October 20, 2018

Legitimate marketing of spiritual teaching or “prophets for profit”?

Sharing with you a blog post I wrote today, “Prophets for Profit,” for MarcGafni.com:

It is completely legitimate and even necessary for spiritual teachers to engage the marketplace and sell their wares. In doing so they need to use the skills of marketplace consciousness in a way that is both filled with integrity and highly effective. Having said that, we need to beware of prophets for profit. When there is a massive financial motivation built in which is not open stated, assessing a spiritual teacher gets more tricky.

Sometimes “virtual” replaces the virtue of slow and gradual development, and teachers arise who have not been teaching for several decades and getting deeply cooked as a teacher. In these cases, one needs to exercise caution…

This post continues…

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…

Teachings on the Democratization of Enlightenment from Dr. Marc Gafni

Marc Gafni
Dr. Marc Gafni coined the phrase, “democratization of enlightenment,” in his thesis written at Oxford University in 2002 to be published in two forthcoming volumes (Integral Publishing, 2012).

The following list details this core teaching in an 11-part YouTube series: [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…]

Integrity, Spiritual Teachers, and a School for Integral Spirituality

 

 


A position paper by Integrales Forum

Introduction

The Integral Forum has set itself the goal to discuss and apply the integral approach within the German speaking community as it has been developed by Ken Wilber and others. In doing so co-operations and partnerships have been developed and are being developed with organizations and individuals including spiritual teachers. These teachers are themselves subjects of public discussion that range from approval to very critical. Against this backdrop, the Integral Forum Board of Members has often been asked again and again and recently even more increasingly how we view our relationship to spiritual teachers and how we deal with the criticism of these teachers.

Based on this background and applying an integral approach we have prepared the two following articles.

Their purpose is:

  • to clarify and outline our position on this subject
  • to set a standard for our own (also spiritual) work
  • to promote discussion and exchange with spiritual teachers
  • to serve as a starting point for discussion with an interested public
  • to help bridge the gap between humanistic disciplines, their applications and spirituality
  • to be an example for an applied integral spirituality.

With the first article, Towards a School and Science of an Integral Evolutionary Spirituality, a philosophical framework is provided within which the discussion can take place. It particularly highlights theoretical questions in which different positions in theory can also have different ethical implications. For example a theoretical disregard of the Relative as related to the Absolute can practically lead to an ignorance and presumptuousness in a practice of the Absolute ignoring the practice towards humanity itself and finally result in spiritual arrogance. The second article, Enlightened Spirituality – A Checklist for Spiritual Teachers with Respect to Competence, Integrity, Responsibility and Transparency, then offers concrete criteria with which spiritual teachers but also their critics can be evaluated.

[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…]

Spiritual Teachers: Millstones, Responsibility, and Love by John Dupuy

Addendum to the debate on spiritual teachers

Editorial note: the following contribution by John Dupuy reached us after the reply to the spiritual teachers by Integrales Forum was already written. Even though John Dupuy is not a spiritual teacher himself, we found his position very enriching. That’s why we chose to include it here as an addendum.

By John Dupuy

I was asked to contribute to the conversation on spiritual teachers with a response to the position paper produced by the Integral German team. Let me begin by saying, I am in complete agreement with the proposals of our German Integral brothers and sisters regarding standards for our integral spiritual teachers. I have read a number of the response papers  generated by spiritual teachers; my perspective comes from one who teaches Integral Spirituality in my work with my students on Integral Recovery and integral practice in general. I have an ongoing, daily meditative and contemplative practice that I have been doing for the last five years and eight months, and have a long history of spiritual experiences and mystical unitive states that began when I was eleven years old. In some sense that makes me a spiritual teacher, although I have a hard time wrapping my head around that one. In my adolescence and early adulthood, I was a member of a Christian group that evolved very quickly into a toxic and controlling cult. Therefore, my bias is largely as a defender of people who have been mistreated and abused by so called spiritual teachers. On my integral journey over the last few years, I have made friends with a number of spiritual teachers who seem to feel that it is often the spiritual teachers who are abused by the spiritual students! This was a new perspective for me, and I suppose it should be considered in our multiperspectival consideration of this issue.

So much has already been said in the German position paper that I don’t feel the need to repeat; however, I do have a couple of points to make.

