In recent months, we have seen two popular spiritual teachers fall from their respective pedestals. The mixture of public glee and dismay is both predictable and difficult. This must-needs-be very nuanced conversation, and it is rife with contradictions.
I have not met one of these teachers. I did meet the other, and found him to be full of humor and authentic Presence. I know none of their students. The students are, after all’s said-and-done, the “product,” if you will, of the teacher’s “art.” If even one of them has awakened, the teachers have done their jobs, regardless of their personal failings. If three have awakened, that teacher is a phenomenon.
AND, even if they’ve done their jobs, it does not excuse those failings one iota.
No teacher is perfect, and there are no perfect human beings, because our human incarnation is not meant to be perfect. If the teacher were perfect, s/he would not be living a human life, and so could not teach.
We are living-into a new model of both spirituality and spiritual teaching, one in which the janky and even the ignoble are embraced as portals to greater wholeness — and even to those precious and rare transits into the perfection of the Uncreated — instead of being judged into a compartment somewhere or left at the door with our shoes lest our humanity defile the sacred atmosphere of the temple. This is a model in which the teacher comes down off the mountain and makes no bones about his/her own challenges, and uses the context of the study circle to expose and work on his/her own ego instead of living an unchallenged but necessarily false image of being an embodiment of that perfection.
And we are living into a model of spirituality where we tell it like it is: The spiritual path hard, it’s frustrating, it’s more-than-a-bit dangerous, and there are no guarantees. It is uncompromising; the greater one’s realization, the more uncompromising it becomes. Punctilious attention to details are necessary at every stage of the journey — and the teacher is still on the journey regardless of his/her titles and attainments. Better that the teacher stay off the pedestal than damage people in falling off it.
The rarefied realms of the Formless are our real being, and they are the most intoxicating and seductive experience a human being can partake. The temptation to just park ourselves there can be overwhelming, because our limited human existence truly looks false and insubstantial from there. From the perspective of awakening, everyone’s ego looks like a bad comb-over… but that view is in fact just another limitation to be overcome on the path.
(Having said that, DO make sure you HAVE it before you think about renouncing it. The most-reliable way to get it is from someone who does have it, and that is one of the authentic and usually-necessary functions of the teacher. “Life as your teacher” can teach you about life, but not what is beyond life, and the Formless is wholly beyond life, being the source of life and all existence, and the direct experience of That uproots all the unnecessary questions of life.)
There is no excuse for a teacher’s misbehavior, but we can’t let our teachers’ humanity become an excuse for our own egos’ rejection of our need of teachers. And we do need them, and in fact they need us, as mirrors for their own process. We are all the growing-edge of the Universe. When I was initiated/consecrated/ordained as a sufi shaikh, my teacher said to me, “I wouldn’t be giving this if you didn’t have the necessary minimum capacity. You need certain things called-forth from you now, and this is the quickest way to do it. Nevertheless, it’s a title — only God can give you realization — and I’m giving it because you need it, not because you ‘deserve’ it; never forget that.”
I don’t know anything about these teachers personally. Perhaps they are just mediocre teachers having some magnetism and a way with words. Or maybe they truly have something and these clusterf*cks are what they need to truly get real, do their shadow work, and truly fulfill their potential. I do not know, and no one died and left me in charge. In the final analysis, our assessments and judgments are just our egos and the book of this is not yet closed.