Today I heard insistent bird cries, repeated refrains which roused my curiosity. I’ve never had the Dr Dolittle skill myself (well, the ‘do little’ part maybe, but not the linguistic side), however I have a friend who, incredible though it may sound, spent a couple of weeks being able to understand the birds. One day they were just twitter, twitter, twitter, tweet, tweet, tweet, musical backing to whatever else was going on in his life, and the next day, he was being distracted by working conversations regarding the availability of food, who is chasing who, and get off my branch thank you! He was very relieved when the ability disappeared as if it had never happened, and the bird speech reverted to bird song.
The sounds I was hearing was hardly a song, but repeated, almost indignant cries, and I walked over to the neighbor’s front fence to see what was going on. It was, as I had suspected, a noisy teenager of a magpie, almost in adult plumage, but still with a collar of grey, standing in the drinking water and harassing his mother to feed him. The lawn was strewn with crumbs, and he would take the occasional beak dive to pick some up, but he wanted Mum to do it. Every so often she would give in to his continual cries of “Mum, I’m hungry, Mum, I’m bored” and push a large crumb into his mouth. It made me laugh when he could so easily bend over and get his own food.
And then I thought, how often have I been the same, wanting to be served instead of getting on with it myself? Of course we all need our parents to raise us, feed us, train us, and lead by example, as Mother Magpie pecking at the crumbs was doing for her son. And we also need our spiritual mentors. The guru principle is something the western mind is suspicious of, but we might as well be suspicious of Magpie mothers, and our own parents. We are not immediately independent and knowledgeable in any sphere, be it how to eat with a knife and fork, or how to drive a tractor, how to swim or how to play a violin. It is the same with spiritual knowledge and activity. In fact, the need for a mentor, a teacher, a parent, is even more pronounced in this arena, because spiritual knowledge is not something that can be worked out, or discovered, using one’s material senses and mind. It is feasible a person might learn to drive a tractor by reading the manual, though not very practical. Mind you, even that is taking on a teacher, the writer of the manual is your long distance guru! But because we have material senses, we can perceive material objects and gain knowledge about the world and the objects in it, directly via those senses, and then use our mind to work on what we have seen, to maybe come to a correct conclusion.
But even in this situation we need parents to raise us, and if we want to be Olympic level athletes we have trainers to assist us. Since it is the question of knowing about real truth, knowing from bona fide saintly persons is a must.
Having said that, we should check the abilities, credentials and trustworthiness of our Olympic trainers. We don’t want someone who can barely swim training us for the backstroke 500 m’s. And we certainly don’t want some old dude who has a thing about teenage swimmers. Sadly, many people putting themselves forward as teachers in spiritual life, whether called guru, pastor, or priest, are not really qualified for the position. Such a person must know by personal realization about the Supreme Truth, and thus be capable of teaching their students to reach that same realization. And the motivation of a bona fide spiritual teacher is to serve, not to exploit.