Let’s start with the two Sanskrit words ‘Pandit’ and ‘Guru’. A Pandit is a person who has studied religious texts extensively, and can tell you a lot of what they read there. Whether this is true or not, is another question. I call this head knowledge, or parrot knowledge. A Guru, on the other hand, is someone who has attained spiritual knowledge through personal experience, and therefore when a Guru speaks they are telling you what actually IS. The words, pointers, anecdotes etc. used by a Guru vary by culture and personality, yet their essence is the same, and true.
I have read various spiritual books, and sat in quite a few ‘Satsangs’; but I have spent a lot more time doing exercises to extend my own perception, making experiences of life in many contexts, and reflecting on my experiences. What I read in books I did not believe (except in my naive youth), I always (a) compared it with my own experience, and (b) listened to my gut feeling about what was being stated. What I read sometimes motivated me to try for new experiences of my own, so that I could test it for myself. More often, what I read helped me to mull over my own previous experiences and to formulate them into a conceptual view of how life ticks. This was especially so with the books of talks by Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj.
I am convinced that belief is not helpful, rather it is a hindrance. As I understand and use the word, believing means not knowing; if I know something then there can be no question of belief. But if I believe (anything), then I will be kidding myself that I already have the answers, and therefore not earnestly search for truth. In fact, a search for truth is even dangerous to a ‘believer’, since the findings may contradict their beliefs. Also, beware of people who peddle you happiness in the afterlife – in most cases they will (mayhap unconsciously) be using that to gain some measure of subjective security, or power or even just money, for themselves in this life. My exhortation is DTFE – Do The F***ing Exercises – in order to gain knowledge for yourself.
Why I earnestly trod the spiritual path for decades: As a child, youth and younger man I had a permanently dense energy body; which meant that I only noticed myself as real, and all other people and beings were more like inanimate pieces on my personal chessboard of life. I was naive, necessarily self-centred, and callous (although I did have a good sense of honesty). The only thing I really had going for me was the burning desire to know the truth about existence, the purpose of life, the bottom line. In the course of time my life turned into a quest to find that Truth, which led me to a wide range of trainings and other non-mainstream experiences. The experiences which I made, and my reflection on them, have over decades transformed me from a narrow-minded ‘that’s all esoteric humbug’ guy to the being I am now. And I’m still changing. Life means change, otherwise it would at best be a plastic rose…