[Read more…]

Reply to Spiritual Teachers Concerning Their Responses to the Integrales Forum’s Position Paper

Dear Andrew, Annette, Helmut, Marc, Richard, Sebastian, Terry, and Thomas,

The Integrales Forum started the ongoing discussion with their publication of their position paper in April 2010 concerning a school and science of integral evolutionary spirituality and developed criteria for an enlightened spirituality by providing a checklist and/or framework for spiritual teachers to provide orientation. We submitted this paper to a number of spiritual teachers in English and German with the request that they respond. To our delight many teachers who were ready for this dialogue replied and it is to you (and all other teachers who wrote to us) that we would like to respond now.

First of all we would like to provide an overview revealing the topics to which we received responses, where there was consensus but also to diverse issues that were emphasized and even differences in opinion expressed. Finally, we would like to make suggestions as to how this discussion can be continued.

The diversity in the presented perspectives enables us even now to take a more comprehensive view of this topic. In this way, and working together with you, we can increase and sharpen our awareness for an enlightened spirituality in the 21st century and at the same time humbly, yet radically, devote ourselves to the great mystery of our own being and becoming. The current events happening in the world today make us even more aware of the urgency of this undertaking.

[Read more…]

Spiritually Incorrect: Some Remarks on the Teacher-Student Relationship by Marc Gafni

By Dr. Marc Gafni

Thank you for your kind invitation to comment on the Integrales forum position paper in regard to teacher-student relations. First let me congratulate you on this paper, which serves to initiate this important conversation. This topic is a worthy one in need of urgent address on many levels. Let me also commend your excellent deployment of the Integral framework in discussing these issues. It is the use of the Integral framework that allows for this discussion to hold the necessary complexity, multiples perspectives, and nuance that it deserves.

In broad terms, I agree with your conclusions in terms of the need for some essential standards in regard to spiritual teachers. Clearly we are all aware of the most horrific abuses that take place in the context of some pre-personal cults, as well as of some of the more subtle forms of psychological manipulation, financial dishonesty and sexual abuse that take place in these same contexts under the fig leaf of the teacher-student relationship for the sake of the dharma. To protect the potential victim and shield the powerless from the whims of the powerful is a core obligation of any community.

At the same time, as you indicate in your paper, much discernment in needed in this conversation to assure that the teacher-student function is upheld. For indeed, without this teacher-student function, both the transmission of wisdom as well as the personal and collective enlightenment of the interior face of the cosmos would be severely impaired. The teacher-student function is essential for these evolutionary goals.

[Read more…]

Spiritual Competence by Thomas Hübl

“It is indeed possible to use vertical development models to make specific statements about competences, but unpredictability cannot be put into a box. If it could, this would rob Awakening of the radicality it needs to remind us time and time again of the One.”

By Thomas Hübl

The discussion launched by the position paper from the Integral Forum is a good and important initiative. It reveals the confusion that exists in the area of spiritual competence. However, such a discussion stands on thin ice if we only look at it in a purely intellectual way without taking spiritual competence itself into account. True mystics – those who experience divine or absolute reality – are “consciousness freaks”. They do not just understand the inner order of reality intellectually but they experience it in a truly profound way.

Only an Awakened Consciousness Knows What an Awakened Consciousness Is

A comparison might help to make things clear as we discuss the issue of spiritual competence. Grade school pupils do not usually approach university mathematics professors and start a discussion with them about differential calculus. Yet many people from many different spiritual traditions set about describing the spiritual dimensions of human nature although they do not have the competence necessary for this task in terms of their own spiritual development. In many cases their cognitive development far exceeds their spiritual development, which means they often seek to explain spiritual competence in a cognitive way. This mixes up different lines of development. Intellectual discussion is then regarded to be a ‘spiritual discussion’; but that is not what it is – it is a philosophical discussion about spiritual values.

The danger of Integral Theory is that individuals having a high intellectual capability and a cognitive-philosophical understanding of Ken Wilber’s models of consciousness could possibly apply the overall explanatory model in a distorted way if they haven’t integrated the higher levels of consciousness themselves. In contrast to this, Ken Wilber himself has a profound inner practice and a high intellectual as well as transcendental capability. A distorted application of the integral theory reveals a shadow within the integral movement. Yet another shadow is the fact that transmission cannot take place during an intellectual discussion about higher levels of consciousness (as compared to directly speaking from these levels). Here, the term ‘transmission’ is used to imply the energetic resonance that occurs when the higher vibrational energy of a more highly realized person stimulates the energy of a less realized person to resonate at a higher level. “Consciousness freaks”, whether they be spiritual teachers, highly realized people or awakened students, are able to perceive this transmission in other highly realized individuals. In this way, and because of this, they can determine the spiritual competence of teachers.

