Finding a Teacher

"Finding" a Teacher
by Tess Hughes

                     
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Swami Satchidananda The use of the word "finding" suggests some kind of active search or determination by the spiritual seeker. The spiritual seeker is always making this determination from an egoic stand. The seeker has some qualities in mind by which they will assess or select their teacher. Very often the qualities include such things as: enlightened (claims), articulate, loving, charismatic, available, dresses according to some style or standard that is acceptable to the seeker, has a good reputation, belongs to a certain tradition or is rejected because they belong to a specific tradition. Often I hear seekers say they feel drawn to a teacher because they like them.

Seekers look to satisfy some desire such as: the need for belonging, to be part of a group, or to be acknowledged, to have loving or unusual experiences, to have a methodology which alleviates us of the responsibility of doing things for our selves, and so on. The problem here is that the seeker, not yet having identified the core value of a spiritual teacher is applying wrong values. You don't have to like your teacher to learn from them. You do however need to value what you are being taught and to respect the way in which it is being unfolded for you. If you do not have this respect for the teaching and how it is being taught, you won't get it because you'll be full of resistance. Of course, you'll justify all those resistances with rational explanations of all that is wrong with the teacher or the group or the activities that are recommended for you.

In other words teachers are often sought for qualities other than the one thing they can offer, which is guiding us home to our own true nature. Because the spiritual seeker is not sure of what they are looking for, they judge spiritual teachers by the same criteria they judge any other kind of teacher.

Seekers usually compare teachers based on rational and emotional attributes. We say things such as: I like her, he's too intellectual for me, he's long-winded or I don't like her accent. We dismiss possible teachers on the basis of some secondary quality. We reject them because they haven't been served up on a silver platter of our particular liking. It hasn't struck us that we might need to adjust something in ourselves in order to be able to hear them. Ego doesn't like adjusting itself.

But, the spiritual teacher is of another ilk altogether. A true spiritual teacher has only one thing in mind in regard to you. They want to turn you in on yourself. Having come to the end of this journey of inward turning, and having been transformed internally by the climax of that journey, they want to help you facilitate this climax in yourself. They do this by sharing what worked for them in the hope that this sharing helps you, encourages you, and sustains you through the difficult parts. This happens through the same personality they had prior to self-realisation and it may or may not be a good teacher personality. But, the personality is secondary to what is being taught by it. This is an important distinction. They also know where the journey leads and can see the many ways seekers go off track. They can encourage you back on track because they recognise the detours.

Now, back to the point I started out with, that of "finding" a teacher. One teaching that is common to all the great teachings of The Perennial Way is articulated in some of the following ways: You are not the Doer, Not my will but Thy will be done, our desires are the problem, the false self (ego) is the problem, Surrender to what is, etc. If you are a serious spiritual seeker you have already come across some version of this idea. Having come across it and being willing to do it are two different things. What this teaching is saying in its various forms is that we are not in charge of our own destiny, or spiritual unfolding. Trying to control how our spiritual evolution plays out is detrimental to it. It's an oxymoron! Trying to choose a teacher that suits us is beyond our ability because what is trying to choose the teacher is the problem. From an egoic perspective we do not know what is best for our spiritual evolution.

A surrendering attitude of accepting the teacher presented to us by life and making the necessary adjustment to hear them is what is necessary. This is, you may say, a circular argument, that you need to surrender before you find the right teacher for you. I could put this another way: that not until you have surrendered to some extent are you likely to accept what is presented to you. You are not likely to recognise your teacher, being blinded by your own desires or ideas and the opinions of others. I boldened the "your" because I want to emphasise the point that what or who works for one may not work for someone else. It's not a "being part of the crowd" thing. Each one's spiritual path is unique to them. It's important to have an appreciation that spiritual seeking will take you in directions you could not have anticipated and by means that you could not determine beforehand.

My own path was that I was not looking for a teacher when, by what I thought was chance at the time, I came across a group called TAT Foundation on the internet. I accepted this find as an unexpected boon as, at that time, I had given up all hope of ever finding any spiritual satisfaction in my life. It was three or four years later when it dawned on me that one member of this group, Art Ticknor, with whom I had been having an erratic correspondence was actually my teacher. I didn't know him personally. I knew very little about his life. And he didn't know much about me either. How much can you share in emails? And besides we had more pressing issues to discuss than family history and social life. There was never any formal arrangement between us. Issues such as loyalty, exclusivity, or money were never mentioned. I understood that he was giving me the gift of his time and knowledge and shaping it as best he could to suit me. I felt the onus was on me to try to digest and assimilate what he wrote. There was a mutual effort to meet the other in understanding. I read and did everything he recommended. I think the fact that I understood that Art had been given to me as a gift, a gift from Life, made me enormously grateful to Life and to Art and my part was to use this gift as best I could.

I tell you this because I see so many sincere seekers getting lost in trying to find a teacher while overlooking what is actually being presented to them. An attitude of looking for a teacher is coming from the wrong place. The teacher is presented. It's a matter of the seeker being willing to recognise and accept what is offered and to use it. With an accepting intelligent attitude the path opens up naturally for us, not by having been laid out ahead of time, but opening up as we walk the path. It is our unique path home. It is not a passive relationship where the student blindly or passively follows the teacher's instructions. The student needs to actively engage in the teachings, try to understand the point of the exercise and interpret it in their own experience and verify with the teacher that they are on the right track. The teacher helps the seeker understand where they are heading and what is the intended value of the exercise given. Make no mistake, it is the student/seekers responsibility to assimilate and act on the teachings in relation to their own lives. It's an intelligent relationship, with both parties actively playing their role in relation to the other, in relation to the goal. It is always a unique relationship. Living as we do in internet times, we have access to every variety of teachings and teacher. This is a new situation. In the past one was most likely to find a teacher within their own community and spiritual tradition of their geographic locality. There wasn't much scope for shopping around for teachers. And there wasn't the problem of being confused or impressed by cultural trappings or the language barrier. This is less time and energy consuming than trying to choose between the enormous variety available to us today. I have been asked if it is better to stay within one tradition or to switch from on to another. I do not think there is one single answer to this question. The spiritual path is as varied as those who travel it. But, I do suggest that it is valuable to try to find what is common/fundamental in the various traditions. Do not be confused by geographic or time variants. Perennial means perennial! Take responsibility for you own progress and accept what help presents itself to you.

The teacher is the one who is pertinent to you at a particular time or stage on your journey. And it may well be that you need to move on from one teacher to another when the time is right. But, do not do it for superficial reasons or because the going is getting tough. The relationship only works if you give it your full commitment and effort. Nowadays there is a danger of always seeking novelty or a quick fix. As the old saying goes "Hills look green when faraway". Don't confuse the methodology with the goal.

By its nature the relationship between the spiritual student and the spiritual teacher is one that demands trust, respect, perseverance, good humour, friendliness, and willingness to be melted into your Self.

See TessHughes.com for more of Tess's teachings.


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