The Humanity of a Teacher

The Humanity of a Teacher

Humanity by Bryan Ledgard
Humanity by Bryan Ledgard

I’ve written a few articles about modern issues with spiritual teachers. Students often see enlightenment as a superhuman perfection. We see the teacher as beyond mistakes. If a teacher buys into such ideas, they can create a large blind spot. Unresolved identity or unconscious needs are bound to be acted out with students. Expecting perfection, students may excuse the behaviour as “crazy wisdom” or similar.

The Westernization of spiritual teaching has meant that most teachers are now independent, sometimes affiliated with a lineage and sometimes not. They’re often outside of any peer-support structure and often lack understanding of relationship power dynamics. It’s a recipe for trouble.

One simple principle is that if someone has a human body, it’s because there is still karma unfolding. After they become enlightened, they’re still working out their sprouted karma from before enlightenment. And enlightenment itself takes time to integrate and mature. How long did you take to become an adult?

The karma that is unfolding now doesn’t reflect their current state. But how they respond to it does.

Recently a reader shared one of Jerry Freeman’s essays, “Why There are No Perfect Teachers.” Jerry is a prior BATGAP interviewee that writes occasional insightful essays. He makes many excellent points on this topic I’ll explore below. He also gave me permission to share his essay. Quotes are from his text, linked below.

“Those who come closest to a true, mature enlightenment do not hide their humanity. They do not cover themselves with an “enlightened” persona. They are at peace with themselves exactly as they are. They present themselves exactly as they are: human, fallible, flawed and still a work in progress even though some of them, the best of them, may already be deeply enlightened.”

Much as we may love to think otherwise, “…enlightenment does not confer perfection.” It is a major and progressive upgrade but we remain human with all that entails. That is how enlightenment is lived – in our humanity.

Initial enlightenment just takes a moment, a brief recognition of the Self by itself. Pop! But for that to be embodied in a life takes time. Each progressive level of our expression is more dense and slower to change. We have a lot of habits that take time to wind down.

There are a range of spiritual sources that point to statements that suggest perfection. Jerry mentions the Brahma Sutra of Vedanta. Shankara’s commentary says “It therefore is an established conclusion that on attaining Brahman there results the extinction of all sin [karma].” The Bhagavad Gita makes similar statements about right action.

We’re supposed to be perfected in Brahman* then, right?

This is qualified 2 verses later. Only those karmas from our backlog that have not yet begun to unfold are destroyed by knowledge. That is considerable. However, we also brought in a “suitcase” of seeds to this lifetime. Many of them have sprouted. Those parts of our past continue to unfold after enlightenment. We have a new relationship with our life but the blueprint or script continues.

Shankara says “Former karmas, i.e. actions, whether virtuous or sinful, which have been accumulated in previous forms of existence as well as in the current form of existence before the origination of knowledge, are destroyed by the attainment of knowledge only if their fruit has not yet begun to operate.

“Those actions, on the other hand, whose effects have begun and whose results have been half enjoyed are not destroyed by that knowledge. They are those very karmas to which there is due the present state of existence in which the knowledge of Brahman arises.”

It’s another paradox. It is the karmas that lead us into another life which allows enlightenment to flower. That brings the knowledge that roasts karma. However, this cannot roast the karma that gave us the enlightened life or the life would end. Then there would be no enlightened life. Similarly, Shankara uses the analogy of a potters wheel having momentum. It takes time to wind down the past habits and impressions, as I mentioned above.

Framed another way, the unsprouted seeds remain potential energy and are roasted when our identification with them ends. The sprouted seeds have become kinetic energy expressed into the world so have to be resolved in that forum.

We have the soup of clear knowledge, flavoured with the faint remains of ignorance (leshavidya) that allow us to live our life out.

Jerry quotes Maharishi Mahesh Yogi on this point: “What leshavidya does is create a separation in the state of Unity, and it is this separation that is responsible for the emergence of Brahman – Brahman being the whole which is more than the collection of parts. So, unless Unity is in parts, that wholeness of Brahman will not be created.”

The Brahma Sutra refers to this collection as the “aggregate” or totality. It is a oneness with many perspectives of itself, the whole aware of itself at every point.

There has to be some value of a person, a kernel of individuality, for enlightenment to be lived as a human. That value of Ahamkara (“I-sense”) is no longer the center but still has an “operational function.” If there was only spacious awareness, we could not function in the world. In fact, I’ve observed that people in well-developed enlightenment become more unique, unfettered by the former constraints on their individuality.

We still experience from this default point as human, still have to take care of the body-mind, and still experience pain if we stub our toe.