This phenomenon of transmission can also be illustrated using the example of a mathematics professor: she has a true understanding of advanced mathematics herself and is able to pass on this knowledge in such a way that she becomes a ladder for students that enables them to climb to higher levels of knowledge themselves. If she didn’t possess this inner capacity, then her teaching attempts would just trigger confusion. The students would believe they are studying with a knowledgeable professor, but they would become quite confused because they couldn’t understand what she’s talking about. The same can be applied to spirituality. If someone is talking about non-duality but is not in a state of non-duality, then the words are just empty words. A transmission cannot take place. The words might, for example, provide an intellectual motivation to take up a spiritual practice but fail to impart a taste of non-duality.

[Read more…]

The Dignity of Humanity by Sebastian Gronbach

The Four Mysteries of Anthroposophical Teachers

The Integral Academy has invited Info3 to participate in a discussion concerning the necessary criteria for a spiritual education, fitting for our times. From an anthroposophical perspective Sebastian Gronbach presents a position paper for the “School of integral evolutionary spirituality”. He focuses particularly on the role of the spiritual teacher.

By Sebastian Gronbach

So we are discussing a mystery. We are discussing what it means to be a spiritual teacher. And here in this paper we are especially focusing on what is particular to spiritual teaching within an anthroposophical context.

Those serious about working in the tradition of Rudolf Steiner at this time – whether coaches, life-coaches, those within companies or teams, moderators, speakers or authors – are always aware they are part of a mystery. And this mystery has four aspects.

The Mystery of Transformation

Ken Wilber highlighted this first aspect when he was asked how spiritual growth, consciousness and soul development, and in the end the awakening of a human being should be realized. Despite this spiritual genius’ ability to answer completely any question posed, he replied, “How and why individuals grow, develop and transform is one of the greatest puzzles of human psychology.”

Thus it would seem the word “mystery” is appropriate here.

[Read more…]

A Statement from Helmut Doermann Concerning the IF Position Paper

1. A Metaphor

In advance: To provide better readability, I am using masculine pronouns and hope for your understanding.

Let us just assume that we are gardeners and have a garden to cultivate with vegetables, fruit trees, berry bushes and flowers. When a gardener takes care of his garden and hopes to achieve good yields, then he needs experience, motivation and dedication. Perhaps we have completed the respective training. Or we are self-taught. If this is the case, then we know what is required to achieve a good harvest and to bring out the very best in our flower garden. We know when it is time to plant the seeds and how to take care of the young plants.

We know the weeds as well as the influences of the weather. Likewise, we know what pests are present and how to prevent their damage. We know how much time and love it requires from our side but at the same time know that we are not the ones to cause the garden to grow and bloom. Without some kind of plan or concept for the garden, it becomes random and arbitrary. Plants are placed together that do not belong together and have a bad influence on one another.

If I look at the position paper as a garden plan for a garden waiting to be developed, then it is apparent that the paper offers a theoretical background that appears to make sense. The “plan” has been well written. It reflects integral thinking of the 21st century. However, as a gardener the following questions arise: Is the position paper not better defined as an “Orientation Paper”? What defines an integral teacher? Will there be integral teachers in the future without a sphere of privacy? How do I react to that personally? How should the paper be evaluated? What potentials for development does it contain? How can it be applied? The paper does not give answers to these questions. It can’t because this approach is so new that there are no role models or gardeners that have already gone this way before. That is why I would like devote this article to answering these questions as a “spiritual” gardener but without claiming to already know the answers. I want to present questions and be as specific as possible in answering them within the context of this article. For good reason I have chosen the metaphor of a gardener. I see myself as a spiritual teacher but with the soul of a gardener.

[Read more…]

Thoughts Concerning the SIS Position Paper by Richard Stiegler


By Richard Stiegler

Introduction

As someone who founded a transpersonal school of consciousness 10 years ago, I welcome an open dialogue concerning the role of the spiritual teacher. I believe that we have come to a stage where spiritual paths and their respective teachers are called to face totally new guiding principles.

The often authoritarian and patriarchal structures of previous spiritual paths are no longer appropriate. I would like to make the following suggestions and name just a few essential points concerning a contemporary spirituality:

  • A contemporary spirituality should be enlightened and possess integrity. Being enlightened in this context means that magical concepts (=pre-personal) are no longer supported and that the respective spirituality has been freed of rigid dogma and culturally influenced beliefs and rituals.
  • A contemporary spiritual community should not represent an authoritarian structure and should not foster a personality cult. Democratic aspects seem much more appropriate and up-to-date. This means that the teacher can be questioned and criticized. Diverging views are encouraged. The gap between the student and teacher is not so insurmountable and in general students should be more empowered.

