The Role of a Spiritual Teacher (And is it Even Necessary to Have One)
When it comes to spirituality in today’s world, there are many approaches to it: some people feel that they need a teacher, while some others read a lot of books and try to figure out things that way, and others yet join different groups in their search for knowledge, etc. However, it seems to me that most of the people who feel a need for spirituality would try and find someone who can help them with the direction that they’ve chosen. Often, though, many seekers do not know which direction they want to follow, and so they spend weeks, months, and sometimes even years trying to find out what is best for them. This is a process that is different for each individual, depending on with what they resonate and how evolved they are. Among those who search for a very long time, there will be those who will never find a direction in which they can settle, but will continue reading and eventually will start forming their own belief about spirituality.
Nonetheless, it seems to me that a great majority of them does find a spiritual tradition or direction that they feel is right for them; something that could help them increase their spiritual awareness and growth. In my personal case, I am grateful that I have found the Gnostic teachings relatively early in my search for knowledge and for the way out of suffering. At that time I wasn’t truly aware of the fullness of the Gnostic doctrine and its potentials. Looking back at it now, I cannot imagine myself navigating through it without a help of someone who has studied the teachings thoroughly and could help me make correct steps while treading on that path. Without such help, it would probably take me much longer to understand the crucial parts of the Gnostic teachings, with a strong possibility of failing many times until I would get things right. In my opinion, it is like that with every elaborate spiritual tradition that is based on a genuine spiritual knowledge which has a potential for inner transformation, and bringing the aspirant to desired end goals, which is to reach lasting happiness, freedom, and peace.
In the Gnostic teachings, as well as in some other genuine esoteric teachings, there are a few types of teachers. The most common type is a teacher who has a good intellectual grasp of what the teachings are about, and knows which practices are important to do in order for their students to reach some of the many milestones of the Path to Liberation. Such teacher would have to themselves be defined for the inner work, which means that they would live Gnosis in their lives, would do practices, and would be able to say that they “practice what they preach”. Unfortunately, most of the teachers from this category would have very limited experience of the Path, themselves likely being on the Probationary path, or slightly further on. This means that they would teach about the Path from theory, from their own belief, and even though they might have had many inner experiences, and thus faith that the Gnostic teachings are real, the fact that they would teach the Path (which is the most important aspect of teachings) from theory, still remains. Nevertheless, their role is useful because they can still help those starting out with orientation, and with the study of theory and practice. Such teachers are the most numerous ones, not only in the Gnostic teachings, but in all genuine spiritual traditions.
Another type of teachers are those who take a doctrine as a belief system, as a comfortable place in which they can establish themselves, without going deep into the practical side. They tend to quote the founders of esoteric schools for many things, without properly reflecting on such words or their deeper meanings, though often referring to them for answers to esoteric wondering. These type of teachers are also not uncommon.
The last type are teachers who have a direct experience of the Path, and can help their students to reach the same level on which they are on. This type of teachers can be on various stages of the Path: they can be at the last stages of the First mountain, on the Second mountain, or even on the Third mountain – the further up they climb, the more are they able to help others who are coming behind. It is necessary for them to be on at least the very end of the First mountain in order to teach from their core, from their Spirit, because it is at that stage of the Path that we incarnate Atman (Divine Spirit). However, even though such a teacher would be ideal to have, they are rare and not easy to find. Furthermore, if they belong to an established esoteric/spiritual school, they ought to have a hard time in it (and also in a spiritual environment in general) once they reach the end of the First mountain, and even more so with climbing up through the Second mountain, because of the nature of esoteric initiations and of the Path in general.
There are many people who think that they can have a non-physical teacher who lives in higher dimensions (such as in the astral or mental worlds) and could get guidance from them in that way. This is somewhat true – it is indeed possible to receive guidance from higher beings during dreams and conscious out-of-body experiences (and also telepathically if the person is more sensitive), but in order to do that the person would have to be already quite mature and would need to have a good understanding of the basics. There are, of course, some people who have rich esoteric history and are blessed with such luxury, but in my opinion the majority would need to find someone who is alive in the physical world, who is dedicated to a spiritual teaching that he or she is teaching, and is obviously progressing on the path.
The famous teaching “You shall know them by their fruits” is not only referring to original founders of spiritual traditions, but should also be applied to those who teach. In other words, it is important to see and feel that the teacher you have chosen is making progress, that they are not stagnant on the path and trapped in their own belief. Because, fortunately, true spirituality is a living thing, it is very practical, transformative and measurable; it doesn’t require of anyone to believe in the teachings (which is a trap in which many people fall into so to be part of group mentality), but rather it offers a wonderful platform through which anyone dedicated enough and serious enough can start seeing the results, by going through the esoteric initiations.
The role of good spiritual teachers is not to have their students depend on them, but to teach them how to tune to their own source of wisdom and power. This is a gradual process, but a progressive and concrete process nonetheless, through which students learn to shatter all that is untrue within them, and establish themselves in their own true Being. The teachers can show their students about certain things that take place on the Path, how to avoid falling into pitfalls and traps, what to use to go more smoothly through the process, etc., but ultimately the students will need to have their own experience of the entire process. The more someone integrates themselves with their inner Being, the more independent they become; they start to rely on more and listen more to their own Being. And this is the main task of any teacher: to bring their students to this point. Later on, if needed, we can get new teachers, the ones that are further ahead than us with the inner work, and that can help us to climb further. But the process of being taught doesn’t stop, as long as we have longing to continue to grow. Even when someone has finished the Third mountain, if that person wishes to develop further, they would need to be shown and explained how to do it.
It is said that a teacher will enter the student’s life in appropriate time, when circumstances are right, when the student is ready for the first proper attempt to reach spiritual heights. That teacher is an extension of non-physical spiritual beings and forces that work in the background for the awakening of the student.
HDP. November 2020.