The key becomes how we respond to our unfolding karma. If we’re acting out because of ignorance (willful or otherwise), we can create new karmas rather than settle things down.

Yet if we notice our reactive points and see events arising in our life as reflecting something within us to resolve, we can gradually pierce our shadows and resolve our karma. Life becomes simpler, smoother, and less eventful.

This is why some traditions recommend we mature for a decade or so before we start to teach. This reduces the tendency for the role to bring out unfinished business. I’ve been surprised by how much acting out I’ve seen in people well-along the stages. Also by some fundamentalism.

It is very common to feel complete and done at certain points on the journey. This can incline some to drop all practices and feel they have “the truth.” But as one reader mentioned, they were feeling done for the third time.

“Paradoxically, enlightenment is both all-at-once and incremental. Enlightenment is simultaneously infinite but ever-expanding, complete but never-finished, an accomplished reality but simultaneously an endless work-in-progress.”

If instead, you recognize there is still a process and we all have blind spots, we can remain a little more humble and more alert to shadows. The key with shadows is the light of awareness. They will not be seen if we think we’re beyond our humanity.

I would also note that perfection is a great deal more than sinless. Take the Yoga Sutra, for example. It lists the siddhis or abilities we should be able to perform as a perfected siddha. I’ve met some very enlightened people but I’ve never met anyone perfected. The current time simply doesn’t support it. (The Yoga Sutra is from Treta Yuga.)

Another thing that can bring trouble is fancy experiences or gifts that arise from progress. If we are blind to our ego, we can make the mistake of thinking they’re mine, accomplishments, or something that makes us special or perfect. This can be quite subtle.

If our uncle gives us a rare book, do we see this as an expression of his love or because of our importance?

Similarly, if we share these fancy things, will others make us special or put us on a pedestal? Will we buy into that?

“When the celestial beings beckon, we should not respond with pleasure or pride, because this will obstruct progress, and it is always possible to fall.”
– Yoga Sutra 3.51

“No one, it seems, covers the total spectrum of possible subtle experience. No one is without blind spots. People can be highly attuned to the things that fall in their own range of perception but completely miss something that does not. What is accessible to one may be invisible to another. All of this is just aspects of expression.”

We all have a different mix of the emphasis of laws of nature leading to a different expression and different styles of experience. As consciousness wants to know itself in every detail, our very purpose revolves around these differences. Even if your perception seems to cover the entire range of creation, it’s still just one perspective. And it’s still just perception.

The most important part is source itself, pure consciousness. This is the foundation of all experience but is not an experience itself. There are people attuned to source with no fancy experiences but who have a profound influence on the collective. And there are people with advanced styles of experience that don’t have fancy word skills. Only a few of the awake talk about it much. Charisma and the gift of gab don’t make a person a sage.

“With all our variations in perception, our different bandwidths and our different blind spots, each individual is unique. No one is better or higher than another. All teachers, all humans, will be attuned to some things and blind to others. Knowing this can protect us from getting carried away.”

Being enlightened also doesn’t mean we become Vulcans with detached, emotionless intellects. Enlightenment isn’t an escape from feeling. In fact, if we’re avoiding our emotions, we’re impeding opening.

“The pairs of opposites persist: pleasure and pain, gain and loss, joy and sorrow. They persist. What changes is one’s relation to them. And what changes is the infinite silence that comes to abide with them.”

Often, the process can liberate our emotions. Feelings become bigger, richer, and more satisfying when we drop all the control. This brightens the entire range.

“Some look to awakening for a way to bypass difficulties without addressing them: a ‘get out of jail free’ card.” Yet it is in fact the opposite. Becoming more conscious means more conscious of everything.

As we notice points of contraction or reactivity and are willing to engage them and resolve them, we also gradually clear our blind spots and resolve some remains of ignorance.

As Jerry observes, this is how enlightenment deepens and matures.

Free Will
One related topic Jerry didn’t explore is where sin or wrong action come from. From the perspective we’ve been describing, it is ignorance of our true nature. Not knowing who we are, we grasp at what we want and resist what we don’t want, trying to control life. This impedes natural flow and creates friction and unresolved experiences that shadow our perspective.

But why do we behave this way when animals don’t? Humans have a perception of free will or choice. We’re given the option to choose how we respond to life events. If knowledge is clear, we make good choices. But if we’re in shadow and in the grip of our repressions, we’re likely to grasp and resist. This leads to problems and suffering.

Yet choice also gives us the option of pursuing a spiritual path and developing enlightenment. Nature will naturally move us slowly in that direction. But free will opens the door to more rapid progress – in either direction. In a sense, heaven and hell are choices; options that result from many, many smaller choices.