Therefore, I support the basic assertions presented in the position paper completely with only very few  reservations and additions.

[Read more…]

A Few Fundamental Ideas Concerning Spirituality and Being a Teacher by Annette Kaiser

An Hommage to Mrs. Irina Tweedie

by Annette Kaiser

I have been frequently asked if I would like to add something to the SIS discussion paper. I have read all the information and the different responses to that paper. Looking back on all that I came to the conclusion that Mrs. Tweedie passed on so much to me within the Sufi tradition and that this could be of interest now. So I will start with what was passed on to me and I will continue with my own further development.

Spirituality as a Way of Life and Conscious Humanity

In this context spirituality is understood as a way of life concerning any conscious human being. It is not only a practice to be performed but spirituality is understood as a unity of being and becoming which brings together thoughts, words, and actions. To be present in every moment and lead a life which is guided is the goal of any spiritual practice. A guided life means that you follow your own light, bring to life the great I AM that is all-one and nothing at the same time, and let this I AM energy find its expression in our times, e.g. worldcentric modes of expression. The way I see this today is that such a life is able to connect the non-dual dimensions of consciousness with the integral level of consciousness. What sounds complicated is in essence really quite simple: live in the now – simply so from moment to moment – the one reality – where all and everything is one, inseparably one.

Spirituality Evolves

In this context spirituality is not to be seen as something fixed or finalized. Mrs. Tweedie taught us that the essence of the teaching is eternal but must always fit into the given time or culture. In my opinion spirituality itself is in the process of evolving. It is exciting for me at this time to explore the dimensions of consciousness with respect to reality. While mystics in former times stammered about that which was beyond words, I believe that many others, including myself, can now discover qualities in the exploration of the awareness that are very important in the evolutionary context of our times.

[Read more…]

The Unreasonable Nature of Spirit (By Andrew Cohen)

The Unreasonable Nature of Spirit

by Andrew Cohen

Dear Integrales Forum,

Thank you for inviting me participate in your brave efforts at both opening up and convening such an important conversation. This is a conversation that MUST take place if we’re all going to find a way to move forward together—a way to move forward that at least a significant number of us will feel comfortable and good about. This is obviously a very complex and challenging subject, made that much more difficult because of the fact that culture is evolving and we are all, as individuals, striving to evolve within and as the leading edge of that culture itself. I read carefully your position paper and found myself for the most part in agreement with your points. In fact, most of the relevant questions that face us all right now, you brought up and explained with the unique clarity of the integral perspective. Therefore, because I am fundamentally in agreement with you, I don’t think it is necessary for me to cover the same territory that you have. What did occur to me was to make some additional points that I feel are important to include in the picture—points that will I hope enrich and deepen the dialogue that you have already started.

First of all, I need to state openly from the very beginning that my perspective on this subject is entirely biased by a wholehearted embrace of an evolutionary worldview. Also, my thoughts and opinions come from an unapologetic position that declares first and foremost that Spirit, or that which is Absolute or non-relative, is always higher. And it is from that perspective that the world of relative (but not unimportant) distinctions are seen.

Part I

Integral Spirituality and the Absolute

The glory, majesty, and incalculable significance of an integral worldview is that it is able to include multiple perspectives in its embrace of just about any subject without diminishing important distinctions. This is a stunning (and ultimately world-changing) capacity that no lesser philosophy has so far been able to accomplish. My own cognitive life has been so enlightened by the integral lens that it’s now hard for me to remember what the world looked like before I began to see through its remarkable clarity. It is a truly vast perspective that always insists upon the inclusion of the multi-dimensional complexity that the real world of self, culture, and cosmos is always made up of.

But as our colleague and integral mentor Ken Wilber has so often stated, every great leap forward also brings with it a whole new set of challenges and problems. The integral perspective not only requires but also demands a high level of cognitive development and a capacity to embrace rational thinking with a degree of intensity and commitment that is way above average. One of the great strengths and one of the tell-tale signs of the enlightened thinking of human beings who are truly integrally informed is their dazzling capacity to embrace multiple perspectives simultaneously, while remaining grounded to an unusual degree in their own higher human qualities. And this is almost always because of their advanced abilities for self-reflection and self-reflexivity.

