, and mystics-- are not immune to neurotic traits or to having experiences much like psychotic states. Indeed, even apparently enlightened adepts can be subject to personality characteristics that consensus opinion finds undesirable.



That the personality of enlightened beings and advanced mystics remains largely intact is obvious when one examines biographies and autobiographies of adepts, past and present. Each one manifests specific psychological qualities, as determined by his or her genetics and life history. Some are gentle, others fierce. Some have no interest in learning, others are great scholars.

What these fully awakened beings have in common is that they no longer identify with the personality complex, however it may be configured, but live out of the identity of the Self. Enlightenment, then, consists in the transcendence of the ego-habit, but enlightenment does not obliterate the personality. If it did, we would be justified in equating it with psychosis.


The fact that the basic personality structure is essentially the same after enlightenment as it was before raises the crucial question of whether enlightenment also leaves untouched traits that in the unenlightened individual might be called neurotic. I believe that this is so. If they are true teachers, their overriding purpose can be expected to be the communication of the transcendental Reality. Yet, their behavior is, in the outside world, always a matter of personal style.



Devotees, of course, like to think that their ideal guru is free from whims and that apparent idiosyncrasies must be for the sake of teaching others. But a moment's reflection would show this to be based in fantasy and projection.

Some teachers have claimed that their conduct reflects the psychic state of those with whom they come in contact, that their sometimes curious exploits are, in other words, triggered by disciples. This may be, because enlightened adepts are like chameleons. But much mirroring still proceeds along personal lines. For instance, some gurus will not sit on garbage heaps, consume human flesh (as did the modern Tantric master Vimalanada), or meditate on corpses to instruct others, while few of those who engage in such practices would consider training their intellects or acquiring musical skills in order to serve a disciple better.



The personality of the adept is, to be sure, oriented toward self-transcendence rather than self-fulfillment. However, it is characteristically not on a self-actualizing trajectory, I use self-actualization here in a more restricted sense than it was intended by Abraham Maslow: as the intention toward realizing psychic wholeness based on the integration of the shadow. The shadow, in Jungian terms, is a dark aspect of the personality, the aggregate of repressed materials. The individual shadow is ineluctably tied up with the collective shadow. This integration is not a one-and-for-all event but a lifelong process. It can occur either prior to enlightenment or afterward. If integration is not a conscious program of the pre-enlightened personality, it is also unlikely to form part of the personality after enlightenment, because of the relative stability of the personality structures.



The claim has been made by some contemporary adepts that in the breakthrough of enlightenment, the shadow is entirely flooded with the light of supraconsciousness. The implication is that the enlightened being is without shadow. This is difficult to accept as a statement about the conditional personality. The shadow is the product of the near-infinite permutations of unconscious processes that are essential to human life as we know it. While the personality is experiencing life, unconscious content is formed simply because no one can be continuously aware of everthing.



The uprooting of the ego-identity in enlightenment does not terminate the processes of attention: it merely ends the anchorage of attention to to ego. Moreover, the enlightened being continues to think and emote, which inevitably leaves an unconscious residue even when there is no inner attachment to these processes. The important difference is that this residue is not experienced as a hindrance to ego-transcendence simply because this is an ongoing process in the enlightened condition.



A few adepts have resolved this issue by admitting that there is a phantom ego, a vestigial personality center, even after awakening as the universal Reality. If we accept this proposition, then we could perhaps also speak of the existence of a phantom shadow or a vestigial shadow, which permits the enlightened being to function in the dimension of conditional reality. In the unenlightened individual, ego and shadow go together; we can postulate an analogous polarization between phantom ego and phantom shadow after enlightenment.



Even if we were to assume that enlightenment illumines and evaporates the shadow, we must still seriously question whether this illumination corresponds to integration- the basis for higher self-transformation. This means that it involves intentional change in the direction of psychic wholeness that can be observed by others. When I examine the lives of contemporary adepts claiming to be enlightened, I do not see evidence that such integration is being done. One of the first indications would be a visible willingness not only to reflect disciples back to themselves, but also have disciples be a mirror for the adept's further growth. However, this kind of willingness calls for an openness that is precluded by the authoritarian style adopted by most gurus.



The traditional spiritual paths are by and large grounded in the vertical ideal of liberation from the conditioning of the body-mind. Therefore, they focus on what is conceived to be the ultimate good--transcendental Being. This spiritual single-mindedness jars the human psyche out of focus: its personal concerns become insignificant and its structures are viewed as something to be transcended as quickly as possible rather than transformed. Of course, all self-transcending methods involve a degree of self-transformation. But, as a rule, this does not entail a concerted effort to work with the shadow to accomplish psychic integration. This may explain why so many mystics and adepts are highly eccentric and authoritarian and appear socially to have weakly integrated personalities.



Unlike transcendence, integration occurs in the horizontal plane.
It extends the ideal of wholeness to the conditional personality and its social nexus. Yet, integration makes sense only when the conditional personality and the conditional world are not treated as irrevocable opponents of the Ultimate Reality but are valued as manifestations of it.



Having discovered the Divine in the depths of his or her own soul, the adept must then find the Divine in all life. This is, the adept's first principle obligation and responsibility. To put it differently, having drunk of the fountain of life, the adept must complete the spiritual opus and practice compassion on the basis of the recognition that everything participates in the universal field of the Divine.




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