A certain highly accomplished Guru traveled to a new city where some
students had formed a group. Now, it so happened that, in the absence
of Guru, one fellow had assumed the "top dog" leadership position in
this group. He was enjoying his self-appointed role as the director
of everything and everyone. In fact, he fancied himself quite an
advanced practitioner capable of giving teachings to students even
though he had no permission from the Guru.
This fellow was so attached to the ego enjoyment he derived from this
role playing, he was like a heroin addictcompulsive and controlled
by fantasy fixes. Far from being capable of leadership or conveying
teachings to others, he was possessed by an automaton: a totally
programmed, robot slave. The robot slave acted confident and
knowlegable. Others were impressed and followed along. They didn't
know that acting "confident" and "knowlegable" was just a part of the
robot slave's programming.
So there this fellow was, playing the role of preceptor, when the
real Guru showed up. The robot slave really didn't like the idea of
being shut down. So it went into overdrive. It threw a tantrum and
physically threw the real teacher out of the teaching hall and onto
It was late at night. The Guru had no place to sleep, and it was
wintertime. But he was resourceful and luckily did not freeze to
death! The next day, the Guru called a meeting. To everyone's
surprise, he extended a kind invitation to the student who had thrown
him out the previous evening. During that meeting, the clear seeing
and compassion of the teacher acted like a reverse poisona remedy.
The student was freed of being possessed by the robot slave.
Without that compulsive programming, the real situation of the
student could manifest. Far from being confident, he was terribly
afraid that others might find out how unworthy he really felt. Far
from wanting to to be the Guru, he longed with the grief of a little
abandoned child for the Guru's love. But he felt so cut off from true
love, he had tried to manipulate others into looking up to him, and
even fearing him.
The spiritual literature of India, Tibet, and many other places is
filled with stories of accomplished teachers who encounter thieves,
rapists, those possessed by greed, and even demons. With great
insight and compassion, these teachers free other beings from
fixation so that they too can continue on the path to Self-
The greatest teachers neither seek nor reject students. All are
welcome, without exception. However, this does not apply to every
teacher. It only applies to those teachers who are Self-realized and
can be of true benefit to the incredibly diverse beings they meet.
Less accomplished teachers must be keenly aware of their own
limitations, and/or follow the directions of their own teachers in
the matter of who and what they are equipped to teach.
This being said, it is never the fault of the student if a student is
unteachable by a certain Guru. This situation is a reflection of the
limitation of the Guru. So-called "bad" students should never be
vilified by teachers or communities. We are all "bad" students until
we are Self-realized. It is only a matter of degree. And this world,
composed of nothing but intelligence and compassion, teaches everyone
without exception. This is cosmic law. No one is unteachable. Only
individuated teachers with their own limitations are not yet fit to
encompass everyone who comes their way.
Spiritual communities are famous for clannishness, infighting, and
for harshly ex-communicating those who trouble other members of the
group. In some instances, it is teachers who set the tone for this
kind of activity. In other cases, the teacher is not around, and the
fixations of the students are free to mask themselves with egoic
misapplications of the teachings.
Students, all students, come to spiritual communities and teachers
with their fixations, compulsions, and attachments on full display.
This is true without exception. The student who is obviously
disruptive is no more in the wrong or right than a student who tries
to win the favor of the teacher with acts of false devotion and
obedience. Or one who uses "the teachings" as a weapon against other
students. If people didn't have fixations, there would be no need for
teachers. In fact, Tantrik teachers are well-known for purposely
inflaming the fixations of their students so that these may be
recognized and resolved. Going on a retreat with a Tantrik Guru and
community is usually anything but restful for this reason.
There are three golden rules for working with difficult situations
within spiritual communities.
1. Any reaction you have to another person or situation is your
reaction. It is not the fault of the other person; it is your
fixations at play. In order to confirm this, you need only think of
the accomplished beings who do not have "issues" with any person; all
people are held in the crucible of their intelligence and compassion.
This is your beacon. Your fixations are your real situation; they are
what you have to take responsibility for and work with. The member of
your community who really, really irritates you is your Guru in that
this person makes sure that all of your attachments are available to
be recognized and worked with. In fact, this person is none other
than an aspect of World Self communicating with you.
2. Teachers and students must recognize their limitations. We all
have limitations. Being blind to these, or trying to rise above them
with applications of spiritual View that you have not yet embodied,
will slow your unfoldment. All students and most teachers, cannot
encompass every situation. Sometimes we have to leave another person,
or ask them to leave, or take some other measure to protect our
ability to continue our practice individually or as a group. The
Buddha Yeshe Tsogyal once asked her Guru, Padmasambhava, what to do
about disturbances to her practice arising in her environment. He
answered that these disturbances should be brought into one's
practice, "onto the path" as is said. But if this is not possible,
his advice was: "Run for the hills! Protect your practice!" Notice
that the emphasis is on what you should do to take responsibility for
your sadhana, not on punishing, denigrating, criticizing, or
ostracizing another person.
3. The teacher is the teacher. In the matter of the conduct of
spiritual communities and a student's individual choices with respect
to sadhana, the teacher is the guide and the arbiter. Students should
ask the teacher what to do in difficult situations. Some students, in
a moment when the watchful eye of the teacher is not on them, like to
play the role of gatekeeper or even Guru. They try to wield power
over other students, and this is the source of a lot of the bad
reputation of spiritual communities. An accomplished Guru will know
how to work with this situation so that everyone can grow. Put
everything in the Guru's hands. Don't take on the karma of
prematurely guiding other people, whether by giving them practices to
do, criticizing them, or showing them the door.
Sometimes the most difficult student is transformed by interaction
with the Guru into the most sincere disciple, an example to everyone.
And students generally are in a fog of fixation and compulsion, but
even so, they recognize the primordial light of insight and
compassion shining from their teacher. We can still recognize and
follow despite our situation of limitation. This is Guru Kripa, or