Every now and then I realize that my attitude toward my spiritual teachers is not the only approach. My main concern is whether the teacher can convey to me something that helps my path. Someone told me long ago, “I never trust a teacher who doesn’t have a teacher.” I like a teacher who acknowledges that the journey is never over and that he or she is still learning. The Buddhists talk about beginner’s mind and I feel it’s a sign of spiritual maturity when someone acknowledges that there is always more to learn and even a beginning class can bring an insight.
I’ve met a lot of people on the journey whose standard for teachers is perfection and if they see any sign ever that the teacher is not perfect in practice they walk away in disgust. Many also want a teacher who appears to know everything; they don’t want to hear any doubts or questions or the incomplete parts of the teacher’s journey.
I’ve also noticed there are a lot of teachers who either speak or write as if they have achieved perfection and are now conveying their perfect wisdom. They don’t mention their personal struggles or what they are still working on. I got tired a long time ago of reading books that gave me no sense of the writer’s journey other than the implication of some sort of pinnacle (I find it implied by the lack of discussion of foibles, problems, etc. or when the only ones mentioned are in the long ago past).
In an infinite universe there is always more to learn. There are also very few people who ever achieve some kind of permanent enlightened state in which they no longer have any issues. In Joy’s Way, Brugh Joy noted that often when teaching a person has moved into a heightened state of consciousness while in ordinary life she is on personality level. (J.P. Tarcher, Inc., 1979, pp. 40-41). It’s a mistake, according to him, to judge a teacher based on everyday life, which may reflect little of his or her powers when in an expanded state.
The best teachers I’ve known have been up front about their weaknesses and they’re also still taking classes or working with a teacher. I like the self-awareness and honesty of a teacher who admits to his or her foibles and who knows that he or she can always learn more. Even the Dalai Lama just laughs when anyone calls him enlightened.