A major benefit of enlightenment is a bigger picture of life. Then we naturally favour the highest good.

If you’d like to read Jerry’s entire essay, download it here:
No Perfect Teachers essay (for personal use only) (pdf, 1MB)


* I define Brahman Consciousness a bit differently than Jerry.
[Update:] See Jerry’s comment on this topic below.

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  1. Jim

    Thank you – Yes, the transcending never stops, does it?
    One great way to get out of our own way is the gift of time, and the way that it both sharpens and dissolves karma. Simply wait anything out and it becomes clear. If not, wait some more.
    I find there is a clear distinction between Unity and Brahman. Two separate lives. Two different perspectives; Unity is life in all its fullness and depth, and completeness, the glory of the Self in Yoga.
    Unity then is an expression of Brahman, which finds its fullness and depth directly from the source of the source, the Divine Mother.

  2. Amit

    I guess one way to conceptualize this is to say that while awakening causes a disidentification with the mind/personality/ego , it does not erase the mind itself, but only takes away its compulsive tendencies.

    The awake person still feels the ego and its impulses but isn’t bound to act them out, as he or she is simultaneously in touch with the silent fulfilled Self.

    So in practice awake people might appear to have a choice as to the extent to which they let their ego/personality to run the show. And when the personality is allowed to express itself unhindered, it may display tendencies and traits that may not be likeable.

    So for instance UG Krishnamurti was famously abrasive, and even Nisargadatta did not project saintliness. But those who observed them at close quarters report that when alone both these teachers were utterly tranquil. This could suggest that the rough edges of awake people’s personalities are felt by those around them but not by the awake themselves. Which is different from the non-awake folks like me who have to put up with ourselves.!! Your thoughts.

    1. Hi Amit
      I’ve found that awakening ends only identification, not the functions of the ego, mind and personality. They’re still there as a function. We don’t relate to them as who they are though.
      However, how much of that de-identification takes place varies a lot. We drop the core concept of a self with awakening but there is typically lots of connecting threads that have to be resolved over time too. Thus an immediate shift and a process both.
      This means it may not take away all compulsive tendencies. If a person feels done and that the ego no longer exists, they can become blind to those tendencies.
      It is common to no longer experience yourself as the doer. You simply see actions happening without your volition. Sometimes this is then used to excuse bad behaviors driven by the shadows.
      The trick is to be clear that the experience is valid but there is likely to be some subtle junk still in there. Then there can be some discrimination.
      But yes, if the dynamics are conscious, there is some choice in acting. We learn what to trust and allow and what is a red flag for something to look at.
      Yes, personality traits are distinct. A sage could be pure but remain abrasive. I’ve been surprised by what has fallen away and what has not. (laughs)
      Our response to that abrasiveness is indeed ours. If nothing is being taken personally, there is no reactivity. They simply are what they are and we can appreciate the deeper values.
      I’ve yet to meet someone enlightened who does not have occasional off days. It’s certainly nothing like the loss we experienced prior but if someone close died or a big contraction has surfaced, there is processing to be done.

    1. Hi Jonah
      Chop wood, carry water. 🙂
      That depends on the source of the ailment. Some kinds of karma end with awakening or some time later. But if the primary cause is genetics or poor lifestyle, the ailment would persist.
      Resolution depends on finding and resolving the cause, which varies.
      In any case, we shouldn’t consider enlightenment as a solution to the problems of our human. What it does its upgrade what is experiencing them. 🙂

      1. Jonah Kirszenberg

        Hi David,

        I’m at an impasse in trying to understand what the cause of my physical issues are (high blood pressure & tachycardia. Continuous physical suffering over the past 25+ years).

        It developed 12 years after becoming a strong TM initiator. I was crushed. I stopped teaching because I no longer considered myself to be a good example of the knowledge.

        I will be in Fairfield for the month of May. Can I talk to you sometime for a few minutes?

        kind regards, Jonah

        1. Hi Jonah
          I can only offer suggestions. And to be clear, I live in western Canada.
          For one, I’ve found jyotish useful to understand karma and timing. Also, you may want to connect with Dorothy Rowe while in Fairfield – she does distance energy healing too.
          And you’re holding yourself to a standard of perfection that is impossible. As this article states, we’re all human. Only your doctor knows your blood pressure.
          Sure, TM is good for blood pressure. But it doesn’t change genetics, karma, and other factors.
          You may find some therapy useful to move past the self-judgement. That’s not good for well-being, blood pressure, or for spiritual progress. 🙂
          If the cause is physical, you may find panchakarma useful.
          See the Recommended tab for links.

