September 19, 2018

About Mariana Caplan

Mariana Caplan, PhD, MFT, is a licensed psychotherapist, professor of yogic and transpersonal psychologies, and the author of seven books in the fields of psychology and spirituality, including, The Guru Question: The Perils and Awards of Choosing a Spiritual Teacher (Sounds True, 2011), Eyes Wide Open: Cultivating Discernment on the Spiritual Path (Sounds True, 2010), which won five national awards for best spiritual book of 2010, and the seminal Halfway Up the Mountain: the Error of Premature Claims to Enlightenment.

Daily Wisdom: The thing about spiritual gossip…

Daily Wisdom from Mariana Caplan’s “Walk the Talk: The Principles and Practices of Embodied Spirituality”:

Since that first trip to India, a great deal has transpired. I have engaged over a decade of discipleship with my own spiritual teacher, Lee Lozowick, who is a master at revealing the countless forms of self-deception we encounter on the spiritual path, ranging from spiritual narcissism, to erroneous notions of enlightenment, to a collectively mistaken notion of the goal of spiritual life itself (Caplan, 1999). I have done extensive research into the movement of contemporary spirituality in the Western world, and interviewed many of the greatest teachers, mystics and scholars in the field, as well as countless spiritual aspirants. As a result of my research and of working as a spiritual counselor with clients and teaching at several spiritually oriented universities in the U.S., I have found myself privy to an uncommon body of spiritual data—what we might call “the underbelly of enlightenment.” The kind of spiritual gossip that would make any serious aspirant of the path quiver in their shoes if they took it seriously and realized that absolutely nobody, including themselves, is exempt from such spiritual shortcomings, and that anyone, including themselves, can fall.

I have heard harrowing tales of how some of the most admired, “enlightened” teachers of our time have abandoned their children in their pursuit of spirituality; how they have used spiritual practice to avoid human intimacy and mistreat their intimate partners, often using spiritual terminology itself to justify this dismissal (Caplan, 2002b). Scandals of sex, money, and power pervade the contemporary spiritual scene like a lewd virus that spreads undetected until it has caused irreparable damage. Nearly every time I give a public presentation, somebody approaches me and begins, “I’ve got a story the likes of which you have never heard . . .,” at which time they proceed to tell me a relatively common story about how “X” teacher, a self-professed celibate, slept with countless students, claiming they were providing a “tantric initiation”; or how they cheated on their wife and had sexual relationships with the young women and men in the community; or how they forbid women in the community to have children, telling them it would cause too much attachment, or that it was impossible to raise a healthy child before one was enlightened oneself. They tell me stories of how self-proclaimed enlightened teachers manipulated their students to give them large quantities of money, or how their narcissism ran rampant and they ended up lying, cheating, and abusing their students and loved ones—whether the abuse occurred on a physical, psychological/emotional, or spiritual level. As Theravadan Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield is fond of saying, “If you want to know how enlightened somebody is, ask their husband/wife.”

Read the full article…

Daily Wisdom: How do you embody nondual wisdom?

From “Walking the Talk: the Principles and Practices of Embodied Spirituality,” by Mariana Caplan:

I was 24 years old when I arrived in India for the first time. I had only a one-way ticket, a change of clothes, my journal, and a small handful of cash. Not an Indian rupee nor a guidebook to my name. My sole intention for that trip was to learn to listen to, and follow, the true voice of the heart. Even at that time I had done enough spiritual practice and psychological work to understand that not every voice that came from within was the voice of the heart. That there were, as Russian mystic G.I. Gurdjieff taught, multiple “I’s” within each of us. I knew the true voice of the heart had near-doubles, imitations, and even outright sabotaging impostors, as well as sincere but unobjective aspects of the self that did their best to provide spiritual guidance from within but whose voice still did not represent the innermost voice of the heart.

