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In an age of instant gratification, sound bites and fast food, it is not surprising that many believe that a few minutes of deep breathing, concentrating on the space between the eyebrows, parroting a mantra or sashaying through a visualization fantasy will produce enlightenment. On the other hand, because spirituality is totally unregulated, setting standards by which techniques, teachings and teachers can be objectively evaluated is impossible. So the situation is potentially dangerous, a further advertisement for a mature mind.
You need to be very clear about your true motivations because the teacher you get depends on them. The post-World War II prosperity that led to the breakdown of the family has produced many love-starved seekers. A South Indian saint regularly hugs thousands a day, a sad commentary on the emotional health of the planet. If the desire for love is a strong motivation, caution is advised because needy people rarely enjoy good discrimination. It is important to love your teacher for the right reasons. Otherwise you will end up enlightenment-disappointed and love-disappointed.
Suspicion, the mirror opposite of neediness, is another unhealthy force operating in many seekers. A suspicious person has usually suffered abuse, real or imagined, at the hands of parents and others, and often has a chip on the shoulder. This type is often highly intelligent, knows that everyone has an agenda and is eager to discover it. But it is not always easy to figure out a teacher’s true agenda, because many teachers are self-deluded, their true motivations hidden behind a screen of pious concern for others or a flashy energy-awakening practice. They make you feel good at first, and when you are hooked they dig in their claws.
This kind of seeker usually sits in the back and looks for flaws in the teacher and the teaching, unlike the love-starved emotional types who sit up front sucking up the energy as if it were a drug. They often end up loving a dead teacher, one of the greats of yesteryear. This approach avoids the pitfalls associated with unqualified teachers, but is ultimately unfulfilling because dead gurus cannot wield the means of knowledge and help with practical issues. This type often imagines that the guru is sending instructions from beyond the grave. But ex-parte instructions are unreliable because they invariably coincide with the seeker’s spiritual desires, beliefs, prejudices and opinions. Loving an ideal has its joys, but it is a lonely and frustrating path. A radiantly enlightened person can sit at the same table with such a seeker and go unrecognized.
Seekers should view all teachers, gurus, meditation masters and their teachings unsentimentally. Claims of spiritual attainment should be taken with a grain of salt. The more a teacher self-promotes, the longer the beard, the more extravagant the name, the slower the speech, the more grandiose the claims of special powers, the more your suspicions should be aroused. Suspending your critical faculties, though passing for devotion in certain circles, is dangerous. Enlightenment does not need advertisement. When you have assimilated life’s lessons and sincerely long for liberation, the self will manifest a respectable, purified teacher.
The potential for abuse is greatest when the teacher touts the “no ego, no thought” notion of enlightenment. If thinking is a problem in general, critical thought is definitely a problem for a guru because it may be directed at him or her. When the teachings emphasize surrender, a red flag should go up. When enlightenment is presented as something you need to experience, the alarms should ring loudly.
There are many ways to deceive a person who does not know who they are. One of the most popular is the belief that you will only get enlightened when your karma is gone. The guru’s job is to eat your karma. Therefore you need a hungry guru. But karma does not stand in the way of the self; before you have karma you are the self. The self need only be revealed. Even if some karma has to be removed to prepare the mind for inquiry, nobody else could remove it, because it stands in your account. The guru can only remove the karma standing in his or her account, which will be considerable if he or she allows this notion of enlightenment to stand.
Perhaps the most common deception is the failure on the part of the teacher to elucidate clearly the qualifications for enlightenment, assuming that he or she understands their importance, permitting the seeker to entertain false hope about the likelihood of enlightenment.
The potential for abuse declines abruptly with a valid scriptural means of self-knowledge because it does not promise something you do not already have and it provides a way to check the words of the teacher for authenticity. It also encourages conditional surrender to the teaching, pending the outcome of your own investigation. A proper teacher will not promise to fix your life, because a means of self-knowledge is not intended to fix your life. If your life is a mess, it is a mess because you are a mess. The means of knowledge will only make clear who you are and who you are not, assuming you are qualified to understand. When the teaching is assimilated, life takes care of itself. The teacher’s authority should not rest only on personal experience but on how effectively he or she communicates the meaning of scripture. Additionally, the core teaching, discrimination, puts you in the driver’s seat. In a proper lineage, the teacher sees his or her self as the servant of the student. He or she cannot teach unless you ask for knowledge, so you have equal power in the relationship.
