Walked: 30.0 Km
How do you recognize a good spiritual teacher from a bad one? For the longest time I’ve tried answering this question by looking closely at videos of teachers, knowing their backgrounds and trying to discern any tell tale sign that might give off their true inclinations.
The task is not easy: first of all defining what is good and bad is difficult in the spiritual task. Some teachers are accused of being psychologically abusive, but spiritual growth requires a certain degree of friction as to break down the cage of the ego. The ego is not able to notice itself if nobody pokes and prods at it, and a good teacher sees our pride and sometimes by simply saying a well timed phrase, he or she can arise a storm within us. To the student it will feel like they were unfairly bludgeoned, but to the external observer it will be obvious that the damage was self-inflicted.
Like this, there are a long list of asterisks, the most difficult ones pertain to money and sex. This is why it’s probably a good idea to seek a teacher belonging to a well established tradition (religion) where the expectations of money and sexual involvement are clear. Spiritual teachers who do not belong to a tradition and also won’t siphon resources or sexual favors are exceedingly rare. Yet, most spiritual people are at odds with religion, and thus fall victim to either poisoned teachers or charlatans.
Last night I stayed at an albergue which was headed by a spiritual teacher. He was an ordained priest, but from his speech it was clear he answered to Jesus Christ and not to the Catholic Church. His way of speaking reminded me of Claudio Naranjo, and his philosophy that of Tolstoy’s Anarcho-Christianism.
I observed him with the outmost attention. He was speaking with a man whom I knew from a few days before, a very dull man who got drunk every day, to the point of having difficulty speaking. The teacher was speaking of some important things, and this dull man interrupted him to tell him about himself. He was this and that, was from Catalonia, and some other irrelevant details.
My blood boiled at the interruption, but the teacher didn’t flinch, he listened as if he was saying something very important. I saw it at that very moment: if this teacher has an ego, it’s exceedingly well behaved and non-reactive. He clearly didn’t give himself the same importance I was giving him. I was in awe not at his self-control, but at his lack of annoyance at all.
The man went on rambling for a few minutes until a story where he visited a cave where there were some bats hanging from the ceiling which reminded him of legs of ham, and laughed. The teacher resumed his speech where he left off, without the slightest annoyance.
A while later, we went to a chapel where the teacher gave a speech. I call him a teacher and not a priest (which he was) because he called us students. He explained his philosophy of the camino, to which I would make no justice in repeating, but I will try anyways. The chapel had no religious images, instead it had panels painted on the walls which explained his vision of the way:
We live in a preconditioned state which supports the way civilization works today.
When emancipate ourselves from this state through the use of our hands (labor), or feet (movement), and our eyes (inner eyes, self-knowledge).
We will be lost for a time, grasping blindly at the way, bumping into things and people.
The meaningless arrows point towards Santiago, the true ones point at other people who are in need of help.
The path of helping others does not happen in isolation, but in community. Inclusive communities.
This brings true inner liberation.
All spiritual paths are simple in appearance, but are the most difficult thing to execute. The map shows a line connecting six stops, but the terrain walked is unknowable and different for each person.
I left the albergue in the morning feeling spiritually refreshed, moved at having the privilege of meeting a living boddhisatva. The biggest instruction was not what he said or what he explained, it was his presence. It feels as if, should we put away all our little dramas and self-importance, we’d be able to unveil a world which is already there.