Sunday, 20 November 2016


It seems there is a natural evolution from the depths of ignorance towards knowing. This is often called Ripening. I do not really know why it happens, but I can sense it faintly. It also seems that the human experience is an important milestone on this path of evolution, at least that’s what is seen in this world. From time to time some humans realize their true nature and emerge out of this deep ocean of ignorance like a bubble. This happens irrespective of place, race, gender or time. It also appears that this process is speeding up, but it can be an illusion because human population is growing rapidly, there are more people and so more wise people. Some people out of these few come out in open and try to tell others what they have realized. We call such a person a teacher or a Guru.

The literal meaning of the word Guru is "remover of darkness", it also means great, mighty or giant. The former meaning is implied when its about teaching. Darkness implies ignorance. Note that it is not "bringer of light" or something like that because as we know, the light is always there. It is occluded by ignorance. So such a person does nothing but shows that you are in a dark pit and often suggests a way out. A teacher does not and cannot pull an ignorant out of the pit, he merely hints at it, maybe gives a helping hand. The student pulls himself out. The teacher acts as a trigger.

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Moon and the finger 

The popular metaphor, I guess everyone knows it. A teacher points towards the Self, but he cannot take you to it and introduce you formally – here, meet your Self, and you shake hands with the Self. This cannot happen. One needs to go and meet his own Self himself. So there is a difference between a finger that is pointing to the moon and the moon itself. Some students get it instantly. Some students keep staring at the finger, why can't I see the thing called moon? they say. This is a tricky situation for a teacher, and now he must use skillful means to make the student look towards the moon. This is where the skill of a teacher is tested.

Why can't the teacher do it directly and why do students fail to grasp it? The experience of Self, which is not an experience actually, is subjective. It is not the experience of the Self that is difficult, it is abiding as Self which is a problem. It seems everyone can experience a Self very easily, even a child can, but it takes only a microsecond to fall back into habitual sleep of Ego. Secondly, not everyone is intelligent enough to grasp the implications of it all. And thirdly, almost all fail to implement that knowledge in their daily life, preferring the security and comfort of Ego, even if its encumbered with suffering and bondage.

The need for a teacher 

And thus, the teacher comes into the picture. He constantly reminds us about the Self, continuously tells us to be and remain as a Self, and tries to prevent a student from falling back into the pit. Although the process of awakening to the reality of the Self is natural, it is virtually impossible for an ignorant to come out of the pit by himself. A teacher not only triggers the process, he actually hastens it a million times. And that is the reason a teacher is placed above all beings on the metaphorical pyramid of importance.

This is true for all other fields of knowledge, not only for knowledge regarding the Self. Right from the very first teachers - our parents, to school teachers or professors, to experts, scientists and inventors, every teacher does exactly one thing - passes down the experiences he had. Brings other up to his own level. He himself stands on the shoulders of other teachers. We learn thousands of years of worth in few days, thanks to teachers. However, one needs to gain his own experiences, a teacher can only show you how to gain them.

Limitations of a teacher 

That is one of the limitations of teachings, they are like a finger pointing to the moon. Another limitation of a teacher is that he will take you to his own level at most, he cannot take you beyond that. Once you reach there, you pick up a new teacher. It is impossible for a teacher to make the ripening happen by force of teachings. You cannot grow a plant by pulling on it [1]. It must grow naturally, all a teacher can do is provide a protective and nourishing environment. Yet another limitation, in my opinion, is that a teacher also has an Ego, he appears ordinary, behaves like others, at least outwardly, and can also fall back into some pits. In other words, even the most talented teacher is not perfect. But we will see below that it doesn’t matter much.

Apart from the above somewhat fundamental limitations, there are skill related limitations, such as, communication skills, patience, wit, understanding of others, oratory skills, ability to keep the subject matter interesting and enchanting etc. Also, social skills and financial independence also matters. Some teachers are more skillful some are not.
What about knowledge? Knowledge by itself does not turn anyone into a good teacher. The expression of knowledge matters. If its mostly indirect knowledge, such as bookish knowledge, the teacher remains as good as a book. If a teacher has no direct knowledge at all, then he is not a teacher, not a good one and not even a bad one.

Limitations of a student 

Even the best teachers fail frequently, and the reason is not their knowledge or skill but the fact that all students are not made equal. Some are sharp some are not. It is easy to find a good teacher, especially in this age of instant information and communication, but it is very difficult to find a good student. Its especially difficult to find a good student who is willing to take the pains of learning, to take up the challenge of devoting his life to the path of knowledge. When a student is not interested, a teacher cannot do much. And an uninterested student is not really a student.

