My first reaction to reading these posts is, nothing to see here. It's not just the gratuitous personal criticism, it's the absence of any real understanding of esoteric process. Not that Tom doesn't have some genuine spiritual experience and a lifetime of pondering these things. It's just that, like Da himself, much of this is negated by what I have previously called "spiritual narcissism", which ends up inverting both spiritual understanding and spiritual values until they are hardly recognizable, either in word or in Spirit.
To understand what Elias is up to, and where he makes his mistakes, it's important to understand the distinction between spiritual narcissism and genuine spiritual esotericism. The distinction is often lost in the general confusion of popular spiritual discussion. Spiritual narcissists are quite common - in fact, we could really classify almost everyone as a spiritual narcissist to some degree, it's just that some people go overboard with it and lose themselves in their own self-imagery.
The way I understand narcissism in general is that it revolves around the abuse of the internal process of self-imagery and self-imagination. All of us have self-images of ourselves, and all of us make use of those self-images in both ordinary and exceptional ways. It's part of the psychological structure of the human cognitive process. And it has a role to play in the spiritual process as well. It's intrinsic to the entire process of identification with form, whether human or otherwise, and it demonstrates how "mind" relates to form through imagery.
In short, once we identify with our human form, we also create an image of that form in our minds, and that image becomes an important aspect of our sense of identity. But this process is not limited to the human form. It also occurs in relation to our spiritual forms and body as well, and we form spiritual self-images that aren't necessarily connected to the physical body, except to the degree that our spiritual and physical bodies are connected.
The process of human incarnation, as I've described before, is essentially a bio-spiritual fusion of our spiritual bodies and "self" with the physical body and its "self". The connection between the two is not magical, it's a very down-to-earth process of growing connectivity on both a neural and a subtle level between these two bodies. In the course of growing those connections there are all kinds of problems that can arise, all kinds of confused feedback and mirroring can occur, one prominent aspect of which is the phenomena of "spiritual narcissism", in which one's self-image becomes inflated and confused by the flow of spiritual and bodily energies and awareness that naturally occurs in the course of self-aware living.
In the process of incarnating, the sense of self becomes a bit mangled, so to speak. What are we as human beings? Are we the physical body, or a spiritual self? In a very real sense, there are two competing senses of self at work in us, in that the physical body is an intelligent but rather limited being with its own self-image, based on the body and the limited characteristics of the physical world, and the subtle body is a much more intelligent and creative being with its own self-image, based on the far more expansive nature of the subtle body and the subtle worlds. There's a basic conflict between these two selves and their corresponding self-images, and one of the major challenges of incarnation in the physical body and world is to coordinate these two properly. That's no small task, as I think we can see from the vast confusion in the world over these matters, at all levels, morally, ethically, spiritually, religiously, psychologically, socially, and so on.
Self-imagery is an inevitable consequence of identification with any body or world, because identification creates a mirroring process in consciousness, and this carries forth into the actual structure of the brain or nervous system of any body we seem to have, whether it is physical or subtle in nature. This is meant to be a helpful process, allowing us to work through some of our problems in an internal, imaginative, and symbolic sense. Creativity is virtually impossible without the imaginative process of internal imagery, which naturally involves creating images of not only the whole world, but of ourselves, and then working with these images in a manner to fashion genuine "technological" advances in our physical and spiritual experience.
There's a natural feedback mechanism that keeps this process of imagination from departing too far from the realities of body and world, however, and it's very important that this feedback mechanism remain healthy and functional, or the imagination can lead us into a lot of delusions and trouble. The feedback mechanism is essentially a grounding of observation and imagination in real experience, constantly disciplining our internal imagery through "reality checks" that correct us if we are creating images that don't correspond to our experience, and thus preventing ourselves from turning these images into illusions that we think are real in and of themselves. And that is the problem with spiritual narcissism. It tends to create a self-image that is increasingly disconnected from the body and world, either gross or subtle, and we begin to live in and through the self-image, rather than through direct experience. This is how inflated (and also deflated) self-images come into being and literally begin to "possess" our sense of self. It isn't necessarily a sign of spiritual immaturity or lack of spiritual experience. In fact it can be a result of an excess of spiritual experience that we may have difficulty processing and understanding.
