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The role of the teacher and community: understandings and misunderstandings It’s extraordinary, the capacity of human beings

to complicate things. In the spiritual life, very little is as subject to stories about “how things should be” as is the role of the teacher. And these stories are highly effective at getting in the way of receiving something from one’s teacher(s). Let’s cut through all these stories: stories about how evolved the teacher ought to be, about the number of mistakes s/he is allowed to make, about what his/her sexual conduct ought to be, and on and on. Only one thing actually matters for the yogī: “Can I receive something from this person?” Something beneficial, something uplifting, something nourishing. If yes, no other thought about the teacher matters. If no, no other thought about the teacher matters. It’s a simple matter of being absolutely true to your experience. Your current experience, not that of yesterday or last year. The yogī cares nothing for what anyone says about his/her teacher. It’s meaningless, representing only other peoples’ experiences and other peoples’ samskāras. The only thing that matters is your inner experience—or lack thereof. And who is the teacher? The teacher is anyone offering you something of benefit to you on your path. The Guru-principle (guru-tattva) is not bound to any one person or point in time. If you release the notion that anyone is always your teacher or never your teacher, then you will see that the Guru-principle manifests to you every single day, through a thousand different vessels. It may be the case that there is someone who consistently manifests the Guru-principle for you, and if that is so, there is the temptation to regard that person as “my teacher,” a static role. As soon as this happens, you are listening less to the inner knower. Even if someone has manifested the Guru-principle for you a hundred thousand times, in the next moment they may not. They may be just as confused as you are. Even if someone has never manifested the Guru-principle for you, in the next moment they may do so. They may be just as wise as you are. The governing principle, again, is your inner sense of what’s true, what’s of benefit, in this moment. This teaching keeps you open to the Guru-principle without ever robbing you of your power and freedom. The Guru-principle is infinitely giving, but infinitely mysterious. It moves through anyone and everyone who creates a space for its movement.

Lack of awareness of this truth causes teachers to be put on pedestals, and students to be disempowered. Then, inevitably, the teacher “falls.” In fact this fall is not real, because the pedestal was never real. If you do see things in terms of a “fall,” you may close down to the possibility of receiving the Guru-principle from one who you have now decided is wrong, or bad, or fake, or “out of alignment.” Just as there is no such thing as someone who is always manifesting the Guru-principle, there is no such thing as someone who is generally out of alignment. This is black-and-white thinking, and it is pure vikalpa—a mental construct with no reference to reality. It serves no one on the spiritual path. All that is real is a given moment with a “teacher,” a moment in which something is offered and it is received or not received. Whether it is received or not received may be because, in that moment, the teacher is manifesting the Guru-principle or not, or because the “student” is open or not, or any combination of those possibilities. It actually doesn’t matter which; it’s not necessary to know. What does matter is that the student cultivates the capacity to be open, and the teacher cultivates the capacity to let the Divine flow through; and at certain moments, not in anyone’s control, there is a meeting. A divine meeting, a moment of recognition so beautiful that it is praised by all the sages. And remember that in any of these moments, you might be the teacher or you might be the student: they are all just roles played by the One in the simple, inevitable process by which it wakes up to itself. At certain times, one hears something about a beloved teacher, something terrible about their conduct that, if true, means they aren’t as “perfect and wonderful” as you thought they were. You don’t know for sure if what you’ve heard is true or not. I am here today to say that it doesn’t matter: it is just your God-given opportunity to release the belief you had that the teacher is “perfect and wonderful.” Not to replace it with a belief that the same person is, in fact, “terrible” or “a charlatan” or anything else, but to let go of beliefs altogether, ideas that fix the flux of reality into a falsely static image. The only truth regarding a teacher is this: “Here is someone from whom I have received something beneficial, from whom I may or may not receive something beneficial in the future.” This openness, this kindness of the heart, this allowing the teacher to be whoever they are does not constitute enabling or turning a blind eye. Hardly. Your inner eye is ever and always open to the only

thing that matters—is there, today, a connection, a flow of energy between s/he and I—a flow that feels beneficial, that feels real, that feels challenging in a positive way, that has the potential for upliftment? If you are not in the physical presence of the teacher, you don’t know the answer to that question. If you think there is the possibility of benefit, you place yourself in front of that teacher again to see. If you think there is no possibility of benefit, you don’t. It’s that simple. But the latter belief, if based on other peoples’ experience instead of your own, artificially limits your opportunities for receiving upliftment from the Guru-principle, to your detriment. The yogī who hears negative things about his teacher simply says, “I don’t know if that’s true or not, nor does it matter. I am going to pay attention to my own inner experience. That is the only reliable guide I have to truth.” Now, if hearing something negative allows you to admit to yourself that you haven’t been receiving real upliftment from this teacher, but you have been trying to convince yourself that you have, wonderful. What a gift. But if you close down to any teacher not on the basis of your own inner experience, but due to what others believe to be true—what a loss. What a tragedy. There is no abstract truth. Every reality is co-created by all the actors present, a unique reality for that moment in time. Yes, some actors exhibit patterns, and on the basis of these patterns we tell a story, such as “He’s a good man,” or “He’s a bad person.” If we believe the former, we’re likely to be open to receive; if the latter, we close down. But they’re all just stories, pretexts upon which we embrace one course of action or another. What about this course, which lies right in the middle: just be open to possibility, and let the Guru-principle manifest for you whenever and wherever it does. “But then I might be hurt, or taken advantage of!” Wrong. Such hurt stems not from being open, but from telling yourself a story, such as “This is my teacher, and I can trust everything he says.” Giving your power aways is what hurts you, not openness. Equally tragic is the story, “This person is a fraud, and I can’t trust anything he says.” Leave the dream-world of the mind behind and pay loving attention to your own inner experience. To what uplifts your heart. And stay open as to what direction such upliftment may come. It really is that simple. The

Guru-principle lives in our whole community, thrives in our community. It does not live in any one person all the time, nor does it never visit any person. The Tantrik tradition says, “See thy Guru as Lord Shiva.” It’s talking about the Guru-principle, the grace-bestowing power of the divine that is always offering itself to you. It can come at any time through any person. There’s no reason to write anyone off, or put anyone on a pedestal. We are all in process, and we all deserve love. Let’s learn this lesson right now, before it’s too late. Because no spiritual community survives without learning it. May this and every challenge benefit all of us. We are all so beautiful, right now—in our messy mistakes and all. No exceptions. Not you, not him, not anyone. May knowing this set you free.