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Evaluating a Spiritual Teacher, Awesome Article! Compentent Satgurus

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  • Sant Mat Mysticism
    Evaluating a Spiritual Teacher, Awesome Article! Compentent Satgurus are Rare in this world Meditation Sangat: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/MeditationSangat
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 10, 2006
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      Evaluating a Spiritual Teacher, Awesome Article! Compentent Satgurus
      are Rare in this world

      Meditation Sangat:
      {"The things that aren't said can be more important
      than those that are." -- Dr. Vincent "Wally" Bolé}

      Evaluating a Spiritual Teacher
      By Don Howard
      all rights reserved ©2006

      (shared with Don's permission)

      Sitting in the Tokyo airport on my way back home from India I was
      feeling disappointed, disillusioned and somewhat sad. For the second
      time in this life I had realized that a spiritual teacher who I was
      following was disingenuous. I had been lied to and conned and I was
      finished with this "spiritual teacher". I questioned if there were
      any true teachers -- anywhere. As I measured my predicament I
      wondered how many other seekers of truth had found themselves in
      this situation? It was then that I began to consider, and in no
      uncertain terms the requirements of a teacher. This experience in
      the airport was the catalyst for later compiling a list of specific
      requirements which a spiritual teacher should and should not
      possess. This list is the topic of this presentation.

      As you read below you will see that I have very specific ideas of
      what a teacher is and is not. However, I do not have all the answers
      and for many I may have no answers. I am not a sage but merely a
      seeker on the path who has learned that the path can contain the
      treacherous. I hope my story and points can keep you from some of
      the spiritual landmines which I have seen and sometimes detonated.
      It is my heartfelt wish that you have or may find a true teacher.

      Spiritual seeking has the not-so-modest goal of revealing nothing
      less than the Divine, the Truth or Ultimate Reality. For far less
      modest goals than this we would not dare attempt their achievement
      without a qualified teacher. Our universities and the degrees they
      confer bear witness to this fact. For example, we would never
      attempt to acquire the skills of a professional airline pilot with
      mere reading, nor would we dare take instructions from someone who
      himself had never flown. Common sense requires that we approach
      subjects such as aviation or any number of other technical subjects
      with the help of skillful teachers and tried and true curricula. Why
      then would we assume that the highest and arguably the most
      difficult of all goals could be achieved without a teacher or guide?

      The West, in spite of its heavy reliance on rationality, seems to
      have missed this inescapable logic, for more often than not in the
      West the spiritual seeker avoids any type of spiritual teacher. Our
      Western independence and individuality play a prominent role in this
      phenomenon: in the West we hold the social notion sacrosanct which
      tells us that all men are equal and therefore that social hierarchy
      should be disdained and authority held in suspicion. Social
      hierarchy and its attendant respect for authority seems to be a
      hallmark of eastern cultures and is pivotal in those cultures'
      relationship with spiritual teachers. Conversely, many of us in the
      West have a difficult time submitting to spiritual seniority with
      its implied authority and implicit suppression of individuality.
      Fear of being submissive (and the consequent damage to one's pride)
      and the foreign concept of spiritual teacher (guru) are common
      reasons for avoiding the formal teacher-disciple relationship. Add
      to this the fact that the media—often accurately—depicts "spiritual
      teachers" as charlatans and it is not hard to see why most western
      seekers are reluctant to seek such guidance.

      To seek for the truth sounds simple, but once the search begins the
      enormity of the task begins to emerge. A guide or teacher is not
      only desirable but, practically speaking, a necessity. The Persian
      mystic Rumi warns: "Seek a perfect Master, for without the Master
      this journey abounds with perils, lures, and pitfalls...without the
      protecting hand of the Master...you will be bewildered." And in The
      Zen Teachings of Bodhidharma, an aspirant is admonished: "If you
      don't find a teacher soon, you'll live this life in vain. It's true,
      you have the buddha-nature. But without the help of a teacher you'll
      never know it. Only one person in a million becomes enlightened
      without a teacher's help." In the East, it is axiomatic that a
      genuine teacher is required if the seeker is to make any real

      A truism holds in this field as well as others that the student
      cannot learn more than the teacher knows. But the problem in the
      spiritual field is that it is difficult to know what the teacher
      knows. Unlike other areas of knowledge, where certificates of
      competence such as the Ph.D. are issued and serve as bona fide
      evidence of accomplishment, there are no such certificates in the
      spiritual realm. To make matters worse, self-proclaimed spiritual
      teachers usually are neither spiritual nor teachers.