My understanding of Da's problems are not of someone who lacks genuine spiritual experience, or even a lack of genuine esoteric experience and understanding. However, I do see someone who was overwhelmed by his own spiritual experience, and could no longer form a genuinely healthy self-image, but who instead began to live in and through his self-image, and in the process lost track of the genuine esoteric process that lies beyond self-imagery and world-imagery. That is in part why Da is such a tragic figure, rather than merely a comical one. He strove for the heights, and actually achieved considerable spiritual understanding and experience, but could not go beyond the problems of self-imagery, and "fell", like Icarus, through the error of hubris, excessive pride, which really means, "lost in one's own self-imagery".
Alexander Lowen, author of "Narcissism: Denial of the True Self", describes psychological narcissism as a distortion of the self-development process, in which the young child, faced with the various traumas of living in a threatening world of physical limitations, including the limitation of the body itself, begins to retreat into the world of their imagination, and forms an alternative self-image, and even an alternative world, that exists largely in their internal imagination, and is only partially responsive to the outer world of experience, and tends to favor the internal over the external, to the degree of trying to shape the external to re-create the world of their imagination in it. This can create a precarious imbalance between the bodily self, the imaginative self, and the spiritual self, which is in large part connected to the physical self through the higher cognitive processes of the imagination and other symbolic means. Because the spiritual self and the physical self both form "self-images" in the mind, there is a competitive process that occurs inside each of us for the creation of a "true self". Trying to reconcile these two self-senses into a single self-image can be particularly difficult and can create many tensions and distortions, and all kinds of illusions and delusions.
Examining the existential challenges of incarnation in this way can help us see that there's great creative potential in the process. The whole world of art and creativity is, essentially, a spiritual process of integrating physical and subtle worlds through the imaginative faculties of the mind. The process of creating an internal self-image and an internalized image of the world itself requires that human beings merge and fuse the physical and subtle realms of experience, and our own physical and subtle bodies, into a single self-sense and world-sense. This is difficult because one can't get full and direct feedback from either direction that fully matches up with the fused self-sense thus created. The physical world doesn't give us a full picture of our spiritual nature, and the spirit world don't fully grasp or comprehend either the positive nature or the basic limitations of the physical world. This is why religions have so many body-negative presumptions, for example. It's easy to form an image of the physical realm as being spiritually "fallen" or impure or disgusting from a subtle-mind point of view, just as it's possible to form a spiritually idealistic view of the physical realm that doesn't take into account its real limitations and character. Being able to understand and communicate properly between the two worlds and the two minds is a problem of translation, not just of language, but of even the deeper cognitive divides between them. It's a creative problem, even a problem of creativity itself, because that very process has many pitfalls in it.
Lowen pointed out that the process of using self-imagery and creating an internal world can also become pathologically distorted if one is using the imaginative process as a means of escaping from the limitations of the physical world and one's physical relations, such as parents, family, society, even the body itself. The narcissist is someone who tends more and more to live in and through the self-image, rather than through the realities of the body itself. In his view, the self-image is supposed to correspond very closely to the body, and when it departs from the body, we get narcissistic problems. However, Lowen doesn't take into account the true human existential situation, which involves the fact of spiritual incarnation, that we are a fusion of both spiritual and physical bodies, and that our self-imagery is complicated by this. So it's not entirely true that our self-image should correspond to the physical body and its realities. It must also correspond to our spiritual body and its realities as well, and thus take both into account in the creation of an accurate self-image.
