In a few posts here, I’ve written about finding a teacher. In his latest newsletter, Nirmala quotes an article on how a spiritual teacher’s role is a little different than a regualr teacher:
“In general, a teacher or mentor is a person who guides, instructs, or helps another in the process of gaining knowledge, understanding, or skills. What about a spiritual teacher or mentor? What is their role? And more specifically what does a spiritual teacher or mentor in the nondual or Advaita tradition do? A spiritual teacher/mentor’s role is unique in that the goal is not to transmit knowledge or understanding as much as it is to somehow bring about a recognition in the student of the student’s own pre-existing nature. This is a much more subtle thing than simply teaching someone a skill or understanding. It is not that a spiritual teacher never gives knowledge or understanding, but that knowledge or understanding by itself is not the goal. A student can have a broad knowledge of spiritual principles, and yet can still not have truly recognized those principles as being inherent in his or her own being. So spiritual teachers or mentors may teach a lot or they may not teach anything, depending on what the student needs in that moment to experience this deeper recognition of their own true nature.
This may seem like a subtle distinction between the role of a spiritual teacher and a regular teacher, but it makes a huge difference. The regular teacher usually has something specific to transmit, and there is often an implied assumption that the student will have more understanding or be better off when the teaching is completed. But the spiritual teacher is pointing to something that is already present in the student. It is like teaching someone to have shoulders. You can’t really teach the having of shoulders to someone who already has shoulders! But you can make them more aware of the shoulders they already have…”