Those of us on a spiritual path may have developed any number of good spiritual practices such as meditation, visualization, and mindfulness, but even the most seasoned practitioner sometimes needs direction and guidance.
Traditionally, that has been the role of the religious teacher—more commonly referred to as a “guru”—but such people are few in number, with most of them being found only in India and a few other enclaves around the planet. Even those who have made their way to the west—and those westerners who have taken on the mantle of master themselves—are uncommon.
Considering the pace of growth a more awakened world is seeing, we are left with just not enough gurus to go around, leaving many of us pondering what to do next in our quest towards realizing enlightenment.
Fortunately, technology has come to the rescue in the form of the internet.
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Arrival of the Internet
When the internet first came on the scene back in the late ’80s, it was hard to imagine the impact it would have on our world, especially in regards to religion and spirituality.
Prior to that, if one wanted to pull a quote from the Bible, they had little choice but to work their way through the 66 books that constitute the modern Bible until they stumbled across what they were looking for. If they were lucky, they might have a concordance to assist them, or at least a Bible commentary. But for the most part, one had to either know their Bible well, ask a minister, or do things the old fashioned—and labor intensive—way.
Now, however, one needs only google in a few words from memory, such as “the lion and the lamb will lie down together” to be rewarded with over half a million hits. One will also immediately learn that the phrase is not an exact quote from scripture but rather a combination of thoughts from a couple of verses, more specifically Isaiah 11:6 and 65:25, something which could’ve taken hours to learn before. The change is even more pronounced when it comes to spiritual teachings. If one wanted to pursue enlightenment a century ago, the westerner would have needed to travel to India, find an ashram, and seek out a guru from which to learn—a costly prospect few could afford or would have had the inclination to pursue.
Today, however, we can not only read the writings of even the most obscure spiritual teachers on line, but watch many of them from the comfort of our homes via YouTube and/or their personal websites.
The advantages of this is obvious; one can literally study at the feet of dozens or even hundreds of gurus, teachers, or enlightened masters, anytime and almost any place. No longer does one need to find an ashram to join, and there is no chance of the guru rejecting you as a student. Now the spiritual seeker has a virtual smorgasbord of teachers, ideas, and styles from which to choose, making the pursuit of enlightenment no more difficult than shopping for a pair of shoes on Amazon.
As a result, what would have been impossible 50 years ago is now as easy of a few mouse clicks, opening up enlightenment to literally billions of people around the world who otherwise might never be aware of these masters or possess the means to take advantage of their teachings. This can only pay huge dividends down the road as millions integrate their teachings into their own life and practices and speed the process of worldwide spiritual enlightenment up considerably.
Of course, there is a downside to such convenience. Perhaps the biggest of these is the lack of ability to interact with one’s favorite teachers. Simply listening to your chosen “guru” online—while helpful and potentially inspiring—can never replace that personal touch of being one of their actual students, leaving one feeling somewhat isolated in their practice. Community is an important part of the spiritual process, which the internet cannot provide (except through blogs and social media, though this is hardly a substitute for face-to-face interaction).
Additionally, there is the problem that one can easily pick up some poor teaching on the internet as well from well-meaning but presumptuous individuals who imagine themselves to be enlightened masters but who are putting out teachings that are simply not spiritually valid, to the detriment of many followers. The old adage “let the buyer beware” must apply to the internet as much as it does to the marketplace.
While nothing can entirely replace the closeness and communion of having a personal guru, the ability to choose which teachers is the best “fit” for your personality is a positive one. Just as the advent of the printing press set the stage for the Age of Enlightenment of the eighteenth century, so too may the internet be setting the stage for the next Age of Spiritual Enlightenment in the twenty-first century.
Only time—and bandwidth—will tell.