Can you feel the quality of a spiritual teacher?

I got a book for review recently that I put down within a few minutes because it made me all jittery. A few days ago we had a spiritual teacher do a lecture at our local theosophical lodge, and he turned the room quiet. We didn’t even have questions to last the full time set for that stuff…

While as to metaphysics I don’t completely agree with that teacher (which is why I won’t put his name up here), it was clear that he had a certain something that put us all in a meditative state. I even meditated a bit when I came home. Something I do very rarely. In fact, he reminded me of the meditative state I used to go into quite frequently without effort when I was younger.

This is what the Indian people call ‘darshan’ – merely the seeing of a spiritual teacher is thought to be a blessing. The ‘higher’ the teacher, the stronger the effect.

Someone asked my opinion recently about various theosophically relevant teachers: Alice Bailey, Benjamin Creme… I responded that they weren’t my thing. That Alice Bailey though, based on her autobiography, did seem authentic. Still, her books don’t ring much of a bell with me. With Benjamin Creme it’s worse: I have no idea what he’s talking about. What’s the message? What’s he trying to teach?

The feel of teachings is, I think, very often what makes us stick with one teacher instead of another. This is no doubt partly personal preference. Some teachers and authors fit us, others don’t.

On the flip side, a popular teacher in The Netherlands had me invited to one of his lectures recently. I guess he, or his followers, wanted to enlist me. I didn’t go, because the last time I went he’d tried to hypnotize the crowd. I’m sensitive to that sort of thing, so I could hardly walk afterwards. However, that same effect, in a lighter form I’m sure, is what makes him so popular.

So, there are two issues here: the genuine feel of a great teacher, and the misleading feel of a not so good one. Still, what else is there to judge a teacher by?

15 thoughts on “Can you feel the quality of a spiritual teacher?”

  1. You asked, “What else is there to judge a teacher by?”
    Their fruit perhaps?

    I agree looking at the person is no guide. For my money there’s something of an inverse correlation. If someone is a good fit within our culture, I’m immediately suspicious.

    So if we cannot look at the person, perhaps we can look at the people who follow him/her? I suspect the feeling you get around them would be less subject to even unconscious manipulation.

    [Showing my ignorance: I thought Alice A Bailey’s teaching was the essence of theosophy! So I’m glad of your correction and will have to keep my eyes and ears more open in future. 🙂 ]

    1. 🙂 Depends on who you ask… the essence of Theosophy to me is Blavatsky. As I tried to say, I think, it’s a matter of taste.

      – and yes, the fruits are one way to judge a teacher. However, someone capable of shattering your self-conceptions may not behave in a way that you recognize as ‘good fruit’.

  2. You mention AAB and Benjamin Creme, both of whom are really outside the Theosophical mainstream. I would be interested in your thoughts about Geoffrey Hodson, a mainstream TS figure whose posthumously published autobiography discloses that he claimed to have had extensive contact with a number of Mahatmas, as well as HPB! He also claimed that a certain Mahatma helped him with some of his better known books. If all this is legit, then he should be getting lots more recognition than he has received. And if it’s not legit, then Mr. Hodson was seriously self-deluded (or frankly delusional), in spite of his wide acceptance by theosophists of the Adyar camp. Quite a problem.

  3. Thank you for your interesting article.With regrds to AAB we must remember that she was a member of the TS for most of her life and her roots were in Theosophy.Many of her books have reference to the Secret Doctrine an other theosophical works.As regards Benjamin Creme I have heard him speak many times both here in the UK and in the Netherlands and for me his message is loud and clear-that the Masters and their Head of the Spiritirual Hierarchy are about to emerge.Nothing of this contradicts anything in the Bailey books or any Theosophical books.He is a contemporary teacher of the Ageless Wisdom.

  4. I would like to tell you a story: “Once there was a man who was always searching for his true Master, his Satguru. He went everywhere, but yet his heart was not pleased as he did not find his Satguru. Eventually, one day he was near a Saint and he asked him, “Dear Sir, I am on a search for my Satguru; could you please guide me?”
    The Saint closed his eyes and meditated for a little while and said to the man, “Listen, my son, up on the mountain that you see there are many Holy Men staying. Tomorrow is a very good day; invite all of them to your place for lunch. With love and dedication serve them food and give them respect and as they are eating ask them a question. Take twigs from any tree then ask the Holy Men from which tree they come. The man invited the Holy Men to his place, as the Saint had told him to do. He served them food with much love and respect. Then he showed them the twigs of the tree and asked each one of them “Dear Sir, tell me to which plant or which fruit tree does this twig belong?”
    The Saint had previously said to the man looking for his Satguru, “When the Holy Men say which tree the twigs come from, you contradict them. When they say it’s mango, you say, “No, the twigs are from a peepal tree.” The one who stays calm and says, “Maybe, it is possible that the twigs are from a peepal tree,” will be a true Master.
    As he was asking, “To which tree does this plant, this twig belong,” the Gurus, the Holy Men got very frustrated and furious saying, “Why do you not see that the twig is from a mango branch and stop telling us all the time that it is a peepal twig, for we tell you your twigs are from a mango tree.” Among them, however, there was one man, very simple, who stayed calm while quietly eating his food. The man asked the calm Holy Man, “What about you dear sir, reverend sir, from which tree did this twig come?” The holy man said, “Well, it may be possible the twig came from a peepal tree.” Very calmly, and very serenely with a smile, the Holy Man said this.
    “You see, the quality of calmness is very important. This is the greatness of a Satguru. No matter what happens, he will always stay calm. When you have found your Satguru and you see this quality of calmness, then surrender and stop asking questions. The mind is constantly full of doubt.
    The feeling of joy that you have when the Satguru is in front of you, the same is reflected back to you from the true Master. He will never show the feeling, but you will feel it.