      I am reminded here of a "spiritual teacher" from India whose web
      site advertises him as profoundly enlightened. I had occasion to
      experience first hand just how profoundly enlightened he was. On a
      trip to India I was asked by one of his American disciples to
      deliver a parcel to him as he was in India at that time. For customs
      purposes I insisted upon knowing the contents of the parcel. A
      partial list included: "soma vision" (a personal electrical strobe
      light which could be worn as a pair of glasses), and a pair of Nike
      running shoes. I suspected then I might not be meeting with one of
      the spiritually elect. Confirming this was a list of enlightenment
      courses, which were enumerated on the Swami's web site. The courses
      increased in cost as the degree of enlightenment sought increased.
      As I recall, you could buy a fairly high degree of enlightenment for
      around $900.00. The swami was disappointed that we were unwilling to
      donate to his organization. All in all my wife and I had a good
      chuckle. Only later did we realize the damage this man was doing:
      people actually follow this man for spiritual advice, thereby
      exposing themselves to a form of psychological damage so subtle that
      it is difficult to correct.

      I began to realize then that choosing a Spiritual teacher for many
      is not considered a decision requiring intellectual deliberation and
      discrimination. Such casual choosing usually has the not so
      surprising result. That result tends to be disappointment and
      disillusionment. As such careless seekers will tell you: caution and
      careful consideration are important in this search. In the West we
      are not familiar with the concept of a "spiritual master" and even
      less familiar with what to expect from such a person. Little is
      known or written on how one should assess a teacher.

      Where to begin? Having garnered the experiences of many seekers, as
      well as personal interactions with numerous would-be teachers (and
      also considering interactions with persons I personally believe to
      be genuine spiritual masters), several observations emerge. I always
      consider that anyone can claim to be a spiritual adept, and
      unfortunately most claimants are counterfeit. For every 100 so-
      called masters only a few are genuine. There is a strong motivation
      these days to go into the guru-business: it's profitable and brings
      prestige. And it's easy to get into this business. In India, for
      example, the purchase of saffron robes and a few sets of used beads
      are all that's needed to start such a business. In the West it's a
      little more complicated (robes, for example, are not as appealing
      as, say, a medicine man's herb-bag hanging around one's neck). If
      you can say that you are a channel for some archangel, all the
      better. I think you get my drift of how easy it is for the unethical
      to be tempted by this easier way to make a living.

      Many people can be lured to follow a spiritual counterfeit. I
      say "many" because I include in the counterfeits the Jimmy Bakers of
      the world as well. I personally have been fooled twice. Seeking a
      spiritual master is an arduous pursuit filled with traps, snares,
      emotional investment and often heartbreak. Many will give up after
      realizing they've been deceived.

      So how can one tell if a master is genuine? Actually there is a
      wealth of information on this subject, most of it from the Eastern
      scriptures or Indian masters and, of course, some is simple common

      I would caution the reader that the following are my opinions only.
      I have used these in my own seeking and am not saying these are the
      only way or even the right ways to qualify a teacher. I am saying
      that they seemed to work for me. If I sound a bit like I'm preaching
      from the pulpit please excuse me, my intention is to submit these as
      ideas not dogmas.

      I would consider several early warning signals which may be applied
      well before deciding to follow a teacher. First: Paying money for
      spiritual guidance is a violation of fundamental spiritual
      principles. In my opinion taking money is the number one "no-no" in
      conveying this knowledge. If you are asked to pay money to learn a
      spiritual path, walk away--no run away! The rule of the transmission
      of spiritual teachings is that one does not charge a fee for such
      knowledge. Most established traditions confirm this. One may be
      asked to alter your lifestyle slightly or to take up a different
      diet or to commit time to practice the spiritual exercises. These
      are the true payments. For the payment is from you to the Ultimate
      Truth, not from your bank account to someone else's.

