On Spiritual Teachers

In Response to Quora Question: "Is it possible to walk a spiritual path without having direct access to a teacher?"

This is a very interesting thread of comments to me, so I would like to add my 2 cents.

I think the greatest variable in answering a question like this for yourself is appreciating what it is that you most require in this moment, and this has already been alluded to by others here. It sounds as though you already have a practice and a path, and in the traditions you mentioned, there is frequent encouragement to receive training, support and guidance from others who are also committed to those traditions. Personally I do not believe any one person is more enlightened than any other (and I do realize this may sometimes be at odds with lay perceptions in the traditions you mentioned), for I believe we are all part of the same continuum, and all have the same access to spiritual understanding; each of us has already "arrived" as it were, and are blessed to a portion of consciousness that is able to explore this reality - if only we choose to do so. Sure, at a given moment in a particular context, one person may seem wiser and more insightful about how to approach a particular challenge than another person. They may appear to inhabit a place we feel we are still aiming for. But put that same person in a completely different context, and they might really struggle. And I suspect it is because of this fact (at least in part) that most traditions encourage entering into community with other believers; it isn't necessarily because that it is the only way to remain committed or to grow - but it certainly helps a lot, and, of equal importance, it provides us with the opportunity to support and encourage others. Our spiritual aspirations need not feel like a lonely vigil all of the time, and when we combine our light with others, there is often an amplification effect for everyone. Just look at the discussion you yourself have sparked here!

Having said this, I would also like to offer insight that contradicts some of what has been shared here. Based on my own journey, on my observations of others, and on the teachings of many traditions, there is almost always a time when a teacher is necessary, there is almost always a time when a teacher becomes a hindrance, there is almost always a time when we must take on the mantle of teacher ourselves, and there is almost always a time when we must relinquish that mantle. Hence my initial comment of "appreciating what you most require in this moment." Now what constitutes a "teacher" can have a lot of variability. It may be a spiritual presence in your mind and heart that is perceived as coming from outside yourself, or it may be a person you look up to, or it may become available to you in the form of divination, or it may be spiritual writings that you become more and more intimate with, or it may issue from the stillness within you as a kind of knowing (when you meditate, etc.). Ultimately, however, there will come a time when that relationship changes - either because you are entering a new phase of your journey, or because your "teacher" is entering a new phase in their journey. In other words, the teacher-student relationship is always a dynamic one, even to the point where it might become reversed. And this is the crux of the matter as I see it: a skillful and wise teacher will recognize this to be the case. Anyone who tries to place the teacher-student relationship in a static box, where the teacher is always far beyond you, has misunderstood the nature of the spiritual teachings in their tradition. Many may disagree with me on this, to be sure, because the power structures inherent to human institutions tend to resist the freedoms granted us by spirit; but "liberation," though it may indeed require discipline, humility and self-control, should never become a ball-and-chain.

To close, I'd like to recount two of my favorite lines from Hindu and Buddhist texts - to fully appreciate these one must of course read and understand all of the text that surrounds them, but these words convey an arrival of sorts; a culmination of all that has gone before:

"But what is the use of knowing all of this, Arjuna? Just remember that I am, and that I support the entire cosmos with only a fragment of my being." The Bhagavad Gita

"All structures, simply as structures, are themselves essentially enlightenment." Mother of the Buddhas: Meditation on the Prajnaparamita Sutra" (Lex Hixon)

I hope this was helpful.


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