      2. Jim

        My two cents if I may… I had borderline high blood pressure (160/100) even after awakening, though it took living Brahman to eliminate it completely – with no changes in habits or diet.
        Same thing with depression and taking anti-depressants. Had a family history (genetics) there, and again it wasn’t until Brahman that I was able to completely stop medication and heal this lifetime malady effortlessly.
        The initial waking up (birth of enlightenment) had little effect on such things, but living Brahman is almost spooky in its effectiveness. Concretely changes our relationship with our mind and body. Not as attached. 🙂
        Thanks 🙂

        1. Hi Jim
          Yeah, simple aging can cause the onset of things like blood pressure and arthritis. Genetics can get triggered similarly.
          If we’re closely involved with a spiritual practice, healthy diet and lifestyle, we can develop unrealistic expectations. They help but are not panaceas. Ayurveda suggests seasonal cleanses to help with the slow buildup of systemic troubles.
          A stage of development is also no guarantee of healing. If it has a karmic source (ancestral or past life), a stage will help. But a stage isn’t a therapeutic solution as we have no control over that unfolding.
          I’ve seen people have remarkable changes with Self Realization and others quietly shift. And I’ve seen people develop issues post-Brahman due more to timing than stage.
          ie: your experience may vary and it’s best to take practical steps. 🙂

          1. Jim

            Yep, I agree with you, for the most part. ParaBrahman cannot be considered simply a stage like any other. It is even a larger shift than that from self to full Self (UC). A completely different reality, with a unique set of dynamics.
            However if Brahman is simply experienced as the intellectual exercise that it is, the access to the resources needed to neutralize and reverse karma is not available.
            Having said that, your advice remains sound and appropriate – It certainly says so in the Gita, about adopting the Dharma of another bringing great danger (paraphrase).
            Thanks, no biggee – just wanted to add some data points to the general discussion. 🙂

            1. don salmon

              Hey, just a quick note about the mundane – the best research i’ve seen in the past 10 years says that aging is not necessarily correlated with increasing blood pressure.

              What is likely is that the more years one does not exercise and eats badly, the more the effects accumulate. However, all else being equal, as far as researchers can tell, there is nothing necessarily the case about the aging process that makes blood vessels more rigid, causing the blood pressure to increase.

              Also, timing (see Ayurveda, as David so often advises), amounts, suitability of food for a particular constitution (which means modern nutritional science may not be of much help here) seems to make a huge difference.

              Phases of one’s life may even make a difference. There was a time when yogic breathing was enough to lower my blood pressure. Now I find that a combination of daily moderate aerobic exercise, 3x a week strengthening, at least 10 minutes daily stretching, and VERY simple food intake (average around 1400 calories daily; almost exclusively fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains and legumes, with some eggs, dairy and fish – but don’t make this a dogma!!) is the key.

              But that may only be for this person. If you enjoy intuitively investigating your physical/psychological karma, it can be quite a journey to explore what is the best way to make this mind-body vehicle the best/healthiest expression of Source.

              1. Hi Don
                Right – age and BP are not linked directly but lifestyle and genetics have a big influence. BP tends to run in families, for example. Weight has a direct impact, which is also tied to the same.
                And yes, its common for ones life and work to become more sedentary with age. The metabolism gradually slows so we need to take a progressively more conscious role in ensuring enough activity – as you describe.
                It’s an interesting dance to see what works for this body. And they why can be quite the maze. 🙂

                1. don salmon

                  A dance indeed!

                  And yes about metabolism, and lifestyle.

                  I’m sure – as a general principle – it’s correct that BP tends to run in families, as it does on my father’s side.

                  I started looking into this in 2003 (left New York Cty just after 9/11; BP 130/80 at the time; in 2003 it was 160/100 which was a great motivator to look into it!!)

                  It only occurred to me after some time that while it may be true in general that BP runs in families, if I look at my paternal ancestry – overweight, very little physical activity past 30 or so, etc – that it could just as easily be lifestyle rather than (or possibly a combination, but “who” knows) genetics..

                  The more the sense (not yet stabilized) of Divine Reality blossoms, the more these everyday physical matters, underlying emotional “stuff,” and mental layers become seen in a profoundly different light. It’s not about “me” “figuring out” how to get healthy, or more mature, or developed, or whatever.

                  It’s clearer by the day that She (I prefer the feminine pronoun, but It or He or That – or the postmodern “They”!! is fine, perhaps) is doing this, and She seems to enjoy having a clearer instrument through which to Play.

