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The Science of the Student/Teacher Relationship


by Andrew Cohen
 

I always encourage people as much as possible to look into the whole world of superstitious beliefs in relationship to spiritual authority figures. If someone wants to be free, it is of the utmost importance to dare to look closely at the kind of position that one takes in relationship to individuals who have assumed roles of authority in spiritual matters.

It is dangerously easy in the relationship with spiritual authority figures to allow oneself to assume all kinds of things that may not actually be true. The only way an individual can enter into a relationship with a spiritual teacher, and not get lost in the arena of superstitious beliefs about the teacher or about oneself, is by embarking upon a very sincere investigation. What kind of an investigation? One must dare to question every aspect of the human condition as oneself. One must dare to look very deeply into the nature of the human condition in relationship to the highest possibility of perfect liberation. Only then will one be able to truly recognize the depth or level of attainment of the spiritual teacher.

Meeting the True Teacher:
The Promise of No Limitation

In the presence of that rare individual who has attained extraordinary spiritual enlightenment, a tangible sense of expansion of Self can be felt. When an individual is living life with that much intensity, freedom and love, one recognizes a liberated personality. By their example and in their reflection one can discover, maybe for the very first time, what it would be like to be free.

In such a meeting, unanticipated experiences involving rare insight and/or exhilarating feelings may occur. An event such as this can shake the very foundation of one's belief system. The effect of this meeting can be so powerful that the individual may suddenly find themselves entering into what seems like the most profound relationship that one human being could ever have with another.

What makes the idea of entering into a relationship with the spiritual teacher so enticing and profound? It is the promise of no limitation.

Few people make full use of the potential inherent in that unique and unusual relationship based solely on the promise of no limitation. Why is this? Because a true teacher always remains true to the fact of no limitation. The true teacher never wavers from the demand that those who claim interest in liberation above all else be willing to meet him or her fully and completely in the living fact of no limitation. Ultimately challenged, the student comes face to face with the true measure of their own desire for liberation. This challenge creates a tension. That tension is the expression and manifestation of the gap between the teacher's living example and the student's actual condition. That tension dissipates and finally disappears altogether only when the student endeavors to fearlessly and courageously meet the teacher absolutely, completely and without reservation.

In the true teacher's reflection, all should be revealed. Therefore the teacher's living example only becomes superfluous when and if the student equals or surpasses the teacher's attainment. Until that point, the teacher's living, breathing example is of the utmost importance, for it is in the teacher's example that the teaching clearly comes alive and therefore can be seen and recognized. Without the teacher's living, breathing manifestation of the teaching, the ultimate goal of spiritual experience and practice remains lost in vague, superstitious and even dangerously confused notions.

In most cases, a teaching—even a perfect teaching—in and of itself will not create enough tension to thrust the individual into the radical transformation that is necessary for meaningful and permanent change to occur. It is the dynamic of the relationship with a living teacher that creates the kind of tension in which real transformation can occur.

In the relationship with the living teacher, the individual is afforded the opportunity of a clear reflection—of actually perceiving themselves clearly and without distortion. Association and relationship with an individual who is the living expression of no limitation will make apparent those limiting ideas, beliefs and tendencies that the student compulsively and usually unconsciously imposes upon themselves and on reality as a whole. Therefore, it is through that association that the student will be able to see very clearly and accurately how and where they are limiting their own potential of realizing and ultimately manifesting no limitation.

No Refuge for the Ego

Instead of striving to fulfill the promise of no limitation, which is the discovery and attainment of no security for the ego, most individuals actually endeavor to find security for the ego in the relationship with the spiritual teacher. In this way, they allow a relationship of dependence to develop only because they are not actually seeking for genuine liberation, but instead use the relationship with the spiritual teacher only to take refuge from the very challenging ordeal of mundane existence.

There is no doubt that taking refuge in the knowledge and power of an extraordinary human being has great benefits. But as great as those benefits may be, their effect will ultimately always express limitation. Indeed, the relationship with the spiritual teacher becomes literally evolutionary only when the individual has come to the point when they are finally ready to take full responsibility for their own life. And in that responsibility, the individual must strive to meet the teacher absolutely—in perfect independence.