  5. We call our teacher whoever manifests the best we are able to apprehend at the time.
    That ‘best’ and more, is meeting us in everyone we meet, though we may not be able to apprehend it at all times.
    There is, then, a peculiar resonance between teacher and student that makes it grow into a relationship, into a specific encounter. A certain connection that allows the student to see in the teacher the best he or she can see at the best of times at that phase of their life. Hence it is unhelpful to try and generalize too much. Each relationship of this kind, of any kind, is unique due to the particular arc of complementarity that it weaves across the centerless centre.

    As some have said earlier in this conversation, I can confirm that when meeting with a person who has great understanding and conviction and enthusiasm and capacity for action, we find such a person to be a living inspiration, and even a rock somehow is aware of spirit.

    Why is the spirit not acknowledged by all?
    It is not that we fail to feel our responsibility, our ability to respond, we only deny it full expression, because we fear the social consequences of trying to be fully at peace with who we are, and rightly so, because there is no end to suffering in trying.

    But if we want peace for its own sake, not as a means to an end, then we want it everywhere, including on the inside, though perhaps we are first prepared to discover it and be at peace in the acknowledgement of one who greatly inspires us, with their very knowing presence.

    Given that we can also be moved in other ways, and in other directions, it is our natural response to what is in front of us that should be our guide, our litmus paper. Where does our response lead us? Where to are we being led by choosing to respond and engage with a particular teacher? Be not afraid to see people how they are, its ok. Teachers included. They reflect you, one possibility of you. Does that particular teacher reflect and, through resonance, awaken your best possibilities?

    There is no point in laying some ideal on teachers that just does not fit them. If we can imagine something greater, why hang around?

    Problem, is, from what I have witnessed, that sometimes we do resist the teaching, rather than resisting naturally something in a teacher that arouses justified concern and caution – such as a monetary interest, or any kind of narrow personal interest. When we reject the teaching that would deliver us, if we accepted it, then that will lead us on to find a lesser teacher with more easily acceptable teachings (from our particular perspective). Clearly that is not the outcome we consciously desire, it is the one to which we gravitate under our own weight.
    The difficulty then is to avoid both of our twin delusions: to follow either the lead of own inner resistance or that of idealizing projection of our own best wishes upon unsuitable persons.
    The way is to expect nothing and reject nothing but to welcome all as we freely know it to be.
    For a teacher, the reverse perspective and challenge is: to avoid dominating people and to avoid encouraging them to externalize any part of their responsibility for their own salvation. Of course, these two tendencies are again as sides of the same coin. True teachers can sometimes appear harsh, but the aim is always to make us accept responsibility for ourselves. Any harshness not aimed at that end is a harshness which a well prepared student will recognize. He or she will recognize that their natural resistance will be in response to something outside them. And that kind of harshness in a teacher they need not take responsibility for or endure.

    Basically, a genuine spiritual teacher is the best friend you will ever have.

  6. 🙂 Depends on who you ask… the essence of Theosophy to me is Blavatsky. As I tried to say, I think, it’s a matter of taste. – and yes, the fruits are one way to judge a teacher. However, someone capable of shattering your self-conceptions may not behave in a way that you recognize as ‘good fruit’.

  7. When I contemplate this question I tend to reflect on the “principles of the four reasons”
    Rely on the teaching, not on the teacher;
    Rely on the meaning, not on the words;
    Rely on the definitive meaning, not on the provisional;
    Rely on your wisdom mind, not on your ordinary mind.

  8. To me the consciousness of the teacher is measured by their own level of contentment and happiness. If the tteacher has a high level of non-judgement, allowance, and detachment, then to me they hold a high level of spiritual truthful understanding and awareness

  9. Always what I look for in a spiritual teacher is someone who is genuine. I am trying to discern the motive for doing what they are doing. Is it ego? It usually takes time and observation to find out whether or not they are genuine and also have something helpful to say. I don’t go on feeling alone – even if the message makes me feel good.

  10. Have you ever read the book, ‘Daughter of Fire,” by Irina Tweedie? (Yes, that was her real name…hehee) She was born in 1907, educated in Vienna and Paris and spoke for the Theosophy Foundation. In 1954 she went to India and became the “disciple” of a Sufi Master and seemingly attained enlightenment. She went back to England after her master’s death in 1966 and taught.

    Interesting – you seem to have things in common.

    She said, “what the Teacher did was mainly to force me to face the darkness within myself and it almost killed me.” My only argument with her would be that, “A teacher informs; a master transforms.” (Swami Premodaya) Even though she was never formally initiated, she had a guru/disciple relationship with her teacher.

    Do you need a teacher? (Informer) It’s nice.

    Do you need a guru? (transformer) Irina says, “the task of the Teacher (guru) is to set the heart aflame with the unquenchable flame of longing, and it is his duty to keep it burning till it is reduced to ashes. Only a heart which has burned itself empty is capable of love.” Why? Because you can only really love something if your opinions about it are gone. Otherwise, to whatever extent your opinions are still there, you love them, not that which is really in front of you.

    How many of us can allow our hearts to burn to ashes without assistance? Who would do it?

    But the prize is so great….

  11. BTW, Naqshbandi Sufi teachers, same group as Ms. Tweedie’s Master, were also the instructors of G.I. Gurdjieff. Must be a fascinating sect!

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