Kinds of teachers

Several ways exist to classify teachers [3]. Fields, expertise, styles, traditions etc. are the basis. But as far as your life goals are concerned, there are only two kinds – those who take you forward and those who do not. There are some with good grasp on texts, languages etc. There are some who know effective methods or techniques. There are those who work with only the body and energies. There are experts in a specific narrow field. There are some with direct experiences and truly know the Self.

A student will resonate with one of the kinds according to his current level of evolution and intelligence. One can make two mistakes - choosing a teacher that is not up to the mark thinking that one is not very capable, or choosing a teacher that is at a very high level, deluding oneself that one deserves that teaching. Anyhow, things settle down naturally and incompatible relations break away quickly. You do lose time.

Who is my Guru? 

If you have a question and if something can provide you a satisfactory answer, then it is your teacher. In other words, the source of knowledge becomes a teacher automatically. So a teacher can be a rock, a book, an animal, a criminal, a disembodied guide or a great living master. It may sound ridiculous and too broad to be a criterion for a teacher, but that’s because you have many colourful beliefs about who can be a teacher. Narrow beliefs restrict the amount of choices for learning to a bare minimum, when in fact the choices are unlimited.

A better question is - whom should I prefer as a teacher? And obviously, the answer is - a living human who is experienced and is available. A teacher who is able to interact, answer questions and solve your problems in unique ways is more preferable when compared to things like books, videos, statues, images or a master who is long gone. These things have their own importance and utility but they should be your second choice, not the primary.

How many teachers can one have? As many as needed. It all depends on many factors. If the current teacher is not available or you don't find his method and teachings very helpful, then obviously, you need someone else. If you have reached the level of the teacher, then another teacher is needed. There can be practical reasons such as if you relocate to a different place or the teacher relocates. You may find that during cultivation, your preferences may change and you feel inclined towards other teachers, other paths. Sometimes you simply come across a better teacher. But the important thing is that the teacher may leave you or you may leave him, but the teachings never leave you.

Guru shopping 

The problem is, some people randomly shift from one teacher to another very quickly. There are as many practices as there are teachers and hence they keep changing the practices and methods too. They employ a method of hit and trial for selecting a "good teacher ". Some people evaluate the teachers using some random criteria based on odd beliefs, such as the unusual experiences some teachers can provide or are rumoured to provide. Some people base it on the race, religion or gender of the teacher. Some people simply believe stories of "enlightenment" of others and run to join that teacher who "caused" that.

I can understand that there needs to be some experimentation before one can settle on a path or a teacher but one should converge on something asap. It may not be that you converge on a fixed teacher, but the overall theme of cultivation should settle down. This should be in line with your path. Although, the path itself may change, and a teacher may help you choose a better one, but once a path is clear, the approach should stabilize. You may need more than one teacher or method to progress on that path but the chaos and randomness of choices would vanish.

Where to start? 

A question, a dilemma or suffering is the start of search. A common question is - where should I start the search for a teacher? Fortunately, we have Google these days, do not hurry to pack and move to Himalayas. Search and read, apply reason, critical thinking and open mindedness to everything. Take note of who says what. Read opposing opinions and criticisms. Come to your own conclusions. It helps to bounce your ideas off other students or contact the teachers who take time to answer emails. It helps to write down things you learnt and experiment wisely [2].

Read books. Read texts and scriptures. Read commentaries on them by contemporaries. Study well. Join groups, forums or communities. Persist. Remember that such paths are not for frivolous or impatient. Its all hard work, at least initially, for most of us.

This will help you to narrow down choices to a few. After that you may decide to meet a teacher or to attend a programme etc. Its always better to not to judge the teacher initially. Sometimes miracles happen, and teachers appear out of nowhere, coincidences happen. Such students are lucky. However, for the rest, it is not recommended to just sit there and wait for a miracle guru to appear out of thin air. It helps to search. A teacher appears when the student is ready. But you may need to do some effort to get ready. The effort starts with a simple intention.

In ancient days, if one wanted to learn something, he'd simply go to the nearest teacher available. Most of the time the student would stay for years there before moving on. This may still work in modern times, but it is recommended to directly ask for advice on other teachers and other paths. An experienced teacher knows a lot many teachers and ways, and can guide you properly. Start your exploration there. Some teachers will try to sell their own path obviously, but a good teacher will not enforce it on you. Do not hesitate to come back if needed.

Judging a teacher 

It is difficult, if not impossible. By definition, a less knowledgeable and less intelligent person cannot evaluate a more knowledgeable and wiser man. If you can, then you are not a student, you are as good as a teacher.