Yet even armed with that awareness, what I could not have appreciated so early in my spiritual search was the immensity of the task before me—that I must learn not only to access the true voice of the heart, but to then integrate that understanding into the body on a cellular level, into the deep grooves of psychological conditioning, into all aspects of daily life. To integrate that nondual source of wisdom into every microfiber of dualistic expression. I could not have imagined then that the mere insight into nondual reality—as awe-inspiring and life-changing as it is—was merely the beginning of the spiritual journey rather than its completion. That I could not and would not be satisfied until I could find a way to integrate that nondual wisdom such that it would gradually transmute all aspects of my experience—from intimate relationships and friendships, to sexuality, to child raising, to my relationship with the environment. I simply could not have known what such an integration would require. How potent and stubborn our mental habits and repetitive thought-forms are; how deeply the conditioning of karma, psychology, and a society based on ignorance, scarcity, and fear had worked its way into the cellular structure of the body. To embody my nondual insight and experience would be no small task.

Read the full article.

In The Media: Mariana Caplan on World Spirituality

Mariana Caplan, writing in Common Ground Magazine, in the winter of 2010/2011, shortly before the opening of Center for World Spirituality:

Finally, for the first time in history, the most profound teachings and living teachers from all the great systems of Spirit are readily available in a non-coercive and open-hearted form, not only to people of their particular religion, but to all who wish to study and practice with them. World Spirituality seeks to unite our common ground while acknowledging, celebrating, and partaking in the diversity of the world’s religions and cultures, so each religion can put forth its deepest and most profound contributions. While the idea of a World Spirituality is not new, the actualization of it remains an evolutionary leap whose time has come, and there is little more exciting than to be in the wake of a movement that is breaking ground. The yearning to articulate a World Spirituality is rippling across the globe in the hearts and minds of tens of millions of people, and this nascent urge needs to be articulated, lived, and practiced. As yet, there is no set of practices, obligation, or surrender, leaving seekers and practitioners without guidance or a formal community with whom to practice. This is soon to change, however, with the opening of the Center for World Spirituality on March 5 in San Francisco.

Read the whole aricle…

Karma and Psychology: Connecting the Dots

Mariana-Caplan-featuredReprinted from the Huffington Post

If somebody had to live my life, why did it have to be me?!

As a young woman on the spiritual path, I was always both intrigued and bothered by the concept of karma. It just didn’t seem accurate that everyone I knew who remembered a past life was a princess in Egypt or a king in medieval Europe. Or perhaps they had done something really terrible in a past life and they were being punished by God by not being able to get pregnant or running into continuous relationship landmines. The deeper principle of karma called to me, while many of the explanations seemed superficial and overly linear. So I did what any diligent young spiritual journalist would do, approaching each spiritual teacher or great yogi I met on my travels, and asking “What is karma?” and over the years try to sift through it all.

My conclusion, to date, is twofold: 1) The deeper principles of karma are so subtle and intricate that a lifetime of skillful inquiry and practice are necessary to begin to near a real understanding of it; 2) Viewing karma through the lens of deep psychology provides a means to approach the question of karma in a user-friendly and practical way.

Our personal psychology is how our karmic patterns show up in this lifetime. A general Buddhist or Hindu perspective on karma suggests that the individual soul moves through consciousness lifetime after lifetime, incarnating again and again in the school of life in order to complete various tasks and lessons, and to release contractions of consciousness.

[Read more…]

Spiritual Materialism: When Spirituality Becomes a Mask ~ by Mariana Caplan

(c) January 2012 Stuart Miles

(c) January 2012 Stuart Miles

October, 2011

by Mariana Caplan

“We become skillful actors, and while playing deaf and dumb to the real meaning of the teachings, we find some comfort in pretending to follow the path.”
~Chogyam Trunpga Rinpoche

Given that global culture has been turned toward materialistic values in a way unprecedented in human history, it is inevitable that this same ethic would infiltrate our approach to spirituality. We live in a culture that values accumulation and consumption, and it is naïve of us to assume that simply because we are interested in spiritual growth that we have relinquished our materialism — or even that we necessarily should.

There is nothing wrong with having an “om” symbol on your t-shirt or being an avid practitioner of meditation while also enjoying moneymaking and big business, but it is useful to explore, understand and check your integrity in relationship to your choices. Spiritual materialism is not a matter of the things that we have, but of our relationship to them. [Read more…]

Psychology and Spirituality: One Path or Two?

 

by Mariana Caplan

Originally posted on the Huffington Post.

