In as many 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 a very nuanced conversation, and it is rife with contradictions and unsatisfying ambiguities.
I have not met one of these teachers. I did meet the other, several years ago, 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 teacher has done their job, regardless of their personal failings. If three have awakened in the teacher’s lifetime, that teacher is a phenomenon.
AND, even if they’ve done their job, it does not excuse harm done. And whether that harm was preventable is also a difficult call, because human beings arrive on the path with all sorts of Things, and free will is one of them — including the free will of how or whether to address healing their deep wounds.
No teacher is perfect, and there are no perfect human beings (nor, by that measure “flawed” 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 teachers come down off the mountain and makes no bones about their own challenges, and use the context of the study circle to expose and work on their own ego instead of living an unchallenged but necessarily-false image of being an embodiment of that perfection.
And in that model of spirituality, 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 from it. And teachers make mistakes, even the most attained teachers.
The rarefied reaches of the Formless are our real being, and they are the most intoxicating and seductive experience in which a human being can partake; the freedom and inherent meaningfulness are unspeakably profound. 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 toward wholeness. On a path of embodiment, even the ego must be transformed.
There is no excuse for a teacher’s misbehavior, but we can’t let our teachers’ humanity become an excuse for our own egos’ blanket rejection 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 guide, 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 may be just our egos and the book of this is not yet closed.