Explains how to successfully navigate the process of initiation, instruction, testing, and self-transformation under the guidance of a spiritual teacher
• Explores how to approach a teacher for initiation and the importance of gauging your inner response and feeling of trust and resonance with the teacher
• Discusses the process of separating from a spiritual teacher and how to negotiate the emotional conflicts that can arise at this stage
• Shares the author's experiences with several remarkable teachers and details lessons learned through testing and confronting doubts and fears
In the search for inner awakening and self-realization, a spiritual mentor can be key to advancement. Yet the process of finding an authentic spiritual teacher who resonates with you can be daunting, especially for anyone who has had a negative experience with a guide. Exploring the emotional nuances of mentoring relationships, Greg Bogart details the path of spiritual apprenticeship: the process of aligning with a teacher, establishing a dynamic spiritual practice, and the later stages of separation and finding the teacher within.
The author explores the importance of gauging your inner response and feeling of trust and resonance with a teacher and your readiness to receive initiation. He explains how the teacher-student relationship affects the student’s state of consciousness over time and how most students eventually need to become independent from their spiritual guides. Describing emotional conflicts that can arise at this stage, he shows how wise teachers accept our need to separate and graduate while immature teachers try to thwart and control us.
Openly sharing his own personal journey, the author illustrates the lasting resonance of his encounters with several provocative spiritual mentors, including Swami Muktananda and Dane Rudhyar. He discusses how some fierce teachers practice "crazy wisdom" to confront our doubts, fears, and fixations and to activate our dormant potentials. Examining practices in Hindu and Tibetan Buddhist Yoga, Sufism, and Jewish and Christian mysticism, he also explores the deeper mystical aspects of the guru-student relationship.
The author shows how, ultimately, initiation leads the spiritual seeker to find the teacher within and how this can naturally lead to teaching others. Describing nine stages of the spiritual seeker’s journey, the author affirms that a direct path to self-liberation is still attainable through initiation and instruction in the company of sages.
Stage One Choosing a Teacher Finding the Lineage and Qualities that Speak to Your Path
Meeting a teacher can impact us so powerfully that we’re seized by a desire to change our lives and embrace the quest for mystical realization. When Rumi, a highly respected scholar, met his teacher Shams of Tabriz, Shams took a book Rumi was writing about philosophy and threw it into a well. Rumi became an ecstatic devotee of Shams and abandoned all else, including scholarship and family responsibilities. After finding a teacher a person may begin to undergo a noticeable transformation and change of habits and lifestyle. One may experience deeper meditations or feel a blissful energy or an opening of the heart, the kindling of an inner fire. Rumi said:
What draws Friends together does not conform to Laws of Nature. Form doesn’t know about spiritual closeness. . . . A hand shifts our birdcages around. Some are brought closer. Some move apart. Do not try to reason it out. Be conscious of who draws you and who not.
A common experience after meeting a teacher is for everything in our lives to fall apart. In the Koran it is said, “I am with those whose hearts are broken for My sake.” Old interests fall away, and old friendships become less compelling as a seeker turns toward the path of spiritual awakening. The disciples of the Indian guru Ramakrishna underwent a profound transformation as a result of their contact with their saintly master. Many were filled with a feverish devotion and burning for enlightenment. Many of them renounced worldly life soon after Ramakrishna’s death and became monks committed to pursuing Self-realization.
We accept a teacher who inspires us to attain the enlightened state through meditation, yoga, and other consciousness-enhancing practices. In deep meditation, the mind quiets down and awareness turns inward, becoming self-reflective, becoming aware of itself as awareness. The diligent practitioner experiences the growth of tranquility, contentment, and wisdom. In Buddhist terms, meditation reveals our dharmakaya nature--the truth body, the pure mind, like a clear mirror. In the Hindu tradition this is known as realization of the Self or Atman, which is one with Brahman, the Absolute.
We need a teacher not only to teach us techniques and doctrine but also to embody the enlightened state, so that we can recognize it in ourselves and attain it. We may also choose a teacher to learn a particular method such as meditation, yoga, or shamanic journeying. Even in cases where a teacher isn’t a fully enlightened Buddha, sage, or siddha guru, we could still grow by studying with that person for a period of time--if the teacher seems clear and balanced and we feel confident that this person can guide us effectively through a stage of our transformation. It’s enough that the teacher embodies a quality of freedom that we wish to emulate.
Teachers appear in many guises. When I met my hatha yoga teacher, Allan Bateman, in 1979, I found that he was quite an unusual individual. Self-taught in yoga, Allan looked like a muscle-bound jock. He moved around his studio in a bikini, sang opera arias, and held in the palm of his hand an enormous cat named Godzilla, who lay on his back stretching out his paws in a magnificent backbend, in full spinal extension. Allan bragged modestly about this and that, and talked about his cattle ranch upstate where he had a herd of Beefalo. I learned so much yoga from this man, I didn’t care if he was some great pundit or intellectual. He wasn’t trying to be saintly. He used his body in his teaching. He was very graceful and respectful and supportive of intelligent movement. He was a free and sexy guy, very confident, and a positive male role model.