There is great debate, and in many cases a sharp divide, between practitioners of psychology and those of spirituality. On one end of the spectrum, most of mainstream psychology does not concern itself with issues of consciousness and spirit and rejects what is not scientifically quantifiable. On the other end, many contemporary spiritual traditions view the psyche as an unreal construct and believe that psychological work is an indulgent reinforcement of the story of the false self. [Read more…]

Why Spirituality Needs Psychology

by Mariana Caplan

Originally posted here on the Huffington Post, 8/13/2011.

Many people get disillusioned on the spiritual path, and it is not because spiritual practices and approaches are not effective — they are. If we sincerely engage spiritual disciplines — whether meditation, contemplation, yoga or prayer — our practices will bear fruits. We will have more experiences, insights, moments of connection with presence, oneness or divinity. The problem is not spiritual technologies and practices. Spiritual teachers do not routinely fall into scandals around power and sexuality because the practices they engage and teach do not work. Spiritual students do not become disillusioned with spiritual life because they are not practicing sincerely enough. If we look closely, we see that these practices do work, and that part of our lives actually are improving.

So why isn’t this making us ultimately happier? Improving our relationships? Diminishing our reactivity? Depression? Anxiety? Through working with hundreds of spiritual teachers and practitioners in the western world, I am convinced that spiritual work alone does not address many of our deepest psychological knots and traumas, nor does it provide tools to address our wounds in relationships that block us from fulfilling our deepest longings, dreams and spiritual possibilities.

We get stuck because we have not integrated the psychological wounds and traumas that live within our bodies and keep repeating themselves again and again through unfulfilling, if not self-destructive, behaviors and dramas in our lives. We engage in spiritual bypassing, hoping against our often-better judgment, that our spiritual practices will remove our unpleasant emotions or help us to transcend our relationship challenges.

[Read more…]

The Problem with Zen Boyfriends

by Mariana Caplan

[adapted from Eyes Wide Open: Cultivating Discernment on the Spiritual Path©, Sounds True, 2009]

Some things just don’t want to die. Much to my surprise, a little piece I published over 10 years ago, about a certain type of spiritual guy I found myself dating in my early twenties, set alight a dormant flame throughout the world. Originally published in the anthology “Radical Spirit,” “Zen Boyfriends” was rapidly translated into multiple languages, and I soon learned that Zen boyfriends were found in Italy, Spain, France and even communities in Thailand and other parts of Asia.

More years on the path brought more Zen boyfriends and infinite variations on the theme, not only for myself but from my clients and from readers and seekers everywhere. “Zen Boyfriends” eventually resurrected itself as a musical produced by Oregon musician Mark Steighner, and it was finally updated and reproduced in the San Francisco Bay area by me, with musician Anastasi Mavrides and actress Suraya Keating, to sold out audiences. I hope you enjoy the snippets from the original writing and revised theater production, and please share your stories!

***

At a certain stage in my own spiritual development, I began to attract a new breed of men that over time I came to call “Zen boyfriends.” I use the term “Zen” loosely here, because a man doesn’t have to be a Zen Buddhist to fall into this category. He could be a Tibetan Buddhist, a Sufi, or even a practitioner of some obscure brand of yoga. The more rigid the tradition, the better for this type. What defines a Zen boyfriend is the manner in which he skillfully uses spiritual ideals and practices as an excuse for his terror of, and refusal to be in, any type of real relationship with a woman. He is both too identified with his balls to become a celibate monk, and at the same time too little identified with the wider implications of them to take responsibility for them. The result: a righteous, distant and very intelligent substitute for a real man.

Andrew was a great example of a Zen boyfriend. This is how a typical morning went in our love nest:

At 4:30 a.m. his alarm sounds. “Andrew, your alarm is going off.”

“Press the snooze.”

I oblige. Then at 4:38 it goes off again. “Andrew, get up!”

“I’m too tired.”

By the fourth snooze I was wide awake, while he dozed away like a baby in arms. When he’d finally open his eyes sometime around 5:30, I was undeniably and un-spiritually pissed off. Without even a word or a glance in my direction, he would roll out of bed and head for the bathroom. I would listen with mounting rage as he gargled his Chinese herbs, did an hour of tai chi on the creaky hardwood floor, and then adjusted himself on his zafu to meditate. Often I would get up and meditate as well, but since I didn’t practice the same form of meditation as he did, he said we couldn’t practice together. The argument was always the same:

“Why do you set your alarm if you’re not going to get up?”

