What Is A Spiritual Teacher?
A spiritual teacher can come in all shapes, sizes, colors and sexes and many of the truly great ones will always choose to remain in disguise and anonymous while in a human incarnation.
What’s my definition of a spiritual teacher? Anyone who empowers us in healing karma and teaches spirit/mind/heart/body practices that help us along the path of awakening to our True Nature. Then, it’s up to each of us to integrate these teachings and levels of consciousness into our daily life and way of being in the world.
Here is the definitive teaching of the Buddha on this subject, called The Four Reliances:
Rely on the message of the teacher, not on his personality;
Rely on the meaning, not just on the words;
Rely on the real meaning, not just the provisional one;
Rely on your wisdom mind, not on your ordinary, judgmental mind.
My personal experiences with a wide range of spiritual teachers has been, on the whole, exceptionally fruitful in helping me heal karma within myself along different legs of my journey, as well as in accessing and integrating higher levels of consciousness into my normal operating mode of Being.
Some of my teachers have come into my life in more informal roles: as mates, lovers, and friends, 12-step sponsors, psychotherapists, and mind/body healers of various modalities. Others whom I have studied with over many years on a more formal basis include those whose paths include: Taoism, Zen, Tantra, Sufism, Naada Yoga and Dzogchen.
My criterion for choosing a teacher to study with–whether formally or informally–is that they must have something that I want and need and am lacking, in terms of it not being activated or developed yet in this life. Some of the things I’ve learned from teachers are: cosmic humor, going with the Flow, how to root and ground myself to the earth and feel fully embodied, and how to use my emotions, thoughts and sensations mindfully as part of my spiritual path–to name a few.
Once I’m clear that a prospective spiritual guide has what I’m seeking, I’m willing to go to great lengths, in terms of investment of available time, energy and resources, to access that next “missing piece” to round out my development.
The most important lesson that I’ve diligently maintained in my awareness with all the teachers I’ve studied with is that they’re imperfect human beings. This means that, just as we’re ALL at our absolute best when we’re doing our “thing,” so too are they at their absolute highest when they’re performing their spiritual function–myself included. Therefore, it’s essential that we take what we can use . . . and leave the rest.
The trap that many spiritual seekers fall into is in allowing themselves to becoming blinded by devotion, gratitude and, at times, feelings of unworthiness. Then the teacher is placed on an unrealistically high pedestal–which inevitably means that, sooner or later, these projected images of idealized divinity will come crashing down–usually on top of the deluded student’s head.
This pattern is so common that there is are multitude of on-line blogs in which ex-students vent and lament about how disappointed, disillusioned and devastated they feel with spiritual teachers who’ve let them down because they were, alas, only human. The resolution of this scenario tends to be very messy–as much of the anger and rage, at least in the early stages of deprogramming and detaching, is projected onto the fallen idol /teacher in question. Buyer be Aware, indeed.
And, speaking of another sort of very messy, here’s a quote from the afterword of my memoir, Cosmic Sugar:
“Have you noticed how many perennially horny spiritual teachers are incapable of living by the standards they teach because of inner karmic demons they haven’t as yet exorcised? Still, it is possible to accept their imperfect humanness without rejecting their teachings which come from a higher aspect of their being. When we’re free from mental rigidity, the paradoxical nature of personality is full of entertainment value. At this stage in the evolution of consciousness, the majority of people on the planet, gurus included, are still bottoming out on their karmic ruts.”
So, if a spiritual teacher tries to sell you a sexual bill of goods by promising that your karma will be healed faster by engaging in sex with him or her or that you will get a “hit” of awakening from absorbing their energies or fluids which are chock full of “high-level chi” or taste like “ambrosial nectar”–Buyer Be Aware!
