Suggested Guidelines for Spiritual Teachers & Leaders

Years ago I discovered that one of my most cherished spiritual teachers, Jiddu Krishnamurti, had secretly slept with his loyal assistant’s wife for many years before admitting the affair and destroying that marriage. This wasn’t the first time I’d been disappointed by someone whose moral character I had admired, but it was certainly one of the more jarring and upsetting moments. So I began to examine the lives of many spiritual teachers throughout recent history, and found that many – too many – had demonstrated extraordinarily poor judgment in their relationships with others, in how they handled money, and in how they conducted themselves in private. The list is long, but suffice it to say that it involves all spiritual traditions across many different cultures. What I thought was most intriguing was that the instances of immoral misconduct among spiritual teachers and leaders seem to parallel what we find among politicians. This led me to suppose that either those who self-select for leadership may be more prone to the faulty ego structures and ethical foibles that seem to plague them, or that positions of power tend to induce these problems over time.

I then took a careful look at the spiritual leaders and teachers who have seemed to remain unscathed – not from occasional missteps, but from any lengthy histories of secretive and nefarious behaviors. And, over time, I began to cobble together some of the principles that guided many of them, which they either explicitly stated or could be derived from accounts of their lives from students, disciples and friends. Below is that list, a set of proposed guidelines that anyone who is a spiritual teacher or leader – or who is considering embarking on such a journey – might do well to meditate upon and pray over. If someone can think of anything else they believe could be a valuable contribution, please feel free to send them my way at [email protected].

Suggested Guidelines for Spiritual Teachers & Leaders

1) Do you believe you have a serious psychological or behavioral issue that could sabotage your work? Then avoid becoming a spiritual teacher or leader unless you disclose such things to everyone – openly and regularly – as a qualifier for your practice and teaching.

2) In the same vein, be vigilantly transparent about your personal history, challenging experiences, failures, and ongoing practice.

3) Do you believe you are immune to psychological or behavioral issues that could sabotage your work? Then consider not becoming a spiritual teacher or leader at all – or be prepared to have your beliefs radically revised.

4) Make sure to develop all aspects of your being, rather than focusing just on spiritual development, as these other dimensions support spiritual growth…and vice versa. (This is a central tenet of Integral Lifework)

5) Whenever possible, conduct meetings, instruction and therapeutic sessions in an open, public environment – if possible outside in a natural space, or in a space that is open to the outdoors or can view it (rather than inside a room with no windows).

6) Along the same lines, avoid spending time alone in a secluded place with someone who could become a romantic or sexual partner, unless that intent and its consequences are openly shared with your community.

7) Make sure your teaching methods, interactions with students, and collaborative efforts are all openly discussed, and that you encourage sharing and discourage secrecy.

8-) Exercise integrity around money (low overhead, transparency, tithing, non-profit status, simple living, etc.), and enter business relationships with those who do the same.

9) Avoid speaking ill of anyone – especially those encouraging transformative work – no matter how different or challenging their views or methods; this applies equally to other spiritual traditions.

10) Promote ideals in a non-ideal world – understand the necessity of working within a system that may advocate an inversion of spiritual values, without compromising your core principles.

11) Follow ethical guidelines similar to those found at the AAMFT ( or APA (

12) Don't start believing what people say about you (positive or negative) or allowing this to affect your work.

13) Be devoted to a Greater Work (personal and societal healing, growth and transformation that benefits the good of All) rather than any individual person or specific approach...and encourage others to do the same.

14) Cultivate genuine humility, empowering others rather than yourself.


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