The Role of a Spiritual Teacher

“Yesterday we obeyed kings and bent our necks before emperors. But today we kneel only to truth, follow only beauty, and obey only love.”  ― Kahlil Gibran, The Vision: Reflections on the Way of the Soul

“Yesterday we obeyed kings and bent our necks before emperors. But today we kneel only to truth, follow only beauty, and obey only love.”

― Kahlil Gibran, The Vision: Reflections on the Way of the Soul

I met two people recently who are in their 40’s and have both just given up their jobs, sold their house and clothes and are on a 5 year trip to Asia to deepen their Buddhist practice. They have been Tibetan Buddhists for over 20 years and have been studying with their teacher Rinpoche for 10 years. Next year they begin a 3 year retreat with him in India. They said they researched their teacher for 10 years before committing to him.

Contrast this story with the story of a Swami who runs a tantric yoga extensive training of up to 45 modules (each one lasting one month). He is a learned and clever man who speaks many languages and he has a charismatic personality. He has been expelled from at least two countries because of his methods including advocating free sexual expression, and he sleeps with many of his students ‘to remove their blockages’. Yet he is dearly loved by many of his students who say he has transformed their lives.

So here is the question – can good teaching – and good learning – come from someone who is morally and ethically questionable? If the Swami IS immoral, amoral or at least unethical – does this devalue the impact of the spiritual progress of the individuals? And are they attaching to him instead of their own spiritual progress? And what about the gurus who seem to be destructive and even abusive. Maybe we get the gurus we deserve. If a particular guru seems to be destroying people and destroying their lives then maybe that is what they want at some level and why they follow him/her.

So where do we get our spiritual teaching from? Books, videos, seminars…I would say everyone we meet and every situation we have to face is an opportunity for us to be taught and to learn. And what of the role of a spiritual master? It’s easier in organised religion when the leader just tells us what to think. But in the move from religion to spirituality it brings with it the responsibility – that WE are in charge of our spiritual evolution.

Spiritual development is a very individual journey. Our increase of self-awareness is instrumental in our evolution towards consciousness and no-one can increase self-awareness for us – the clue is in the word!

And there is a wider question about forming an allegiance with anyone who is outside ourselves. As long as we see the guru as ‘over there’ there will be a tendency to be relating to him or her on a human level – with our minds or our emotions. The only true guru we have is our own soul – our own higher power. Our soul knows exactly what it is doing and leads us to situations which will allow us to step up to the plate and evolve so that our personality will gradually become the tool of the soul. Our Divine Essence wants nothing more than to be expressed through our human form. All spiritual teaching and learning leads to this.

So here are 6 things to remember about spiritual teachers.

  1. see everyone you meet as a spiritual teacher for they surely are
  2. the more difficult we see the person to be, the more they have to teach us about staying in our souls instead of whirling round the emotional wheel
  3. trust in your own soul as your Guru and keep open the channel to it – and ask regularly for guidance
  4. read, study, discuss – to bring clarity to your thinking and discernment to your judgement – the route to the soul is through the higher mind not through the heart
  5. before seeing someone as a teacher or a guru check out how they are living their life – does it seem to be an embodiment of soul qualities? If they are not manifesting divine principles in their lived life – why would you see them as a good example to follow?
  6. beware of anyone who says they have ‘the truth’ and wants you to commit to their way of thinking. True teachers facilitate spiritual growth – they don’t tell you what to think.