on leadership

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 start there.

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 handled?

So the choice of a leader is a two-way street. Who do you choose and what do you do with that which you have chosen?

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 of consciousness.

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 ourselves.

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.
A pioneer in bringing yoga to the West, Swami Sivananda Radha is the author of 10 classic books on yoga, including Kundalini Yoga for the West and Hatha Yoga: The Hidden Language. Her teachings focus on developing awareness and quality in life.

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