“The Role of Spiritual Teachers & Teachings”
- On July 12, 2016
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When I first met Jean Klein, the European Advaita master, in 1983, I immediately knew that he was my teacher. This knowing was unmediated by the mind – it was direct, clear, and unequivocal. The inner knowing here recognized itself there in the form of an elegant European gentleman whose speech, philosophical and thickly-accented, was at first difficult to understand. The words didn’t matter. It was enough that my mind had fallen into a deep Silence – a rare event in those days – and that there was an immediate, profound resonance.
As clear as this knowing was in the moment, my mind was in conflict afterwards because I had been been following another teacher from India at the time. Who, my mind wondered, was my real teacher?
A few months later I met Jean in a private interview and presented my dilemma. “But all of Life is the teacher,” he immediately responded. My mind was disarmed – of course, this was true.
I spent twelve very fruitful years studying closely with Jean until he retired for reasons of health. The imprint of his presence and teachings were profound. When he passed away in 1998, I thought I was done with teachers and simply needed to bake a while longer on my own.
A year later I met my second main teacher, Adyashanti. Adya, who many readers are familiar with, has a very different style and appearance – casual Californian, approachable, humorous – than Jean. Despite these differences, I felt the same unmistakable quality of Presence. When I attended my first retreat with Adya in 2001, I was again subtly struggling with the question of who my teacher was. Was I being disloyal to Jean to accept Adya as my teacher? During a dialogue I asked Adya,
“Is it enough to have had one teacher, even if he is no longer alive?”
“Yes,” Adya replied. Then, after a short pause, he added, “If it is.”
It was the perfect response, throwing me back in to my own process of inquiry into what was true for myself. Late that evening, when I realized that the question of loyalty was completely a mental construct, my heart surrendered to Adya. When I shared this insight with him the following morning, he simply said, “Welcome.” This heart-felt acceptance of Adya as my teacher almost immediately precipitated a disidentification from the mind and opening into the Infinite.
So here is the apparent paradox (all paradoxes are only for the mind): Although all of life is the teacher, as Jean had pointed out, specific people can act as powerful, catalytic agents for the process of spiritual awakening. Such awakenings can and do happen spontaneously, however, in most cases having a specific teacher greatly supports and encourages this process. This has certainly been true in my case as well as with almost everyone that I know.
Jean Klein would often say, “There is no teacher and no student, only teaching.” In other words, teaching is an impersonal, although highly intimate, process. It is a very specific way of functioning. Outer teachers are simply those people who have deeply recognized themselves to be the light of inner knowing and who have the capacity to point this out and share it through words and Silence with others. The outer teacher points to the inner teacher – the knowing that is the source and substance of life, the knowing that you always, already are.
It was significant that neither Jean nor Adya were attached to being a teacher for me or anyone else. A real teacher does not need to be recognized as such and has no need for students. Real teachers act to support the growth and autonomy of their students. A student’s love of the truth coupled with an open-eyed trust of the teacher, along with the teacher’s dedication to facilitating the recognition of true nature, co-create an optimal field for the sharing of understanding. This sharing is sometimes called transmission.
The roles of teacher and student are provisional. Once fulfilled, they fall away. Gratitude and a deep, mutual friendship remain.