Worshipping The Guru's Feet 

Georg Feuerstein

Laughing Man Magazine

Vol. 4, NO 4, 1984

Georg A. Feuerstein lived a profoundly productive life of humble service and made a peaceful, conscious exit from this world on Saturday, August 25, 2012 near his home in Southern Saskatchewan, Canada. (Traditional Yoga Studies)

The following article appeared in Laughing Man Magazine, Vol. 4, NO.4, 1984 where Georg was an editor while a devotee of Adi Da Samraj (Master Da).

Last year I sent a homemade card to Master Da Free John, who resided at Tumomama Sanctuary in Hawaii at the time. The card was a simple ink drawing of a hammock strung between two palm trees. The hammock was occupied, but of the occupant only one foot could be seen peeping over the edge. The foot belonged to Master Da. The message beneath the drawing was equally straightforward. I thanked the Spiritual Master for the "regal kick" that he had meted out to my wife and myself to unglue us from our conventional approach to spiritual practice.

The image suggested itself to me because Master Da was sitting in a hammock when he welcomed us to Tumomama Sanctuary. Neither of us expected a response to the card. We were, therefore, all the more surprised when, a few weeks later, we were informed of his comments about our communication. And his comments were eye-opening indeed! He remarked that I had obviously noticed something about him putting one leg forward as I approached to greet him, and that I should look up the story of Shankara meeting his Teacher.

After traveling a long distance, young Shankara arrived at the forest hermitage of the illustrious Sage Govinda. Desirous of being initiated into the Wisdom of the Absolute, he consulted the ascetics living in the hermitage. They accompanied him to Sage Govinda s residence- a cave with an entrance no more than a cubit wide. Shankara circumambulated the area surrounding the cave three times, and prostrating himself in front of the entrance, he began to chant a devotional hymn in praise of the Sage.

Govindacarva promptly emerged from his Ecstatic absorption, asking: "Who are you?" Betraying his own Illumination, Shankara replied: "Revered Sir, l am. neither earth nor water, neither fire nor air, neither ether nor any of their properties. I am also not the senses or even the mind. I am Shiva, the impartite Essence of Consciousness. "

Upon hearing these words, imbued with the spirit of nondualistic understanding, Sage Govinda was greatly delighted. He said: "Dear child, through the suprasensuous knowledge gained in Ecstasy, I know that you are the great Lord Shiva who has incarnated on earth in human form. " Then, in observance of the age-old custom of establishing the sacred relationship between Teacher and devotee, Sage Govinda extended his feet through the opening of the cave. Shankara worshipped the Sage's feet with heartfelt devotion and proper ceremony.

Although a person may have an inborn intuition of the Truth, it is prescribed in the scriptures that one should be duly instructed by a Teacher.

Hence Shankara performed the ritual worship of the Guru and, subsequently, through his devoted service to the Sage, became the object of Govindacarva's loving Regard. Highly pleased with his devotee's service, the Sage imparted to him the Wisdom of the Absolute.

Adapted from Madhava's Shankara Digvijava, chapter 5.

"The tradition of the Guru or Spiritual Master, who is of ultimate significance
in the disciple's life, is incomprehensible, absurd, and offensive to most Westerners."


As I heard this, I suddenly remembered how everything in me had wanted to honor him by bowing down to embrace the Guru's extended foot, but how my complicated intellect had frustrated this spontaneous impulse toward bodily surrender. What seemed natural enough to my heart was completely unacceptable, even ridiculous, to my doubting mind. I had forgotten about that incident. He had not.

The tradition of the Guru or Spiritual Master, who is of ultimate significance in the disciple's life, is incomprehensible, absurd, and offensive to most Westerners. They balk at, and reject, the idea that any one person should or could be so instrumental in determining another's fate. In their eyes, the Guru is a direct threat to personal freedom and the psychic integrity of the individual. This widespread view is understandable considering the narrow materialistic bias of the critics of the Guru tradition.

What might seem surprising, though, is that this ill-judged opinion should be shared by a large number of people who profess to engage spiritual life on some level or other. On closer examination, their lack of comprehension of the Guru's role has the same ideological and psychological roots as the negative attitude of the secular mainstream of our society: materialism on the one hand and fear of self-loss on the other.