Anyhow, people go ahead and judge a teacher according to whatever they know or believe. If the judgement comes from your direct knowledge then it is reliable but if it comes from stuff you heard somewhere, i.e. from beliefs, or from your biases, likes and dislikes then it is not very accurate.
The true test of a teacher is how useful his teachings are for you and if they have pushed you forward on the path. The teachings are more important than the teacher. This is the essence of this article, you need to know nothing more. But if you are still unsure, continue reading.

We have discussed some telltale signs of wise men before. Here, I will list some common errors people make when judging a teacher.
  • Indoctrination: From his very early days, a child is fed with beliefs, faiths and stories about what is true and what's not, whom to believe, whom to trust and how others who believe something else are his enemies etc. When you start a search, you need to throw all that away. Start from a clean slate, the state of "I do not know". Erase odd notions of how a teacher should be. This will broaden your choices substantially.
  • Cultures: Some strange beliefs, like eastern teachers are the real thing and western ones are cheap copies, will only narrow your choices. Ripening is universal, unrelated to places or times. It does seem that east has a treasure of teachers but then most of humanity lives in east and all sciences, philosophies and civilizations started in east, which obviously means that those ancient places will be richer. However, most destruction and corruption of knowledge happened in east and some of it is just outdated. So we have both extreme knowledge and extreme ignorance in east. The west has an advantage that scientific method or attitude kills off some strange BS automatically. The disadvantage is that such attitude and materialism lowers the acceptance of teachings that are foreign looking or in direct conflict with dogma. Anyhow, you can trace the lineages of a majority of western teachers to east.
  • Followers: The quality of a teacher reflects in his students, and so if you see some really dumb students around a teacher for a long duration, its time to rethink. If you see cult like behaviours, anger and hate radiating from the followers, don't be one. Anyhow, do not throw away the baby with the bathwater, take a look at his teachings carefully, perhaps its simply his bad luck that he is stuck with such students.
  • Experiences: People often judge a teacher from the stories about unusual experiences his students report. They rush to join the gang and then get disappointed when they experience nothing unusual. And the judgement is that this teacher is a fake. In this drama the teachings are totally forgotten. Phenomenal experiences are not a requirement to know something of value.
  • Charisma: It is easy to get infatuated with the talk and style of a good orator. Fancy talk can be used to cover up totally ordinary teachings. Usually such talk has an advantage that it keeps the students from dozing off, but it is no guarantee that the teachings will be useful for you.
  • Social service: Some teachers take up the tasks of fixing worldly things, helping poor, serving sick etc. If you are emotionally driven you may prefer them to others, they have this aura of goodness. But there is a risk that you will remain as ignorant as before after spending 20 years doing nothing but service. Check out his teachings also.
  • Luxury: Is a sign of prosperity not of knowledge. Five star quality ashrams provide a fun filled adventure but will they make you progress?
  • Crowd: More followers mean better marketing, not necessarily a better teacher. Quality of students, not the quantity, should be a criterion. Moreover, such teachers become inaccessible to an average student and are always surrounded by crowd. They teach in a broadcast fashion. If you get lucky, your question may get answered but expect no personal interactions. Anyhow, the teacher himself may be really bright and you may find his teachings valuable. Instead of joining a crowd of ten thousand, its much better to listen to his videos or read his books, if any.
  • Diet and fashion: What a teacher eats has no bearing on his knowledge, experience and skills. Unless you are interested in an in depth study of a teacher’s digestive system, ignore the diet thing. Similarly for attire. Some are found covered in gold and royal attire, some are almost naked. Some wear strange clothing which was in fashion two thousand years ago and some are in a t-shirt and shorts. A long flowing beard is compulsory for a wizard, not for a teacher. None of the above tells you how you will benefit from him. Listen carefully to his teachings, that’s all.
  • Lifestyle: Personal affairs of a teacher have nothing to do with his knowledge, experience and skills. Teachings are all that matters. Some people get lost in the stories of which teacher does what with whom in his bedroom. This is of no importance. Judgements based on such point to the presence of strong ethical beliefs about what teachers are allowed to do. A teacher is just another human. Students don't dictate how a teacher behaves in his personal life, they just absorb the knowledge and go home.
  • Controversies: The celebrity kind of teachers get quickly drowned in all kinds of controversies. Strong statements, black money, scandals, politics or crime, you name it. A seeker ignores all this drama and concentrates on his teachings. If a criminal says, its day, then it does not become night. Truth demands nothing in terms of Egoic behaviours. A teacher, just like any other person, can easily get afflicted with Egoic problems and spoils his personal reputation. However, that does not affect the content of his teachings, books, lectures or effectiveness of his methods. Granted that most of such teachers are just crooks, but not all of them are so. Its totally a different matter why they fall into controversies, its their lesson, not yours. In my experience, the great teachers re-emerge, mostly after their death, and get crowned as great masters. The deeds of the individual are forgotten and forgiven. The teachings, if they are genuine and useful, live on.
  • Tradition and lineages: It depends on how effective are those traditions or systems for your own self. A highly renowned tradition that is five thousand years old may seem like a real deal but may end up wasting half of your life. Lineages hint at what kind of teachings one can expect from a teacher, but do not tell about the effectiveness or knowledge of the teacher himself. There is no guarantee that a forth generation student of a great master will be as great as that master.Conversely, a teacher with no formal lineage may turn out to be a gem.
  • Attitude: Which teacher is better - a strict one, a lenient, loving, abusive, great talker, boring silent one? It should not matter. If he successfully pushes you miles ahead on the path, he is the one.
  • Commercialization: Of teachings is a controversial matter. Some turn their teachings into a business and others earn their bread and butter just like the rest of us. It does not really tell anything about their teachings itself. However, one can still guess a few things. If there is a small fee, it serves the purpose of a filter that cuts out non-serious students. In that case, students do not join him just because it costs nothing, they join if they think its worth. Secondly, the teacher is relieved of the trouble of maintaining a place and providing food etc. for his students. There is less chaos and more organization. So charging for teachings is not all bad. Anyhow, if it costs a leg and an arm just to learn how to breathe, then you are in a wrong place. Those who teach for free are really doing a service. It should be a piece of cake for a wise man to arrange for his own life, he need not depend on his students for his survival. Ideally, a teacher should be able to even support a few students, just as he supports his children. But I've never seen even one case like that. Anyhow, check what the teachings say. Is it all a mindless repetition of some old book? Is the teacher talking from experience? Is it superficial or can take you to your goal? 
  • Background: Some teachers have extraordinary stories to tell about their life experiences and how they became enlightened and all. This pulls some students into beliefs that they themselves may receive all those experiences, and they rush to join that teacher. It may or may not work. Experiences translate into learning and learning translates into teaching. It all depends on how effective the translations are. If all he has is stories, you may not benefit much.

