The Guru Illusion

costa rica yoga teacher training pavones yoga center indira kate kalmbach

Years ago in a yoga class the teacher said something like “When I can’t figure out what to do I just ask myself ‘what would John Friend do?’” She seemed pretty sane, but I couldn’t stop the big flashing warning lights from going off in my head. What is it about yoga that turns perfectly rational human beings into guru-worshippers? You’d think that, what with the long and lurid history of guru debacles, we’d wise up and change our ways.

Costa Rica yoga teacher training Pavones Yoga Center
Surya Namaskar with a PYC Sangha

Then again, I remember as a young student how good it felt to believe wholeheartedly that my teachers lived a perfected existence and would never let me down — would love me forever and ever till death do us part. Isn’t this what Ram Dass found in Maharaji? And the Beatles found in Maharishi? So what gives? Is giving your whole self to someone else the secret to transformation? And if you don’t, are you missing out, will the path not work?

We absolutely do not need a single figurehead to support our spiritual evolution. Instead, the way toward transformation can be a journey guided by sangha, a community of like-minded seekers. In a sangha, members support each other and together manifest dharma, a shared purpose that is unique to each group. Thich Nhat Hanh said, “It is possible that the next Buddha will not take the form of an individual. The next Buddha may take the form of a community. A community practicing understanding and loving-kindness, a community practicing mindful living. This may be the most important thing we can do for the survival of the earth.”

As I sit in the empty space created by the departure of students after our season’s 300-hour yoga teacher training, I can feel the way that each student has shaped me, this place, and each other. I have been witness to countless instances of magic happening, of the path working. As a result of working with many sanghas, and after practicing in my own yogi-cave for many years, I can feel how much more readily magic happens in a group, how much more powerfully we connect with our dharma when there is a shared vision and collective intention.

Because of the lessons I learned as a student, I work ceaselessly as a teacher to ensure that my students hold onto their power. I regularly remind the sangha that it is their own tapas that fuels transformation, that it is the combined energy of a group of people working with shared intentionality that creates a force field ripe for manifesting magic. And then, magic does happen.

NPR recently offered a snippet about crowd wisdom, and it reminded me of sangha wisdom.  (see the end of this article for a snippet, and the link to the full piece is

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, with an emphasis on community and sangha rather than on a single guru we will be less likely to fill in that “what would ________ do?” phrase with any name other than our own. I write this in honor of each person who has been a part of a PYC sangha and shared their tapas here. Together we create magic. Einstein said, “You can live as if nothing is a miracle, or as if everything is…” I am blessed to find myself always surrounded by people who live as if everything is a miracle.

In endless gratitude,


From Alix Spiegel on NPR:

“The wisdom of crowds is a concept first discovered by the British statistician Francis Galton in 1906.

Galton was at a fair where about 800 people had tried to guess the weight of a dead ox in a competition. After the prize was awarded, Galton collected all the guesses so he could figure out how far off the mark the average guess was.

It turned out that most of the guesses were really bad — way too high or way too low. But when Galton averaged them together, he was shocked:

The dead ox weighed 1,198 pounds. The crowd’s average: 1,197.

Finding The True Signal

“There’s a lot of noise, a lot of statistical random variation,” Tetlock said. “But it’s random variation around a signal, a true signal, and when you add all of the random variation on each side of the true signal together, you get closer to the true signal.”

In other words, there are errors on every side of the mark, but there is a truth at the center that people are responding to, and if you average a large number of predictions together, the errors will end up canceling each other out, and you are left with a more accurate guess.

That is the wisdom of the crowd.”

4 thoughts on “The Guru Illusion

  1. daniellecduffy says:

    oh Indira…this has been resonating in my heart so much lately. being so nurtured and supported by the pyc sangha recently, and continuing the support here on the island in our meditations. the inner teacher asks the questions, the dharmic cues are calling. i have felt like arjuna lately…wondering what to do . sometimes it seems dharma calls one in a direction that feels counterintuitive, only to find out it was attachment. but the signs of affirmation are inside, as well as out and about. hearing them, seeing them, feeling them, i smile. like that einstein quote you have here, why that was just in my face last night as i prepared a class. i had never read that one. i thought, yeah, thats totally it. and here it is again.
    gotta love the sangha’s singing support!!!
    sending love through all the ethers…..and thru the darkest depths…..transformation is felt.
    xoxo danielle

    1. Pavones Yoga Center says:

      Danielle, thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing this heartfelt reality …and I love the Einstein synchronicity, I take it as a real sign of our interconnectedness. 🙂 Magic and miracles everywhere ❤ can't wait to see you on BLock Island this fall! xx Indira

  2. Richard I. Sho Albert says:

    Dearest Indira,

    I laughed out loud thinking of what the person who once relied on “What would John Friend do” to determine their next step.

    On the flipside, I must confess to be very much under the spell of that same expression , and doggedly uphold the One Truth that was revealed to me at Pavona Yoga Center and remains my life-compass: *What would DOS do?*

    *HAPPY SPRING to you, dear Alex, and dear Pedro*

    *[image: Inline image 1] * Spring is nature’s way of saying, ” Let’s Party*!” * * ~ *Robin Williams

    I noted, with a big smile, the return of Canada’s favorite yogic Olympian, Ron Davidson, to the return to PYC for the July 200-hour. HOW FUN!!!

    I LOVE YOU, Indira! ===Sho===

    On Mon, Apr 7, 2014 at 6:46 PM, Pavones Yoga Center’s The Salty Dog Yoga

    1. Pavones Yoga Center says:

      Dearest Beloved Sho, you always make me laugh and smile, and I often find myself wandering the streets of NYC trying to decide where to eat and dance, and thinking to myself “what would richard sho albert do???” but then I just ask you and it is decided! I LOVE YOU BACK SHO!!! ❤ Indira

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