I recently watched a documentary about Carlos Castaneda, the legendary anthropologist who sold millions of novels about his experiments with Mexican Shamanism.
I love Castaneda’s universe and magical stories, and I love the character of Don Juan too, the Yaqui sorcerer who teaches in random ways and points a meaning beyond the surface of things.
Yet, back in the 90’s, I didn’t pack up to Latin America to follow the path of sacred plants because I thought that I would probably fall in the trap of doing hallucinogens for the sake of it. I picked Buddhism out of prudence, I never had to regret my decision.
And now that I know a bit more about Carlos Castaneda’s Bio, how he fooled his readership and followers by creating a cult the size of his ego, later on adopting a girl, marrying her, them marrying a second woman, which technically makes him a False Guru and a bigamist pedophile, I feel very fortunate to have met the right spiritual teachers in my younger years.
And to this day, despite the various bumps in my life, I feel insanely lucky to be in touch with a solid spiritual teacher, who doesn’t gamble with the naiveté of his disciples.
Having a spiritual guide is not just a nice to have, it’s absolutely necessary. Self-teaching through Online courses can only take you this far. At some stage, customized instructions must be given that fit the personality and abilities of each person, and these instructions must be given by a human being who knows you and knows the path you’re walking.
Still, the notion that we need a guide is not wildly popular, it’s easy to understand why:
- There’s a lot of horror stories: cults turning into mass-suicides because of a megalomaniac leader.
- The notion of someone telling us what to do doesn’t sit well with our individualistic zeitgeist.
The latest forms of spiritualities emphasize the value of self-exploration and awareness as the only necessary condition to achieve progress. I would agree that meditation and mindfulness are indispensable, yet, they’re just not enough. You need somebody on the way.
But you need that person to be both honest and knowledgeable, which makes it a personal quest (yes, the good old quest for a Yoda, in that regard, it’s just like a novel).
I always feel concerned by the number of self-proclaimed teachers, many of whom have just meditated for a year of two and run a Blog for an income. I’d love everyone to be well informed about the basics that qualify someone for guiding others, just to make it safer for everyone.
And if you’re afraid of me pitching myself just let me be clear: I’m not advertising my services, I’m in no way a spiritual leader.
a while ago, I had submitted a list of criteria to help choose an instructor, not based on alleged miraculous powers but on their actual ability to guide you from point A to point B on your spiritual journey.
I’ll repeat myself on this post with this slightly modified version of my guru pre-purchase checklist.
if I sum up everything I saw and read, a true spiritual guide:
- Doesn’t care for wealth: if he ain’t poor, investigate.
- Doesn’t care for fame: you might find a gem hidden in the dark, a completely unknown teacher who’s absolutely qualified (think of karate kid, it’s a corny but valid example.)
- Can be challenged: delusion of grandeur makes it hard to be contradicted publicly, and more importantly, it makes you unfit to help others.
- Has been exposed to his/her spiritual tradition for at least two decades.
- Has a spiritual tradition in the first place: it’s far too easy to claim that religious formalism, rituals and prayers are obsolete and that you have designed a faster spirituality for modern practitioners, anybody can do it. It’s far more difficult to prove that you stuck to an old transmission every step of the way. Would you get a open heart surgery from a doctor who can’t prove that he graduated from a good medical school? Spiritual endeavors are just as serious.
The above points can be slightly reviewed depending on the tradition you’re in, but they’re relevant in most cases.
If you are here and you’d like to go there, then you’ll need a middle man, a guide. He’ll be the only one who can help you deal with your fears and insanity: a spiritual journey can be very confusing. Given the task at hand, that person had better be good. Not just Deepak Choprah good.
Picture credits: Vilma Blanchemain