[Read more…]

How to Find a Spiritual Teacher


by Mariana Caplan

Editorial remark from Integrales Forum: We’ve added this essay by Mariana Caplan, American bestselling author and expert in the field of teacher-student-relationship about the criteria for spiritual teachers and their students to our collection. It is not a direct response to the position paper but touches some of the central points of the discussion.

Rarely does a week of my life go by, without someone writing to me either looking for a spiritual teacher, confused about a spiritual teacher, or upset by a deep disillusionment by their spiritual teacher. The question of the spiritual teacher is a perennial question that in many ways is so less real and relevant among seekers as it was 500 years ago. The difference is that the stage is different. Unlike the great Buddhist hero Milarepa who transversed the Indo-Tibetan subcontinent by foot and then built nine houses before his teacher would begin to instruct him, we can simply click on google and within minutes have access to almost every prominent spiritual teacher there is, living or dead, and likely even some type of cyber-transmission.

In other words, the longing for guidance, the ambivalence about seeking the wrong kind of guidance, the hurt by having been guided poorly, are all great themes in world mysticism, but what is relevant to most of us today is: How am I going to approach this matter? What are the real, gritty questions that I must ask, and murky psychological areas in a potential teacher as well as in myself, that I need to consider when approaching a spiritual teacher? How can I distinguish between various teachers? How can I protect myself from getting into a less-than-holy situation and badly disillusioned? How do I do this in a way that is intelligent and not a waste of my time?

There is both a problem, and a value, to attempting to define criteria for spiritual teachers, as well as for us as spiritual students, who are no less responsible for challenges with our challenges with spiritual teachers as they are for themselves. At best, criteria for spiritual mastery offer highly generalized guidance pointing in the direction of where to look when considering a teacher — a framework for making rudimentary distinctions. At worst, a set of defined criteria is a rigid and subjective moral code that ego creates to protect itself from those techniques in the teacher’s bag of tricks that might undermine its autonomy. Criteria for spiritual studenthood can help us to evaluate if deep engagement with a spiritual teacher is what we really want, or if we will end up in over our heads. It empowers us with self-responsibility and discernment when engaging with spiritual teachers.

Criteria for Teachers

[Read more…]

The Muddy Road to Enlightenment

by Mariana Caplan

When I was 21, as a student at the University of Michigan, I went for a semester with a group of students to live in the woods of Maine to “learn to live deliberately,” as we followed in the footsteps of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. One of the activities we engaged in periodically throughout our semester was called “marsh mucking.” We put on thigh-high rubber boots and walked directly into the marshes — literally hanging out neck deep in the swamps for hours at a time — as we closely examined the diverse life forms of fungi, mold, thick grasses and all the microscopic organisms that together comprise mud.

Little did I know that my professional life would follow directly in these footsteps, only now the subject of my study would not be the literal marshes, but the internal muck comprising the all-too-human path of psycho-spiritual transformation. The complex mold comprised of our karma, psychological conditioning and trauma. The often mucky, muddy territory where spiritual longing, realization, blindness, psychological unconsciousness, spiritual bypassing, politics, and power meet. And that says nothing about the marsh and oftentimes wastelands of interpersonal relationships!

The strangest part of all is that I like doing this. I guess that is why I landed the job of writing books on such complex topics as “The Guru Question”, or premature claims to enlightenment, or discernment. It is not that I find the psycho-spiritual marsh appealing — I’d take the landscape of the Hawaiian islands any day. However, for better and for worse, as a practitioner on the endless path that marks spiritual life, I recognize that on the path to truth, the process of discovering what is untrue is one of the most effective and efficient means to increasing clarity, and therefore greater capacity to serve life in an integrated way. Vivekakhyatih aviplava hanopayah, it is written in Patanajali’s Yoga Sutras (2:26). One must continually separate truth from untruth.

As a young writer on the path, I imagined that I would write about these murky topics for a number of years and then finally get onto the real work. Now that I’m (at least partially) grown up on the path, I have come to believe that this is the real work. Due to the nature of the kinds of things I write about, my psychotherapy practice has become almost exclusively focused on working with the emotional and relational challenges of long-term spiritual practitioners and teachers — their relationship failures, nervous breakdowns, depressions, anxieties and the psychological complexities we encounter in spiritual communities as teachers and students.