The spiritual function fulfilled by the Guru is intelligible only within a non-materialistic framework of thought, in which the psycho-physical nature of the world is fully taken into account. And the Guru is a psycho-physical event. This is what many so-called spiritual seekers fail to grasp. And their fearful rejection of Spiritual Masters is merely the inverse of their cleaving to worldly life - even the semblance of a spiritual life.

When, aged fourteen, I first encountered the idea of the Guru, I had an altogether different response. I was curiously excited - almost feverish about this discovery. Nothing in my environment or upbringing had suggested the possibility of the existence of such beings. Yet, it made instant and complete sense to me, and it seemed to give anchorage to my groping understanding of the structure of spiritual life. I appreciated the fact that the relationship between Guru and disciple or devotee should be quite unlike that between secular teacher and pupil. In fact, I rejoiced in it, because at the time I was still suffering firsthand the failure of our banal, materialistic education. Admittedly, I did not yet have a clear sense of the spiritual process itself. Still, I tacitly understood that a complete and radical personal transformation was entailed and that the Guru's purpose was to help bring this about.

Only much later did I comprehend the profundity of this process and the immense responsibility that the Guru assumes voluntarily, out of compassion. Then I also learned that spiritual self-transformation is a "sacred ordeal," that it is as demanding and difficult as it is joyous. In between my initial discovery of spiritual life and the figure of the Guru and my later immersion into the actualities of spiritual discipline, there was a long period of dabbling with different techniques and methods of self-actualization and self-improvement, interspersed with countless moments of self-doubt and doubt about the authenticity of spiritual paths and teachers, even the whole spiritual adventure itself.

My own oscillation, stretching over more years than I care to remember, between an affirmative attitude toward the spiritual dimension and a frustrated (and frustrating) skepticism and crypto materialism, allows me to empathize with those who still question the role and function of the Guru in spiritual life. The Guru is a difficult factor to reckon with. Indeed, the Spiritual Master spells difficulty: That is his responsibility in the spiritual process. He constantly pushes the devotee beyond all self-imposed and comfortable limits. His efficacy can almost be said to be directly proportionate to his being a disturbance, a turbulence, in the life of the spiritual practitioner. A consoling, indulgent Guru, in other words, is worthless. I did not understand this fact fully until I had come into contact with the Teaching of Master Da Free John, who spells out the rousing role of the Guru in frank terms:

"The Guru is a kind of irritation to his friends. You can't sleep with a dog barking in your ear, at least most people can't. There is some sort of noise to which everyone is sensitive, and it will keep them awake. The Guru is a constant wakening sound. He is always annoying people with this demand to stay awake, to wake up. He doesn't seduce them within the dream. He doesn't exploit their seeking. He is always offending their search and their preference for unconsciousness. He shows no interest in all of that. He puts it down. He is always doing something prior to the mind. He always acts to return you from the mind, from fascination. " - Da Free John, The Method of the Siddhas. rev. ed. (Middletown, Calif.; The Dawn Horse Press, 1978), p. 152.


"It is certainly incomparably easier to tinker with spiritual practices on one's own terms than it is to respond to the Guru's incessant appeal for ever more comprehensive self-transcendence."


This is not gray theory, either. Master Da does not belong to what he calls the "talking school" of spiritual life. He takes the function of Spiritual Master seriously. No doubt, this is the reason why apparently eager "spiritual seekers" have been slow in submitting themselves to actual practice under the guidance of an Adept. It is certainly incomparably easier to tinker with spiritual practices on one's own terms than it is to respond to the Guru's incessant appeal for ever more comprehensive self-transcendence. So long as one purports to follow the "Guru within," the tempo of spiritual practice is apt to be comfortable enough for the ego. But the Spiritual Master never allows his disciple to lie back at his ease.

Authentic spiritual life consists in the voluntary frustration of one's habitual tendencies toward stasis and self-pleasuring. Master Da Free John speaks of boredom, doubt, and discomfort as the three afflictions that we ordinarily seek to circumvent by all possible means of self-comforting.

However, the genuine spiritual practitioner embraces every opportunity to stew in his own juices. Nothing morose or neurotic is involved in this! He does not invite suffering, as appears to be recommended in certain quarters of Christianity. Rather, he faces squarely boredom, doubt, and discomfort, regarding them as opportunities for intensifying his self- transcending disposition.

