How to Find a Spiritual Teacher. ~ Anni Padma

Via on Sep 17, 2012

As the Tibetan adage goes, “Some people take more time picking out a cow than choosing a Lama.”  So how do you find a spiritual teacher?

In the 1970s, when a plethora of Gurus appeared on the spiritual radar, this question was especially important.  Unfortunately, I think it is time this question was addressed again in our spiritually evolving society. There are more choices than ever for who to trust with your immortal soul—or even just your body and mental health—and while Boulderities insist the “its all good” and people just have to “do their own thing” the end point of choosing the wrong teacher can be more than ugly. It can ruin peoples lives.

This might sound extreme, but I have seen the wounds first hand. I have friends who trusted one teacher or another because they appeared to hold authority from a lineage or doctrine, and later realized the teacher wasn’t even a nice person. As a self-admitted spiritual materialist who likes to check out every yoga group and Buddhist Sangha I can, I have had the misfortune of running into a handful of these teacher posers.

Even if you are just taking causal yoga classes, it never hurts to check out the teacher.  We’re not in grade school anymore, so there is no reason to give authority to people we wouldn’t even want to talk to on the street. Their advice may not, in reality, be helpful.

I’m not going to name any names here; feel free to email me with your own questions about my limited opinion.  I will just tell you about my own experience with the real thing vs. the fakers.

In my experience, the first indicator is whether the teacher is kind or not. This actually requires discernment, which hasn’t always come naturally to me. I am easily swayed by a pretty face or a honey-dripping voice. It’s the difference between if they make you feel loved, or make you feel small, afraid, or envious of their power. Power is seductive, and can feel good, but kindness is a totally different animal. It should make you feel open and inspired; not guilty and shameful.

Another indication I have learned through experience is that real teachers feel humility towards their own teachers. If they don’t talk openly and with gratitude about their own teachers, this is a warning sign. While people claim a lineage line, how much do you really know about it?

This brings me to the next point: are they respected by other teachers and Sangha communities? Of course there is a line to be drawn: radicals like Trungpa defiantly caused a stir in all communities—but the high Lamas respected and honored him consistently with their presence. The 14th Dali Lama said of him, “Exceptional as one of the first Tibetan lamas to become fully assimilated into Western culture, he made a powerful contribution to revealing the Tibetan approach to inner peace in the West.” While his decision to stop being a monk was controversial, the great teachers still came to support him. Teachers who seem to be completely on their own arouse suspicion for me.

Lastly, what is the community like? Do you feel pressure to be there even if you don’t really want to go? How does the practice actually make you feel? Do you feel empowered by the practice, uplifted, inspired and nurtured? Or do you feel fascinated, obsessed, pressured and tired? While these things may seem obvious, if one is not familiar with how the path is supposed to unfold, it can be difficult to tell what is right or wrong.

This leads me to the last point, which is that it is really necessary to understand the culture of your lineage. Some people who teach yoga like to claim that they are teaching Tantra to people, and they endorse ecstatic energy awakening exercises that the genuine mediators would caution strongly against. These teachers have obviously not bothered to check out what the Indians, who actually discovered Tantra said about it. (Proceed with utmost caution and be damn sure you teacher is a genuine Master of the highest quality.) Using foreign words without understanding of what they mean is basically a slap in the face to the culture who spent thousands of years perfecting it. Westerners who don’t understand Eastern cultures regularly misuse and misunderstand the precious wisdom which they have uncovered over thousand of years through blood, sweat and tears. This gives yoga and Buddhism a bad reputation, and people who might have been otherwise interested are scared off.

Finding a genuine Teacher, Dharma and Sangha is the greatest blessing I can imagine. Following the wrong teachers and groups can create a horrible situation. The biggest indicator that you have found a good teacher is kindness and humility. Gratitude is a good indicator for a healthy feeling for your teacher—Trungpa points out that without a real heart to heart connection with the teacher, it would be difficult to move forward.

“The ideal relationship to the Teacher is based on friendship not awe.” ~ Namgyal Rinpoche.

Anni Padma is a non-superstitious astrologer who is based in Boulder. She has been studying the zodiac archetypes for over ten years now and has learned from experience how the signs are expressed in people. As a life-long Buddhist, who is grateful to Theravada, Zen and Vajrayana traditions, she likes to use meditative insight to unravel astrology. She lived in Seoul, South Korea for three years teaching English and writing and editing articles for the Korea Times—which is ironic as she can’t spell to save her life. Somehow it has worked out alright, thanks to spell check. Her sun is in Gemini and moon is in Pisces. Check out her website.

~

Editor: Alexandra Grace

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3 Responses to “How to Find a Spiritual Teacher. ~ Anni Padma”

  1. Bijou says:

    In all my years taking various yoga classes across the country I have never been presented with the opportunity to find a spiritual teacher unless I am missing something. How do you know a spiritual teacher from a yoga teacher and where do you find them? I don't even know who is qualified because I am not a consistent student perhaps.

  2. littlewing108 says:

    Hi Bijou,
    I think the yoga scene is different from the Buddhist type scenes in many ways– however, i think if people are into yoga as more than just a work out, that it pays to check out the school's lineage. Some yoga teachers and schools I have encountered seem like the main teachers of the school are on a Major ego trip. This is not yoga, but ego-dome. Other yoga schools push people too hard and make them to feel obligated to come. Some endorse "exctatic" exercises and pujas that are actually dangerous, as any real yogi could tell you. These can cause psychological harm to people because the bodies natural energies can go haywire if not treated gently. Some people just use yoga as a workout, and this may work well for them, but if the school feels cultish or pushes people aggressively, I would run the other way! This I have all seen just in Boulder, CO!~ There are wonderful yoga studios out there and wonderful teachers–I personally like yoga a lot in the right setting. That's why i get upset when people take a good thing and twist it. Using one's gut feeling to measure it out is best!

  3. [...] this interaction has brought up a few complaints and questions about the role of the spiritual teacher and more importantly the role of teaching assistants (who are not getting direct transmission [...]

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