A Guru is seen as a spiritual Master. Spiritual Mastership requires knowledge of pure Awareness which is knowledge of God. A true Guru never represents the body that is seen by the disciple but the pure Awareness which is to be revealed within the disciple. Thus, being the Awareness within, the real Guru is always with the disciple and it is the job of any genuine Guru not to dominate the disciple but to free him from the illusion that he/she is the body or the mind.

"The real Guru is always within", that is the teaching of any genuine Guru or spiritual Teacher.
Thus, Jesus said in Luke 17:20: "The Kingdom of God is WITHIN you."
The Bhagavad Gita states: "The Supreme Reality .. exits within himself (man)."
Ramana Maharshi: "God shows his mercy by manifesting as the Guru. The Guru, otherwise God, guides the devotee, saying that God is IN YOU and He is the Self."
Roy Davis in 'The Science of Kriya Yoga' defines a Guru as: "..The light which dispels darkness. The guru is considered to be one of God's expressions in human form to guide the disciple on the path to soul liberation."

With the understanding that the true Guru is God, the omnipresent pure Awareness within, we realize that the Guru is not only necessary but is also always present according to the need of one's spiritual unfoldment. This probably led us to the widely known saying: "When the seeker is ready - the Guru is present."

Is a personal Guru necessary?

Certain systems seem to have a greater need for a guru than others. That is true to a certain degree for Bhakti Yoga and, perhaps, more so for Sufis. In most cases, one would have to say: Yes, a Guru-in-person is necessary! But there have been recorded incidences where no Guru-in-person was required.

Rare souls like Ramana Maharshi and Anandamayi Ma have realized their Self without a personal Guru other than the Guru at the Center of their Heart. These self-realized persons insist that the real Guru is within and that the Guru does not hand out self-realization directly, but only assists in removing the obstacles that prevent us from seeing the Self for what it really is. Others, including Paramahansa Yogananda, have also stated that if the Guru's instructions are properly preserved, then the instructions are all that are necessary since the real Guru is still within.

In regards to the benefits of having a living Guru versus a Guru that has passed away, one can definitely still have a very personal relationship to a Guru even after his death or Maha-samadhi. Another important consideration is that sometimes, in the beginning, having a close personal relationship with a living Guru may even hinder a devotee's spiritual unfolding.

How to detect Cult-like behavior

Sometimes a person with some knowledge might misuse this knowledge and present himself as a Guru, although he or she is only interested in profiting from such a Guru / Disciple relationship. Cult-like behavior may easily manifest and can be recognized when the donations become overly important, whether it is money or time served.

Signs of Warning
Let it be your first sign of warning if the Guru displays importance and/or wants your unconditional obedience, money, time, blind trust, etc.
Let it be your second sign of warning if the Guru's organization has a system set up that observes and controls followers, lets them memorize and repeat material written by the organization, puts followers in robes or any kinds of uniforms, dictates your life in any way, tries to replace your family, etc.
Further signs of warning include too much security, weapons (either hidden or displayed), and a shielded environment, possibly with fences.

Important Questions to Ask:
·  Are you constantly being indoctrinated, dominated, instructed and set right?
·  Are you being told or led to believe that the guru in question is the only Guru, or the very best Guru?
·  Are you being offered gifts or services for which you feel that you owe something in return?
·  Are you being enticed to do something, with the information that others had to do the same thing, even if you feel uncomfortable with their request?
·  Do you feel an aura of Authority, Deception, Dependency, or Dread?
·  Do you have to listen to long speeches while being tired and/or hungry?

Let it be your last warning if you see the organization grow but you cannot detect any fundamental and substantial change in yourself and cannot find anyone else among the followers who made profound spiritual progress.

Cult-like behavior may not only come from the organization but may be the sole result of followers who failed to understand the essential teachings. For example, if someone finds out that cutting off his finger reminds him that his concentration should always go on uninterrupted then one could conclude that it was very well worth to do just that. But, when this task does not have the same effect on someone else, it is completely useless to instruct other people to do the same.

You can find much more information about Cults and Psychological Manipulation at the: International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA)
The ICSA also offers help and support services for families and former cult members.

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