Reprinted from publication in 2013 for Rebelle Society online magazine:
Wolverine The Yogi – A Parable for Evaluating Spiritual Teachers and Experiences
Do you have your doubts about a particular spiritual teacher, or teaching? Is it real, is it true, does it work, can it harm instead of doing good? How can you know if you’re wasting your time, energy, money, or worse? The answer turns out to be unexpected.
In order to make the best of your doubts or confusion concerning a teacher or a teaching, consider this ancient parable about a saint who lived in a forest. We’ll call him Wolverine, since the original Indian name has been forgotten. Wolverine is a colorful yogi – one of those naked wildmen. He is a mystic who has abandoned home, society and all worldly concerns in pursuit of divine self-discovery. (You often read about such saints in Indian accounts, and they may even still exist.) Wolverine remains in isolation in the forest with his guru, who teaches him various skills over the years in an effort to help him to reach enlightenment and realize the ultimate reality. One of the training methods is archery.
Wolverine spends his days in training and in devoted service to his guru, whom he worships with all his heart as a completely enlightened one. Each day, the yogi hunts and gathers food, which he offers first to the guru, and then, if there is enough for two, he partakes for himself a lesser portion, leaving the meat and more delicious fruit for his master, who never appears to eat. Wolverine washes his guru’s feet, and weaves wreathes of fragrant blossoms, which he places around his beloved guru’s neck. The stoic guru rarely speaks or acknowledges Wolverine, preferring to remain in meditation. So great is the guru’s harmlessness and attraction that all manner of wild animals approach him, often alighting on his shoulder or resting in his lap or at his feet. There is always an animal of some kind taking refuge in the guru. The guru’s only activity is to offer Wolverine correction from time to time, which Wolverine quickly accepts.
Years pass. Day and night, the only thoughts Wolverine thinks, and the only words he speaks, are praises for the holiness of his guru, and gratitude for his own amazing fortune in meeting and receiving the blessings of a fully realized master. The only actions he engages in are his training, or actions in service to his master. Thus, over the years, Wolverine’s mind and body are purified. Passing forest nymphs attempt to seduce him; he doesn’t even notice them. Nothing can break his focus. Yet, he cannot seem to cross over to the other shore. He remains perpetually locked in a state of near-realization, never quite attaining the union he yearns for so desperately.
Redoubling his efforts, he trains harder, serves his master with more earnest devotion, and beseeches him daily to bless him so that he might know God. But nothing changes. Like a fly slamming itself repeatedly against a glass window pane, oblivious to the door ajar only a meter away, Wolverine tries harder, and harder, to no avail. He exhausts himself, and, entering a depressed state, he ceases all activity, including eating and drinking, and sits at the feet of his guru, begging for deliverance.
Days pass, and Wolverine is hovering at death’s edge, when suddenly, an arrow whistles through the air and, missing a bird that had perched itself on his meditating guru’s shoulder, pierces the guru’s throat, beheading him. The guru’s head rolls away. Dumbstruck, Wolverine stares at his guru’s upright body, which is bloodless, and does not move. The yogi turns to see two hunters approaching him with concern.
‘Are you hurt?’ They ask him, fearful of having harmed a holy man.
‘You’ve just killed my guru!’ Wolverine exclaims.
‘What? Where?’ The second hunter asks, truly confounded.
‘There, you fool!’ Wolverine points to his teacher.
‘Are you a mad saint, then?’ Asks the first hunter.
‘That’s a boulder, not a person,’ offers the second.
Wolverine turns back to his beloved guru, and sees for the first time a moss-covered rock, roughly in the shape of a beheaded man seated in meditation. In a flash of insight, he realizes that his guru was, and always had been in his own mind, and was therefore neither dead nor a rock. Falling into ecstatic trance, he finally attains realization.
When we finally take responsibility for the experience we are having, we are able to make wiser choices. When we see that we were teaching ourselves all along, and that everyone is both a teacher and a student, we transcend duality.
In the end, it is not so important who or what the teacher is – it could be a charlatan, a rock, or a dog. What is important is what you make of it. If it’s harmful, or if you can make nothing from it, move on. If you find meaning in it, take responsibility for your own education. A teacher can be immoral or even wrong, but if you able to reach a deeper level of discernment as a result, you will still feel gratitude. In this age where we expect to be spoon-fed our education with entertainment and sugar on top, this radical re-orienting of responsibility can resolve ‘the irons’ of spirtual progress – stagnation, inner turmoil and confusion.
© 2013, 2017 Eva Hermogenes. All rights reserved. Reprint by permission only.