9 Mistakes to Avoid on Your Way to Enlightenment

In the article, On gurUs and Disciples, I described the true characteristics of a guru and a disciple. In this article, I will discuss some of the most important mistakes made by spiritual aspirants. Instead of being disciples they become devotees. There are gurus who are genuine and probably are enlightened. There are also con-men (and con-women) posing to have been enlightened and building their financial empires. I hope that by reading this some devotees become real disciples.

Why did I choose the number 9? I didn’t. It just happened to come out that way, when I finished writing this article. Number 9 is considered a divine number in Hindu Numerology. That is why 108, 54, 27 are considered sacred and rosaries or mAlAs have one of these bead counts. So, I think that was a good (divine?) coincidence. 🙂

Before we move on let’s first define the terms devotee and disciple.

Devotee

A devotee, by definition, has devotion for an entity outside of himself/herself. This entity could be a human guru. A devotee lacks self-reliance and looks up to the object of his devotion for guidance and protection in all aspects of his life. He believes that the object of his devotion is higher than himself, and separate and different from himself, and somehow through his devotion, the entity will enlighten him or give him salvation.

Disciple

A disciple, by contrast, strives for self-mastery through self-reliance and self-confidence. He may have an entity (guru) outside of himself giving him techniques to use. However, he makes the techniques his own and practices them diligently with confidence. This does not mean that he disrespects his guru. In fact, it is to the contrary. A disciple knows that the same essence animates both his embodiment and his gurU‘s. So, he has immense respect and love for the outward manifestation of his guru.

Mistakes on Your Way to Enlightenment

Here are the most important mistakes you should be avoiding on your way to enlightenment.

  1. Attached to guru‘s form—Falling into the trap of worshiping the form of the gurus and their personalities. Trying to mimic them without knowing why a guru is behaving the way he/she is behaving. Not realizing that the true essence behind the embodiment of your guru is the same essence behind your own embodiment. This type of blind worship of the personalities gives rise to cults. A true guru discourages such behavior.
  2. guru‘s grace—Believing that guru‘s “grace” comes from outside of you, from the embodiment of the guru. Not realizing that grace means the guidance of your inner being or Self, because this Self or the inner guide is the sat-guru or the ultimate teacher. Therefore, no grace comes from outside of you. A true guru will give you techniques for you to make contact with your sat-guru. Once you are at this stage, a true spiritual teacher will then encourage you to follow your inner sat-guru.
  3. Refusing to listen to the inner guide—When grace comes from within, you will be guided on your inner journey to the Self by the Self. This usually comes as an inner feeling or voice. This voice may tell you to drop the techniques you are currently practicing and probably also tell you to let go of your current guru. It does not mean that you disrespect your embodied guru. This inner guide may tell you to drop some of your preconceived notions and ideas about life. Refusing to listen to this inner guide and holding on to the past causes a lot of internal tension, anxiety and turmoil. So, listen to your Self. A true spiritual teacher will guide you to get in touch with your inner Self.
  4. Parroting philosophy rather than practicing—Many spiritual seekers love to parrot their guru‘s philosophies and scriptural interpretations rather than practicing the techniques and realizing those philosophies for themselves. Any philosophy or interpretation by another entity is still not your own philosophy or interpretation. Again a real spiritual teacher will encourage you to practice.
  5. Being a spiritual shopper—Some seekers feel that they are not achieving enlightenment by being with their current guru, because they see that a new guru has come into town with new wares. Their friends and acquaintances say this new guru is the best and that this man will surely enlighten everybody. So, they go to this new guru to get these new techniques and so on. They become spiritual shoppers and collectors of spiritual techniques. However, if your inner guide prompts you to go for a different set of techniques from a different person, then that is okay. This you do, provided that you are deeply aware of your Self and listening to your inner guide and not being influenced by outside agencies.
  6. Giving up discrimination—I have seen many spiritual seekers surrender their discriminatory powers completely, when they join an ashram or come under a guru‘s tutelage. Recent past has seen many spiritual teachers taking advantage of their disciples financially, physically and psychologically. These disciples cannot move away from the teachers, because they have surrendered their discriminatory powers completely and are conditioned or brainwashed, or in complete denial. Some people may not want to look gullible, so they justify the actions of their teacher as being that of an enlightened man. A real spiritual teacher will not ask you to surrender yourself to him, but only to your inner being or Self. He/she will not take advantage of you.
  7. Clinging to the gurus—Leaving all decisions about one’s life to gurUs and sacrificing one’s independence. This is because doing so provides security and don’t have to take personal responsibility. Not resolving inner conflicts by oneself through meditation and introspection, but relying on the gurus for explanations. Your guru may give you explanations based on his own deep realizations. But, if you are satisfied by understanding them intellectually, and do not try to realize them for yourself, then you are doing great injustice to yourself and to your teacher. A real spiritual teacher will tell you not to cling to him and tell you to look within for all answers. He/she may give you appropriate techniques to get in touch with your inner guide.
  8. Lacking self-confidence and self-reliance—A true disciple will have self-confidence and is self-reliant. This goes back to the previous point. If you lack confidence in your Self, and are not self-reliant, you are going to keep looking for help from someone or the other. It may be your family members, your friends, co-workers, your pastors, and spiritual guides and teachers. If you do not show self-confidence and self-reliance, you become an easy target for manipulation and to take advantage.
  9. Fear of gurU‘s wrath—Ancient scriptures talk of guru as brahman or Supreme Consciousness itself. For centuries, power hungry priests and guru‘s misrepresented these scriptures in order to subjugate the populace. They induced into the social consciousness that if they were not treated as gods, people would get “bad karma” or accumulate sin. A true guru or spiritual guide is loving and compassionate. He does not demand blind faith. He does not demand anything in return. He will only take anything that a disciple voluntarily gives. He does not distinguish between rich and poor. A true disciple is not afraid of his teacher, but is full of love and respect for him and is at an equal level with the teacher. The disciple knows that the sat-guru is within him and formless, and works even through the form of his teacher.