It becomes clear that most of the problems we face are not because the spiritual paths and practices are not effective: they are. Spiritual communities do not fall apart, nor do students become disillusioned with their teachers because the teacher’s spiritual practice is weak or lacking. If we practice intelligently, consistently, and over time, our spiritual perception and insight will deepen. The challenges instead fall into the domain of our psychological and relational wounding, how it is held in our bodies, and how it repeats itself once again in the context of our spiritual lives.

I once listened to His Holiness the Gyalwang Karmapa address a group of 5,000 monks and nuns in Bodh Gaya, where the Buddha received his enlightenment. He began, “The greatest challenge you will experience in your lives of monks and nuns…” My ears perked up as I awaited to hear the esoteric secret of the great breakthrough that awaited these monks and nuns who had dedicated their lives to a life of monastic practice. He continued, “Is the task of facing and dealing with your human emotions.”

This is where we live. All of us. Beginning practitioner and idealized spiritual teacher alike. We must engage the utterly human, humbling task of facing all that we are. “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light,” said Carl Jung, “but by making the darkness conscious. The later procedure, is disagreeable, and therefore unpopular.” By revealing that which is untrue, the radiance of deeper truth emerges from within.

Now we are taking on “The Guru Question,” one of the most complex questions that we face as sincere practitioners on the spiritual path (and by practitioners I mean all of us, including teachers). As the possibility of a worldwide spirituality emerges, and the world itself evolves and changes at an unprecedented speed, the question of the teacher remains as critical and timely as ever. It involves increasing webs of complexity as we engage these questions from the possibilities and challenges proposed by the integral framework, as well as the wounds and trauma present in the Western psyche.

To take full responsibility as a practitioner and servitor of the spiritual path, we are called to educate ourselves on the question of the spiritual teacher, whether or not we have or wish to have a teacher, have been burnt or disillusioned by a teacher or teachers, and perhaps most importantly, if we ourselves are assuming a teaching function.

May our discernment ever grow, and may we refine our capacity to live into the questions such that our lives as students, teachers, and servitors of the path are ever radiant, effective, integrated and joyous.

Do You Need a Spiritual Teacher?

Is there a point in one’s spiritual journey when reading books or hearing lectures isn’t enough and the student hungers for a teacher, in the flesh, to learn from directly? In a culture where a distrust of authority is considered a healthy trait, Americans tend to be justifiably suspicious of gurus and spiritual leaders. How do you find a teacher worthy of trust and devotion, or should you?

The Guru Question: The Perils and Rewards of Choosing a Spiritual Teacher (Sounds True, June 2011) is a new book by Mariana Caplan that offers advice on what to look for—and what to avoid—when seeking a dedicated spiritual teacher. The book includes a foreword by Robert Thurman.

Drawing upon her knowledge as both a scholar of mysticism and lifelong practitioner of spiritual traditions, Caplan delivers a candid, practical, and daringly personal examination of the student-teacher dynamic, featuring:

  • Are you ready to be a student? If and when you should consider making a commitment to a spiritual teacher
  • The path of the conscious learner—how to retain your power and autonomy while accepting a mentor’s authority
  • Spiritual scandals and predatory gurus—tips for avoiding the inherent pitfalls in the student-teacher relationship
  • The true source of power—how to recognize the inner light of divinity as it manifests in the imperfect human guise of your teacher and yourself

With The Guru Question, Mariana Caplan helps readers develop the discernment that is crucial when seeking a teacher—and reveals the immeasurable rewards that can come from having a trustworthy guide on the spiritual path.

Mariana Caplan, PhD, has spent over two decades researching and practicing many of the world’s great mystical traditions. She is a psychotherapist, a professor of yogic and transpersonal psychologies, and the Co-Founder of The Center for World Spirituality. The author of seven books on cutting-edge topics in spirituality and psychology, including Eyes Wide Open (Sounds True, 2009), Mariana lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Visit realspirituality.com and centerforworldspirituality.com

What People Are Saying About The Guru Question

“The Guru Question is a very important, perhaps definitive, examination of this fundamental question, open to professional and layperson alike. The book manages to cover virtually every aspect of this incredibly important and timely topic, and does so in an elegant, comprehensive, and succinct fashion. I think it amounts to something like the final word on the topic (or very close to it). Highly recommended for anybody on a spiritual path or considering one!”
— Ken Wilber, author of Integral Spirituality