      How a spiritual teacher handles money will tell me a lot about the
      worthiness of the teacher. Which brings us to the second point: a
      teacher who lives lavishly is suspect. Numerous luxury cars, large
      estate-type living, multiple "retreats," and opulent offices are
      more often associated with the spiritually challenged than with the
      spiritually advanced. These trappings are especially ominous if they
      were purchased from "contributions" of his/her followers. Charities,
      humble ashrams or headquarters housing older vehicles are more
      desirable when looking for the accouterments of a master. Less
      emphasis on money is better in the spiritual realm of masters.
      Optimally, the teacher should live on his own income which is not
      derived from his followers. A true teacher only gives, he does not
      take. The fact is we have nothing a true spiritual master wants. If
      he takes contributions and lives a lavish life, then he "needs"
      followers to support his lifestyle. This type of need is a red flag
      signaling that this person will lead one to a spiritual dead end or

      Third: those would be teachers who promise immediate spiritual
      riches are questionable. The West has become accustomed to immediate
      gratification in the material world. We have fast food, fast cars,
      fast jets, high-speed everything. Why shouldn't we expect the same
      in the spiritual field? Those unscrupulous "spiritual adepts" wise
      to our thirst for instant gratification gladly advertise the same in
      the spiritual realm, usually for a fee which is equal to the desired
      speed. After all, higher speed always costs more, right? The reality
      is, spiritual progress is something that requires a lot of hard
      work, usually spanning a lifetime. It requires consistent, diligent
      work. There should be definite, observable results for this work,
      but they probably won't be immediate. Trust a teacher who recognizes
      the real price of the spiritual venture.

      I have found that in applying these first three screens, you have
      effectively filtered out the majority of the disingenuous teachers.

      You may have other initial evaluation tools of your own, but
      generally if the teacher can pass these first three tests then he is
      worth looking into further. Once I have accepted a guide, I continue
      evaluating him as long as I am his student. Below are additional
      danger signals which usually are not discovered until after
      accepting a spiritual teacher.

      Doubtless, the easiest way to recognize a false spiritual teacher is
      to examine his moral life. Dishonesty and lying are absolutely
      unacceptable from a spiritual teacher. In fact any type of unethical
      or immoral behavior is my prompt to leave.

      It seems easy enough to recognize unethical or immoral behavior, but
      these types of behavior are rarely overt and generally are obscured
      under some form of an exalted justification. For example I was once
      told that it is permissible to deceive others in order to persuade
      them to join the "spiritual community" because after all I will in
      the end be helping that person. If one actually finds oneself in
      this situation, it will probably sound incredibly convincing.
      However, I always remember that deceit is never a trait of a true
      teacher. Integrity is the litmus test of the spiritual life, and
      therefore all the more so of a spiritual teacher.

      There is more than one case of spiritually challenged teachers
      taking sexual advantage of their followers. It is often later
      revealed that those who were sexually preyed upon were told that
      they were specially chosen to have this sexual experience and that
      it is solely for their benefit and greater good. From the outside
      this is obvious sexual misbehavior bordering on rape, but an
      insider, who is psychologically invested, may buy into this
      reasoning. Think of the difficulty of admitting that not only were
      you sexually used but that your entire spiritual paradigm is wrong.
      It takes a strong person to face up to this.

      I do not personally tolerate lying and stealing in any form nor do I
      tolerate deceit. I know of an organization whose spiritual misfit of
      a teacher routinely had his disciples smuggle electronic equipment
      across European borders to avoid import duty. The rationale was that
      since this was work for the divine it was okay to dispense with the
      more earthly rules such as import duties. This is easy to justify,
      since spiritual law transcends man's law. True enough, out of
      context. However, I try not to be fooled by such crafty
      justifications for transgressing the law. See it for what it is:
      theft. Maharishi Mehi of Bihar adds the additional danger of
      following a morally corrupt teacher when he says: "...in following
      an immoral teacher the aspirant would have the difficult task of not
      going astray, much less advancing on the spiritual path."