To know more about the characteristics of true gurus and disciples, see my article, On gurUs and Disciples.

14 thoughts on “9 Mistakes to Avoid on Your Way to Enlightenment”

  1. This is an older post, but timeless. Looking at self-help bookshelves I can’t help but think the personal growth industry is full of money grubbing prophets. They’re happy to share their secrets for some money, recognition, or anything else in return. I wonder if the most enlightened among us are silent spiritual givers. In my opinion, nobody can enlighten you. They can wake you up to a clearer path, but they can’t open your eyes for you. I think you sum it up best with this sentence “A real spiritual teacher will tell you not to cling to him and tell you to look within for all answers.” Great entry Desika.

  2. Ralph,

    You are absolutely right that no one can give us enlightenment that is already within us. We will have to clear up the debris in us to make a clear path for that “light” to shine through. All anybody can do is to teach techniques to clear that debris.

    Thanks for your appreciation and an insightful comment.

    Desika

  3. Dear Sir,
    Should I forsake my current practise of Sandhyavandanam in my quest to attain self realisation?

  4. Dear Jolly Roger,

    Sandhyavandanam is a power spiritual (meditative) practice, if understood in the right context. The whole of Sandhyavandamam is a lead up to Gayatri upasana. Gayatri mantra is quite powerful, if recited correctly and regularly. You don’t need to forsake it. You can augment any other spiritual practice to it.

    It (or any other practice) may fall away on its own — it is fine. Trick is to take the middle path. Neither shunning or grabbing. If anything (including spiritual techniques) falls away by itself, don’t try to hold on to it, let it fall away. In the opposite spectrum, don’t throw away anything, because somebody tells you to or you “think” that you must.

    Use your inner feeling as a yardstick. If grabbing or throwing away causes any inner conflict, then contemplate and come to a conclusion.

    I hope that this answers your questions.

    Thanks,
    Desika

  5. theLivu guruvin thirumEni kANDal
    theLivu guruvin thirunAmam ceppal
    theLivu guruvin thiruvArththai kETTal
    theLivu guruvuru cinthiththal thAnE.

    So, I would not follow all your 9 steps.

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