The Guru, wholeheartedly committed as he is to his disciple's Enlightenment or Liberation, will always frustrate the practitioner's tendency to escape boredom, doubt, and discomfort, and to settle for a pseudo-equilibrium. In fact, the Spiritual Master provokes crisis after crisis in the disciple, obliging him to clearly see and understand the numerous ways by which he contrives to avoid the spiritual process by relapsing into the dreamlike semiconsciousness that is the substance of the so-called waking state of our everyday life.

Of course, the disciple or devotee must be basically attuned to the Spiritual Master's Work with him, and he must also be capable of responding to the spiritual demand that the Guru represents. In the past, therefore, the Guru would carefully assess the potential disciple's bodily, intellectual, and moral capabilities before consenting to Teach him. For, the relationship between the Spiritual Master and the devotee is a two-way obligation, which lasts until the Guru's supreme condition of Liberation has been duplicated in the disciple. In a modified form, this relationship continues even after the devotee's Enlightenment.

Understandably, no authentic Teacher or Sadguru would enter this contract lightly. The Sanskrit scriptures relate many stories of long testing before a petitioning disciple was at last formally accepted by the Teacher.

Such testing, not surprisingly, is also part of the life of the novice of Master Da Free John's Way of Radical Understanding. The testing-ground is the community of practitioners, though sometimes - as in my own case - Master Da might spontaneously decide to hurl at the beginner some boulders of his own: whatever serves the person's practice best.

Basically, the purpose of this initial interplay between Spiritual Master and novice is to define and ground their relationship. The practitioner must come to understand the Guru's function. The Guru, again, awakens the novice to the point that he may begin to appreciate the Guru's spiritual Presence. In this way a basis of mutual trust is created. Failing this, the practitioner is likely to suffer from chronic doubt, which would only undermine his practice. There must be a fundamental recognition of the Guru as a wholly metamotivated being, who has no ulterior motives in his Teaching Work, but is solely prompted by a compassionate desire to draw others into the same Realization that he enjoys.

The Spiritual Master, on his part, will be looking for evidence that the practitioner is able and ready to be instructed, to handle the intensity of the Guru-disciple relationship. Nevertheless, the Spiritual Master always assumes a prior loving relationship with his disciple, however recalcitrant and full of weaknesses he may be. But he is waiting for concrete signs that his transforming love is capable of being put to good use, which necessarily requires that the love be returned. Trust is the precondition for that love in the devotee, and gratitude is the vehicle by which the devotee consciously expresses his love for the one who will make his Liberation possible. Once trust is established, the disciple becomes open to the Guru's Transmission. Die remainder of his practice will be, in essence, a step-by-step discovery of the Spiritual Master's true nature. As Master Da Free John explains:

"The Way is marked by a progressive recognition of the Spiritual Master as the human individual who is the source of the Teaching. That individual is a particular spirit-entity located in a particular time and place in any moment. But as individuals begin to mature, they begin to recognize the Spiritual Master through the process of spiritual location. In other words, they recognize the Spiritual Master as the one whom they see as a spiritual entity in the time and place, the human being, but they also recognize the Spiritual Master as a Presence. They find that Presence when they are in the physical company of the Spiritual Master and they find It at other times. When they realize that It is the same Presence, then they have entered into the next stage of recognition of the Spiritual Master. They are associated with the Spiritual Master then in more complex terms. He is that human individual who influences them in various ways, he is an Adept, a Siddha3 magnifying the Divine Presence to them, helping them in various ways, and he is also omnipresent, always present, not moving around but Present, to be located even in every moment.

As the spiritual process matures, that same one is further recognized as Transcendental Being, the Consciousness in which attention is arising. Then another stage is realized coincident with the recognition of Nature, in which the Spiritual Master is located as the Light of lights, and core Light, the white Brilliance at the center of the Cosmic Mandala4, the five-pointed star.5


3. A Siddha is literally a "Fulfilled" or "Perfect One," one who has Realized God permanently and beyond doubt and who is naturally moved to Awaken others

4. The Cosmic Mandala is a visionary manifestation of the Universal Energy of the Cosmos. It appears as concentric differently colored circles of light progressing to the Ultimate White Brightness in the center of the Mandala. In perfect God-Realization, the Conscious being stands beyond the whole cosmic configuration and the mechanics of Nature which it represents. For a full discussion of the Cosmic Mandala, sec Easy Death, by Da Free John, especially part 4, "Transcending the Cosmic Mandala," pp. 223-88.

