Yesterday, I was in the presence of a guru, who promised answers to our most important questions on spirituality. The guru’s compassion, brilliance, wisdom, and love can awaken us to self-realization. When I sat on the floor with my stiff, over-yogaed body, I committed a grand faux pas of not sitting cross-legged but with my legs pointing forward. One of white-robed smiley, gentle people requested that I sit cross-legged and being the conformist I am on alternate Sundays, I complied. The guru offered the typical “turn inward into your real self and expunge the ego” line and answered questions patiently and in great detail. One thing the guru talked about that I found intriguing concerned helping other people. The guru said that helping them to get a good feeling is ego-driven; instead, help them because you want to help yourself. (1) Wouldn’t the other option, although showing more awareness of our behavior, be ego-driven as well? (2) I would think getting a good feeling helping others would encourage us to repeat the behavior inasmuch as we tend to like repeat pleasurable acts, which is a good thing because it encourages to act benevolently. Getting a bad feeling helping others would discourage us from helping others. (3) If I just do something to help myself, I may confuse my wants and needs with the wants and needs of another person. For example, I may need to be continuously validated while another person may feel that such validation is paternalistic or annoying.
I decided to ask a question, so I motioned to one of the white-robed, smiley, gentle people for the microphone. Thus I spoke: “Is compassion a part of the ego?” I intended to draw attention to her prior example to suggest that we can be drawn into the lives of other people and want to help them without allowing the ego to intrude. In the end, after some circumlocution, she affirmed that love or compassion transcended the ego. What I didn’t get to say and what I’m saying here is that feeling-with others takes into account their wants and needs more than our own. Maybe the ego is not fully transcended, but it’s definitely better than her “it’s all about doing it for myself,” which is the apex of narcissism.
I got to ask a second question, which she never got around to answering. Thus I queried: “Is awakening just another form of narcissism?” What I have seen in yoga is that awakening is all about you to the exclusion of other people. It gives people the excuse to do whatever they want because in the end it’s okay to do it for the true self. I would say nine times out of ten that true self is actually the ego in disguise. The best we can do is to be aware of our flaws and foibles and to what extent we’re projecting our agendas on to other people. If yoga can make us more inclined to reaching out to and feeling with others, great! If not, OM, OM, OM ad nauseam is meaningless.
Afterwards, I made an offering, which I wanted to do because that was part of the deal. The guru made it clear on the flier of not wanting anything from the florist, so I figured currency. After I sealed the envelope with my donation, one of the devotees insisted that I take my donation to the front and give it to the guru. I declined with the rationale that it would be egoistical. He insisted—and I declined. He insisted—and I declined. My polite declines finally won out over his insistence and I vacated the premises. I am not planning on attending the Pada Pooja (Veneration at the Guru’s Feet). If I tried venerating at someone’s feet, I’d only see the dirt under the toenails.