That is the essential need for our self-image - that it accurately reflect both our physical and spiritual natures, and our real development in both physical and spiritual processes, as well as in the process of integrating the two. We may have a highly developed spiritual nature, and even a well-developed physical body, but if the two are not properly integrated, then we suffer that lack of integration. One of the ways that integration can go wrong is if we become narcissistically obsessed with our own self-image, and place more importance on the development of this self-image than on the actual development of an integrated body-mind. That, after all, is the only real purpose of the self-image - to facilitate the creative integration of physical and subtle bodies and worlds. When the self-image begins to supplant the actual life of the body, and become both a path and a goal in itself, we are getting into trouble. And when it just plain takes over, we have rampant spiritual narcissism on the loose.
When I say that everyone suffers to some degree from spiritual narcissism, I am merely pointing out that no one's process of spiritual integration is perfect. There are always going to be discrepancies and the need for reality checks to keep us in a healthy developmental loop. But for most people those discrepancies are relatively minor and the reality checks relatively small. But there's always the risk of going overboard in any number of directions, resulting in a self-image that is wildly distorted from our physical or spiritual realities. Sometimes this is just a result of immaturity, and sometimes its a result of major risk-taking, of someone trying to leapfrog over their limitations and over-estimating the importance of the self-image in the process.
Da was one of those fellows who was willing to risk it all for the sake of attempting something really big. At least in his imagination he was. And in fact, he was really quite talented and powerful, both spiritually and physically. Unfortunately, he was not able to find a peace with the limitations he encountered in both dimensions, and this not only frustrated him greatly, it led him to depart from the realities of those limitations and to embrace instead the world of his own self-imagery and world-imagery, creating a "spiritual reality" of his own that was certainly very real to him, but which was itself a pathological distortion of the spiritual process. It's hardly unique in that respect. There's all kinds of spiritual and religious paths that contain these kinds of distortions in them, from all kinds of sources. In fact, you could say that virtually all spiritual and religious paths contain these distortions, and that for this reason spiritual practice is a bit like walking through a mine-field (or mind-field) filled with all kinds of subtle bombs ready to blow up in our faces. This can hardly be avoided and must simply be endured to some extent. We are not perfect, our teachers have not been perfect, and history is far from perfect. The important thing is not to gripe about this, but to learn from it.
So, what then is the esoteric process of spiritual realization? One thing I hope is clear from this description is that the genuine esoteric process of non-dual realization is something quite different from this kind of spiritual integration of the subtle and physical bodies and worlds. Often, the two can become confused. But I think it's strikingly obvious that spiritual integration is a dualistic process. That doesn't make it bad or wrong, it just means that it's dualistic in nature, and shouldn't be confused with non-dualism. Non-dualism isn't at odds with this dualistic process. In fact, before non-dualism can even be considered or approached, some kind of developmental process must be relatively mature in the individual, there must be some real spiritual integration in the person, or they are simply going to be too confused to understand non-dualism or engage in its esoteric approach. Likewise, an understanding of the fallacy of spiritual narcissism must also be in place, or they will fall into that trap and its illusions all too easily.
One problem such people will face is that they will confuse esotericism with some purely "inner" process, and see exotericism as an insignificant "outer" process. This divide between the two is a product of both the lack of functional integration in the individual, but even more importantly, a lack of understanding of the esoteric process itself. The narcissist in us tends to think that "inner" means "in the realm of internal imagery". and that "inner self" means this internal self-image we create in our minds. So when they encounter non-dual teachings about the Self, they think that this involves a developmental process of creating a more and more inclusive and spiritually activated inner self-image. They don't understand that the Self being referred to is not a Self-image, some process in our minds that helps us integrate our various functional bodies and worlds. The Self in non-dual teachings refers to That Being that is beyond not just the physical, but the spiritual realms and bodies, that total Being within which all those world appear. The imaginative self-image cannot even begin to approach that Being and it simply cannot create an image of it, because it is beyond all form. It can't even create an image of "formlessness", because that Being is beyond even formlessness, which is simply a concept in the mind we create in opposition to the concept of form.
The reality of the Self is thus, as Nagarjuna said in his famous four-fold negation, "Neither existent nor non-existent, neither form nor formless". What is a self-imagist to do in the face of such instruction? Well, this is where the rubber meets the road, and where real esotericism begins.
