“How can you go for Refuge to a Buddha that you have never seen? Do you go for refuge to an idea? Do you go for refuge to the image? It's very difficult to go for refuge to the Buddha, because you don't see the Buddha and therefore don't experience him. But you do see the guru, you do experience the guru. So according to the Vajrayana, for practical purposes, the guru is the refuge. If you get into difficulties, if you want some advice, if you want teachings specifically related to your needs, you don't go to the Buddha, you can't go to the Buddha. Even if you read the scriptures it's too general, too broad, even too vague. You go to the guru and he gives you exactly what you need for your particular situation.” Sangharakshita, ‘Levels of Going for Refuge’
How do we envision the guru for us, at this particular time, in this particular culture? Understandably we might be wary of giving our agency away to another who will inevitably let us down. But is there another, more relevant, way to understand the guru? Could we cultivate an ‘inner guru’? Is it simply another way of describing spiritual friendship that has a vertical dimension? How can we recognise and cultivate the guru principle in our lives?