                  As a pianist, I like that metaphor too:>)) “Life is a carnival, my friend”

  3. Gina Westbrook

    Over the years I’ve come into contact with several enlightened people and after the initial awe and admiration and even love I’ve felt for them, eventually they too come down off the pedestal, become human, and I’ve found myself asking the same question over and over again, “If this person is so ‘enlightened’ how can he behave like that?” I found Jerry’s essay and your comments a watershed in my understanding that, although it can have a strong influence, enlightenment is perception and not personality. As a recently awakened friend of mine told me, “. . .the equanimity is terrific, but it’s not utopia.”

  4. Jerry Freeman

    Hi, David.

    Thanks for this. I appreciate your careful attention to such an important subject.

    If I may, I would like to clarify one thing.

    You wrote: “I define Brahman Consciousness a bit differently than Jerry as he sustains Maharishi’s 7 States of Consciousness model. This places Brahman as the pinnacle of the Unity stage. In my work, Brahman is a distinct, further stage. The Vedic texts support both views.”

    Actually, the difference is only in the way we use terms. I agree with you, David, that there are two, very different stages of consciousness that may be called “Unity” and “Brahman.”

    However, to avoid confusion associated with the word “Brahman,” I interchange “Brahman” with terms like “mature unity consciousness” (as different from “early unity consciousness”).

    “Brahman” is a Sanskrit word that carries the baggage of thousands of years of philosophical and religious argumentation.

    Buddha rejected the word “Brahman.” Anyone from a Buddhist background will have to disregard that doctrine if they are going to engage with the idea of “Brahman consciousness.”

    If you say to a Hindu, “You are Brahman,” almost inevitably they will answer, “No, I am of the Vaisha (or Kshatriya, etc.) cast.”

    For a great many people, “Brahman” is an abstract Hindu concept that has something to do with “God.”

    “Unity” is plain English.

    In fact, unity is the main characteristic of Brahman consciousness. “Brahman includes everything and excludes nothing.” “Brahman alone is.”

    What I call “early unity consciousness” (what you call “unity consciousness”) is completely different from what I call “mature unity consciousness” (which we both refer to as “Brahman”).

    Early unity consciousness is not all-inclusive. Early unity consciousness only sees the object of perception in terms of unity. Early unity consciousness sees the object of perception as the same as oneself, but everything else, everything in the background beyond the object of perception, is still perceived as “other,” not the same as oneself.

    Because it retains the duality of inner and outer, Self and nonself, early unity consciousness remains somewhat similar to the previous major state of consciousness, which Maharishi called “cosmic consciousness.” (Perhaps a more accessible term would be “witness consciousness,” which in Sanskrit would be “sakshi chetana.”)

    In cosmic/witness consciousness, there is an inner experience of unbounded, absolute, eternal transcendent Being, as separate from the world. There is the duality of inner/outer, Self/nonself, “real”/”unreal,” relative/absolute. (Some call this “nondual,” but that is not correct.)

    In early unity consciousness, the object of perception has come to be experienced in the same terms as oneself. The object of perception has come to share the same reality as the inner absolute, transcendent Being. So the inner has expanded to include an item or some items of the outer world, but the rest of the world is still experienced as separate, outside, “other.”

    The really big shift happens when unity expands, explodes almost, to include the whole universe and everything beyond the universe. It is no longer merely, “I and my beloved are one.” In Brahman, which I often refer to as mature unity consciousness, the reality has expanded to “Only Oneness remains.”

    I don’t see a need to quibble with Maharishi about whether there are seven major states of consciousness or whether early unity consciousness and other, what I would consider transitional, stages are separate major states of consciousness. There’s ample room for them on Maharishi’s seven states of consciousness map, so I see no need to complicate the discussion by calling for a different map.

    Best wishes,

    1. Hi Jerry
      Thanks for writing such an excellent resource. And thanks for clarifying your position. I updated the article to point to your comment.
      You also make a good point about the word Brahman. For a time, I adopted the term “Beyond Consciousness” but most traditional sources used Brahman so I migrated there. This also suggests why Adyashanti (Zen background) has avoided the term, instead adopting a second “no-Self” stage, to the confusion of many.
      This reminds me that on a couple of occasions Maharishi described Unity as being in 10 stages, at different times comparing them to the RV mandalas and to the 8 prakritis.
      There is certainly a big difference between early and later Unity. Especially if there has been a God Consciousness stage to support a refined version.
      I’ve drifted towards Self Realization as another term for Cosmic Consciousness, although it too has many definitions. Witness Consciousness is problematic as some do witness prior to Cosmic Consciousness.
      In the last verse of Chapter 6 in the Gita, Maharishi mentions a prior Self Consciousness, likely referring to transcending.
      Thanks again.

