The guru-disciple relationship is the basis of possible transfer of valuable kinds of knowledge from an experienced adult to a less accomplished person. But is apparently much more often the means of exploitation of others. It is an ancient form of so-called ‘spiritual ‘ instruction, no doubt going back to the earliest beginnings of human society. As such it uses effective methods which are based on consistent and long-standing person-to-person encounter of a kind which is seldom experience between teachers and students in modern society. Yet, on the negative side, it is invariably tied up with primitive beliefs, superstitions and religious sectarian ideas.
Opposed to this I would assert that personal development of the kind desirable for self-knowledge and the maximum fulfillment of one’s abilities requires that the person must progressively free himself inwardly from all fruitless ideas and especially beliefs without the strongest foundation. The meaning of ‘spiritual’ then becomes close to autonomous ability to perceive and act upon human values in everyday life.
There is an intellectual weakness in following a guru. As the inset scan from the so-called 'spiritual research foundation' we get confirmation that a guru is not considered just to be a teacher, but a ‘spiritual guide’ having pretensions of being more enlightened about life and ‘holy matters’ (i.e. speculative ideas) who tell devotees to distrust their minds and even their sense and trust in faith, the heart (which is just another word for the emotions) and the supposed ‘holy scriptures’. Those who fall for the deception about gurus' stock-in-trade on spiritual superiority can have positive experiences through prejection (conscious and subconscious) onto his person of qualities which create an interaction that can be inspiring becaue of its novelty and new ways of thinking and relating. However, there is a wealth of evidence available in literature which shows that the promise never bears any real fruits and leads to a huge waste of energy, time and personal resources. This is my experience after very deep involvement with Indian gurus, not least for two decades with Sathya Sai Baba, who turned out to be a bogus claimant. Despite the numinous and impressive nature of Sathya Sai Baba's successes with apparent major miracles, backed by his developed intuition and constant testimonies worldwide on his supernatural powers, his entire belief system turned out to be a projection engendered and reinforced the indoctrination about the divine nature and abilities of the guru.
To find someone who seems to know what others don’t to tell you what to do… a kind of father or mother substitute to lighten your own responsibility is a snare! It is dangerous to give up one’s basic human autonomy to anyone. It takes most who get entrapped a long time to realize what they lost, if they are fortunate enough to get to see through the entire bogus relationship. A genuine teacher, however, passes on knowledge which can be tried and tested against reality and to which he does not lay claim as a personal discovery. Promoters of gurus believe in the old moralism about everyone other than gurus having a ‘false ego’ as preached in Indian religion - with all that surrounds this moralism. (Read about what ‘ego’ and/or ‘self’ mean)
“In general, emotional ties are very important to human beings. But they still contain projections, and it is essential to withdraw these projections in order to attain to oneself and to objectivity. Emotional relationships are relationships of desire, tainted by coercion and constraint; something is expected from the other person, and that makes him and ourselves unfree. Objective cognition lies hidden behind the attraction of the emotional relationship; it seems to be the central secret.”
C. G. Jung ‘Memories, Dreams and reflections’ New York 1963., p. 296-7
There is a great difference between relating to another living person as a spiritual guru and as a human being. The disciple-guru relationship is one in which a very strong positive projection onto the guru figure is involved, whereby the guru functions in a ‘spiritual reaction’ as what has been called ‘a symbol’ in the same way that some chemical reactions require a catalyst. Brunton has written:-
“Even if the Symbol were a man devoid of spiritual power and light, its effects would still appear beneficially within his life. This is because he has imagined it to be powerful and enlightening and the creative power of his own thought produces some benefit. If however the Symbol were an evil and living man, then the effects would be more or less harmful. This is because a subconscious telepathic working exists between the two minds though the intense devotion and passive submission of the one to the other.” Paul Brunton, The Notebooks of Paul Brunton - Essays on the Quest Samuel Weiser, Inc., York Beach, Maine, 1985 chapter 9, p. 350-1)
How projection onto others functions, for better and worse
The unconscious continually projects compelling images, whether they are expressions of the shadow, the anima, or the wise old man. For Jung:-
"Projections change the world into the replica of one's own unknown face. It's a major psychological event, often an important milestone in individuation, when we recognize and withdraw a projection. Then what we believed was objective is seen as our own psychology being reflected back to us by emotion-laden images of the outer world. Only when we clearly see this are the compulsion and distortion of the projection broken. It is like a shaft of sunlight knifing through the early morning fog. We are astonished at how projection clouded our vision and action, how it emotionally pulled us this way and that, how our fantasies fabricated the world. How the psyche deceived us and yet educated us, obscured truth and revealed it!" and "psychological projection veils the object projected upon and reveals the subject projecting. The removal of a projection frees us from the obscured object, allows us to see it more clearly, increases our self-knowledge, and restores to us the emotional energy and psychological attributes we had formerly projected. Like a drowning man gulping fresh air, we relish our freedom from the compulsive power of the old projection, the old illusion, and celebrate the reclaimed talent or content. Through projection the psyche manufactures our world, which we then take as objectively real. The great difficulty is that while caught in a projection we are fully convinced that the offending or attracting quality is truly in the object. We have not the slightest doubt that the quality is where we see it-in the outer world-where we have no control over it."
C.G. Jung Aion (1955). CW 14: P.17.
"Projection is a pivotal notion in depth psychology because it is the first mode of expression, in waking consciousness, of a content of the unconscious. For example, what others might consider just an ordinary woman becomes, for the right man, an alluring enchantress. Through the magic of projection she can become irresistible, as she incarnates his own feminine nature, an unconscious content that seeks the light of consciousness. While projecting he never clearly sees the individual woman nor is he free from compulsion. Perhaps most important, if we are projecting, we have not assimilated that content. For example, the ardent lover never directly contacts his own feminine nature, never directly knows the feminine personification of his own soul, but is bound to its carrier in the outer world. In short, while projecting we neither know nor have conscious access to the function involved. Yet, individuation demands that we consciously integrate these contents and psychological powers into our psyche. As Jung says, "The detachment of the imagos that give the object their exaggerated significance restores to the subject that split-off energy which he urgently needs for his own development."
"The world is as it ever has been, but our consciousness undergoes peculiar changes. First, in remote times (which can still be observed among primitives living today), the main body of psychic life was apparently in human and in nonhuman Objects: it was projected, as we should say now. Consciousness can hardly exist in a state of complete projection. At most it would be a heap of emotions. Through the withdrawal of projections, conscious knowledge slowly developed. Science, curiously enough, began with the discovery of astronomical laws, and hence with the withdrawal, so to speak, of the most distant projections. This was the first stage in the despiritualization of the world. One step followed another: already in antiquity the gods were withdrawn from mountains and rivers, from trees and animals. Modern science has subtilized its projections to an almost unrecognizable degree, but our ordinary life still swarms with them. You can find them spread out in the newspapers, in books, rumours, and ordinary social gossip. All gaps in our actual knowledge are still filled out with projections. We are still so sure we know what other people think or what their true character is."
"Psychology and Religion" (1938) In CW II: Psychology and Religion: West and East. P. 140