The children’s book, “The last guru”, tells a short and funny story that contains quite a bit of wisdom. I read it recently, and enjoyed how it reminded me of old insights. Yes, it “reminded”, not “taught” me. More and more I come to the conclusion that with all my pondering and struggling to seek the truth, I do not learn much, but only stray from – or return to – the wisdom that was always present within me. Saint Augustin was right when he pointed out that whenever we see that something is true, it is because we recognize it as such1. We remember.
The ‘last guru’ in the book is a young boy with an exceptional amount of common sense who experiences quite a few strange events. His adventures turn him into a most unusual kind of guru: the kind that makes himself unnecessary, hence the “last” guru.
I stumbled on this book, because I heard the term “last guru” in a podcast, by a group of people called Nomad. I regularly listen to their podcasts: always rather long, but interesting conversations and interviews on topics that occupy my thoughts as well. In this particular episode they had interviewed Peter Rollins, and afterwards reflected on things he said. “He sounded quite like a guru himself”. “Yes, and whilst he said that the journey is the goal, it seemed also that he was saying that we would ‘have arrived’ after we lost our last guru.”
Peter Rollins had talked for a bit about our ‘existential lack’: how we all have the sense that something is missing, almost from the moment we are born. And how we seek to fill that lack. I was glad to learn that this feeling of lack is inherently human, and not something that must be ‘fixed’. He also spoke about ‘gurus’: people in our lives of whom we think that they will provide all we need, and fill that lack. First our parents, and then later perhaps teachers or idols. Inevitably, we will be disappointed, and seek our salvation in places ever further away. Until, at last, we will discover that we no longer need a guru, but are able to live with the incompleteness by ourselves.
The words struck home with me. I recognize the process of being disappointed in the gurus from my youth, and the search for a new guru and the perfect answer to everything. Frantically reading, thinking, writing, all to organize my thoughts, and ponder what is really true. Right now, I’m at the point of coming to the conclusion that it cannot and indeed need not be done.
One person keeps popping up in my thoughts: Jesus. Was he a guru? After all, he did proclaim to be the way, the truth, and the life. And urged us to follow him. I wonder, did he encourage us to let him be the “last” guru? Not the ultimate guru, not the best of the best, but the last, the one who will help us live our own life. Who will take a step back.
I am a little unsure about this. One might argue that his death is the ultimate stepping back. Furthermore, that the gift of his spirit is the ultimate way of showing that we can trust our inner spirit. But… quite a few of his followers think this ‘spirit’ is someone external, and they speak about surrendering our will to him. And what did Jesus himself say? I am puzzled about his statement that we can’t do anything without him2. On the other hand, he did call his followers ‘friends’, and he said it would be better for them if he left. But did he leave? When he rose again, he promised to be with them till the end of time. So, what does that all mean? The more I read what Jesus actually said, how radical sometimes, the more confused I become.
Right now, I want to stop thinking so much about Jesus and all his radical teachings. I remember something else: once at a study group3 we discussed a philosophical book by Boethius, and I became increasingly upset with all the complexities. A pastor looked at me and said: “Normally I don’t preach so much, but this time I wish to tell you: sometimes you do best to remember this simple song: ‘Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so'”.