      1. Jerry Freeman

        Thanks, David.

        For better or worse, the terminology that’s available for discussing this territory is never clear cut.

        “Self Realization” carries some of the same issues “Brahman” does, in that Buddhism has gravitated toward an interpretation of Gotama’s teaching to mean there is no Self.

        Coming from a Buddhist Zen background, Adyashanti may favor that point of view. But as it happened, Buddha refused to answer the question “Is there a self?” My sense is, he rejected teachings about Brahman and Atman because they had become so objectified, they had completely lost their connection with experience. So he told people to stop talking about Brahman and Atman and started over with his own system of terminology.

        “Anatta” (anatman in Sanskrit) can be translated “not Self,” “non-Self” or “no Self.” In many of Buddha’s discourses, it’s clear he was explaining that the relative characteristics and things by which one defines oneself are “anatta,” (not Self), not that there is no self at all.

        Yes, what you say about witnessing is true. There can be a stage of witnessing from quiet levels of the mind before the unbounded absolute opens itself to experience as the silent, eternal witness of all.

        That does complicate the discussion.

        But I think we’re in good shape if we’re willing to take the time to acknowledge the difficulties of language and terminology and try to comprehend as best we can what the terminology is attempting to point to.

        1. Hi Jerry
          Agreed. And thanks for the points on Buddhism. The challenge reconciling the 2 approaches is that Buddha rejected some of the core Vedic framework because it had then become so ossified. But it wasn’t a rejection of the reality.
          And yes, agreed. It helps a great deal if the topics have been experienced so there is reference points for the words. And some flexibility in recognizing others experiences are not exactly the same. In fact, those other perspectives can help point to a fuller picture of wholeness.
          Thanks again for the essay.

          1. Bill Wood


            “Being enlightened also doesn’t mean we become Vulcans with detached, emotionless intellects.”

            The idea of detachment so bothered me I almost stopped meditating so many years ago. Of course, ignorance at the time was what I knew best, a familiar friend. But as infinity grows, one realizes that the absolute is generous, indeed, sharing space with relativity. Which is important, because ice cream tastes good! I finally learned that it is not so much what one loses as pure awareness grows, but what one gains. One loses some rough edges while gaining greater happiness, for sure.

            Jerry’s attached essay put lots of things in perspective for me in this regard; it helped stabilize my thinking on the overlay between inner and outer during our evolutionary journey. Thanks for including it!

            I do not know how to contact Jerry about his new book that you mentioned. Do you know when it will be out, and how we can get a copy?

            Hope to see you back soon,

            1. Hi Bill
              Yes, I posted a video that illustrates the issues with such positions awhile back.
              Some people do go through a period of detachment if there is a dry form of witnessing. But this is a phase, not “enlightenment.”
              Yay ice cream!
              And yes, we can experience a loss at certain stages but that usually turns out to be the loss of a contraction or restriction, like ego identification. What we gain as a result is so much greater.
              Not sure about the book. Jerry is on Facebook. He generally shares his essays as pdf’s through direct contact. I got permission to share this one here.


              1. don salmon

                Hmm, hope i’m not writing too many comments in one day. Bill’s comment about ice cream brought to mind one of my favorite lines from the “Mother” (mirra alfassa; Sri Aurobindo’s ‘collaborator”)

                “Take pleasure in everything you do, but don’t do anything for the sake of pleasure.”

  5. herwig

    Thank you.
    A very important topic. One aspect frequently overlooked and underestimated in this context is indeed the imprinting that our cultural background has given us. Many of us associate spirituality and spiritual teachers with eastern cultures and gurus, but nevertheless interpret these imports and the behaviour of their gurus within the paradigm of western thought and tradition.
    Indian gurus are given those fantastic titles like mahatma, Bhagavan etc. In India there is even a temple dedicated to the prime minister, and that does not appear to be blasphemous to the Indians. Thy are very open-handed with superlatives. But in the west we tend to take these things more literally. “Matha Pitha Guru Deivam” is a very popular Indian phrase – “Mother Father Teacher God”. Have you ever worshipped your parents like God? I didn’t.

    But that does not mean that Indians do not know that their parents are human.

    The introduction in the interview with Adyashanti struck me very much! I do not know when he was in Switzerland, but I crossed the German-Swiss border frequently in the 1970s when Maharishi stayed in Selisberg. You would have had to be quite dull not to notice the difference. I grew up in a country controlled by six different armies until for 40 years. It is no more so extreme nowadays, but there is much more to the story than the 12 years emphasized by the history books. I think it is no coincidence that Maharishi – although he did not frequently visit Germany – spent most of his time in the West near the German border in Switzerland and the Netherlands.
    Germans are very good at organizing, so some very powerful people support the idea of taking the re-education of the Germans as a role model for a global cultural transformation, and therefore have hyped the German chancellor as the „leader of the free world“.