Lose the training wheels 

Once you are past the teacher-student phase, its time to become independent. You have seen what the noise is about. You tasted many sources. You got some experiences. You know what the books essentially say. In short, you are very-very clear that you are now stable on a path, which is in fact a path of your heart, it is really bringing you the promised happiness and freedom, then it is wise to take the bold step of walking alone on it. Usually, your teacher will notice this first and will let go of you. But if he doesn’t, you should at least ask politely. Often the students get attached to their teachers, but it is possible for a teacher to get attached, and then its up to the student to cut the cord.

It won't take you long to realize that the best teacher is your own Self. Pose a question and if you are established in the Self, the answer will be there. The answer will be most satisfying, bright and will fill you with blissful peace. There is no need to hunt for an answer or to struggle with logic and arguments, it is instantly there and is self-evident. Once you know the Self, you don't need to know anything else.

Why can't we have both? 

Where is the problem if one has stabilized on a path and still wants to be with the teacher? I guess some of the readers are going to disagree with the idea of cutting the cord, but in my opinion, not letting go the teacher implies presence of attachments and some leftover ignorance. That, or the student has simply become habitual of a teacher-student lifestyle. If you are really doing well on the path, then you will realize very soon that there is no teacher. The man you see delivering lectures is merely an appearance, an externalized version of your own Self.

You will also see that there was no teaching and you learnt nothing new. The teacher is merely a catalyst for quick removal of impurities of ignorance, that’s all. Once you know this, it makes no sense to continue the role of student-teacher, the show is over. However, as long as our human experience lasts, the teacher will remain with us, in some form or other, as he is now an essential part of us. He remains not as a person handing out instructions and lectures, but as a companion, friend and beloved.


[1] I’m thankful to Francis Lucille for this metaphor. I don’t know if it is a real saying.

[2] Note the word - wisely. A student cannot be expected to behave perfectly, but some common sense should be employed while experimenting. For example, if you read somewhere that fasting will purify your mind, or some stuff like that, do not overdo it. You may end up dead or in a hospital. These practices demand careful guidance from experienced and reliable teachers. Similarly, do not simply start chanting a mantra or start any random rituals, just because you read it somewhere. The bottom line is - do not do it if you don't know what you are doing.

[3] Traditionally there are seven kinds. I find that a good classification. See:

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