Last Sunday, when I was at Eastern Market to get apples and pears, I saw a small, painted wood statue of Kuan Yin. I have been attracted to this one of the 330 million gods and goddesses for some time. Her primary attribute is compassion. She is said to be a female Chinese metamorphosis of the Buddhist bodhisattva Avalotikeshvara, who, according to some, is an emanation of the Hindu deity Shiva.
She had a price tag of $70 around her neck. It was too much, especially since her hand and foot looked like they had just broken off in transit.
Still, I was attracted to her. The vendor, who is from Pakistan, came over to talk to me, asking me if I was interested.
“Too high,” I said.
“What would you pay?”
Knowing it is holiday season, and the vendors really need to do well to survive the winter, I suggested $45, thinking it was really too much, but I very much liked the impeccably serene expression on her face.
“You have bought things from me before,” he said. I’d bought a couple of older rugs from him last Spring, at which time he had chatted with me for a while and showed me a picture of his chosen guru. “You are a divine being; I will give her to you for free.”
“I bet you say that to all your customers,” I replied.
“Everyone is divine, yes,” he said, ” but you are different. You know it.”
Somewhat overwhelmed by this, I thanked him for the honor and took out my wallet. I had $42 and change. “I will pay $40.”
I paid him and walked her home unwrapped in my arms, thinking it will be hard to live up to his expectations. Who better, though, to remind me to relate to others, always recognizing their inherent divinity (whatever that might mean to me or anyone else), than the goddess of compassion?
Where the wood was raw from having been broken, I rubbed the edges with ash from Chidambaram temple (that I happened to have in the studio), so that the breaks would not visually distract, and one would only notice the sweet face.
A yoga teacher acquaintance once said rather dogmatically to me that it was not possible to be a true yoga teacher unless one had a guru. He meant having a guru in the traditional sense — being devoted to a particular person as the embodiment of the divine and of the true teachings. I did not engage on the issue, thinking (perhaps unfairly) that he would not listen to another point of view.
I do not have a guru in the technical sense. It would be unlikely. I was raised attending unprogrammed meetings of the Society of Friends (Quakers), where services are premised on the idea that there should be no preacher or minister because the light of the spirit shines equally in all and that each person is equally able to connect through his or her own faith and practice to the spirit. My first major exposure to the teachings of yoga was through the writings of J. Krishnamurti, which a teacher in an alternative program in high school I attended gave us to read, along with the classic yoga texts. Krishnamurti believed that all change comes from within and eschewed devotion to a guru.
Although I do not have a particular guru to whom I give my devotion (bhakti), I strive to honor and recognize that our true teacher is the light and spirit that is within all beings. The first line of the Anusara invocation — om namah shivaya gurave — resounds with truth for me.
On this guru purnima, the full moon of July, I honor the teachings that have so shifted my life, my teachers, especially John Friend and Suzie Hurley, and all of my students and friends, who shine with light always, and who inspire me to try each day to live more aligned with the ideals of yoga.