Some of us turn to gurus to help us home. In the Hindu tradition, a distinction is made between two types: (1) sat-guru, and (2) upa-guru. A sat-guru is a realized master. She is the way. Amma and Neeb Karori Baba are said to be examples of sat-guru. An upa-guru is a door opener. They influence a shift in your consciousness. They show you some part of the way. Anyone—your mother, your cat, the homeless guy who tells you to get out of your head—can be an upa-guru.
When someone presents themselves as a sat-guru, or when we project sat-guru onto someone, we tread on dangerous ground. To be sure, some individuals are worthy of our devotion, but we have to be very careful. The legacy of the exploitative guru is a long one, and it has caused undue suffering.
There are many signs that we are dealing with an ungrounded and potentially untrustworthy spiritual teacher. For instance, they have one set of rules for you, one for them. They deny their unresolved issues. They see the body as substandard or entirely distinct from the soul. They reframe painful life experiences only in terms of spiritual learning. They see the world of emotions as illusion (except when it is convenient not to). They rely on their so-called purity as an excuse for not forming adult boundaries. They defend their behavior by reference to a higher knowing. If you complain about their actions, you are told that your complaints are emanating from the mundane world and that you just can’t grasp their lens. They may also re-frame their own dysfunction in heightened terms (“I quit the world because I had a higher calling”) rather than facing their shadow head-on (“I had too many issues to deal with the world”). A giant warning sign is the use of “the mirror” as a defense against wrongdoing. The guru claims that his (questionable) actions were not actually for his own benefit but done with the conscious intention of reflecting back to you the unresolved aspects of your own consciousness. If you felt betrayed, it was because you have issues around betrayal that you need to look at.
If we do choose to sit before someone, grounded spirituality demands that we check in as to our motivation. If we are lost in the perfection projection, we need to own that. If we are looking for the good father or mother, we need to own that too. In most cases, the guru is just a travel agent for the particular trip that helped him to become more aligned. With only rare exceptions, he cannot tell us our truth. He cannot tell us what to know. The most he can do is call out to our knowing and remind us of what we inherently knew all along. Anything else is usually a misappropriation of karmic funds. Be careful.