When you hear the spiritual journey’s call, it’s only natural to seek guidance. We’ve put together a learner’s guide on “how to find a spiritual teacher.”
The right teacher can help you open the doors to higher states of consciousness. But this arena is also full of counterfeits. So, finding the right spiritual teacher is essential.
Spiritual Teachers Today
You can learn a lot at conferences and seminars. Books and electronic media are excellent learning tools, but nothing compares to personal instruction from a qualified teacher.
Almost every learning experience can benefit from feedback and one-on-one instruction. A well-qualified teacher can be an asset to your development, especially critical for learning advanced spiritual practices. Personal instruction is essential for techniques that involve immediate feedback, like those that use mantras, sutras, mudras, and similar sound-based tools. It’s also essential for moving techniques like Tai Chi.
The question, “how to find a spiritual teacher?” requires two essential things. You’ll need to adopt a beginner’s attitude and have a good sense of healthy skepticism. Be prudent and diligent. A beginner asks lots of questions, and a skeptic asks the hard questions.
Ask for facts and evidence, not opinions. Don’t fall for the written accolades of others. These are written to bolster the authority and credibility of con artists.
“Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.” — Buddha Siddhartha Guatama Shakyamuni
Here’s How to Find A Spiritual Teacher
The first thing to remember is you are the ultimate teacher. You can’t learn anything unless you are prepared. Assessing your readiness to learn is something you should do before you set out to learn anything.
We conduct a complete learning assessment with all participants before undertaking either our virtual or face-to-face learning events. If you understand your learning style and any roadblocks to learning, you’ll know if you are ready or need to fix some things first.
For example, if you are a kinesthetic learner by nature and attend a virtual learning session, you’ll need to find ways to move around to cement the learning. Or, if you find that you are not willing to accept ideas outside of your specific religious beliefs, it will be a roadblock that will hinder your learning ability.
Learners Guide for Spiritual Explorers
1) Decide what you want to learn first
How to find a spiritual teacher? Decide on what technology you want to learn? If you don’t have the answer to this question then you need to ask yourself some questions. Create a journal if you don’t already have one. It doesn’t have to be expensive; it can just be a collection of papers.
Next, review the descriptions of spiritual practices and technologies. Find something that interests you. Here’s a short list below of methods you can research.
Start with those that don’t require personal instruction, and lay a foundation for your practice. Then you’ll know what things you want that requires personal instruction.
You can learn many of them by following the instructions in the article; they are just like a recipe.
- Logical and Rational Thinking Skills are the foundation for critical thinking. Try the article on 10 Common Logical Fallacies and Spiritual Axioms for more information and deeper dive.
- “Inner work” also includes several other analytical processes like The Enneagram Personality Profile and Comparative Analysis. These tools help you understand how the mind works.
- Seated meditation is the focal point for the spiritual practice of many people. Start with the Two-Step Beginning Mediation. Then see how this progresses to Mindfulness Meditation. You’ll need an instructor to teach your Japa or Transcendental Meditation and advanced sutras like Siddhis of Patanjali.
- Moving meditation includes everything from Tai Chi Qigong to Forest Bathing Tree Grounding exercises.
- There are several methods for expanding awareness. Take a look at Lucid Dreaming, Exploring Memories, Creating a Memory Palace and the Shamanic Journey, or Guided Meditation. Chances are you’ll find one of these that resonates, and you don’t need an instructor to learn them.
2) Determine a budget for time and resources
Find out how much time and money you have to budget for this investigation and the development of your consciousness. If you only have a few minutes and days and zero funds available, learn all of the free methods you can. Target only those sources you can afford.
3) Find the training you want within your budget
Once you have learned some of the basic things you can do without personal instruction, begin your search for those who can provide you with the techniques you want within the budget you can afford.
4) Validate the credentials of the source
If you live in the USA, check the Better Business Bureau for people who have filed complaints of fraud or abuse. You can also use free services on the internet like People Finder to see if they are who they say they are.
The Problem with Spiritual Teachers Today
The realm of spirituality has always been a space ripe with counterfeits and con artists. Today we see fortune-tellers switching to the title of a life coach. But, all cons start with religion. We see how the Christan Faith Movement spawned hundreds of false teachers all out to take as much of their flock’s money as possible. Everyone wants to sell you a horoscope or guarantee they can help you find your soul mate.
The problem is there are more spiritual teachers today than ever before. More people are trying to sell themselves as qualified spiritual teachers. So, knowing the qualities or tactics of counterfeits will help you avoid them. How to find a spiritual teacher starts by knowing what to avoid.