Without self-awareness, you are at the mercy of your conditioning. The most fundamental relationship imprint is parent-child. The parent has all the power, authority, experience and knowledge in the relationship and the child has virtually none. Ideally, as the child gains experience and knowledge, the gap narrows. When parity is achieved, the child is an adult. If you have not individuated when you begin seeking and you meet an authority figure like a spiritual master, you will unconsciously assume the role of a child. You will look up to the teacher, submit to his or her authority and quickly become dependent. If the teacher is not mature, you are putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop. He or she will be more than happy to be your parent because it will be easier to achieve his or her agenda in this role. Usually teachers are not corrupt, but they are often at the mercy of their own unresolved conditioning, particularly the desire for fame, respect, power and love. This family paradigm is the default model for most teacher-student relationships and is contrary to the fundamental purpose of enlightenment. Freedom is freedom from your conditioning. It means you have nothing to work out and have no agenda. The ideal teaching style is friendship. Friendship is a spiritual archetype because an equal relationship obtains between friends. A friend may know more than you, but he or she does not make you feel as if he or she is doing you a favor by disclosing it. He or she happily shares, no strings attached.
The Zen master Dogen is reputed to have said, “Next to good manners [dharma], enlightenment is the most important thing in the world.” When you focus exclusively on feelings associated with unresolved conditioning, you lose sight of the big picture. If a teacher can keep you high on “the energy” or distract you with a heavy load of service work, you will not ask questions. If you are wrapped up in your practice, the teacher can pursue his or her agenda away from prying eyes. Trust is good, knowledge is better. It is up to you to find out what goes on behind the scenes, if anything. You can only blame yourself when you discover that you are being exploited in some way. To avoid exploitation and disappointment, you must have a refined appreciation of dharma. A teacher who consciously appreciates dharma and follows it impeccably has a charismatic aura of sanctity, purity and grace. He or she has a clean and straightforward feel. His or her life is remarkable for its absence of conflict. He or she has no agenda. In other words, he or she lives the teaching.
A teacher that immediately sets out to put you to work in his or her service has an agenda. Once it is known that you are compliant, demands for money, sexual favors, etc. follow. The most common, unimaginative and irresistible agenda is the idea that you are helping others to enlightenment by helping the teacher get more people to enlighten. Ask yourself why the teacher wants more people to enlighten when he or she has you to enlighten. Invariably, you will be told that you are not ready, which will be true if you find yourself dealing with such a teacher. Find out how the teacher supports his or herself. See the lifestyle. Is it five-star hotels, fancy cars and expensive jewelry? Bhagwan Rajneesh, who rechristened himself Osho to wiggle out of his bad karma, had ninety-three Rolls Royces and wanted one for every day of the year. How many are necessary to enlighten you?
Before you place your faith in a teacher, do your due diligence. Check the Web for blogs and sites by disaffected students. Look for the scandal. Observe the students. What kind of people are they? Are they guarded and cliquish? Are they open and self-reliant? Do they act superior? Do they cower and simper in front of the teacher? Many teachers are power-hungry bullies and obvious egomaniacs. Do the students think for themselves or do they only spout the party line? Do you have to learn a special language to fit in? Cults invariably have their own special lingo. Or do they speak normally?
Enlightenment is self-knowledge. If a teacher claims that his or her enlightenment is experiential and that he or she can transmit it, the enlightenment will be temporary. Only energy can be transmitted, not enlightenment. Enlightenment is the knowledge “I am awareness.” Awareness is not something you experience and develop, it is something you are. To realize who you are, a special means of knowledge needs to be worked on you by the teacher. Even if you are set free by the teachings of self-inquiry, you are not necessarily qualified to teach. You need the disposition of a teacher and mastery of the means of knowledge.