John Welwood, author of Awakening the Heart, notes, “Since genuine spiritual teachers come in many different shapes and forms, we’ll no doubt fail if we try to spell out how a good guru should behave.” David Frawley, founder and director of the American Institute of Vedic Studies, echoes this view, saying, “Great gurus may be saints with impeccable characters and lifestyles. However, they may also look like madmen and refuse to conform to any social norms. Society may consider them scoundrels.” We shouldn’t accept a teacher just because everybody else says this is an enlightened sage; nor should we immediately reject all teachers who don’t conform to our expectations or conceptions of holiness. The teacher doesn’t have to be famous, or an impoverished ascetic, or surrounded by important disciples. What’s important is that the teacher’s personal example inspires us, the teacher’s words speak to us deeply, and the teacher’s presence affects us intensely. The guide shows us glimpses of the goal of the spiritual journey, as well as a path we can follow to reach this goal.
In this book we’ll consider how spiritual teachers have been described in a number of world religions. From the insights derived from these traditions, we’ll reach a number of conclusions:
1. Spiritual apprenticeship begins with a personal relationship with a teacher who tangibly affects our awareness and inspires us to practice a contemplative discipline in order to attain enlightenment.
2. Initiation connects the student to the influence of a spiritual lineage that transcends the individual teacher.
3. The student-teacher relationship involves the mutual meditation of the student and teacher upon one another, and may entail the deliberate cultivation of a form of psychic merger or unity that can have a transformative effect upon the student.
4. The relationship may involve experiences of grace in which the teacher functions as a conduit for transmission of transpersonal forces.
When choosing a guide, proceed with care. It’s important to take sufficient time to examine the teacher’s character and note any internal changes that occur as a result of contact with this being. A powerful inner shift of consciousness after meeting a teacher signals us to seek further contact and instruction.
Greg Bogart, Ph.D., MFT, is a psychotherapist in private practice in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is a lecturer in psychology at Sonoma State University, a teacher at the California Institute of Integral Studies, and the author of numerous books on astrology, dreams, yoga, and spiritual depth psychology.
“A clear, reasoned exposition that will help seekers of all persuasions.”
– Yoga Journal
“Bogart calls upon his expertise as a psychotherapist and his experience as a mature spiritual seeker to discuss issues that are crucial for Western students of inner pathways. This is a must-read for all spiritual seekers and their teachers.”
– Judith Hanson Lasater, Ph.D., P.T., coauthor of What We Say Matters
“This book is valuable for anyone who has been a student of a spiritual teacher or who is contemplating becoming one, and it helps prevent misconceptions so that a mature teacher-student relationship can develop.”
– Yoga International
“Bogart’s book is a clear and detailed map of the experience of self-unfoldment under the guidance of a guru or spiritual guide--including its difficulties, dangers, joys, and ultimate value. Highly recommended.”
– John Warren White, author of What Is Enlightenment?
“If the recurring stories of gurus gone egregiously astray have you wondering whether teachers still have relevance on the spiritual path, I encourage you to read this wise and balanced book. Bogart makes a cogent case for the perennial value of awakening to who we are in relationship with one who already knows and can point the way.”
– Stephan Bodian, author of Wake Up Now
“In this volume, which I regard as his best, Bogart brings an integrated psychospiritual perspective to his description of the guru-disciple relationship. I welcome this book and will recommend it frequently to clients and students of my own.”
– Bryan Wittine, LMFT, Ph.D., teaching and supervising analyst, C. G. Jung Institute of San Francisco
“Based on decades of firsthand, inspiring, and life-changing experiences and scholarly research, Greg Bogart’s In the Company of Sages astutely and caringly steers you through the winding terrains of the spiritual mentor and student relationship.”
– Stuart Sovatsky, Ph.D., author of Advanced Spiritual Intimacy
“This is an excellent practical guide for anyone seeking a spiritual teacher and for those who are teachers. Bogart’s openness and forthright storytelling may benefit parents or loved ones who are concerned about friends and family members who invest themselves in spiritual practice. I highly recommend this book. Well researched and documented, readable, and personal, it lights the way for those navigating the journey of transformation.”
– Laurel Clark, author of Intuitive Dreaming
“This uniquely insightful book is a new classic of contemporary spiritual literature.”
– Master Charles Cannon, originator of Synchronicity High-Tech Meditation
"Sensitive both to traditional views and the unique concerns of seekers in the West."
– David Frawley, author of Yoga and Ayurveda
“Valuable, even essential, words of wisdom to open the eyes and minds of those who have a spiritual teacher in their past, present, or future.”
– Dan Millman, author of Way of the Peaceful Warrior
“Clarifying, balanced, highly readable, and above all helpful. This is the best book available on spiritual apprenticeship and the psychological issues involved.”
– Georg Feuerstein, Ph.D., author of Shambhala Encyclopedia of Yoga
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