Describing the real esoteric process is difficult, because words are essentially images, they are symbolic means of representing thoughts, images, ideas, concepts, and so on. Whereas the esoteric process goes beyond all of that. In strictly formal terms, it's a "negative process", in that it strips all these concepts and ideas and images from our minds, and leaves us bereft of them. What it puts in place, in positive terms, is not describable as an image or concept. It can only be indirectly referred to by such means. But that is not because it is intangible, but because it is so directly real that it bypasses the indirect methods of imagery and experience itself. So the non-dual esoteric process is simply not an exercise of the imaginative faculties, physical or subtle, and it isn't advanced by self-imagery or world-imagery. It isn't at war with these either, or even the least bit hostile to them. As Guadapada said, "non-dualism is not in conflict with any other viewpoint or practice". But neither is it the same as them either. Having a strong and powerful self-image is not necessary for non-dual esotericism, nor is it necessarily a detriment, unless one thinks that the process is one involving one's self-image.
The non-dual approach to self-identification is one of confounding ourselves, and confounding our very self-sense at its core. Non-dual esotericism recognizes that all self-imagery is essentially a form of vanity, and in vain, in that our real and true Self is not described by any of it. Self-imagery has a functional value in the process of incarnation, as mentioned earlier, but none of that is genuinely "esoteric" spirituality. Those who think esotericism is about the integration of the physical and subtle are mistaken. It's esoteric in a relative sense, in that it's certainly more esoteric than your average guy who's just not into spiritual things, but even ordinary guys are actually involved in this same spiritual process of integration whether they think of it in those terms or not, and many of them can be more adept at it than those who talk big and create grandiose spiritual self-images of themselves.
This is why Elias' perspective on the issue of ownership, and specifically his claim that the Self is the rightful property of every individual, is a sign of a spiritually narcissistic confusion about the nature of the Self. This kind of statement can only make sense if Elias is referring to the "self-image" we create in our minds about ourselves, and about God and Self and so on. That self-image is, indeed, our own property. But that image we have of ourselves, or of the Self, or of God, is not the same as either our true Self or God. To mistake the image we have formed in our minds for the reality beyond the mind is a tragic error with some rather grave consequences, one of which is that it locks us out of the genuine esoteric process, and keeps us locked into the self-fabricated world of self-imagery and self-imagination, which is a form of suffering all its own.
The true Self is not our property at all, it is our true Nature and Being. We as individuals do no own the Self. In the realm of useful spiritual metaphors for understanding our relationship to the Self, this is just an inversion of the true relationship. If one is to speak of "ownership" in this respect, it can apply only to the Self "owning" us, or owning all the world and all beings. But even that is a fairly awkward and misleading formulation, in that the Self isn't the kind of being or form that could "own" anything at all. And we are certainly incapable of "owning" the Self. So I not only remain unconvinced that there's any value in Elias' formulation, I think its real value lies in the clear example it gives us of the kinds of inverted understanding that spiritual narcissism leads to.
It's a fairly natural inversion. In the same way that looking at an image of ourselves in the mirror gives us an inverted sense of ourselves, in that left is switched with right, spiritual narcissism creates its own understanding of the spiritual process in an inverted fashion that creates images of reality that are inverted through and through. It may see with some clarity, but it inverts what it sees into an image that is actually in conflict with the reality of the spiritual process, unless we correct for that inversion. So we end up saying absurd things like "we own the Self" that gets it all backwards and upside down.
The actual esoteric process allows us to retire the self-image to a purely functional status that has no greater meaning in the esoteric sense. The purpose of the esoteric process is to develop a direct relationship with the Self, not to form images of it in the mind, and then claim to be "Self-realized" based on those images. The more images the mind holds, the less open it is to the esoteric process. The existence of such images is not the problem, but the holding onto them is, the identification of those images with the true Self. So one of the primary principles of genuine esoteric spirituality is the letting go of all images, and all sense of "ownership" and identification.
