The Guru Function and its Corruption in Modern Times

Mark Whitwell
7 min readJul 27, 2020


BY MARK WHITWELL The ultimate expression of Buddhist and Vedantic dharma could be expressed as follows: There is no separate object, and there is no “self” that is a subject to the object. There is only Reality of existence in which everything is happening.

In other words, you are not an imagined interior “subject” making a presumption of separate objects — although you seem to be. This imagined subject can be described as the “ego I.” It is a demand on our attention. You’re sure it’s there, but like a mirage in the desert, it’s not really there. This unsteadiness means it forever needs propping up and defending. But like a mirage, it can disappear.

This phenomenon of limited subjective identification is a seeming location of attention and reactions, thought structures, or point of view relative to a mass of presumed separate objects, things, people, and circumstance of all kinds and complexities.

The Buddha and the Vedantic acharyas (and I’m sure Christ, Mohammed, Guru Nanak, and all our other sages) wanted you and all humanity to see that all of that is an illusion, a demand on attention. What there actually is — and what you are only — is the reality of being, in which everything (including yourself) is happening. That is the “Self,” not the ego-identification which is a mass of reactions and points of view in relation to imagined separate objects.

Neither is your “self” the awareness principle watching objects, including the project of watching the object of a disturbed mind that has been popularized by later-time Buddhism and scientificized mindfulness products. The attempt to abide as awareness is inherently a dissociation from objects by the mere fact that you’re witnessing “them.” That dissociative inner activity of culture has caused humanity’s mass dissociation from Reality in the first place.


You might have noticed that the more you attempt to dissociate from a chaotic situation, the worse it becomes. That is because we are this situation, as part of it. There is no escaping. The attempt to witness only is the “ego I” and creates more subjectivity, the thought structures and the identity of the personality trying to meditate. All that is more subjective ego.

The dharma or the way of “There is only Reality” is not spiritual bypassing, or a denial of embodiment or everyday life. It is object / subject ego transcending, but it is not a dissociation from objects at all, in some bland ‘abiding as awareness.’ Why? Because all objects and our selves are recognized now only in and as Reality. Reality is not some abstract principle against and apart from everything tangible… this is just more mind.

Therefore each object is now given its due, which is the profound respect & love that we give to everything in the One reality in which we all appear and disappear. The relational connection is now naturally tangible and afforded to each object with due regard to every thing.

Yoga is the embrace of Life as it actually is. Intimacy with Reality as it IS, including with all of reality’s tangible conditions and the intangible of the tangible, whatever that might be. The seen and the unseen world.

Yoga is not a meditation sold in the marketplace to make you feel better. It is not a trick, a technique, a gimmick of mind, a scheme of hopefulness or bargaining with life. It is a sincere understanding. It is the direct embrace of life in all its aspects. It is intimacy with your body and all its tangible relatedness with its experience, air, light, water, light, all “others” and the male-female collaboration (whether in same-sex or opposite-sex intimacy), which is the nurturing substance and force of all life.

Yoga is intimacy with body, breath and relationship (in that order), with Life as it actually is. Intimacy with Reality as it actually is in the unitary movement of body, breath, mind and Life. The embrace of the eternal and infinite condition, and of all objects of the eternal. “Eternity is in Love with the Productions of Time,” wrote William Blake.

This is the profound difference between the religious and secular ideals of “becoming,” of reaching out for future ideals, hoping and bargaining for change, versus actual participation in Life as it is. Religion becomes participation in God, not the search for God. No longer the appealing to a higher power to deliver the goods or magically save you.


Yoga is direct connection to what is real, not a hopefulness or bargaining for salvation. Yoga is, however, the practical means by which the beautiful ideals of culture are actualized. This was the declaration of the second great Vedanta acharya, Ramanuja of the tenth century. It’s taking ages to get the lesson.

There is only one thing happening: Reality. Power, pure intelligence, and utter beauty in the perfected intrinsic harmony of the cosmos. Objects and the subject to the objects, the reactions of ego seem to obliterate this fact of our reality. But they do not.

In the cultures of Veda and Buddhism there were thousands of years of guru or teacher traditions . Your teacher (one who was not obstructed at all in body or mind from the power of creation) initiated you and gave you that recognition of the One Reality in which everything is happening She or he held your hand to quickly or slowly recognize it continually amongst all objects, circumstances, life joys, and extreme difficulties.

There was a time when spiritual aspirants took this function of guru seriously and sincerely. We loved our gurus with humble faith and real knowledge of what they were giving. We knew that our relationship with such women and men was our relationship to reality, God, the “all-pervading” absolute condition of reality. A real relationship that suddenly or gradually draws us through ego identification to moksha or freedom into reality of being.

There was no place for hierarchy, authority or seniority within such a relationship. That was not the normalised basis for such relationships yet. These were cultures of equals where the teacher was always and in all ways no more than a friend, no less than a friend, the power of Mother Nature’s nurturing in local community. Cultures where God, Deity, Guru, Spouse, your Body and the whole elemental world in which the body appears in and depends upon were all acknowledged to be arising in the One reality. No seniority or inferiority of any object over another. Such cultures are almost gone now. In humanity’s recent history, the guru function has been almost completely corrupted, toxified and turned into an instrument of public manipulation and dark seeking. Mass cynicism and disillusionment has been the natural result.

We can now return to real spiritual practice. Threads come down to us through time, and Reality is always available. The circumstance of our world demands it.

It is not about seeking, bargaining, or hopefulness. You cannot subjectively work on your self and “get” knowledge. More ego. You cannot be a consumer of knowledge and get it for your “ego I self.” You cannot get it, because it is only given. And it has already been given.

A life-long actual relationship with your teacher and all others who you have recognized to be living in and as reality is required to go through the release of this torment of object / subject egoic identification. Like Arjuna on the battle field with the avatar Sri Krishna, we have to see the complete failure of the ego’s object / subject presumption and be shaking in our boots, trembling hands and heart. Completely humbled. We have to endure the pain and the grief of seeing the object / subject arrangement irrevocably failing, like a death, before the knowledge that Krishna gave to Arjun can be given to us: Sacrifice the inhale to the exhale. Sacrifice the exhale to the inhale. Be a Yogi, O Arjuna. Then we act. We must act and do our duty. Merge with all objects, all relationships, all difficulties as the One reality of all in the All. Free of the fruits (results) of our action.

The Bhagavad Gita, Song of God, from which this story comes, is a five thousand year old wonderful text on Yoga for our time of pandemics and world systems collapse. The sacred texts such as Gita are the utterance of avatars and rishis, the seers of the Veda. These texts are like the sun arising every morning to refresh and empower your life. They are an endless source of refreshment and clarity in our lives.

Yoga is not dissociation. We are not a false subjectivity witnessing an ‘object’-ified world. And you are not the ‘object’ to anyone else’s ‘subject’-ivity. We inherit a vast tradition of embracing existence as it is, not the mere witnessing of it. We feel our belonging to existence, intrinsically existing, and therefore acting.

Mark Whitwell

This article was originally published on the heart of Yoga blog



Mark Whitwell

Mark Whitwell has worked as a Yoga teacher around the world for the last 45 years and is the author of 4 books on Yoga. He lives in Fiji with his wife Rosalind.