Here are the signs of a spiritual counterfeit:
- They use previous user “feedback” and endorsements to sell their services
- Not being able to articulate precisely how they will teach you what you want to learn
- Using their “celebrity” status as a means of qualifying their ability to teach
- Looking for “long-term” commitment to follow “them”
- Must attend classes you don’t need
- They cannot offer one-on-one instruction because they have too many followers
- They want you to a package of expensive courses costing thousands of dollars (Mindspring, Scientology, etc.)
Take notice of those who are seeking to become a celebrity. Make sure you find a teacher or guru interested in teaching tools. You don’t want a teacher that wants to make disciples. The best teachers know the subject matter and are equally skilled at teaching. Someone who knows a lot but can’t help you learn it won’t do you any good. Someone skilled at teaching but not familiar with the subject matter will also waste your time.
If the teacher can’t or won’t teach what you need now, leave and find someone who can. The pattern for your spiritual journey will probably cycle between three main modes: you learn or awaken a new gift, you use the new gift, and it transforms your awareness, then you become inspired to share this tool and learn more. It’s the pattern Joseph Campbell talks about in his book The Hero’s Journey (2).
Avoid Joining a Religion
How to find a spiritual teacher in religion? It’s a trick question. Religion has nothing to do with processes for investigating consciousness. You don’t need a higher power, an imaginary friend, or an invisible enemy. You don’t need to memorize sayings from holy texts.
These are all distractions to keep you from doing serious inner work and growth. One of the essential tips for finding a good spiritual teacher is knowing who and what to avoid. Above all, don’t get sidetracked. Don’t fall into the trap of confusing spiritual investigation with religion.
The Qualities of Good Spiritual Teachers Today
You know what to avoid. Here’s are the qualities of a good teacher.
An excellent teacher or guru will take you to a different place, like a boat. They will open doors, and sometimes they push you through them. They do what is necessary to give you the tools to forge your path.
“Guru is not the goal. Anyone who establishes himself as a guru to be worshipped is not a guru. Guru is like a boat for crossing the river. It is important to have a good boat, and it is very dangerous to have a boat that is leaking. The boat brings you across the river. When the river is crossed, the boat is no longer necessary. You don’t hang onto the boat after completing the journey, and you certainly don’t worship the boat.” — Swami Rama of the Himalayas
The above quote is an excellent summation for finding your spiritual teacher.
Good Teachers Work One-On-One
One quality of an excellent teacher is someone who can spend substantial time with you. It requires a significant investment in time on their part.
They may not necessarily be likable, charming, or socially acceptable. However, a knowledgeable teacher will challenge you and help you see through your boundaries. You can’t get this level of instruction in a large group.
Ideally, group instruction should only be 50% of your total learning. Personal instruction and feedback should make up the other 50%.
Use Any Means Reasonable, and Necessary
An effective teacher will use any means reasonable and necessary to take you to the next level. They will teach you what you need, not necessarily what you want. Sometimes this means learning mantras. Other times, they may use methods to shake you into eureka moments of growth.
Sometimes these methods are not pleasant, but spiritual growth is about destroying boundaries. An excellent example of a teacher who challenges you is Don Juan. He is the main character in the accounts of Carlos Castaneda. Don Juan reminds me of my teacher, Guru Tua.
This approach differs from a person who has or seeks celebrity status. People who base their credibility on popularity and showmanship are salesmen, not teachers. These latter qualities are those of a salesman, not a teacher. Above all, don’t follow a salesperson. Focus on finding a spiritual teacher who can challenge and impart techniques that enable you to change. Stay away from those who cater to the masses.
An ethical teacher will not abuse or place you in harm’s way. Be mindful that sometimes predators masquerade as spiritual teachers. Finding your spiritual teacher may mean learning to walk away from unhealthy behaviors. Many people tell us this is the “learners guide” tip that helped them avoid a bad situation. Reasonable and necessary does not include emotional, physical, or sexual abuse.
One of my best teachers did his best to keep from being well known or treated like a celebrity. He wanted to pass along his knowledge. Then he would send you out.
However, his teaching was so influential people kept pushing him into the spotlight. He resisted the spotlight to maintain a proper balance. He decided to focus on teaching rather than publicizing what he taught. I’m talking about Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (2). He taught teachers and sent them out into the world. He also openly promoted other teachers and other methods. His focus was on teaching.
We hope this article answers the question, of how to find a spiritual teacher. Finding your spiritual teacher can propel your spiritual practice. So, it’s important to find teachers that provide tools. It’s equally important to avoid the rabbit hole of Western organized religion. We hope these tips for finding a good spiritual teacher will help you in your quest. If you find this “learners guide” helpful, pass it along.
(1) Joseph Campbell & Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero’s Journey, Wikipedia
(2) Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Wikipedia