When getting seriously interested in spiritual topics, we will come across spiritual teachers. Who are they and what can we realistically expect of them?
We normally go to teachers, spiritual or otherwise, for help with what we are undertaking. We naturally expect them to have some competence in the subject, but also that they are able to explain it in a way that we can understand.
Therefore, a good teacher will have a measure of patience because they know that it is not always easy to understand some topics, and that time working with it will eventually result in some understanding. However, it is unreasonable to expect a teacher to have infinite patience to answer our questions, especially if we have not taken the effort to understand. Most topics have an experiential component that no amount of explanations will replace.
With the spiritual path, there are many aspects that cannot be directly and definitively explained, mainly because they require a change in thinking, or even activating higher faculties, to begin to comprehend. Therefore, even more patience on the part of teacher and student is required.
As with most advanced teachers in any topic, a spiritual teacher will delegate the instruction of newcomers to those with enough competence and understanding to do so. Those instructors will be the ones that get more of the teacher's direct time. It will be a rare newcomer that can jump the queue.
We normally expect teachers to be reasonable examples of what they teach about, but it is unreasonable to expect them to be perfect.
In general, teaching is a different skillset to that of being a highly skilled practitioner, and until a pupil is advanced, it is the teaching skillset that produces the best results. However, many seem to expect a spiritual teacher to be perfect examples of a human being, and so can be surprised when they see a person who doesn't look like their expectations, and may even have illnesses.
The disparity is because the spiritual path speeds up the connection from the inner into the personality, putting a lot of pressure on the bodies of the personality to adapt quickly. If the bodies cannot keep up, disease and illness can result. That is why adequate rest on the path is important, but that does not slow down the process if still striving to connect to the inner. It is more important to look beyond their form and into what they are manifesting.
Spiritual teachers can be very personable, but that does not mean they will become friends with their pupils. Just like any other person with a personality, they may get along with some people very well, whereas others they may be more distant with. What we can rightfully expect is that they are even-handed with everybody in regard to their role as a teacher. They and their pupils must respect each others' personal boundaries.
In choosing whether to follow a spiritual teacher, we need make sure we really want to go in the direction they want to take us.
The spiritual path is not a short one, and so requires sustained effort. Like any undertaking requiring a lot of effort over a long time, we need to be certain that it is something we really want to do. When coming across a spiritual group, there can be a lot that is attractive and the people there may seem really friendly, accepting and inviting. We may feel like it is just so natural for us to be there.
But visiting someone's home is not the same as living there, and so, while partaking of the atmosphere, we need to be observant of how it is run, and how people interact with each other. It is the same as if we were evaluating a business to see if we should bring our custom there, and how staff talk to each other and with customers defines the atmosphere. If we feel comfortable with it, we will stay with them.
That is not to say we should be hypercritical, as no place is always peaceful and running smoothly, but we need to allow ourselves to feel the real atmosphere, and whether we get a real sense of whether we would like to continue to join in their activities. We are responsible for choosing how much we want to be involved, and so we don't have to commit more than we are prepared to, despite what the virtues the spiritual teacher or their followers may extol.
Generally, in return for tuition and training, we will contribute our time and some money to helping the spiritual teacher in their work. This will typically be by helping with setup and cleanup of activities, and if we become more involved, cleaning of facilities or helping with administration.
The effort we commit to should be sort of commensurate with the inner help we receive. There should be no exploitation or undue coercion, but it is reasonable that we should fulfill what we have committed to. That does not mean that we cannot change our minds, but like any other relationship, changes should be discussed so that a new level of commitment can be established.
An organisation should never require giving over all our money and possessions to them, nor deliberately separating ourselves from those family and friends we are on good terms with. That is a sign to immediately leave, as it has nothing to do with the spiritual path. That is a path to control, and unworthy of a true spiritual teacher. Understand that a truly spiritual path is fully voluntary, as the commitment to our spiritual growth requires our conscious and willing consent, free of coercion and undue pressure. It is commitment, not slavery. We must be free to use our free will to make the choice.
Spiritual organisations are not static, but like any other, circumstances change, leading to a change of priorities, new activities, and letting go of others. We need to be flexible, but that does not mean that we need to endure if we no longer feel comfortable with the direction the organisation is heading in. Any non-coercive organisation should allow its members to discuss issues and opportunities, but as in any other, those in ultimate charge have the last say. If we no longer feel we can live with the changes, it may be time to leave.
We don't have to be angry to do that. It is just a reality that no relationships last forever, and it may be that we need to further our learning with another teacher. This is not unusual, as some teachers may be a way of opening a door within us that enables us to find our long-term teacher. Be grateful and move on with no regrets or acrimony.
Spiritual growth can become rather heady at times, as we experience deeper things in meditation. However, we need to keep grounded for our own sanity.
In our enthusiasm and thirst for experiences, we may spend a lot of time in spiritual practices and busying ourselves with the organisation's activities. However, there must be balance in all things, and retaining our involvement in less lofty endeavours will keep us from losing our mental and emotional balance.
We may have regular work that makes sure our heads don't stay in the clouds, but we still need relaxing activities that allow our personalities a measure of everyday expression. If we have true friends, that we haven't bored to death with our newfound enlightenment, just enjoy their company, and respect their beliefs. It is about being able to share acceptance of life as a human being without judgement.
Very few have the calling (dharma) to be involved full-time with an organisation, but that has nothing to do with our standing within it. If our dharma is to be involved with our outer work, then it is just as important, and we should apply right measure and balance to all that we do.
There are many claiming to speak on behalf of divine beings these days, but how do you tell what is real?
Understand that we are always channeling something, hopefully our higher selves, but mostly our personalities and their desires. Also understand that god is big, and concerned with maneuvering galaxies around, thus affecting the lives of billions of beings, so it is very unlikely that they will be doing a sole one-to-one with a person.
That ought to start putting things into perspective. God delegates everything so that all that happens is a result of lesser consciousnesses playing their part in the divine plan. We are also learning to play our part in that plan, at our level. We are learning to serve, of our own free will. That does not mean that all those lesser consciousnesses are fully cooperating, just like we don't, so if we don't make sure that we are grounded, and know ourselves and what we stand for, some of those mischievous consciousnesses will feed some not so useful thoughts into our minds.
Unfortunately, some are so wanting to feel important and worthy that they will give themselves over to those consciousnesses so much that they cease to use their reasoning skills any more. What comes out of their mouths and their actions will gradually lose touch with reality and their actions will become erratic.
We still have to be grounded enough to know when we are being fed stuff that is nonsense. We must listen to what is actually being said or asked of us, and reality check it. Does it make sense? What is the real outcome of following the instructions? We must avoid being caught up in someone else's glamours about themselves and their importance, and remember who we really are. We are still human beings, with faults and prone to getting caught up in our dreams. That doesn't stop when being a spiritual teacher.
A real spiritual teacher will catch themselves before giving over to their delusions. They will also be instrumental in helping us to avoid the same traps. A true spiritual teacher is a human being with a divine mission, but who still remains human and relatively humble. Likewise, we are human beings, with the capability of changing ourselves and the world, but only according to the capacity we actually have, not with what we wish we had!