The supermarket of so many choices of teachers and teachings that you can watch online at anytime of the day or night, seems to encourage the modern seeker to move restlessly from one to the other. You compare the language, concepts and behaviour of each teacher. Although you might pick up some good insights or pointers here and there, it can also encourage more confusion as naturally each teacher has their own expression, background and context. By tasting bits of this and that, you endlessly dance on the surface. You watch at a safe distance so that there is never the risk of being truly confronted with the truth and losing whatever safe position or identity that you have been holding onto. A teacher that you listen to on Youtube can be helpful to a point. A teacher who is no longer alive and has written some very insightful books, can also be very helpful to a point. But in the end for most people, a ‘live’ teacher who has already walked, and continues to walk, the same path, is a great opportunity to face the truth and to lay down the burden of having to be a separate ’me’. When you find a teacher who you most deeply resonate with as an expression of your deepest longing, then you know that it is time to surrender totally to that. There is no point in continuing to hold back, or hide. Your whole life you have been longing to let it all go, to fall in love with life. And here is a teacher who is embodying your longing, and willingness to point you back to yourself.
For whatever reason, most Westerners have a lot of resistance to the absolute surrender to one teacher. Perhaps you are cynical when it comes to surrendering to a teacher’s guidance because you have heard about too many examples of teachers seeming to take advantage of, or brain-wash their students. Perhaps you imagine the relationship between teacher and student to be one of dependency like parent and child, or a power struggle like in so many romantic relationships. Perhaps you imagine that surrendering to a teacher means that you will lose your own will or autonomy, and will have to blindly follow whatever they say.
In the Eastern culture it so much easier because it is more socially acceptable to bow down and touch the feet of someone older or respected. Devotion is a way of life there. Many Westerners try to adopt the Eastern culture of devotion. It can feel wonderful to allow yourself to give up your need to be a special someone, and just surrender it all at the feet of someone else. But for most people the Eastern tradition feels too entrenched in a foreign culture, and does not include most Westerner’s need to acknowledge their uniqueness as an individual. There are Western teachers (myself included) who have been influenced by Eastern culture, but have their own more Western-orientated perspective. This is often an easier-to-swallow path for Western seekers. However, no matter which teacher you resonate with, there will most likely be many opportunities for you to explore your own resistance to surrendering completely to them and their teaching. Surrendering to a teacher is not about being naive or stupid. Surrendering to a teacher is about discovering what it is to free-fall in trust, while at the same time keeping your eyes wide open and your feet firmly on the ground.
When you feel that you deeply resonate with a teacher, take the risk to dive in totally and surrender to their guidance. A teacher is a friend on the path who has walked the path that you are walking and can support, guide and mirror your own process of self-exploration. A true teacher will never ask you to give up your own sense of discernment or will. You will never be encouraged to blindly follow or do anything blind in any sense. A teacher that is helping you to awaken out of the dream of delusion will encourage you to open your eyes, to question, investigate and challenge everything. They will relentlessly and uncompromisingly point you back to your true nature that is beyond it all. They will help you to see that every action, feeling, thought and experience is all appearing in that much bigger knowing, and encourage you to live and identify with that, rather than what you think. They will help you to see that your thoughts don’t know it all. They will challenge your assumptions and beliefs. At times it might be uncomfortable or even humiliating as your arrogant beliefs about yourself are seen through. But if your love of truth resonates with the teacher, then you are happy to lose whatever burdens you have been carrying for so long.
The teacher is an aspect of yourself that you are using to point yourself home to yourself. The teacher is not separate from you. In fact, truly there is no teacher and student, and no relationship at all. This ‘relationship’ is unlike any other relationship. It is not based in any power struggle or dependency. It is simply absolute love and trust. You see yourself in the teacher and know that whatever they do, or say is an expression of yourself pointing to yourself. This does not make the teacher super-human, divine, or beyond faults, but when you find a teacher who is most deeply in love with the truth in themselves, then you know that their deepest love is for the truth in you also. Then all their intentions, although fed through their naturally flawed humanity, will carry that love of truth and reflect that back to you.
Many seekers tend to project the idea that a teacher should be perfect according to whatever ideas of perfection you have picked up on the spiritual path. Perhaps you imagine them to be always compassionate and loving, and to never have a selfish impulse. Perhaps you imagine them to be experiencing bliss and peace at all times. Perhaps you imagine that they never think. Perhaps you imagine that they do not sometimes struggle with human issues that might come up in relationships or work. When you project these kinds of ideas of perfection onto a teacher, you make them larger than life, almost like a super-hero or celebrity. You then, of course, imagine yourself to be less than perfect in the same way. You imagine yourself to be fundamentally flawed, and look to the teacher to save you from yourself. This is a position that keeps you safely small and limited to being a seeker for as long as you believe that you are separate and inferior to the teacher. Usually what happens with these kinds of projections, is that a true teacher will pop the bubble and you will see that they are, and have always been, simply human. Perhaps at first you will feel disillusioned and disappointed that your bubble has been burst. Many people then swing to the opposite extreme and rebel against, and even reject the teacher. This is an important phase of waking up out of dream-like projections and seeing that what the teacher is pointing to, is not fluffy, floaty dreams but very real, feet-on-the-ground, reality. If you are in love with the truth, you will be willing to let go of these dreams and projections, and ready to see that the humanity of the teacher is in fact another reflection of your own humanity. The qualities that you were projecting outside of yourself onto the teacher, were in fact qualities of your own true nature beyond the appearing teacher and student. Waking up, is about waking up out of dreams, whether these are positive or negative dreams, and meeting reality just the way it is.
