I feel like I am underground in some gigantic maze, or cave system, or set of catacombs. There is hardly any light, so I can barely see anything - I gain most of my information from touch, as I grope along the walls of the tunnels. So what do I do? What is my optimum strategy?
There are places I get to in my maze which are fairly pleasant, or I can make fairly pleasant. Maybe light a fire, and be able to see and become familiar with my immediate neighbourhood. Perhaps it is spacious - the often small tunnels have become a cave, where I can set up home.
I sometimes go exploring - sometimes getting back to my 'home' after learning a little bit more about the limits of my local neighbourhood, and sometimes venturing beyond my familiar territory, getting quite lost and frightened, and maybe having to set up a new 'home' or familiar area where I spend my time.
I have never reached the limits of this maze system, and I have no idea of what terrors - or pleasures - lurk within it. I have experienced terrible things that have come out from somewhere in the maze and devastated me; and sometimes I have experienced beautiful things. I am pretty sure that there are more terrible things than I have yet experienced, and also that there are more beautiful things.
My beatnik and hippy days in the mid 60's was finding a box of fireworks in a tunnel, setting up a campfire in a cavern, and just watching the show. In the late 60's a whole set of fireworks went off at once, and I was burned by the explosion. I became aware that this maze was really a bad place to be in. My reading all kinds of religious and yoga stuff was like reading about how there was an exit from this maze into glorious sunshine and open air, and that made me feel good.
However, while there were many prescriptions as to how to find this exit, none actually went anywhere for me. For many people, it was enough to simply believe that the exit into the sunshine exists, and that made living in the underground tunnels somehow more acceptable.
But I did not accept it, and my stay in the Buddhist monastery in 1969 was my first serious attempt to listen to people (Buddhist monks) tell me that they had found the exit, and if I did what they did, I would too.
And then I met Maharaji. His message was: (1) my maze was really a treacherous place, and the only sane activity was to put all my efforts into getting out; (2) I could never find the exit on my own; (3) I needed to give myself to him completely, and then he with his grace, through my practicing his Knowledge, would guide me through this tricky maze into the sunshine.
And for the next 30 years this is what I did. I firmly believed that there was an exit, and I thought I knew exactly what it was like, and what the sunshine was like. In fact, I was stuck in the same maze as before, but the difference was that I did not go where before I wanted or felt to go, but I went where I was told to go, or thought I was told to go.
It took me close on 30 years to realise that I was stumbling around the same old maze, with no actual sight of any exit, but only exhortations and promises: Just put in all your effort to climb up this wall and along that tunnel, and then you will see! But when I got there, there was nothing to see but more of the same; and the answer was: Well, you did not climb with enough sincerity/gratitude/longing/devotion... (take your pick) and that is why you cannot see the exit - but you are really near, just one more big effort... And so it continued.
So now I have left Maharaji, and there is great relief in being able to grope along the walls as I want to grope, and not as I am told to or think I ought. But I am still in the same maze, and now not even sure whether there is an exit at all. Is this maze all that exists? Is there any glorious sunshine somewhere out there to bask in? Even if there is, how does that help me, given that I have no clue how to get there? Or to be precise, I have too many clues, an abundance of clues, but I am pretty nearly convinced that they are all valueless.
So, back to the question I started with, in this analogy, what is my best course of action? First, I think, I have to fully accept that this maze I inhabit is deeper, more complex, more simple perhaps, and certainly holds far more than I have yet explored. In other words, I am ignorant of it in its totality and its full extent - that is obvious.
My second acceptance has to be that while I may be overall ignorant, in local matters I can be quite knowledgeable. If I set up a temporary 'home', I can get to know well my immediate neighbourhood. Even as I am groping along an unknown tunnel, there is a whole set of sense impressions about my very immediate locality which tells me something about it - I am touching the walls, perhaps I can see dimly, I can certainly shout and hear echoes, maybe smell something.
These two facts - that I am ignorant of the totality, the global; but have intimate knowledge through perception of the local - seem to me pretty solid.
So what are the role of teachers to me now? First, any teacher who says 'I know where the exit is, and I can show you' is just not believable. Now it may be that there is one in a million teachers who says that who really does know where the exit is, and who really can take me there - in which case I have just lost the lottery. But I will accept that, since it saves me having to purchase lottery tickets endlessly. It is clear that I cannot judge a true teacher - for 30 years I was utterly convinced in one, who turned out not to be, so I have been conned by the very best.
So I eschew any teacher who claims to have a global picture, and talks about it, and gives me a set of instructions to realise the same global picture as he/she does. This probably cuts out the vast majority of spiritual or meditation teachers.
So what I find valuable is someone who can help me, or give me confidence, in my own local experience - not interpret it for me, but suggest ways I can enrich it and learn more from what I experience. For example, he might suggest that in my tunnel system I might learn more from smells (say) - dank stale air probably means a dead-end; fresh flowing air means a spacious tunnel network is ahead - something like that.
The local is all that I really have; if there is a global, it can only be realised by my pursuing my local.