An effective leader is a person who can inspire other people and also set an
example for them. Many people can give marvellous talks but cannot live what
they are saying in their own lives. They are good presenters but not good examples.
Scholars can have substantial knowledge but few can express it in a way that
fires the ideals of others or leads them to a new perception of themselves.
The pundits in India, for instance, have an incredible knowledge of scriptures
but are not necessarily chosen as spiritual leaders, while a man like Gandhi,
who let his inspiration carry him, was chosen. He was inspired and therefore
he could inspire the people. Without that inspiration any leader is putting
on an act, which is dangerous.
The general public also has a certain image of a leader. You can see that
clearly in politics. The media can create any image but if it is only appearance
it won't last. Without substance the whole thing eventually erupts. You have
to look for the qualities you are seeking in a leader rather than for the image.
In the spiritual field it is the same. A young nun who looks like the Virgin
Mother herself may be idolized while the abbess, who may look like a tired farm-woman,
goes unnoticed because she doesn't measure up to the imagination. When you are
ruled by images, there is no capacity for proper judgment. You have to remember
what you are seeking and not be carried away by an image that kindles your fantasies.
My personal experience with my teacher, Swami Sivananda, showed me that he
was a man of great character and enormous compassion. I could see that from
the way he treated a variety of people – taking in orphans and building
a hospital for lepers. He combined this compassion with great knowledge. But
he did not meet everyone's idea of what a leader is. I remember a Canadian couple
visiting and saying, "He looks like a businessman," because he was
wearing a coat. Naturally if it's cold in the Himalayas, you wear a coat. But
their idea was that if you practise yoga, you dont need anything material and
also that you should know everything. It's a very childish idea but many people
What do you look for in a leader? Compassion and
awareness? Or superficial things like eating habits or
choice of clothes? The superficial demands very easily
become grounds for criticism. From my viewpoint, the
important questions are: What does the person do under
certain circumstances? How are difficult situations
So the choice of a leader is a two-way street. Who
do you choose and what do you do with that which you
You have to clarify to yourself what you are looking for. If you are looking
for a spiritual movie, then thats what you'll get. If you are looking for an
easy, comfortable way, then you will find a teacher who offers an easy way.
But if you are serious and understand that the purpose of each human life is
to develop your mind and your consciousness or to find self-realization, you
will look for a teacher who has something to give. In fact, you dont even need
to look. You will find that teacher when you are ready. Then you must decide
that you will listen.
What most people want is a good life, and then, "Oh yes, there is God,
also, but that comes second." The whole thing becomes very artificial if
there is no self-examination, no working on oneself. "Know thyself and
be free" is as true now as it has always been, but who wants to know themselves?
What I call "pseudo-gurus" never even make an attempt to wake people
up, but rather lull them further into their fantasies. Unfortunately many Eastern
teachers who came to the West have done this: "The Americans want sex,
so give it to them."
People admire and follow the person who will give
them what they want. From my perspective what we
want to do is quite insignificant. We live to do what we
ought to do, and that is furthering our own awareness.
It is not even that important that we reach the ultimate
self-realization, as long as we gain awareness of who we
really are as individuals and understand ourselves and
see our motivations and our games. That kind of work
makes a person of a very different quality than somebody
who just wants sugar-candy, somebody who wants
something for nothing.
You can go to Woolworths and buy a ring for fifty cents that looks like a
gold band with a diamond in it. Eventually you may even convince yourself that
it is real gold and a real diamond, but only when your cut-glass diamond breaks
and your finger turns black from the fake gold will you understand the difference.
People choose what they want from whatever place they are coming from. Often
people deserve what they get.
So you can seek a leader who fulfils your desires or
someone who knows what is necessary for the evolution
People may start off on a genuine spiritual search and have a desire to find
someone to help, but much of it may also be a fantasy. There may be an image
or an idea floating around in the mind that, "If I just find somebody like
that, then I will be all right, then I will know what to do." This attitude
is an escape into lack of responsibility.
My observation has been that many people take less responsibility when there
is a leader to lean on. A kind of dependency can develop. The leader, too, has
to recognize that he or she cannot carry the entire responsibility for any other
person. No one can play God in other people's lives.
I remember in my own relationship to my guru, Sivananda, saying, "I will
do anything you ask me, but not if it goes against my conscience." I have
said the same to others: "I will ask you to do many things, but if you
feel it goes against your conscience, you should tell me." Then they have
to speak up. If they don't, they are probably prevented by their own image of
their teacher, thinking, "Oh, I cant talk about that. I cant say that."
In other words, they put the teacher outside of the realm where he or she really
belongs. And again, it's their own fantasy.
I was at a symposium of spiritual leaders in San Francisco
where the subject was: Do students have the right
to demand that their teachers be examples or is it enough
for them to pass on the teachings theoretically? The
group was divided, which to me already indicated where
some people were. Imagination, illusion and desire have
an enormous power. People may theoretically understand
this power and be quite clear about it, but when it
comes to action, they fall into the trap.
If any leaders have not lived ethically, the best thing for them to do is
to be straightforward and honest and retire into their personal life to fulfil
their needs instead of covering up. However, I know of only one man who has
done this. Those who don't are the problem. "Do as I say, not as I do"
is a sure path to catastrophe and the breakdown of the whole organization. Although
I think any group that has a leader that has failed them can still stay together.
Each person will also have to learn that he or she is not living for the organization
or for the leader. Each must take leadership over himself or herself.
The more entertainment offered and the more the leader fits the image of the
seeker's dreams, the greater can be the disappointment and the ruder the awakening.
Rather than looking for a teacher who fits a certain concept, whether that is
a spiritual Prince Charming, a wise father figure or an always-loving mother,
aspirants should instead prepare themselves to be receptive and willing to apply
self-discipline. Be assured that through sincere prayer, you will find the teacher
who will most benefit you.
The need to
clarify our goal and purpose of life must be emphasized over and
over again. No one can be relieved of this responsibility. Each
of us will find what we seek; if we seek the Most High, we will
find the Most High. Through our focus we attract others of like
quality. Even in daily life we can see this. People who have something
in common gravitate together. When our search for the Divine is
single-pointed, then we will be drawn to others of Light. But
this Light of knowledge doesn't just descend on us. We have to
attract this Light. We have to want this Light so intensely with
our total being that we become a magnet and draw this Light to
In yoga we want to go beyond selfishness, to recognize our own divinity. We
must discover this divinity within; it cannot be given by anybody. If I am told
that I have a soul, what does it mean? If I fantasize about an idea that is
not born of me, I may never really have contact with the soul. As Jesus said,
"The Kingdom of God is within." Let us begin that journey inward,
maintaining that particular state of mind that never loses sight of the ultimate
reality – the Light.