Yes, Ive heard it all or at least a lot of it, personally as well as from helping deprogram many naive and psychologically immature survivors of this type of manipulation. So, please know this: Choosing to take responsibility and consciously engage sexually with a spiritual teacher may help heal some of your “daddy” or “mommy” stuff and you may even get a good “hit” of some high-level psychic energy, but there’s usually quite a messy emotional price to pay in the aftermath. So, again, Buyer Be Aware.
And what about the issue of attaining enlightenment (or existing in nirvana or being so that one is guaranteed a ticket on the heaven express) when it comes to spiritual or religious leaders, teachers, advisors, gurus, lamas, and Rinpoches, etc?
In the Buddhist tradition, Nirvana is not some external divine place, but the purified state of consciousness in which we’re free of all negative emotions.
Nirvana has four characteristic features:
1. A state of cessation of disturbing emotions from one’s mind.
2. Absolute peace, a state of total tranquility of disturbing emotions.
3. Exuberant satisfaction, which is free from all forms of dissatisfaction.
4. Definite emergence, when one will no longer relapse to an unenlightened state.
By this definition, most of the highest spiritual teachers that I’ve had direct experience with have attained the first three out of the above four characteristics. That means that when they’re teaching or giving direct transmissions they ARE at a level of consciousness that emanates a realized state of Being. And when one is in their presence one can definitely get a “hit” of this energy and it feels GOOD. The problem is that it can feel so blissful that one needs to watch out for an addictive hook of dependency that arises from the limiting belief that this bliss can only be gotten from this teacher and is not attainable on one’s own.
For the majority of spiritual teachers, when they’re not in their highest transmitting function, they relapse into the unenlightened state. And this is where most students get confused, because they are unwilling to see the whole picture, (I call it “holding the split screen”), between the high states they experience when their teacher is in their spiritual role, and the rest of the time, when they’re just imperfect human beings playing out their karma like the rest of us.
Adding to this confusion, the spiritual marketplace is becoming overloaded with many so-called spiritual teachers who are selling their self-proclaimed enlightened state as a product or commodity. This means that prospective students need to use their discriminating awareness and give much time and thought before fully committing and surrendering to a particular teacher. Buyer be aware, to be sure!
This is not to say that there are not at least a few fully enlightened Beings on the planet at any given time. I won’t name names, but I have had direct experience with one such Being in India. He emanated a consistent presence of Voidness that was absolutely exhilarating, completely heart opening and a bit terrifying all at the same time. Not to mention that the wisdom of his teachings and energy has stayed with me and raised the bar of what I perceive as possible within a human incarnation.
But these realized Beings tend to be relatively anonymous, hard to get to and usually not taking on new students. Although if you’re fortunate, you might be granted a darshan, or audience, to sit and receive a transmission of whatever emanates from their presence and words.
So what’s a seeker to do? By accepting the reality of what a spiritual guide can and cannot offer, we need to take responsibility for seeing them not just at their highest, but in their imperfect humanness as well. Being a spiritual pragmatist, I always believe that if I take what I can use and leave the rest, (the old baby and the bathwater cliche)–I will be benefiting the most from any relationship I choose to enter into–in this area, as in all others.
Ultimately, we need to learn how to access, activate and embrace our “inner guru” or inner spiritual master and use ALL of life as the mirroring of this state of ownership of our innate divinity.
And some final thoughts:
Whether it’s from a Western or an Eastern belief system, the idea that there’s only one spiritual or religious path, lineage or teacher that can enlighten you or help you attain heaven or nirvana is a form of fundamentalism, regardless of whatever guise the seller is in. So, Buyer be Aware!
If a teacher says that you can’t “make it” spiritually without him, his teachings, path, or group–Buyer be Aware!
And, if you try to leave a teacher or group and are threatened with dire spiritual, karmic or other consequences–RUN! Then, be grateful that you have just escaped from a cult with your life and your sanity relatively intact. After this type of trauma, it’s a very good idea to get some objective help and support during a necessary period of deprogramming and recovery, especially if you’ve been deeply involved for a year or more.