The perfect spiritual teacher

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.

Dalai Lama with Marco Pannella

Image by dumplife (Mihai Romanciuc) via Flickr

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8 thoughts on “The perfect spiritual teacher

  1. Leigh, you have captured my thoughts about teachers very well. We look for the same things and I believe we both have been fortunate in finding those teachers we can learn from while sharing the journey. You are a teacher to me on many levels and I am happy that we can have this further conversation through your blog.

  2. Leigh, if it interests you, I would enjoy a post about Brugh Joy. I saw you write that you had attended one of his workshops. I stumbled upon “Joy’s Way” at a bookstore in 2000 or so, and the book was life changing for me. At that time, there was nothing on the internet to satisfy my curiosity about him, so it was good to see this video.

    • I’m not sure I have much more to say — I just attended a part day event and read Joy’s Way in 1989 — with reference points since. At Nine Gates his Spiral Balancing is always a highlight and I’ve taught it to some people and enjoyed participating many times but to be honest I never studied much more. Joy’s Way is really good, isn’t it?

      • Thanks for your response! Joy’s Way introduced me to the Tarot, and started me down the path of western Hermeticism. That’s how it changed my life. He seems softer and more approachable in the video than in the book.

  3. I feel the same way, Leigh. We pass along what we’ve learned and picked up along the way, and what might come through us, while continuing along and learning on the Way. I remember one mentor saying, “We teach what what our heart and soul desires to learn more deeply.”

    With regards to quite a few today who self-identify as ‘enlightened’, I’d walk the other way (anyone even marginally enlightened wouldn’t promote themselves as enlightened!). Thanks for sharing your perspective on this … it’s important today with all of the instant-masters promoting their wares! Blessings, Jamie

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