What is ownership but a form of identification with form? The Self can't own anything, because the Self has no form. When we speak of ourselves as owning things, we aren't really speaking of our true Self. We are merely speaking of the body-mind that we identify with. The body can own things, but the Self cannot. The Self neither owns, nor can it be owned. It is free. Elias claims that owning things does not make you unfree, but it does, because it means one has identified with a limitation, a body, and claims that body as one's property. And of course I think we all know that being owned does not make us free either, as any slave can tell you. But it's not just slaves that lose their freedom by being owned, it's their masters who lose their freedom by owning them. Both have created a relationship in which our real freedom has been abandoned for the sake of ownership and identification with the body-mind. And of course much conflict ensues from that.
This is very much what goes on when we say that we own God, or that we own the Self. When we speak of "my God", or "my Self", we invariably have some sense of identity and ownership at stake. It gets more obvious when we talk of "my religion" or "my country", or "my body". A whole lot of conflict and war goes on because of that sense of ownership and identification. Which is not to say that the body can't functionally own things. Non-dualism is not much concerned with the functional characteristics of bodily life, which involves all kinds of practical issues of ownership. There's certainly a respected place in Sanatana Dharma for those who renounce possessions and live the renunciate life a of monk, but it's not considered a necessity, or even recommended for everyone. To the contrary, most of the Upanishadic sages were forest-dwelling rishis with wives and families and businesses and a fairly active life, but guided by an inner sense of renunciation.
Ramana Maharshi frequently spoke of this inner sense of renunciation, especially when devotees asked him to bless their desire to take formal sanyas. He denied that blessing to virtually everyone who asked for it, because he felt that for most people it was deluding, that real renunciation was of the mind, not of the body, that it meant renunciation of the egoic sense of self, which included the egoic sense of being the owner and the doer. Real esotericism begins, Ramana felt, when one makes this inner gesture of renunciation, and lets the outer life fall into line with that.
But there's more to it than even this. The true estoeric process begins with a re-orientation to an even deeper understanding of the outer world of experience than occurs through the process of incarnation and integration of physical and subtle bodies and selves. To Ramana the only genuine "inner" is the very Self, and everything object to or witnessed by the Self, both physical and subtle, was the "outer" world, the product of the false, egoic self. To Ramana, all worlds, both physical and subtle, were created by the ego, rather than vice-versa. Even the "Creator-God", which Ramana considered "the first illusion", is in reality just the primal form of the ego, not a truly non-dual understanding of God.
Ramana saw the process of perception in the opposite manner than we do. He saw perception as a process of projection, in which the egoic mind creates a world to perceive, projects it outwardly into an observable form, and then inverts that projection into a perception, as if there really were a world out there to perceive. This creates the illusion of an independent and objective world, with ourselves as a body-mind within that world, which is constantly verified by us in the process of perception, when in reality is it nothing more than the mind's own "virtual reality" feedback loop, akin to the world of The Matrix.
The esoteric process is a way of correcting for these inversions of attentionand the creations of the illusion of a "world" that are at the heart of what we might call "universal narcissism". The esoteric process is able to "catch" the mind in this process of creating images that become worlds to us, and interrupts the process of calling them "real". Instead, they are seen as projections of the mind, of an even deeper order than the process of incarnation itself and its imaginative self-imagery.
How is the esoteric process able to do that? Must we become supermen to be able to cut through all this maya being created moment to moment? Again, the opposite is the case. The theories and imagery of the spiritual narcissist creates the idea of the "spiritual hero", some great soul who is able to penetrate through all illusions, smash the demons, free the princess, and re-establish the sacred order. Adi Da was infatuated with playing out such a role, and frequently referring to himself as the "Vira", or spiritual hero, a unique capacity that only the rarest of souls had. But this is just more of the spiritual narcissism that distorts our understanding of the esoteric process.