[Read more…]

Integral Evolutionary Spirituality, Spiritual Teachers, Cultism, and Critics (By Terry Patten)

Terry Patten’s response to a request for comments from Germany’s Integrales Forum, in response to your position paper, “Integral Spirituality and Spiritual Teachers.”

Abstract

The Integrales Forum “Position Paper” on validating spiritual teachers offers philosophically rich leadership, and is much appreciated. I have articulated similar principles and actively apply them to myself. I work transparently, and entirely non-coercively. But the principles articulated in the paper can be applied well or poorly, with potentially great good or bad consequences. Remember, it takes a nearly superhuman force to break free of the gravity of the ego and common worldly human society and to achieve “escape velocity” to go into the orbit of sustainable higher spiritual realization of transpersonal states and stages of consciousness. “Hard” schools of intense challenge arise for good reasons and should not be legislated out of existence or unduly constrained by the limited understanding of the unenlightened. Experiments at the leading edge can’t be consensually validated by those a half-step behind. We can establish criteria for evaluating spiritual teachers, yes, but let’s hold them humbly. In the process it is no less valid to evaluate the critics, and even students. This discussion is part of how we can birth the kind of sangha that can become the next Buddha, so this is great and honorable work. But let’s proceed humbly, recognizing the tentativeness of our hypotheses. Let the culture of integral evolutionary spirituality be rich and open, fed by some streams of wisdom that run through watersheds fed by thunder, floods and lightning, and not only ones watered by healing rain.

The Context of this Appreciative Inquiry: “Yes, And…”

Thank you, Integrales Forum and DIA, for tackling these issues, undoubtedly engaging in some deep conversations, and forging a first-draft document that is thoughtful and thorough. . It offers some philosophically rich leadership (perhaps even with dose of Habermasian rigor?) within the Integral movement, and much appreciated. It arrived, synchronistically, the day after I completed a draft of a paper for the 2010 Integral Theory Conference titled “Towards the Emergence of Integral Evolutionary Spiritual Culture.” In it (following a longer 2007 paper in which I discussed some of these themes more extensively) I articulated remarkably similar perspectives.

[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!

 

Unique Self and the Teacher-Student Relationship by Marc Gafni

by Marc Gafni

As many of you know, I have spent the last several years unpacking what I call Unique Self enlightenment. Let me share in a few short words, what I mean by Unique Self. Unique Self is not merely ego or personality, it is the essence that lies beneath and beyond your personality. More precisely, it is the personal face of essence. It is the unique God-spark living in you and as you. Your Unique Self is the infinite love intelligence, which is all that is—living in you, as you, and through you. It is the perspective of your enlightenment. Your Unique Perspective is sourced beyond any and all social, cultural and psychological conditioning. Classic enlightenment is what I call evolution beyond the exclusive identification with ego and the realization of one’s True Nature, which is sometimes called True Self. The New Enlightenment of Unique Self is a momentous leap beyond classical enlightenment. In Unique Self enlightenment, you realize that your enlightenment has a perspective. Your perspective has infinite value and dignity and is both the source and purpose of your existence. I have written about this in other places and mention it here in these few sentences because of the implications of this integral evolutionary understanding of enlightenment for the teacher-student relationship.

The Unique Self-teaching has two major implications in the spiritual context of teacher-student relationship. [Read more…]

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!

 

Awakening to Your Highest Self: Tales of Transformation from 25 Spiritual Luminaries

Awakening to Your Highest Self
Tales of Transformation from 25 Spiritual Luminaries

You are invited to a FREE 8-hour audio webcast
Saturday, March 26th, 2011, from 10:00 am–6:00 pm EST.

Join spiritual teacher Andrew Cohen for an all-day series of dialogues with Marc Gafni and 24 other religious and cultural luminaries about the extraordinary masters who have inspired and guided them along the spiritual path. Sharing intimate and uplifting stories, each will be describing their own firsthand experiences of the kind of life-changing transformation that can occur through the sacred bond between teacher and student.

Featured guests for this special webcast will be speaking about their personal connections with many of the world’s most renowned masters, mystics, philosophers, and thought leaders, including J. Krishnamurti, Teilhard de Chardin, Margaret Mead, Swami Muktananda, Maezumi Roshi, Sheikh Muzaffer Ozak, Abraham Heschel, and more.

Click here for more information and to register:  http://enlightennext.org/webcasts