“Mariana Caplan has written a powerful and important book about the guru-disciple relationship. What I love about The Guru Question is how Mariana balances her recognition of the depth and sacredness of the relationship between a true teacher and a true disciple, with her recognition of the pitfalls that can arise when we seek from another human being the redemption that can only come from within. Writing from her direct experience with her own teachers, and drawing on the experience of others, she illuminates the mystery of the guru in a way that should be of benefit to many, many readers.”
— Sally Kempton, author of Meditation for the Love of It

“The best disciple is one who is prepared. Mariana Caplan astutely and sensitively explains what this means. I strongly recommend The Guru Question.
— Georg Feuerstein, PhD, author of The Encyclopedia of Yoga and Tantra

“[Mariana Caplan] unapologetically tackles the most difficult, controversial, nitty-gritty issues without hedging, flinching, or smoothing over the rough edges.”
— John Welwood, author of Toward a Psychology of Awakening

“Mariana Caplan’s book answers this question better than any book I’ve read. If you are curious about the subtle gifts and traps of the student-teacher relationship . . . then read this book.”
— David Deida, author of The Way of the Superior Man

Purchase today!

 

Is Guru a 4-Letter Word?

The can of worms is open. Opening up the question on my last blog of “How To Find a Spiritual Teacher,” or whether we need a teacher at all, tends to incite even the most dormant of creatures. We have strong reactions, powerful opinions and oftentimes righteous convictions regarding this topic, as was seen from the many and varied, but never lukewarm responses to my last post. In fact, when I toured an early version of my book in 2002, there were two uprisings in bookstores where I spoke — one in Manhattan and the other in Barcelona. In both cases, the movement was to incite the crowd to see that spiritual authority comes from within! I have absolutely no problem with this approach, nor with those who deeply feel the need for a teacher, or those who are confused, but why so much energy?

Is Guru a 4-Letter Word?

I have spent time with gurus who are living proof that “guru” can be a four-letter word. Nobody has asked me to drink cyanide-laced Kool-Aid, but I have been offered plenty of other substances. And most of the other crimes of power and passion one hears about in relation to purported gurus have been perpetrated upon me and people I know. After 17 years of experience on four continents and 10 years of research in the field, I am both personally and professionally all too familiar with the kinds of shocking abuses of power that have been committed in the name of spirituality. Yet I cannot denounce spiritual teachers in general, any more than I can denounce all men simply because I have had some less than desirable lovers.

I have learned that when one writes or speaks publicly on this topic, four potential positions can be expected: 1) The strong assertion that the guru and the source of all spiritual authority comes from within, and that people who seek from without are essentially deluded. This group speaks the loudest and the strongest, usually with a slight edge of disdain towards those who have or want teachers; 2) The people who have a particular guru and not only think that the Guru Road is the only destination in town, but more specifically that their guru’s home is the center of the universe. They want the world to join their guru’s mission because they sincerely believe that the world would be a better place if this was so; 3) One step down from this are those who believe that we need a teacher, but that it need not be their teacher. This group is less likely to proselytize their perspective; 4) Those who are either questioning whether they need a teacher, or are looking for a teacher but cannot locate one — this group is humble, open, curious.

Not Always So

If there is anything I have learned over 20 years of study, practice and research on the spiritual path, it is the truth of the teaching propagated by Zen master Shunru Suzuki of “not always so.” There is not one clear-cut road of beliefs and practices to suit all human beings. There are well-trodden paths and religions that have proven to be helpful to many people in indescribable and irreplaceable ways. Yet whether we practice in one of these traditions or find our unique path through the labyrinth of life, we each walk the path differently, in a way that only the inimitability of each of our beings can do — our “unique self.”

I now understand that there are as many unique paths to spiritual unfolding as there are human beings. I remember when Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, my Sufi “uncle,” and Huff Po blogger, told me this. I was a die hard seeker in my twenties. Although in theory it made sense, inside I secretly believed, “But my path is the best path, or at least one of the very best, and there is a best way to follow my path.” Now, almost two decades later, it is clear to me that each human being follows a unique trajectory in relationship to spirit, truth or God.

