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How to Spot a Fake Spiritual Teacher

Posted on Friday, December 18, 2009 in Theories

Maybe this topic is a little personal. I am not sure. It’s what’s on my mind. I have a mentor for like a day and then he got sick and died. I’m always feeling the pain of his lost that he didn’t take proper care of himself and I am left without guidance. He was going to teach me Chinese medicine and herbalism. A topic I find interesting and might eventually study. I’m an atheist but spiritual. I’ve been looking for an instructor ever since and I have found lots of fakes. Most of the time the people who claim to be teachers really aren’t. They just want your money. That’s the first sign of spotting a fake. If they want you to pay, they are probably not the real thing.

I don’t agree with Gurdjieff and his theory that if people want knowledge, they got to pay for it. Anyone who knew anything what they were talking about has always given it freely. I also don’t agree with the Fourth Way system – they teach their way is the only way. Any system of thought that teaches their path is the only path to enlightenment is a fake. There are many paths to the same end. Everyone needs to pick their own path that works for them. The Fourth Way system from the book I read sounded cool the first one-third of the book but then started sounding like a cult. Anyone who requests you give up control over yourself is a fake. Also, the thing to remember when seeking enlightenment that the system is a the means to the end – not the end. Most people who are rather spiritual or religious forget that and get so caught up with the religion or belief being the ends rather than the means, they get very lost and confused.

The idea of being an enlightened being is to be loving, kind, compassionate, and peaceful human being. You can walk the path on your own but some guidance is helpful. Another signal of a fake is that if they tell you what they teach you is to be kept a secret. Like, you have some hidden truth or something that sets you apart from everyone else. I went to a receiving the Tao ceremony before – first warning sign was that they wanted $20. Second sign of falsehood is that they wanted me to keep the details of the ceremony and the chant I learned a secret. Third warning sign of something being wrong was that they wanted me to come to meetings to “learn more” and pay more money. They were trying to make it felt like I belong but it just didn’t feel right. Trust your gut: if something doesn’t feel right, don’t go along with it.

My mentor wanted to teach to genuinely share knowledge and help me along my path. He wasn’t pushing an agenda on me. People who want to do that are really rare. Most people are after something. The thing with being spiritual, like the idea that the path is the means to the end – enlightenment – so is the mentor. The mentor should be there to help you – not use or manipulate you. The goal is to understand and be one with the world around you, figure out how to cope with the world as it is, and how to change it for the better.

Bring on the comments

  1. Cameron says:

    Quoth you:

    “Anyone who requests you give up control over yourself is a fake.” I have to disagree with this. It is a requirement of achieving enlightenment that you surrender control – over yourself as well as everything else. Attachment is one of the sources of delusion and suffering because it prevents true awakening. Awakening is the inherent and unconscious understanding of sameness. Sameness is not something you can know. No one can know anything because it is an assertion of control over something else. Understanding and knowledge are two very different things, and knowledge more often than not inhibits the development of understanding. Knowing is a physical act that requires will. Understanding is a spiritual act that requires compassion. Every act that comes from compassion brings awareness and the understanding of sameness that much closer. It is a matter of the heart and soul versus matters of the mind and will.

    Any form of spiritual and martial training begins by a surrender of will. You must accept that the teacher is there to break you down and rebuild you into something better. This will never succeed without a surrender of control over yourself as well. One of the great gifts that Zen can provide anyone is the understanding that control of any kind is an illusion, and freedom from illusion is the only real freedom anyone can ever really have.

  2. Jess Five says:

    Surrendering control over yourself is unnecessary. I know there are old traditions that teach it is necessary but I disagree. I believe there should be no control at all. For example, I don’t feel like I really own anything. I happen to be the bearer of an object but it really isn’t mine. Yes, ownership and control are both illusions. They are man-made concepts to sort the world into some sort of “order.” But giving up your free will isn’t necessary for enlightenment. There are other ways to show that the self is an illusion without submitting. You can’t accept things unquestionably – even a teacher. It doesn’t teach you to think for yourself but turns you into a well oiled machine. Being a machine, is relaying on conditioning – not consciousness. That is not enlightenment. It’s being a robot. True enlightenment is self-awareness, consciousness, and doing what is righteous. Everything along the path needs to be a conscious choice – not because my teacher said so- doing something because you were told to do it is submission to a dogma which is merely a tool to the ends but you’d get stuck in thinking the tool is the goal when the real goal is enlightenment. You’d be stuck and the system and have the illusion of having it when you don’t. There comes a point where you got to let the system go and the teacher – for they are both illusions as well. Other people can guide you but in reality, you can only teach yourself.

  3. Cameron says:

    Who am I? I am no one.
    Who are you? Your are someone.
    Who are we? Yes.

    A cup that is full cannot be filled.

  4. Asher says:

    Good morning. Cameron mentioned this post to me, and it sounded interesting, so I decided to read it. Please accept my commentary as it is offered: in a spirit of compassion and concern, and not one of criticism and control.

    First, you make some valid points, but I would suggest that you take even your own criteria with a grain of salt. As an anarchist, I imagine you believe that absolutes should be adopted with great caution. I would suggest applying that same caution to your own absolutes.

    Second, some thoughts on surrendering control.

