I thought I had said anything I wanted to say about authentic teachers in my first two posts on this topic, but in the last week I had some more “after thoughts”! A question kept coming into my mind: What gives me a heartfelt feeling and conviction that a teacher is authentic?
The answer that came to me was devotion! What touches me most about the teachers I have been fortunate to meet is their devotion to their own teachers. They don’t only have tremendous devotion and appreciation for their own teachers but also the countless true saints, yogis and masters that have dedicated their lives and endured great hardship to ensure that the teachings are available to us now.
In the last year I have met a lot of people who study other traditions than my own. I tried to learn about these teachings and the path they suggest because I am always interested to find out what other traditions are about. When we look past the differences in traditions there is really only one truth. But there are many ways to go about realizing and embodying it. Often I find that the way other teachers and traditions express the same truth in a different way very helpful for understanding my own path and the teachings in my tradition.
I have read some books and together with some friends listened to teachings of other teachers. I noticed that some teachers who consider themselves self-realized don’t seem to have much devotion. I can’t say that I found fault in the wisdom they are presenting. Of course, if I look closer there are differences, but there is a general theme of wisdom and love. Their presentation of wisdom and insight into the non-dual nature of reality makes sense and is intelligent.
My mind agreed most of the time but often my heart didn’t. It made me wonder why. It became clear to me a few weeks ago after I met an eighty year old Chinese monk. When he sat down with us his eyes were gleaming with joy. He almost looked like he had tears in his eyes when he was talking. There was so much devotion to the teachings and the masters that have passed them on to him. I feel the same devotion in the presence of my own teacher Sogyal Rinpoche and many other Tibetan masters that I have met and received teachings from.
I was struck that some of the self-realized teachers in the modern world don’t have any problems adopting a lot of the frameworks of the Buddhist teachings. I found myself listening to their teachings and think, “Oh they are teaching exactly the four noble truths.” They probably also quote a lot of other traditions, but I am just not familiar with these. But at the same time, although they use their teachings they distance themselves from the traditions they come from and criticise them. Some even find fault in the paths that seem to me helped them to mature spiritually.
It doesn’t seem right to me. Of course, the present traditions are not perfect. But would the spiritual wisdom we have now be available to us, if it weren’t for the countless true saints, yogis and masters of the past? They have dedicated their lives and at times endured great hardship so that the teachings would be available to the next generation to come. That’s why the absence of devotion and appreciation turns me off. I can’t say that devotion is an absolute requirement for an authentic teacher. I don’t have the omniscience to tell if a teacher is fully realized, or a little bit realized while still a little bit full of themselves. But for me the presence of devotion and appreciation is a very good indication that a teacher is authentic.
True teachers remain students their own lives. When their master passes away they continue to study with the main holder of the teachings of their master. When that happens to be them, then even as main holders they continue to exchange teachings and consult with their peers. There might be teachers that don’t have the opportunity to do that, but this criteria is also very good sign for me that a teacher is genuine.
This is the conclusion of a three part series on this topic. The first post was: “What makes an authentic spiritual teacher?” and the second was “How can we know a spiritual teacher is trustworthy?”