The Need for Discernment on the Spiritual Path

Spiritual discernment, called viveka khyātir in Sanskrit, is said to be the “crowning wisdom” on the spiritual path.

The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali say that the cultivation of discernment is so powerful that it has the capacity to destroy ignorance and address the very source of suffering. According to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, to discern is “to recognize or identify as separate and distinct.” Discrimination, its synonym, “stresses the power to distinguish and select what is true or appropriate or excellent.” Those who possess spiritual discernment have learned this skill in relationship to spiritual matters, and they can consistently make intelligent, balanced and excellent choices in their lives and in relationship to their spiritual development. Their eyes are wide open and they see clearly.

Viveka khyātir is believed to be such a powerful tool that it has the capacity to pierce all levels of the physical, psychological, energetic and subtle bodies of the human being. In “Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patanjali,” B. K. S. Iyengar explains that through this unbroken flow of discriminating awareness, the spiritual practitioner “conquers his body, controls his energy, retrains the movements of the mind, and develops sound judgment, from which he acts rightly and becomes luminous. From this luminosity he develops total awareness of the very core of his being, achieves supreme knowledge and surrenders his self to the Supreme Soul.”

I believe that more potent than any of our current spiritual convictions — which if we observe closely and honestly within ourselves over many years, we discover, do in fact change no matter how certain we were of what we believed — is the capacity for discernment. The degree to which our discernment is refined is the extent to which we can move through the complexities of the spiritual marketplace and the deepening of spiritual life with effectiveness and wisdom. We make radiant choices that serve others in smaller and larger ways, and become part of the evolutionary and healing force in life, instead of what George Bernard Shaw calls, “a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making me happy.”

Do You Need a Spiritual Teacher?

Is there a point in one’s spiritual journey when reading books or hearing lectures isn’t enough and the student hungers for a teacher, in the flesh, to learn from directly? In a culture where a distrust of authority is considered a healthy trait, Americans tend to be justifiably suspicious of gurus and spiritual leaders. How do you find a teacher worthy of trust and devotion, or should you?

The Guru Question: The Perils and Rewards of Choosing a Spiritual Teacher (Sounds True, June 2011) is a new book by Mariana Caplan that offers advice on what to look for—and what to avoid—when seeking a dedicated spiritual teacher. The book includes a foreword by Robert Thurman.

Drawing upon her knowledge as both a scholar of mysticism and lifelong practitioner of spiritual traditions, Caplan delivers a candid, practical, and daringly personal examination of the student-teacher dynamic, featuring:

  • Are you ready to be a student? If and when you should consider making a commitment to a spiritual teacher
  • The path of the conscious learner—how to retain your power and autonomy while accepting a mentor’s authority
  • Spiritual scandals and predatory gurus—tips for avoiding the inherent pitfalls in the student-teacher relationship
  • The true source of power—how to recognize the inner light of divinity as it manifests in the imperfect human guise of your teacher and yourself

With The Guru Question, Mariana Caplan helps readers develop the discernment that is crucial when seeking a teacher—and reveals the immeasurable rewards that can come from having a trustworthy guide on the spiritual path.

Mariana Caplan, PhD, has spent over two decades researching and practicing many of the world’s great mystical traditions. She is a psychotherapist, a professor of yogic and transpersonal psychologies, and the Co-Founder of The Center for World Spirituality. The author of seven books on cutting-edge topics in spirituality and psychology, including Eyes Wide Open (Sounds True, 2009), Mariana lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Visit realspirituality.com and centerforworldspirituality.com

What People Are Saying About The Guru Question

“The Guru Question is a very important, perhaps definitive, examination of this fundamental question, open to professional and layperson alike. The book manages to cover virtually every aspect of this incredibly important and timely topic, and does so in an elegant, comprehensive, and succinct fashion. I think it amounts to something like the final word on the topic (or very close to it). Highly recommended for anybody on a spiritual path or considering one!”
— Ken Wilber, author of Integral Spirituality

“Mariana Caplan has written a powerful and important book about the guru-disciple relationship. What I love about The Guru Question is how Mariana balances her recognition of the depth and sacredness of the relationship between a true teacher and a true disciple, with her recognition of the pitfalls that can arise when we seek from another human being the redemption that can only come from within. Writing from her direct experience with her own teachers, and drawing on the experience of others, she illuminates the mystery of the guru in a way that should be of benefit to many, many readers.”
— Sally Kempton, author of Meditation for the Love of It