    In the west, we adhere to this idea that all surrender of control is inherently bad. However, if small children didn’t surrender some control to their parents, the human race would die out quickly; likewise, if students didn’t surrender some control to their teachers, none of us would ever learn the skills that underpin advanced mathematics, chemistry, and so forth.

    To extend the metaphor: if you decided to learn to ride horses, and knew nothing about horses at all, you would have to be willing to do as your teacher instructed, or you would be very likely to hurt yourself, your horse, or somebody else, and very unlikely to learn the skills and habits that make a real equestrian.

    You might, for example, think it was better to use the reins to maintain your balance, and that it was a good idea to let the horse drink as much cold water as she wants when she’s just finished a hard ride and is very hot.

    Both would be wrong — the first will prevent you from being an effective rider, cause the horse pain, and greatly increase the likelihood that he’ll dump you in the dust; the second will make him very sick or even kill him.

    Surrendering control does not mean setting no boundaries at all, of course — if your riding instructor tells you to stand directly in front of a thundering herd of panicked, stampeding horses, you’d be entirely justified in assuming she’s nuts.

    Likewise, a spiritual teacher who advises useless or spiritually-destructive practices is not one who deserves your time and effort. The difficult thing is learning to discern between *useless* and *counter-intuitive* methods of teaching (those that are destructive will make themselves known, if you really listen to that voice in your gut that says, “Wow, this is a phenomenally bad idea.”).

    ‘Surrendering control’ means being willing to put your preconceptions aside, listen with an open mind, and sometimes even do things that seem counter-intuitive.

    A good bicycling instructor, for example, will tell you that if you must make a sudden, unexpected turn to the right, you begin this emergency turn by steering sharply to the *left.* She doesn’t say this because she wants to control you, but because she has learned through experience (and, if she’s been lucky, good instruction) that this is the best way to shift the balance of your bicycle quickly. It won’t make sense if you’re just learning to ride a bike, but once you’ve had to make a sharp turn in an emergency situation, you will understand perfectly.

    If you are willing to put aside your own agenda, a good teacher can lead you to places beyond imagining — in part because the human imagination is limited in its capacity by what it already ‘knows.’

    Imagine taking a walk in the woods: without a map, if you wander in the woods, you may stumble upon some of its treasures. If you wander *with* a map, you can find any of the wood’s treasures that are *on* the map. With a guide who knows the woods better than both you and the map, you can find treasures you never even imagined were there.

    One last bit, and I’ll shut up 🙂 I know this is getting kind of long.

    You said a good spiritual teacher will never ask you for payment. This is and isn’t true. A good spiritual teacher will never ask for *unreasonable* payment — but, frankly, people have to make a living somehow. If you go to a Zen monastery, for example, you will be asked to pay your way through work, and may even be asked to pay a reasonable sum for your upkeep the first couple of weeks to a month or so that you spend there. This defrays the cost to the monastery of feeding, clothing, and housing you until you decide whether or not to become a long-term, contributing member of its community.

    The difference is that a real spiritual teacher or community will not ask you to pay exorbitant sums for ‘ceremonies’ that are supposed to magically confer enlightenment or other spirtual qualities — because a real spiritual teacher or community knows that enlightenment can never be conferred by words and gestures.

    Even what is commonly called ‘dharma transmission’ is not so much the transfer of wisdom or awakening from teacher to student as the teacher’s way of acknowledging that the student has reached awakening or wisdom. It is not like receiving your text books at school; it is much more like graduation. When you graduate, you receive a piece of paper that certifies you have learned whatever it is you must learn to earn your degree — that is, it certifies that which is already there.

    Likewise, dharma transmission, baptism, the taking of monastic vows, and other great spiritual ceremonies generally certify either the students’ conscious decision to put away his or her old life and pursue a new one, or that wisdom, awareness, or enlightenment which is already there.

    One of the stranger pieces of music I sang in my time as a chorister offered the following thought:

    “Truth lies waiting in all things, unfolding itself from living buds — but it must be first in your heart.”

    Enlightenment is the same. It does not come from outside. It is not something you gain, so much as something you already have — as a toddler learns to walk because the ability to walk is nascent within her, or learns to speak a language because he is already wired for grammar at birth.

    The rest of that line, by the way, is just as important. It goes, “It shall come from your soul. It shall be Love.”

    I reiterate, as Cameron said: “A cup that is full cannot be filled.”

  5. Jess Five says:

    It’s not about submitting yourself to someone else’s will to be molded in their image. As I said to Cameron, it makes you a robot. You can use all the metaphors you like to explain something but it doesn’t mean they are accurate or true to explain the situation at hand. And just because something is tradition doesn’t make it right. I don’t think anyone should ever submit their will to anyone. It is unnecessary and doesn’t promote conscious thought. It promotes the leader/follower mentality and doesn’t produce conscious human beings. The system is inherently flawed at producing desire results. Otherwise, the world would be full of enlightened people. There is no fail safe method but I fully disagree with tradition because it is flawed. It’s not about having a full glass since if you are seeking something – that obviously means the glass is unfilled to receive through guidance but not submission. There is no glass if you truly understand. No limits but your own.

  6. Jess Five says:

    There is no cup if you truly know.

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