    Regardless of the political assessment, I think the differences should not be levelled on the surface. We should integrate the experience of a transcendent unity into our different cultural traditions instead of imitating others in order to produce some superficial imitation of unity.
    Adyashati is very good at observing. “Spirituality is not about candles and incense”, he once said.
    And it is certainly not about copying a foreign culture and its habits and customs.

    1. Hi Herwig
      Yes, there are definitely come cross-cultural issues. Another example, Indians may speak intentionally to inspire where westerns expect “facts”. This has sometimes disappointed western seekers.
      I have an article on the Vedic approach to death coming up. I left out most of the ritual the site mentions, focusing on the key details that can be applied here.
      Agreed. There is a lot of focus on names, appearance, and superficial things like right food and ritual while ignoring all the attachment and emotional constraint. The superficial makes little difference unless there is deeper dive. This is the essence of Buddhas approach actually – dropping the superficial and coming back to the core. Although Buddhism today has added a lot of it back in. 🙂

  6. J-J

    Thank you David. This is a very timely subject for me. I saw the Gabor/Adyashanti talk last week and even though it was great, I thought your article expanded on it.
    In the talk they spoke about spiritual bypassing and how an enlightened teacher could be unaware of their shadow and “miss the mark”
    My question is: If one is in state of Unity – that person can still commit mistakes that produce karma, right? They are still human and making mistakes is part of their humanity.
    Someone I know, who many consider to be in a state of Unity, recently divorced his wife (the situation was a bit messy) and after the fact, was very open about all the problems in the relationship and the way he “acted out” .
    How shall we interpret this? My instinct is to embrace our imperfect human side with compassion and openness. There can always be subtle shadows that even a Teacher in Unity can not know.
    On the other hand, would too much attention to “Shadow Work” lead to a stronger ego and endless therapy? Seems like it’s such fine balance with all these things.

    1. Hi J-J
      Right – it’s not about stage but house-cleaning. As people advance through the stages, there is cleaning that comes with it. So someone in unity, for example, is less likely to be creating new karmas. But if they’ve not dealt with their stuff, they can create trouble.
      I know a spiritual teacher in Brahman, for example, who got caught up in his teacher identity, believed himself beyond reproach, and has become quite manipulative with students. This is very difficult karma, to mislead spiritual seekers.
      Yes – it’s healthy that they were open about it. But if their acting out was not resolved, it can still arise again. It wasn’t the marriage that caused it. (Although there can be karmic dynamics in play where the marriage ends because the karma is complete – but then the acting out had subsided.) Relationships can be a great mirror for our stuff.
      Your instinct is correct. Someone can be a good friend that is spiritual supportive – even help us awaken, but still have imperfections we may have to deal with.
      And yes, excess effort to heal is not balanced either. It suggests an attempt to “fix” rather than acceptance. I recommend we deal with stuff as it arises. Then it’s coming at a time when it’s resolution is supported.
      Everything in moderation. 🙂

  7. Peter Westbrook

    Following this topic, from both yourself and Jerry, has always reminded me of a comment Maharishi Mahesh Yogi made about his own teacher, Guru Dev. After many years, Guru Dev’s teacher sent him away, Maharishi recounts in a talk he gave on Guru Purnima, because there was nothing more he could teach him. At this point, Guru Dev retired into solitude in the deep forest in order to “perfect his personality.” I always wondered what that could mean. Perhaps there were more mature stages of enlightenment to culture. But more and more, I think this could be taken very literally, to mean that he still had work to do on himself as an individual, perhaps apart from the development of perception involved with unity, Brahman, etc. After all, he did eventually become Shankarachara which must be a role demanding of the individual personality as much as of Vedic wisdom. So, as you say, “some traditions recommend we mature for a decade or so before we start to teach.” Others, I am told, such as Tibetan Buddhism, slow down the process of refinement of perception in order to develop compassion in order to create a more balanced result. The current world situation has not allowed for this luxury, but may, perhaps, have resulted in some imbalances along the way?
    On another topic, you state that the current world situation does not support the development of the siddhis as described in the Yoga Sutras. Yet siddhi courses are offered and taught. And we have encountered individuals who claim that they do not work because they are not taught properly. I have always wondered if we have unreasonable expectations in this area.

