"So many of us want a guru, someone who can tell us what is true, right and good. We want to find the perfect master, the fully realized human being who will impart this wisdom to us. And once we are convinced that we have found our guru, we are often unwilling to overlook gross lapses in judgment and major moral failings in order to protect the illusion of our guru's perfect nature.

"I have studied with many who are called gurus, and I have learned much from each of them. But none seemed to me to be perfect. Yet I know from students of these and other gurus who are convinced that their guru has no flaws, no limits to wisdom, and no restrictions on behavior. Indeed, some disciples I know feel that their master's moral lapses are proof of his or her having attained perfection. The very fact that the guru appears beyond the realm of human morality suggests to them that the guru is in fact a perfected being no longer bound by human morality.

"Nonsense. I believe that there are enlightened masters, men and women who have dropped the last vestiges of separate self and realized the true nature of life as a manifestation of God. Such people are rare, and when they do appear in the course of history, they manifest as people of immense kindness and compassion. They can be stern and honest in their teaching and practice, but they are never exploitative in their relationships.

"Kindness, not craziness, is the hallmark of a holy man or woman. Selflessness, not selfishness, is the by-product of spiritual awakening.

"I also believe that there are wise teachers who, though far from perfection, have much to teach us. Such people are far more common that the enlightened masters mentioned above, and we should be eager and grateful to learn from them. But we should not ask of such flawed teachers the perfection we expect from true gurus. Nor should we seek to cover their flaws in order to rescue a claim to enlightenment.

"By all means, learn from everyone, but do not let claims of spiritual attainment blind us to another's ignorance, bigotry, or moral failings. In the end, it is life itself that is our guru. If we live with open eyes, we can see the truth for ourselves. This is what Solomon did, and this is what he asks us to do as well. Ecclesiastes offers us a spiritual anarchist's faith: see for yourself, experience life for yourself; taste and see that all is impermanent; experience everything under the sun and beyond, and know reality for yourself. Investigate the nature of life and living and see for yourself that all is breath upon breath, impermanent, fleeting, and yet so very precious.”

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