“The best disciple is one who is prepared. Mariana Caplan astutely and sensitively explains what this means. I strongly recommend The Guru Question.
— Georg Feuerstein, PhD, author of The Encyclopedia of Yoga and Tantra

“[Mariana Caplan] unapologetically tackles the most difficult, controversial, nitty-gritty issues without hedging, flinching, or smoothing over the rough edges.”
— John Welwood, author of Toward a Psychology of Awakening

“Mariana Caplan’s book answers this question better than any book I’ve read. If you are curious about the subtle gifts and traps of the student-teacher relationship . . . then read this book.”
— David Deida, author of The Way of the Superior Man

Purchase today!

 

The Guru Question: The Perils and Rewards of Choosing a Spiritual Teacher

Do You Need a Spiritual Teacher?

Is there a point in one’s spiritual journey when reading books or hearing lectures isn’t enough and the student hungers for a teacher, in the flesh, to learn from directly? In a culture where a distrust of authority is considered a healthy trait, Americans tend to be justifiably suspicious of gurus and spiritual leaders. How do you find a teacher worthy of trust and devotion, or should you?

The Guru Question: The Perils and Rewards of Choosing a Spiritual Teacher (Sounds True, June 2011) is a new book by Mariana Caplan that offers advice on what to look for—and what to avoid—when seeking a dedicated spiritual teacher. The book includes a foreword by Robert Thurman.

Drawing upon her knowledge as both a scholar of mysticism and lifelong practitioner of spiritual traditions, Caplan delivers a candid, practical, and daringly personal examination of the student-teacher dynamic, featuring:

  • Are you ready to be a student? If and when you should consider making a commitment to a spiritual teacher
  • The path of the conscious learner—how to retain your power and autonomy while accepting a mentor’s authority
  • Spiritual scandals and predatory gurus—tips for avoiding the inherent pitfalls in the student-teacher relationship
  • The true source of power—how to recognize the inner light of divinity as it manifests in the imperfect human guise of your teacher and yourself

With The Guru Question, Mariana Caplan helps readers develop the discernment that is crucial when seeking a teacher—and reveals the immeasurable rewards that can come from having a trustworthy guide on the spiritual path.

Mariana Caplan, PhD, has spent over two decades researching and practicing many of the world’s great mystical traditions. She is a psychotherapist, a professor of yogic and transpersonal psychologies, and the Co-Founder of The Center for World Spirituality. The author of seven books on cutting-edge topics in spirituality and psychology, including Eyes Wide Open (Sounds True, 2009), Mariana lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Visit realspirituality.com and centerforworldspirituality.com

What People Are Saying About The Guru Question

“The Guru Question is a very important, perhaps definitive, examination of this fundamental question, open to professional and layperson alike.  The book manages to cover virtually every aspect of this incredibly important and timely topic, and does so in an elegant, comprehensive, and succinct fashion.  I think it amounts to something like the final word on the topic (or very close to it).  Highly recommended for anybody on a spiritual path or considering one!”
— Ken Wilber, author of Integral Spirituality

“Mariana Caplan has written a powerful and important book about the guru-disciple relationship. What I love about The Guru Question is how Mariana balances her recognition of the depth and sacredness of the relationship between a true teacher and a true disciple, with her recognition of the pitfalls that can arise when we seek from another human being the redemption that can only come from within. Writing from her direct experience with her own teachers, and drawing on the experience of others, she illuminates the mystery of the guru in a way that should be of benefit to many, many readers.”
— Sally Kempton, author of Meditation for the Love of It

“The best disciple is one who is prepared. Mariana Caplan astutely and sensitively explains what this means. I strongly recommend The Guru Question.
— Georg Feuerstein, PhD, author of The Encyclopedia of Yoga and Tantra

“[Mariana Caplan] unapologetically tackles the most difficult, controversial, nitty-gritty issues without hedging, flinching, or smoothing over the rough edges.”
— John Welwood, author of Toward a Psychology of Awakening

“Mariana Caplan’s book answers this question better than any book I’ve read. If you are curious about the subtle gifts and traps of the student-teacher relationship . . . then read this book.”
— David Deida, author of The Way of the Superior Man

Purchase today!