But because most seekers' belief and conviction in the actual possibility of genuine liberation for themselves tends to be very weak, the extraordinary and profound surrender and renunciation necessary to truly face and ultimately destroy all false notions of self, which alone will result in true independence, is lacking. In fact, what often imitates that extraordinary and profound surrender and renunciation necessary to truly destroy all false notions of self, which alone will result in true independence, is instead only the desire for validation of the personality.

The relationship with the true teacher should offer no security for the ego whatsoever and should instead result in the discovery and attainment of perfect aloneness, perfect independence and the perfect and ultimate fulfillment of one's individuality.

Perfect Independence Allows True Partnership

At the beginning stages of association and relationship with a spiritual teacher, it is reasonable for the individual to seek for affirmation of self, and in that affirmation, healing at a deep emotional level. That experience—absolute validation of self—is the unanticipated and mysterious event that occurs in a real meeting with a true teacher. But that event, instead of becoming an end unto itself, should serve as the foundation for the individual's pursuit and ultimate attainment of final liberation.

Ideally, the healing that occurs in the meeting with the true teacher serves as a catalyst for the simultaneous ending of the past and the beginning of a truly unimaginable future. That future is the intense pursuit of the dissolution of all false and deluded notions about the nature of reality, relative and absolute, and in that dissolution, the rebirth of a human personality that has been liberated from the consequences of being painfully lost in false and deluded notions about the nature of reality, relative and absolute.

For this dissolution to occur, an enormous amount of responsibility must be taken by the student for their own evolution. That means that the individual who wants to be free must come to that point in their own evolution where they would be willing to give everything for the highest attainment. What is that attainment? That attainment is the living, breathing manifestation of perfect liberation as oneself. It is only at that point—when the student is finally willing to take full responsibility for their own evolution in the biggest possible way—that the literally evolutionary potential inherent in the relationship with the spiritual teacher can begin to manifest itself. The literally evolutionary potential inherent in the relationship with the spiritual teacher is the realization and manifestation of a dynamic partnership based on the mutual pursuit of, and intense interest in, the Real.

As long as distinct differences in depth of interest remain between teacher and student in the pursuit of, and intense interest in, the Real, the recognition of that relationship as a dynamic partnership will not occur. Only when the relationship with the spiritual teacher is based on the mutual pursuit of, and intense interest in, the Real can that rare and dynamic partnership begin to reveal itself and actually occur.

Only the individual who has come to that point where they are willing to take full responsibility for their own evolution will be ready to embrace all the implications of what it means to be a truly independent human being. The individual who has not yet come to that point where they are willing to take full responsibility for their own evolution will not be able to move beyond a relationship of dependence with the spiritual teacher, and therefore, will not be prepared to enter into a dynamic partnership with the spiritual teacher based on the mutual pursuit of, and intense interest in, the Real.

Recognizing the True Teacher:
What Is the Seeker Actually Looking for?

What is the seeker actually looking for?


Does the individual who is looking for a spiritual teacher want to be free? Is the individual who is looking for a spiritual teacher aspiring to attain perfect liberation in this very birth? Or is the individual who is looking for a spiritual teacher seeking for something other than perfect liberation in this very birth?

It is important to understand that how one will recognize a true teacher is determined by what it is that the individual is actually looking for. Generally speaking, most people do not go to spiritual teachers out of the genuine desire to attain spiritual liberation in this birth. Instead, many go in search of "blessings" and affirmations. Many seek the presence of a spiritual authority figure to help them to feel better, to find some relief from the burden of the mundane. The individual who is seeking affirmation of who they already are will be looking for the kind of spiritual authority figure who poses no threat to the status quo.

On the other hand, the individual who is seeking for genuine spiritual liberation realizes the awesome magnitude of the challenge they are taking on. That individual will be looking for very different qualities in a spiritual mentor than would the individual who is seeking mainly for affirmation of who they already are.