To understand that process, we might, in the spirit of the Christian holiday season, look to the teachings of Jesus for some clues. In particular, we could look at sayings of his such as "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall see God." To the common understanding, this seems to be an inverted statement. Shouldn't it be the rich in spirit who see God? What's all this about being "poor in spirit"? Well, this is where the genuine esoteric viewpoint departs from the narcissistic viewpoint. Because the genuine esoteric viewpoint acknowledges that we do not "own" the spirit. Quite the contrary. The spiritual narcissist, on the other hand, is immensely proud of his spiritual accomplishments, his spiritual experiences, his empowerments and abilities. He experiences the spirit as something that he "owns", as something he can possess and make use of, even manipulate and profit from. And for a time this may even seem so. Even "just so".But it is an illusion which leads to a great "fall".
The genuine esoteric process doesn't just teach about non-ownership as a concept, or as a rule of behavior, it teaches it as a spiritual reality, through and through. One becomes "bereft" of spirit in the process. One "falls" from spirit even, and becomes "poor in spirit". When one accepts this not merely as a concept, but as one's genuine spiritual reality, then the esoteric process awakens. This can happen in any moment in which one has "let go" of one's ownership stake in oneself and in God, Self, and Spirit. These are the moments of genuine spiritual crisis and awakening. They are often moments of profound inner self-inspection and even despair. They have no "content", even if sometimes we associate content with them. There is often a profound infilling of the spirit in these moments, but it is not an ownership of the spirit that we are brought into, but a surrender to the spirit.
They are also moments of freedom from the illusion of ownership and imagery, which occurs when we "break", fall apart so to speak, and cannot be "put back together", like Humpty-Dumpty. That is what "broken yogi" refers to. Like many, I have fallen, broken, and can't be put back together. That is a feature, not a bug, however. It's part of the life-long process of understanding genuine esotericism, which is only available to those who are broken, not those who are rich and powerful in spirit, who think they have it all going on. What is necessary is to learn how to remain broken all the time, to break down completely, and never to be put back together again. Most people don't like that process, and find ways to bypass it or steer around it or create a way to turn it into a convention of the ego, and put ourselves back together as "esotericists" with special knowledge and experience that the slugs or munchkins out there don't have. There's no end to the ways these things can be distorted and perverted through spiritual narcissism, except to end the narcissism itself.
They have no "content", even if sometimes we associate content with them. There is often a profound infilling of the spirit in these moments, but it is not an ownership of the spirit that we are brought into, rather a surrender to the spirit.
And that is the real point of esoteric awakening. It is always a moment of surrender of self to Spirit, to God, to Self. It's never a moment of triumph and victory, of gaining power over Spirit, God, or Self. It is a bowing down, a humbling of oneself before God, Self, and Spirit. Why? Because God and Self and Spirit are of the very nature of humility itself, not of triumph.
One of the esoteric secrets Ramana Maharshi taught was that God was the humblest of all beings, and that is how he became "God" in the first place. His notion of God is of utter, transcendental humility, not powerful self-aggrandizing hubris. The spiritual narcissists have it all inverted. The real power of God comes from his humility, his bowing down before all things, not his arrogance and strength. His true strength is his humility, his lack of ego, and that is how he became God. Likewise, all esoteric practitioners realize God through their humility, through their surrender, through their seeing through the false ego of self-imagery and self-projection, and bowing down before reality. This process is one of no longer protecting or promoting ego in all its form, not just the internal self-imagery, but even through the external projected self-imagery of worlds and their creative processes. The esoteric process surrenders all these and relates to the "outer" world in a very different fashion.
Jesus' primary esoteric teaching was of unconditional love. Spiritual narcissists tend to overlook the real meaning of his teachings, regarding much of this teaching about unconditional as mere outer social morality, and emphasize instead some kind of otherworldly experiences that one can have through mystical means and which, by pursing them, we are "saved" and become like Christ in the process. But this inverts once again the real meaning here. Unconditional love of all others, and acceptance of all as equal in God, is the key to the esoteric process, not mystical experience. In fact, genuine mystical experience is only gained access to through this practice of unconditional love, and is not possible without it.