      Immense egos which are easily bruised are sure signs that it's time
      to abandon this particular "path" and resume the search. A true
      spiritual master has such power that it is not even imaginable to
      most of us. But it seems that an equal or greater degree of humility
      comes with such power. While a master may feign anger (and it is
      usually obvious), he will never banish an aspirant who has been
      rebuked. I have seen an aspirant who has been banished permanently
      because he inadvertently bruised the `teachers` ego. A true Master
      should not have lingering anger or a colossal ego. The words of
      Kabir, the 15th century Indian Master summarize the above: "
      Surrender yourself to him who has no worldly desires, who is devoted
      to God and who has foregone his ego. Do not take long in leaving the
      association of a false teacher for you will wander time and again
      and will not find the entrance to the Divine…"

      The guise of the spiritual teacher is another possible clue as to
      his genuineness. The spiritual path has established traditional
      methods, manners and modes of operation. I avoid those would be
      masters who are self-styled (who have "invented" a method).
      Spiritual seeking is hard enough without following an untried path.
      The West tries to lend to spiritual seeking the same creativity that
      has made it great in the field of material wealth. Unfortunately,
      the rules change here and tradition, tried and true, are the best
      road to travel. While there are more than one genuine spiritual
      path, they are, nevertheless limited in number. I always avoid
      channelers, so-called psychics, shamans etc which do not come from
      an established path. If someone needs to employ themselves as a
      channel to connect to the "other side," they are not worthy of the
      title master. A true master effortlessly is connected not only to
      the "other side" but to the Divine as well. If a prospective teacher
      claims to be a messenger from some extraterrestrial place and offers
      instant spiritual endowments then I consider him a spiritual
      forgery. I Look for the exits and get out. I Look for traditional
      lineages in traditional cultural settings. The cultural setting does
      not have to be mine but the teacher should be from a traditional
      lineage. Since spiritual paths are an area where the West clearly
      does not excel; why not utilize those traditional paths that have
      the endorsement of voyagers of those paths? To give an idea of what
      is meant by "traditional," here is a list which I consider to be
      traditional lineages: the Hindu masters and traditions of India,
      Sufi traditions, Tibetan Buddhism, Zen Buddhism, Orthodox Hesychasm,
      and certain recluse Catholic orders who employ structured meditation
      such as "The Jesus Prayer". There are many others. A note of caution
      however is that having a teacher from such a tradition does not
      guarantee that such a teacher is qualified or even fit to teach a
      spiritual path.

      Any teacher who claims to be enlightened or spiritually advanced in
      other ways -- who makes known his supposed spiritual powers I assume
      to be unworthy. Humility and lack of ego is the hallmark of the
      spiritually advanced. The public display of "miracles" is to be
      especially suspect. I believe spiritual adepts do have the power to
      render miracles but rarely do so. A "teacher" who routinely performs
      miracles should be viewed dubiously. The following illustrates the
      point: Several years ago an acquaintance of my wife and I were
      attending the conference of World Religions in Chicago and came
      across a "yogi" who produced bhuti (ash taken from a sacrificial
      fire) out of thin air or so it seemed. My wife and I were both
      suspicious of this man- we kept our opinions to our self but made it
      a point to avoid him. Our acquaintance to our surprise was
      enthralled. At last he proclaimed "I have found a true spiritual
      adept". We said nothing as it was doubtful we could have persuaded
      him otherwise. Our acquaintance proceeded to follow this "yogi" all
      over the United States. Finally, one day the "great Yogi"
      unexpectedly produced a lot of Bhuti which all could see had
      obviously come literally from up his sleeve. I suppose the "yogi"
      had a large decline in followers that day and included in the
      stampede was our acquaintance, who related to us that the "great
      yogi" was in fact not only not a master, but not even a competent
      magician. I might add that one of the clues to this fake was his
      very large ego.