What Are Some Signs of Attainment in a True Teacher?

The spiritual teacher must be a natural expression of a true teaching of liberation—without effort or any sign of pretense. It is not that difficult with some attainment, a little effort and a lot of pretense to give a convincing presentation. Be aware that a less-than-perfect attainment can actually empower the ego. Indeed, there have been many powerful and charismatic spiritual teachers who have been very knowledgeable about spiritual matters but who have turned out to be extremely untrustworthy as human beings.

Integrity is the single most important virtue that the spiritual mentor must be able to demonstrate, for it is integrity in the spiritual mentor alone that creates that most delicate foundation upon which perfect trust can be realized. It is the realization and discovery of perfect trust that can destroy any and all boundaries between self and other.

Rare vulnerability
is the natural condition and expression of an individual who is deeply in touch with themselves and directly in touch with life itself. Nothing exists between the individual who has awakened and the actuality of life. The individual who is deeply in touch with themselves and directly in touch with all of life is refreshingly vulnerable, unusually natural and shockingly real.

Lack of self-consciousness
should be the expression of the individual who has realized the nondual because the extraordinary impact that the profound realization of singularity has on the personality is unification.

Self-consciousness is the expression of a personality built upon a dualistic foundation. The individual who has not realized the singular or nondual as Self to a significant enough degree will still as a personality express a divided condition as self-consciousness.

The personality of that individual who has realized singularity as Self manifests a fundamentally undivided, unselfconscious condition expressed as unity and simplicity.

Spontaneity is the expression of a personality that has been liberated from the chains of fear and self-consciousness. The individual who has realized an undivided, unselfconscious condition has the natural ability to be who they are, as they are, in the most natural and unpremeditated fashion.

Trusting the True Teacher:
The Door to Liberation

When an individual chooses to become seriously involved with a spiritual teacher a process of osmosis begins to occur within that individual at a very deep psychological and emotional level. This osmosis takes place both consciously and unconsciously, and its effect is much greater than most people tend to be aware of. It's a dangerous business. Most people have no idea how delicate it truly is.

When an individual becomes seriously involved with a spiritual teacher, every aspect of the teacher's personality—gross and subtle, conscious and unconscious—is absorbed at the deepest levels of being. It is not only the teaching that is studied and absorbed, but indeed it is also the very condition that the teacher as human being is in at the deepest psychological and emotional level that the student consciously and unconsciously begins to emulate. Therefore it is not only the depth and breadth of the teacher's teaching that is important, but it is the ultimate condition or attainment of the teacher as human being that has the most significant influence on the student.

The individual who seriously seeks for a teacher, master or guru wants to find a mentor who they feel is truly worthy of being teacher, master or guru. There is always the desire in the seeker to ultimately find a spiritual mentor who they perceive as being perfect, or if not literally perfect, then as close to perfect as is humanly possible. Why is that necessary for the seeker? Because it is necessary for the seeker to have enough confidence in the integrity of the attainment of the mentor to allow themselves the profound and rare liberty of utterly letting go at the deepest levels of their being. It will only be possible for a seeker to achieve that degree of liberty—which is the rare and euphoric discovery of trust—if they are convinced of the integrity of the attainment of the mentor as human being.

The euphoric discovery of trust in the mentor enables a radical shift in consciousness to occur. The effect of that shift in consciousness is that the student now feels that they have a center, a very strong center, the foundation of which is the discovery of a deep trust. In what? In the validity of the perfection or near perfection of the attainment of the mentor. That trust enables the student the luxury of being able to trust, maybe for the first time, in life itself. It is in the attainment of absolute trust in the mentor that the student finds the extraordinary freedom inherent in the discovery of trust in life itself.

Ideally, the trust found in the relationship with the spiritual mentor serves as the bridge from isolation and separation to the discovery and attainment of conscious recognition of perfect interrelatedness. It is in this way that the relationship with the teacher can serve as a door to liberation.

 

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This article is from
Our Student/Teacher Issue