    1. Hi Peter
      OK – you have to place this in a large context. Guru Dev was an enlightened renunciate. His individual personalty was of little import. However, there is what might be called a cosmic personality. This reflects his ability to embody the Divine on all levels of his being, including the personality. Then his potency in the world was amplified. He was of exceptional development.
      I can also note that refined perception without the heart opening can lead to chasing experiences. I suspect that may be an aspect of what you describe.
      What I mean is it would take exception development to, for example, fly through the air. We have to be able to overcome the influence of group consciousness. However, there is still value in experiencing flavours of the siddhis and opening up the dormant channels in the physiology.
      I would agree there are issues with how they are now being taught. Changes have been made to the original instruction. After someone is awake, they’re also capable of placing the sutra more precisely. Major topic.
      But a full expression requires full access to subtle functionality that is not conscious in most people, irrespective of stage. This is more about refinement and soma which is seriously challenged by the soup of group consciousness now.
      That said, things are changing at a rapid pace. What’s possible now was not a decade ago. Laws of nature that were dormant are being rowsed and others are awakening to their Divine nature. The whole playing field is evolving.
      It is unreasonable to expect that if we’re attached to the form of this body we’d be able to have a thought in the mind that would cause that form to change. But as those entanglements fall away and we learn to command from source, we’ll break down some of those old barriers. 🙂

      1. don salmon

        I taught several hundred people mindfulness and pain management in the 1990s. It was very slow going and only a relatively small percentage (my research suggested about 1/3) really “got” what it was about beyond mere relaxation/stress management)

        My part-time work involves administering psychological evaluations, mostly to kids and teens but some adults too. I notice that (a) it takes a few minutes for most to ‘get” what mindfulness and pain management is about (the younger ones get it faster), and (b) almost everyone gets VERY quickly what it means to just “be” – to be present in a state of effortless peace and quiet happiness; they mostly can “taste it” in at least a minimal glimpse seemingly immediately and without effort.

        As little as 5 years ago it was much harder to convey this to people.

        Many of my friends who have been into this stuff for decades tell me that the Silence – effortlessly – is so much more accessible in the last 5-10 years than it ever was, and many if not most are letting go of many of the techniques and practices that had served them but seem to be excess baggage at this point. And not just Silence but Love as well, shimmering, all-pervading, enlivening, constituting and embracing all.

        1. Hi Don
          I’ve had a similar experience. I taught meditation back in the 70’s vs now. Used to be people would do hours of deep meditation just to make an inch of progress. Now people are waking up all over. And stages are unfolding that I hadn’t even heard of back then. 🙂
          Words like group consciousness and collective are used on the news.

  8. I’m a follower of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Mooji, Rupert Spira, and Swami Sarvapriyananda, with nods to Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj and many others. The message they bring is very similar, although there are two classes of related practices involved (from yoga and from advaita vedanta). I’m sure that each teacher is flawed in their own way, as a result of their stressed background (Jerry Freeman and Maharishi call this layshavidya). But when they teach, they rise to a divine level of importance, because they are doing the valuable work of destroying unfounded beliefs that lead to suffering, and offering in their place the freedom, joy, and love of unbounded consciousness.

    I don’t waste any of my time criticizing teachers for their relative flaws (with the exception of those teachers who actually harm others through their unacknowledged abuse). Instead, I learn from them, realizing that I am stuck in the same trap as my students, never finding lasting peace or happiness. By admitting my need, I open myself for growth and change.

    I have had enough transcendent experiences of my own that I believe what so many teachers of nonduality and transcending tell us. I am, based on these experiences, devoted to a life of effortless practice to reach self-realization, and the natural state of Unity beyond it. I don’t take relativity seriously, except to try my best to respond appropriately to suffering around me and in me. I focus instead on the process of transformation, which can be understood from the viewpoint of eliminating stored stress and the viewpoint of bringing the knowledge of nonduality, which disperses the illusory knowledge of limitation and suffering.

    May our arguing cease, and a beautiful age of appreciation for our teachers and each other emerge.

    1. The shifts into higher stages are one thing, but there is also a whole process of embodiment, of moving that subtle shift forward into all the layers of our being.

      Another way to describe stress is unresolved experiences. Another way is karma. Many of us carry considerable baggage in our emotional/ energy body from unresolved trauma. We might dismiss this as relative but that is dualism.

      Nonduality or Unity is inclusive. The absolute and relative are recognized to be one, one flowing within the other. And it’s through the relative that we live enlightenment.

      Initially, transcending is key so we come back to our true nature. But then it’s a process of moving that forward and merging that with the relative fields of life for a full embodiment.

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