5. Da Free John, The Fire Gospel {Clearlake, Calif.: The Dawn Horse Press, 1982, pp 50-51.


"The main reason why so many apparent spiritual practitioners choose the "inner Guru" or the "Wisdom within" over the external Guru is that they are fearful."


Obviously, there is no way in which the Spiritual Master's nature and function could be made sense of within the context of a materialistic world-view. The Guru is intelligible only in terms of a spiritual interpretation of existence. It would, therefore, be quite futile to champion the Adept to a hard-nosed materialist. However, I feel this consideration should be of interest to those who, without seeing the necessity of a Spiritual Master, are positively oriented to a spiritual philosophy of life.

I have already indicated that the main reason why so many apparent spiritual practitioners choose the "inner Guru" or the "Wisdom within" over the external Guru is that they are fearful. And what they fear is that the external Spiritual Master will prove an interference in their lives. Instead of recognizing this to be the ego's bid for the status quo, they shortchange themselves by rationalizing their resistance: The Guru is held to infringe the disciple's personal liberty so that his spiritual growth will not only not be promoted but actively stunted.

Related ideas are that the devotee becomes emotionally enslaved to the Guru, and is perhaps even tricked into such dependence in order to be exploited by the Guru for entirely selfish or at least deluded purposes. There is also the suspicion and fear that the Guru seeks to mold the disciple's psyche and mind according to some preconceived pattern that is reflective of the Guru's own personality. In other words, the Spiritual Master is believed to be intent on refashioning his devotee in his own likeness-by means of indoctrination and, if necessary, by sheer coercion.

The anticult literature is replete with case histories of "cult victims" who have been "brainwashed" to the point where they become incapable of functioning "normally." The cases of abuse reported for some cults, even though oftentimes vastly exaggerated, would seem to confirm this widespread phobia and distrust. Certainly, Jonestown is a vivid example of blatant personality manipulation and coercion on a large scale by a ruthless and obviously psychopathic cult leader.


"The popular mind wrongly associates this kind of autocratic leadership with the true function of a Spiritual Master."


Yet, the popular mind wrongly associates this kind of autocratic leadership with the true function of a Spiritual Master. There is a momentous difference between cults of the type of "The People's Temple" and an authentic spiritual tradition or group, and between the sort of cult leader exemplified by "Father" Jones and genuine Spiritual Masters of the stature of Ramana Maharshi, Ramakrishna, Swami Ramdas, Sri Aurobindo, or Anandamayi Ma, who were respected and loved by countless people in India and elsewhere in the world. That these distinctions have become blurred is symptomatic of a widespread failure to understand the dynamics of the Guru/ disciple relationship.

People distrust the Guru's demand for surrender. Their apprehension is natural enough. But it is also based on a serious misapprehension of the spiritual process and the Guru's role in it. First of all, there is a fundamental confusion between the concept of personality and the concept of ego. The two are not synonymous.

Whereas the personality is a particular configuration of the world-process, the ego is simply a superimposition on the play of Nature, on the natural differentiation of the manifest world. The ego or separate self-sense is the habitual movement in us to arbitrarily define ourselves in terms of a specific body-mind or personality. The sense of individuality arises as a natural function of conscious existence and as such does have a biological or evolutionary usefulness. Yet, it becomes dysfunctional when it crystallizes into the principle of one's existence and thus begins to stand proxy for the All-Identity of Transcendental Consciousness. The ego is, in other words, a false pretense, a lie by which we delimit ourselves to an aspect of the Total Reality that we are in truth.

The "ego death" invited in true spiritual practice is not tantamount to the crucifixion of the personality, the annihilation of individuality, the deadening of the psyche, the obliteration of the mind, or the utter disregard for the body. Ego-death is simply perfect self-transcendence, which is equivalent to Enlightenment or God-Realization. The spiritual process does not wipe out personality characteristics. Enlightened beings do not look, talk, or act alike. What they have in common, however, is the continuous transcendence of all apparent differences and distinctions. They are identical on the level of Transcendental Being.

Therefore, the Guru is not interested in coercively suppressing his disciple's personality or mind. Rather, he fully appreciates the fact that different disciples have different personalities. In his interaction with devotees he will, consequently, respond to their individual needs and aptitudes. And the essence of that interaction is always the enhancement of the devotee's innate capacity for self transcendence, for going beyond his apparent identity as a particular body-mind or personality. Ultimate Enlightenment is the discovery that one is that Single Identity in which all differences- all individual beings, all personalities- arise. Thus, nothing is lost, but literally everything is gained.

