May 26, 2022

Integrity, Spiritual Teachers, and a School for Integral Spirituality



A position paper by Integrales Forum


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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Thoughts Concerning the SIS Position Paper by Richard Stiegler

By Richard Stiegler


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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”


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.

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