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May 28, 2023

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.

I was involved in a telephone conversation with one of our prominent spiritual teachers, whom I shall not name, just because I won’t, but he seems to be a fine person. The question was, How do you know if somebody is enlightened? (Here we go again.) There were a number of points made about how one could ascertain a person’s depth of realization, but the point I brought up in the conversation, which brought on a moment of deep silence, a clunk, and an “oh, yeah…,” was that one of the manifestations of enlightenment, spiritual maturity, or self-realization―however you want to name it―is an increase in compassion.

Jesus is quoted to have said, in Matthew chapter 7 verse 20, “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them…” and, “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit…,” etc. So, the point is, if someone is claiming to be a spiritual teacher and there is not a marked increase in compassion and loving-kindness, I think we might have a definite level-line issue and a type of enlightenment that is going to cause more problems than it will help. As the Apostle Paul spoke about in Chapter 13 of the First Epistle to the Corinthians (and I paraphrase this for our integral purposes), “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels,” and though I understand all quadrants, all levels, all lines, all stages, all states, the damn shadow, and nonduality to boot, and have not love, I’ve got issues and am probably not qualified to be a spiritual teacher in the sense of Spiritual Teacher, capitalized.

Now, I might make a fantastic lecturer and/or college professor, or even writer, but if I have not tapped into that depth of reality where compassion and love spring forth from the ground of our own being, then I am probably not―no, definitely not―qualified to be a spiritual teacher, because I will project too many of my own needs and wants into the mix―I will hurt others and will really hurt myself.

Jesus, that master of transformational wisdom, was always warning against and railing on false teachers. In one talk, he told the unhealthy spiritual leaders of his time that it would be better “to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around their neck…,” or “to be cast into the everlasting fire…” than for them to offend or hurt “one of these little ones.” (The little ones being spiritual seekers or young students.) He went on to call them vipers and hypocrites who were placing heavy burdens on others―Do this, do that; give me money; my way or the highway; etc.―but unwilling to do the work that they themselves were prescribing to their followers. This kind of stuff really pissed Jesus off. I have often found spiritual teachers attacking others, especially other spiritual teachers, for the same sins that they themselves were engaging in at the same time, and often to a much greater degree. This really pissed Jesus off. And, I might add, it pisses me off, too.

Roger Walsh recently said, in a talk I attended (btw, I think Roger Walsh is a great model for a spiritual teacher: brilliant, mature, seasoned, humble, and very kind), that perhaps we should stop talking about “enlightenment” altogether and simply speak of “spiritual maturity.” I think many of our spiritual teachers have embraced the notion of integral transformative practice or integral life practice but have embraced it more as a good theoretical framework for others without doing a lot of the work themselves. The integral map gives us an easy and very intuitively graspable way of understanding why our spiritual teachers keep getting in trouble, getting us in trouble, and falling on their faces. And there is nothing wrong with falling on your face. I personally feel that I am a master of it―face-falling that is―but it is not enough to give lip service to integral practice. We must actually engage in daily, dedicated integral practice if we are to be the teachers, healers, and big-minded, big-hearted messiahs that the world currently needs.

One thing about being a leader (and I know a few things about leadership, as I have been in positions of leadership since I was a young teen: in the military, as a wilderness guide, boss, etc.) is that a good leader will put the welfare and safety of his followers, or those he is responsible for, before himself. This might seem very simple and very basic―and it is―but most of the problems that come from a spiritual teacher acting badly are caused by a lack of love for their followers and a lack of a sense of the responsibility that their position confers on them. Jesus said that, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (His students, his followers.)

Shortly before his death, Jesus is said to have washed the feet of his disciples as an example of the attitude of a true leader. He topped off this demonstration saying, “He that is greatest among you shall be your servant.” These are huge and incredibly important teachings, as true and applicable today as they were 2,000 years ago, from generation to generation, at each developmental stage, from lifetime to lifetime. It is important for all of us to hold ourselves to these high standards of spiritual brotherhood and teacher-hood, because, as the Quakers figured out a long time ago, we are all teachers. We are all channels and spokespersons for divine love and wisdom. Or, as the Jewish kabbalist masters have taught us, we are all the living words of the Torah.

So, I am all for democratizing this process of enlightenment and spiritual maturity, which, as Ken Wilber has said, is indeed elitist at the upper edges of the evolutionary spiral but it is an elitism which everyone is encouraged to join. Not only is it invitational, but I also believe that with our current knowledge of integral practice, techniques, technology, spiritual wisdom from all the great traditions, and knowledge about the scientific nature of transformation itself, that a lot more light bulbs―or candles―are going to be coming on in the darkness.

All this to say, it ain’t enough to be smart: you gotta love. You gotta be love, you gotta live love, and if we don’t, it’s just another thing, another diversion, and we have missed the point. My experience informs me that the path to this divine love that illuminates and heals, forgives and connects, is through our individual and collective darkness and suffering.  I hope this helps. Let me close with an incident that occurred on a recent trip to Germany.

I was attending a dinner that followed a salon on Insight and Chaos in Berlin, and was sitting at a table with a German man, a very accomplished PhD and co-chairman of a large foundation in Germany. During our conversation, he commented that he was from Dresden, a city that had been fire bombed by the allied British and American forces in WWII. I was about to make an excuse about it, which was so stupid that I won’t include it here, but what I said was, “I’m sorry.” He looked at me rather shocked and said, “No, no, who are we to talk,” meaning the Germans, “We did so much.” After the dinner was over, I took this gentleman aside and told him, “I mean it. I’m really sorry. The firebombing of Dresden was not necessary. We didn’t have to do it. I’m so sorry.” At this point I hugged him and kissed his neck and I’m sure my tears wet his coat, neck, and hair. He cried, too, and said, “Thank you. It means so much to me for an American to say that, and you guys have done so much good for us, but thank you.” We were both profoundly moved and I immediately put on my sunglasses, as I often do when I lose it in love, in public.  Love is so often simply saying, “I’m sorry,” and washing others’ wounds with our tears. He that is greatest among us will be the servant of all.

Love and blessings to us all.

John Dupuy

We live in a context where many of us have outgrown traditional forms of religion. This means that pre-modern, ethnocentric versions of our world’s traditions no longer have the capacity to meet our modern and postmodern needs. The integrative space of a World Spirituality allows our great religious traditions to evolve from ethnocentric to world-centric, and even to kosmocentric consciousness. World Spirituality allows us all to move forward together, beyond the limitations of traditional religion, while still embracing all of the valuable insights and gifts of the past.

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