The Guru steps into this process because the ordinary being is obviously unable to unlock the ego's cage, to dispel the illusion of confinement to a body-mind. Having passed through the spiritual process and being firmly rooted in the Transcendental All-Identity, the Spiritual Master offers himself as a concrete focus for the devotee's self-transcending struggle. And that focus is not the apparent body or personality but the Total Field that the Guru represents.

The genuine Teacher will not tolerate cultic attachment to his person, for in the last analysis, this is always only self-indulgent and self-serving. The devotee's attention must be on the Reality or Spiritual Presence for which the Guru's physical form is both symbol and psychophysical instrument. This is how Master Da Free John explains the extraordinary relationship between Guru and disciple:

"The human Spiritual Master is an agent to the advantage of those in like form. When one enters into right relationship with a Spiritual Master, changes happen in the literal physics of one's existence. It is not just a matter of ideas. I am talking about transformations at the level of energy, at the level of the higher light of physics, at the level of mind beyond the physical limitations that people now presume, at the level of the absolute Speed of ultimate Light. The transforming process is enacted in devotees, duplicated in them in and through that Living Company. It is not a matter of conceptual symbolisms or emotional attachment to some extraordinary person. It is real physics. And it is to the advantage of people when someone among them has gone through the whole cycle of Transformation, because they can then make use of the Offering of that Process, that Company. "7

7. Da Free John, Scientific Proof of the Existence of God Will Soon Be Announced by the White House! (Middletown, Calif.: The Dawn Horse Press, 1980), p. 364.

When, during my visit at Tumomama Sanctuary, I felt the impulse to embrace Master Da's extended foot, 1 had for a fleeting moment no sense of worshipping an individual or a personality. It was only when my conventional mind intruded that I fell victim to the behavioral stereotypes of my Western upbringing. And instead of enacting bodily the self-transcending gesture I was feeling in my heart, 1 allowed doubt and awkwardness to disrupt the spontaneity of devotional surrender to the Great Reality.

To worship the Guru's feet is a poetic metaphor for the spiritual process altogether. For, the feet of the Spiritual Master are not attached to an earth-bound ego. As Master Da Free John states in his adaptation of the Guru Gita - The Hymn of the Master - "His Feet are Planted in the Heart of God" (46). There is not the slightest trace of subjectivity in the Spiritual Master, who is wholly and irrevocably surrendered to the One Reality. Nor do we need to take the Teacher's word for it. For, the Condition of which he speaks is magnified in his presence. "By their fruits ye shall know them" (Matthew 7:20).

There is so much more that could usefully be said about this important subject, but I have already run out of space. Still, I would like to conclude as I started this Editorial - on a personal note:

First I came to appreciate and admire Master Da Free John's Teaching as a flawless intellectual consideration of spiritual life. Then I began to respect him as the originator of that Wisdom Teaching. Later I learned to recognize and love him as the embodiment of That Which had attracted me to his Teaching and drawn me into his company in the first place. But before I could respond in this heartfelt manner, I had to become certain of his own love for me, the devotee. And now it is beginning to dawn on me that this loving relationship is as old as the history of sentient life itself, as ancient as the Play between the first Guru and his first devotee.

The Spiritual Master "always already" waits in the disciple's heart. The Guru's feet are where we are right now.

Beezone Note

I knew Georg personally during and after his 'time' with Adi Da Samraj. I also knew his wife Patricia (then) and knew of the personal reasons why both he and Patricia decided to leave Adi Da and his community in 1989 after seven years as devotees. After leaving Adidam (the community of Adi Da's devotees), Georg began expanding his publishing and writing work with the Yoga Research and Educational Foundation. In 1991 Georg wrote 'Holy Madness' - The Shock Tactics and Radical Teachings of Crazy-Wise Adepts, Holy Fools and Rascal Gurus where he warned neurosis and poor judgment can survive enlightenment. In the book, he is highly critical and sounds the alarm about Guru's and what they do in the name of enlightenment. Although his controversial change from devotee to skeptic and 'watchman' of enlightened fools falls into the camp of D. Lane and others, secretly he was always respectful of what he learned while in the company of Adi Da Samraj. As he so rightly stated in this article, "It is certainly incomparably easier to tinker with spiritual practices on one's own terms than it is to respond to the Guru's incessant appeal for ever more comprehensive self-transcendence."

Ed Reither, Beezone