Likewise, acceptance of whatever happens to us as the blessing of God, as something we should be thankful for regardless of whether it appears positive or negative, is the key to esoteric practice in relation to the world. This is because in reality we are all equal in God, and all that happens really is God's doing, not our own, and we need to be thankful to God for every aspect of it, not just the parts we find pleasurable or desirable.
To awaken to unconditional love one really does have to learn how to love all others, and that means all others. That's the "price" of esotericism. And that love is not hidden away in some purely "inward" sense. When Jesus was asked, "how should we know your real disciples and tell them from the false ones?", he said simply "You will know them by their love". In other words, it ought to be obvious in the way they lived and acted in all the ordinary aspects of life. And furthermore, this was the way to become "like Christ". Jesus' esoteric instruction was "to love others as I have loved you, unconditionally". He lived what he taught, he loved others unconditionally, with complete humility and surrender, and it was by this demonstration that people could recognize him as God. And in that sense, he was God, not through some mystical avataric nonsense, but simply by loving unconditionally. Because God is love, the Self is love, and the esoteric process of knowing God is simply one of surrendering to and living by that love, as that love, in relation to everything around you and in you, including your own Self. That is how one comes to know one's true Self, through unconditional surrender and love. That is how one becomes "Christ-like", not through some heroic rising above the slugs and munchkins. In Christ, there are no slugs or munchkins.
The esoteric process is really just this simple. Self-enquiry is nothing other than this. The esoteric relationship to the Guru is nothing more than this surrender, of learning to simply love unconditionally. It requires renunciation, yes. It requires that we become "poor in spirit" as well, with no defense and utter dependence on grace. We don't get to own grace or manipulate it as we wish. We are given over to it. We are the lowest of the low in the process, with no protected ego, deliberately surrendering ego into this process of unconditional love and acceptance. And this carries into our very living.
Nisargadatta was once asked how do we realize, and he said it was not enough just to understand or enquire of the Self, and grasp that the Self is our real nature and reality, we need to actually live as if this is so. And that means to see all others as our very Self and love all others as our Self. To love unconditionally, to surrender in total humility, and to allow grace to guide our lives. This is not easy to do, especially if we are enamoured of the ideas and self-imagery and God-imagery of the common or even "esoteric" forms of spiritual narcissism. But it is necessary all the more because of that. Which simply means we have to surrender these false notions and truly surrender in all humility and gratitude before the grace of the Self.
The esoteric relationship to the Guru is entirely about this process of surrender and submission to the living reality of unconditional love and gratitude. Many assume that these things are just some kind of exoteric social recommendation, but it is far more than that. It's the esoteric process itself, lived in relation to the Grace of the Guru. In that process, the devotee surrenders not only his sense of having "possessions" to the Guru, but all sense of "ownership" and responsibility for his suffering itself. He surrenders his worries, his concerns, and all the burdens of the ego to the Guru. And in turn the Guru surrenders these to God, and becomes the vehicle of God's Grace.
There's a beautiful message from Ramana I came across recently that almost perfectly describes this process:
My devotees have the qualifications to rejoice abundantly, like children of an emperor.
Abandon the drama [of the world] and seek the Self within. Remaining within, I will protect you, [ensuring] that no harm befalls you.
If you inquire and know me, the indweller, in that state there will be no reason for you to worry about the world.
For the cruel disease of burning samsara to end, the correct regimen is to entrust all your burdens on me.
In order that your needless anxieties cease, make sure that all your burdens are placed on me through the brave act of depending totally on grace.
If you completely surrender all your responsibilities to me, I will accept them as mine and manage them.
When bearing the entire burden remains my responsibility, why do you have any worries?
Long ago you offered your body, possessions and soul to me, making them mine, so why do you still regard these things as 'I' and 'mine' and associate yourself with them?
Seek my grace within the Heart. I will drive away your darkness and show you the light. This is my responsibility.