The Manchurian Candidate Student….

RohiniGuru and Disciple, Reflections, Uncategorized

Some people do not have the capacity to see me. They decide me. So they never know me; they only know what they project on me. The picture they project depends on what they bring to the table unconsciously. And sometimes, I can’t even recognize myself in their projections.

These people already have a guru—their early guru. They are committed to that guru unconsciously. Usually, it is one or both parents—their first caregivers. I will see this, but they will deny it and are certain it is not true. In the ashram, Baba used to test people to see whom they followed. No one was independent, though they thought they were. They all had an early guru that they followed religiously, so they could never learn from Baba. I watched this resistance, but did not understand it. Now I do.

These people are actually like Laurence Harvey’s character in The Manchurian Candidate. The people who brainwashed him picked him because they knew he was committed in a particular way to his mother, who was their agent. He is almost completely programmed to see his mother as an absolute authority in all things; all she has to do is cue him by showing him his trigger, the Queen of Diamonds, and he will follow her every suggestion. If someone else by accident shows him that card, he will react just the same. Only through a wrenching and ultimately fatal act of courage is he able to break through that programming.

For us, the early stages of sādhana involve exposing and disentangling from the similar programming that has shaped our lives. We have to find a teacher who wants the best for us and has proved to be skillful and trustworthy. Assessing that teacher can be difficult, as we are still bound by our program. But there has to be a surrender to someone outside the program. People who are still unconsciously committed to their early guru will fight anyone who tries to free them, because they do not see freedom for what it is.

Their reaction is reflected in these two fourchotomies:

Know better than Able and willing to learn
Testing / wrestling Servile / hollow


Fight Cooperate
Stand up Cave in


Clearly, they have a problem with authority. They aspire to be their early guru, whom they believe to be all-powerful and all-knowing. For them, to accept any other guidance is to cave in, and to be willing to take instruction is to be servile.

So they really just come to have their egos affirmed. As long as my guidance dovetails with their chosen identity, I am a good teacher; as soon as the two diverge, I am no longer worth listening to. And as long as the focus is not on their individual selves but on abstractions and people in general, all is okay.

In other words, they like spiritual practice as long as it remains purely theoretical and no feelings get hurt. But I am a practitioner, so anyone who works with me is going to have to face themselves, and it will hurt. That is the nature of real spiritual practice. As Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse puts it:

It is such a mistake to assume that practicing dharma will help us calm down and lead an untroubled life; nothing could be farther from the truth. Dharma is not a therapy. Quite the opposite, in fact, dharma is tailored specifically to turn your life upside down—it’s what you sign up for. So when your life goes pear-shaped, why do you complain? If you practise and your life fails to capsize, it is a sign that what you are doing is not working. (Not for Happiness 8)

One woman who came to private classes some years ago did so because, in her mind, she was fine but surrounded by awful people doing terrible things to her, and she needed support dealing with them. As long as I didn’t focus on her and made sure she knew that nothing was her fault, all was okay. But at some point, we all have to see that the common denominator for every terrible situation we’re in is us. Once the mirror was held up to her, I became the mean person who didn’t understand. This is all too common.

If someone wants to cling to their early guru and their shrunken identity, they can simply think of me as ignorant and unrefined, and of themselves as sophisticated and knowledgeable about themselves and the world.


Practitioner Theorist
Ignorant / artless / naïve / unrefined / unsophisticated Cultivated / sophisticated


The Manchurian Candidate student knows better than the teacher he is looking at. He is “independent”—but in the sense in which the word is used as code for unteachable and unmanageable. “Stay strong” is his power trip. He sees everything in terms of power. So around me, he feels agitated, because the shakti discomfits people who are into power.

The work of spiritual practice, though, is about discomfort—at least for the shrunken self. Often, the Manchurian Candidate student’s belief is that if you deny problems, they will sooner or later go away. If someone calls a problem a problem and deals with it, that person is accused of creating problems. So I end up being cast as the promoter of problems.

Then comes the disrespect. Convinced that listening to me means caving in, the Manchurian Candidate student resents being taught. “I can’t do it without you, but I hate your guts”: this message comes through in countless ways. And that student then rationalizes his rudeness. “If you’re spiritual, none of this should bother you”, he thinks, “so I can say whatever I want to you.” No, he can’t. It’s still rude. At this point, I may need to raise my voice as I speak to his underlying vibration of arrogance, defensiveness, and hostility. Then the recalcitrant student can regard me as a tyrant. It never occurs to him that the real tyrant is his commitment to his early guru, which dominates his life.

To be clear, I am not talking about legitimate testing and wrestling and questioning. It is one thing for new people to question—that is completely appropriate. But when people who have studied with me closely for years, who have been shown the validity and value of the practice, continue to be skeptical and believe me to be cruel for telling the truth, they need to leave. They need to return to their original teacher, whom they have never really left, anyway.

The real question is this: how many times does someone’s life have to be dramatically changed for the better for them to decide that a teacher like me is worth listening to? People committed to their early guru will not even be willing to frame that question; they will confront the true teacher’s authority with the smugness and authoritarianism of their own sure voice.


Authority Authoritarian
Smug Stalwart / disciplined


On the other hand, when you do practice—when you work to be with your experience, let whatever comes up come up, and function appropriately on the physical plane—you will appear appropriate to most people in the world. If you are videotaped acting appropriately, then no matter what others are doing, you will look appropriate on tape. When you project onto a true teacher “tyrant” or any other kind of authoritarian tag, you look inappropriate. Watch your tapes.

Spiritual practice is not easy, and it is definitely not comfortable. Like the character in The Manchurian Candidate, you have to face and dismantle the forces that have controlled you. If you don’t want to do that work, don’t blame the practice. You can always stick with your early guru.





















Share this Post