19 October 2015

Why follow a spiritual teacher?

Been thinking about having brain surgery but it is a bit expensive. So thought about looking for someone a bit cheaper. Maybe someone who just picked it up from a book, maybe a weekend course or two. Ruth reckons its not a great plan; maybe better to pay a bit more and get someone qualified.

Then I thought maybe all I really need is someone to help me with my mind. Doubt the brain surgeon will improve things much anyway. So maybe I could do it all myself? Or maybe just learn from someone who read a book about mind power or went to a weekend course or two?

Ruth reckons its not a great plan; maybe better to seek out someone authentic, someone thoroughly trained in how the mind works and what the truth really is. Someone well qualified. But who? Who could I trust? How would I know they were the real deal?

So this week, why even bother with a spiritual teacher, and how to find one if you are interested.

Also, just to say we had a fabulous cancer residential retreat in the Yarra Valley last week. Great group of people, felt like one of the best programs yet. But now, only a few days until the last meditation retreat for 2015, and then a couple of weeks until the more specific cancer program - both in New Zealand; details below, but first

                      Thought for the day

                              When the student is ready 
                              The teacher will appear

                      Variously ascribed to the Buddha or Lao Tzu 
                                   - to whom the provocative rejoinder
                                   at the end of this post is attributed

The spiritual path is all about finding the truth.
Finding out the truth about what it is to be a human being, what is the purpose of this life, what meaning it has. And then aiming to live as much as possible in sync with that truth.

So why not go it alone? Why not learn directly from our own practice entirely, maybe with a few books and the odd weekend workshop thrown in? And there is plenty of stuff on the net…

Why are there sayings as in the Bible that “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” And why do knowledgeable people like the Dalai Lama say it is virtually impossible to realize the truth without an authentic teacher?

The clue to the answer is to understand something of the nature of the truth of which we are speaking. This truth is that reality which is not distorted by our own projections, fixations, habits, culture and so on.

The realization of this truth dwells in an experience that is beyond the domain of our own ego. It is even beyond words; it is the experience of how things are before our conceptual, active, unconscious and thinking minds attempt to put words to it.

A rich man tends to be caught up in matters of the world (and yes there may well be exceptions….). But without a genuine teacher, who will rein in our ego? How can we advance beyond an intellectual understanding of truth to a direct experience?

So then if we do decide we want a teacher, where do we go? 

The classified pages in our local newspaper?


The traditional saying has some real merit…

When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

Sometimes in unexpected ways…

Having said that, there is a process worth knowing about. Traditionally, a student would visit prospective teachers and take time to check them out. At the same time, the teacher would check out the student to see if they were a fit.

This evaluation is important and worth taking good time over. However, once one commits to a teacher, there is great sense in persevering. Any genuine teacher will challenge your ego and in doing so will have you going through times where your ego kicks back hard. In doing so, the teacher themself is highly likely to come under fire.

Ego is very crafty. Very keen to stay in control. Very good at finding someone to blame or get angry with rather than be supplanted by a higher wisdom. So a good teacher will bring this out. A good teacher will reveal our hidden faults and challenge them; but then provide support and show the way to move forward.

Seriously, would we want a neurosurgeon fiddling around in our head who was self taught or not fully qualified?

I do not think so.

So when it comes to learning more about our mind and attempting to tame it, surely we need a well qualified, authentic teacher.

So then, in my own main teacher’s words

The most important thing is not to get trapped in what I see everywhere in the West, a “shopping mentality”: shopping around from master to master, teaching to teaching, without any continuity or real, sustained dedication to any one discipline. 

Nearly all the great spiritual masters of all traditions agree that the essential thing is to master one way, one path to the truth, by following one tradition with all your heart and mind to the end of the spiritual journey, while of course remaining open and respectful toward the insights of all others. 

In Tibet we used to say: “knowing one, you accomplish all.” 

The modern faddish idea that we can always keep all our options open and so never need commit ourselves to anything is one of the greatest and most dangerous delusions of our culture, and one of ego’s most effective ways of sabotaging our spiritual search.

Sogyal Rinpoche

Speaking personally, I did spend many early years “going it alone”. Reading books, meditating, reflecting, going to weekend courses. All very useful, but then one day I realized I needed more direct, more competent support and direction.

For me, when I first met Sogyal Rinpoche in 1985 there was an immediate sense that he knew far, far more than I did and that I could learn what I needed from him. Great blessing really to have that knowing. Yet even so, it took many years of being around him before I felt able to commit in the true sense of being a spiritual student. Maybe the ego has to get worn down a fair way to even get that far?

Anyway, it is clear different teachers appeal to different people. For me, the 30 year, on-going connection I have had with my main teacher (yes of course there have been others too) has been incredibly beneficial both personally and professionally, and next week some detail from the 3 month retreat I have just completed.

        Finally, more provocative thought for the day

               When the student is ready the teacher will appear. 

               When the student is truly ready... 

               The teacher will disappear.

                               Attributed to Lao Tzu

Why Tibetan Buddhism?

The View and why it matters

Interested to meet Sogyal Rinpoche?
He is coming to Australia again in 2016 and will give Public Talks in Melbourne – Tuesday January 5th and Adelaide January 6th, along with the annual retreat at Myall Lakes.
DETAILS are still being finalised for some events, but LINK HERE

Autobiography of a Yogi - Yogananda. A spiritual classic that amongst other things documents Yoganada's quest as a young man in traditional, spiritual India to find his own teacher. This book has inspired millions on the spiritual path, self included :)

The Dragon's Blessing - Guy Allenby. If you are interested to know more about my own journey, this is Guy's biography that features much of my own spiritual quest.


The last meditation retreat and more specific cancer residential program Ruth and I will present in 2015 are both rapidly approaching. Both are in fabulous New Zealand :) 

Details of all coming programs  are on our website: www.iangawler.com/events, and here are these next two:

Meditation Under the Long White Cloud   24 - 30 October 2015

7 day retreat at Mana Retreat Centre, Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand

                 Take time out from the busyness of everyday life; spend time with your self
           Slow down, reflect, contemplate – regain perspective, vitality, balance and clarity
      Deepen your understanding and experience of mindfulness, contemplation and meditation

Full details, CLICK HERE

- coming soon

MIND-BODY MEDICINE and CANCER    November  2015    Tuesday 10th to Saturday 14th

Five day Residential program in the beautiful surrounds of Wanaka, New Zealand
- an easy drive from Queenstown airport and very accessible for Australians

This program is open to anyone affected by cancer. Health professionals interested to learn more of this work are also welcome to attend.

While the focus of this program is on therapeutic meditation and nutrition, the power of the mind and emotional health, ample time will be given to answering any questions you may have relating to the Gawler program - exercise, positive thinking, healing, balancing medical options, successful ways of dealing with setbacks, sustaining your good intentions and the relevance of finding meaning in life to healing and recovery.


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