      Probably the most insidious of all false spiritual teachers are
      those who exploit their followers. On a material level the aspirant
      should not be asked by the teacher to give time or money. My wife
      and I often volunteer to give but I consider it unacceptable for a
      teacher to ask for money or ask for you to use your time in a way
      which will materially better the teacher.

      If aspirants are asked to volunteer work, or worse work full time
      for a grossly underpaid salary, this is usually outright
      exploitation. Community living is an exception, of course; but
      lifestyles within the community should not differ much from disciple
      to teacher. Many genuine teachers are dependant on their followers
      to support their organization and there is nothing wrong with this.
      However, I would say the line is crossed when one is asked to give.
      Being asked to give even by a fellow aspirant should be carefully
      considered. If the teacher lives a lavish lifestyle with large well
      appointed residences, and expensive cars while his followers live a
      common lifestyle then he should be viewed with skepticism.

      The reason we take a teacher is for the personal element of teaching
      which is so essential on this path. If the teacher is inaccessible
      then what is the point? Inaccessible teachers are like painted cakes-
      they look great but are useless in satisfying our hunger. If you
      cannot meet with a teacher face to face then how can you learn a
      spiritual path? Personal instruction with time for questions and
      answers is essential. An inaccessible teacher is the same as no

      Speaking of meeting face to face with a teacher brings up the
      element of the quality of that meeting. In India this quality of
      meeting with a true teacher is known as dharshan. Dharshan are the
      spiritual emanations of the teacher which are received by the
      student. The result of this is a deep sense of peace which stays
      with the student for some time after his meeting with the teacher.
      This is not a mood but an actual spiritual transmission which the
      student experiences. For a dedicated student some form of this
      experience should be present after meetings with the teacher. Lack
      of this experience could as easily be from a lack of receptiveness
      as easily as from lack of an accomplished spiritual teacher. So be
      careful on what conclusion you draw if this experience seems to be

      Finally, assuming one has had the good fortune of finding a moral
      and pure teacher does not necessarily mean that this teacher is
      himself an adept. Usually such a teacher will tell you that he is
      less than accomplished. This is not all bad: such honesty is not
      destructive of the spiritual life. Such a teacher can at least bring
      you up to his level. For many that would be more than they could
      hope for in a lifetime.

      Walking away from a mistaken choice can be easy or extremely
      difficult, depending on the amount of emotional investment. In my
      own experience I do not think I have failed but rather that have
      learned another lesson which bring me closer to meeting my real
      spiritual preceptor.

      So by now applying all of the above screens, tests and filters one
      effectively eliminate most of the candidates for the
      designation "spiritual guide". That means as one is paging through
      the various magazines and periodicals which advertise the "spiritual
      elect" one can discount most of them. Pretty incredible-but true.
      The fact is true spiritual teachers are a rare commodity. Of course,
      from the true spiritual master's standpoint, true aspirants are also
      rare. And only true aspirants will go to the trouble to qualify
      their teachers and to seek out the true teacher. It is a lot of work
      and requires a degree of discrimination. Guru Nanak a 15th century
      Master maintains:

      "Those whose guru is himself blind,
      Pointless is their pursuit of Truth;
      Without the guidance of the true guru
      We cannot find the Name (Truth)"

      As one reads the sacred texts of the East, repeatedly the same theme
      is argued which tells of the necessity of a guide. The Upanishads

      "Wisdom cannot be taught by one who has not attained wisdom…..The
      way to wisdom is through a teacher who has seen wisdom……This sacred
      knowledge is not attained by reasoning; but it can be given by a
      true teacher."

      I guess this wouldn't be complete without mentioning what happened
      after my layover in Tokyo which I mentioned in the beginning. That
      was 19 years ago. As you might guess I did not give up. Eventually,
      I found a teacher who fits every definition above and continues to
      do this after being his student for 15 years. I found him through my
      lovely wife who is East Indian. He has been her teacher for the last
      32 years and she can attest that he has always been consistent and
      pure. He is the embodiment of holiness. After 11 years I still find
      that he is a true teacher and exceeds all my expectations in this
      regard. His name is Santsevi of Bhagalpur, India and he is the true
      inspiration for this work.

      Jai Guru
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