People mostly believe in absolute truthfulness of their mind creations. This leads to discriminatory perception even in respect to spirituality. Kept in cyclical existence of samsara, ruled by karma, desires and suffering, they come up with many Ego driven meanings of spirituality, and often forget that in its core, spirituality is not about satisfying but rather dissolving the Self.
Whatever initial meaning of the spirituality one may have, once person steps on the spiritual path, questions considering the teacher surface too: what should be a role of the spiritual teacher and how to chose the right one?
In general, a teacher is a person who guides and gives instructions with the goal to transmit knowledge, understanding or skills. Although a spiritual teacher may take the same educative role, knowledge or understanding by itself are not his primary goal. What makes the role of the spiritual teacher unique is that his goal lies beyond intellectual knowledge. He does not try to bring student to the specialised proficiency, but rather to the recognition of his own nature. This is much subtler approach than teaching of a particular skill. A student can have a broad knowledge of spiritual principles, memorise countless spiritual or religious books, and yet can still not have truly recognized those principles as being inherent in his own being.
Although subtle, this difference between regular and spiritual teacher is profound and yet sometimes is remaining unrecognised or even unappreciated by inexperienced student. To exemplify this difference, one can say that the regular teacher provides tips and tricks which can help walking with the closed eyes and at the other side, the spiritual teacher would try to open student’s eyes.
Still, depending on the student’s needs in a specific moment, the spiritual teacher may decide to transmit to him a lot, or nothing at all. Purposely restricted information can happen, either because teacher considers student’s maturity level as inadequate, or because such restriction can serve as a tool for achieving the next level of the realisation. Independent on teacher attempt, in such situations a student may start questioning if he needs his guidance at all.
To use an analogy of mountaineering: as there are rare mountaineers who conquer virgin routes to the mountain picks on their own, similarly some exceptional people can reach spiritual picks without the teacher. Still, the majority can travel safe and fast only with the good guide.
Guidance is particularly important at the first and the final step of the Way. At the beginning of the spiritual journey, one is entering unknown territory. Insecurity and fear often prevent or delay the first step, unless the teacher is there to push his student out of the comfort zone. The final step comes with the death of the Ego. One dies and is born again. This important process of loosing everything and gaining all in one single moment, is the best travelled under the guidance of awakened teacher who is in full spiritual maturity of the true master.
But, how can one recognize the true master when people who take a teacher’s role vary in their spiritual maturity? Though some of them are fully awakened, the majority is not. Not-awakened people are still driven by Egos and karmic tendencies and if regardless to this, they anyway assume the role of the spiritual teacher, their actions will target satisfaction of own needs and not needs of the student. As a result, the student will be halt back from own destination.
It is not much safer to engage with awakened teachers who prematurely attained their teaching role. Euphoria of the early after-awakening stages, bears sincere wish to help everyone, but so far the karmic residuals of the awakened person are not transcended, this impulse, no matter how noble the goal of the awakened person is, can bring both, the student and the teacher to the dangerous places.
Search for the true master gets even more difficult because some of these who have reached Nirvana through self-realisation, without support of any spiritual guides and teachers, decide not to get engage in teaching at all.
The fact is that at the time when people start searching for a teacher, they still didn’t fully recognize even own needs. Their idea about qualities that teacher should posses is even less clear. It is mostly based on books, society norms and mind fabrications. They often evaluate teacher’s quality by the level of pleasantness their Egos experience when listening to him or by the success and moral standards of the secular world. This way, choice of the teacher often falls on people who posses great charisma, rhetoric capabilities or are excellent at self-marketing. Such teachers are mostly easy at giving big promises. They make people feel enthusiastic, safe and confortable; recognized and confirmed in their impulses. But, though they can make others feel happy for a while, illusions persist and reconciliation is only short-termed.
Although, this short happiness seems to be sufficient sometimes, the people tend to forget that by entering a spiritual path, one starts opening and letting own guards down. With this, when committing to the teacher, one puts own life in teacher’s hands. So it is essential for a student to make a good decision considering the choice of the teacher.
Problem is, that it is not as simple to distinguish between the fully awakened and not-(fully) awakened teachers. Though the number of people who claim to be awakened and try to reveal own experience is growing, many masters don’t like to speak about this experience. Words are dualistic and delimited and as such too vague to articulate the Boundless, so talking or not talking about this is equally empty.
For verification of the true master, one needs certain spiritual maturity. He can’t be recognised through the intellect, cause in most cases he may behave very illogical. This is as well a first hint when searching for a teacher, because the pseudo-master tries to be very logical. Of course, the true master may play with your intellect too, but only with the purpose to break your Ego. Being in a state of unified oppositions he mostly speaks in paradox and seam to contradict himself. This happens, because the truth is unifying the opposites and as such can’t be packed in one-dimensional words. He will point to the most fundamental qualities of the student’s already existing nature, specifically, the qualities of oneness, awareness, and emptiness. Student will be thought to understand that dualism is mind’s creation and that all existence is just a one and the same by playing with sweetness and bitterness, softness and hardness, ordinary and un-ordinary. With this, disciple’s Ego will be under constant pressure: from soft to hard and back again.
All this measures will shake disciple’s ground with intensity, which causes self-preserving response of the Ego: fear, insecurity and anger being just part of it. One will approach the crossroad, struggling with decision, which way to go: toward awakening or toward Ego re-establishment. Whatever choice one makes, the only way to leave this sticky mud of feelings is to keep moving. In such moments one may either drop analytical mind and recognise own nature, or try to impose all responsibility for emerging fear on the teacher, unrecognising action of own Self in it.
This struggle is caused by the tendencies of the disciple’s karmic structure. The true master tries to help changing these karmic tendencies and with this, opens the way toward transformation. Since mind creates traps, to prevent this transformation, this way is not easy and can be crossed safely unless with skillfully guidance of the teacher. Master is never offering a short-term solace and never gives promises of ultimate success and liberation. He is well aware that process may take time, which may be longer then disciple is ready to invest. Even when that impatience brings up some mundane strategies of the disciple, such negotiation, emotional bride or trickery, master is not impressed. He knows that running faster than one can deal with is like stepping into gap at the bridge; in the most cases one falls. But, once the edge of the gap is naturally approached, the true master may even thrust disciple over it, if moment is right.
Still, independent on his action, the only intention he follows is breaking through karmic walls of the disciple. He doesn’t expect a gratitude, love, devotion, and surrender. Compliments or criticism would have the same level of importance for him. Being already Selfless, his Ego can’t rise when complimented, nor fall when criticised. He is at the disciple’s side simply to serve recognition of his true nature. The rest is relatively unimportant.
Still, a form of devotion or love can arise within the master-disciple relationship, but without any characteristics specific to the secular relationships. The master is not attached to his student, doesn’t try to be loved, admired or to keep student around. This form of love is rather expressed as immense gratitude that arises when the truth is seen: one is grateful for everything and nothing.
Master does not identify himself neither with his role of the teacher. He considers this only as the function, which is operating during spiritual un-folding of the disciple, and as such does not present a fundamental part of his true nature. He does not consider it more real or unreal than any other role and he keeps it operative only until it is simply no longer needed- when the disciple has realized his deeper nature.
And that could be taken as another key when searching for a true master. If there are some teacher’s qualities which one should consider, that would be approach where teacher is fully devoted to truly serve this function of pointing to the deeper truth of Being.