The true teacher will be willing to expose their raw humanity because they know they have nothing to lose by doing so. Although it may not bring them many followers, (because most seekers seem to want to continue to project perfection onto teachers), those who truly love the truth will very much appreciate and love the teacher who is a reflection of themselves rather than some lofty god-like and distant projection. The teacher can reveal their own vulnerability and expose how they deal with their own human situations and issues, making this an everyday teaching for the student. The teacher can model living as an expression of life in this unique human form, while at the same being unwavering in the knowing that whatever happens appears in, and as, Life itself.
A teacher will respond to you personally, wherever you are, and to whatever confusions or misconceptions that seem to be personal to you at that time. They can ‘see’ you, and mirror back to you whatever they see. The teacher truly meets you in a way that we normally don’t meet each other. They meet you beyond the image and role that you are playing. They meet you beyond separation or even beyond the roles of teacher and student. They see the games that you might be playing, they see the defence mechanisms and hiding places that you might be landing in. As they have experienced themselves, and woken up out of, these same mental positions, they can recognise them in you. Of course at times it can be challenging and even frightening to be ‘seen’ in this way. It may provoke all kinds of reactions. At times it may even be that you need to step back and be alone for a while, to assimilate and feel into whatever the teacher has pointed out. You need to always ‘check in’ with yourself to see if it resonates with your sense of knowing. You always know when you are kidding yourself or hiding in some sneaky way, but perhaps you don’t always want to, or don’t feel ready to, acknowledge it. This is all part of the process of waking up. It comes in waves of opening and closing. Experiences of expansion and contraction. It is all perfect. There is never a final goal, simply an endless exploration of the ocean of yourself.
The job of the teacher is not to make you more spiritual, but to make you more alive. It is not about hiding in spiritual practices and rituals and special outfits. But instead possibly only using these as ways to wake up. As soon as the methods become old, then we let go of them. The teacher is always responding to you now. The teacher is always meeting you now. The job of the teacher is not to give you some kind of special spiritual experience, but to encourage you to see that all experience is spiritual, regardless of the labels of the mind that seem to separate spiritual from mundane. The teacher can not give you awakening. It is always about the readiness of the student to wake up out of beliefs about yourself, the teacher, and even awakening itself.
The teacher is not an always all-knowing Mummy or Daddy. You, as the student, are not always the ignorant child. In fact the teacher plays the role of the teacher, but is never limited and confined to this role. The role may shift and change depending on the situation and whatever is being explored or pointed to. You will never be able to pin down who the teacher is, just as you will learn that you are never pinned down as anyone either. Your role as student will never be a fixed and limited role. The teacher/student relationship is never going to be a relationship that is bound by what you think about it. These thoughts will always be questioned, and you will continue to lose more and more of the safe comfort zones that you might be landing in.
Surrendering to the teacher means surrendering your ego but not your sense of knowing or true authority. The teacher will support you in learning to discern for yourself between these two, but essentially in resonating with a teacher in the first place you will be following that true authority. When you are so in love with the truth that you are ready to commit to a teacher who you know will wake you up out of your comfort zones, you have followed that true authority. This authority does not come from thinking you know, but is a knowing that rings such a loud bell that can not be ignored. There is no relationship of dependency when you stand in that authority as Life itself. The commitment to a teacher in fact can be very empowering because you are acknowledging for yourself that nothing is more important than your love of the truth. You surrender who you think you are and free-fall into the unknown. Each time you see through a belief or identity, you lose more and more of what you thought you were holding onto. Having a teacher means that they can also support you in the living of this free-fall into the unknown, in your daily life situations. Together you discover more and more how this true authority is actually lived, without any effort or trying to do it.
The commitment to the teacher is a commitment to yourself and your deepest longing to wake up. It is not about worshiping the teacher, but about being devoted to waking up to your true nature. The teacher is a symbol of your true self. Your devotion and veneration should be to your true nature absolutely first and foremost, and see that the teacher is an expression of that in human form. It is not a relationship of dependency whereby the teacher plays as an intermediary between the student and god. You always have direct access to your true nature with or without the teacher. But through the love and surrender to the teacher you discover the love and surrender that you are. You are using the teacher to know yourself. In fact it is a mutual ‘using’ in that way, as the teacher also is endlessly exploring and discovering themselves through the student. The student in absolute love, commits themselves to the truth via the guidance of the teacher. The teacher, in absolute love, is a channel for Life itself to guide the student. Both of these are roles being played out by you, so that you can wake up to yourself.
~ Unmani (A chapter from her upcoming book)