The student-Teacher Relationship

by Pradhan Balter

In today's era, the relationship of Spiritual Teacher and student is oft misunderstood and mis-represented. Certainly, a student-teacher relationship is understood in the common sense, but upon close examination, that relationship is quintessential in almost every human experience.

Even in something as casual as sharing a conversation with a friend over a cup of coffee, we lend our opinions (we teach) and absorb those of others (we learn). It is part of being human! And as part of that experience, in addition to communicating outwardly, we also learn the ability to communicate in communicate in consciousness. When we witness a loved one feeling "a little down", its quite natural to try to lift that individual with your own love, compassion and care. To the extent that we do this, we are all little gurus in training! Elevating the consciouness of the seeker-student is precisely the role of a spiritual Teacher. But the vehicle he uses is the power of meditative silence, the power of consciousness operating from the highest level.

It is an essential principle of spiritual practices all over that within each and every one of us is a higher spiritual power, or an aspect of the divine. One may call upon this as soul, spirit, inner pilot, Atman, or whatever. Regardless of the name used, the important tenet of the spirtual life is to nuture that aspect and discover ourselves as representatives of the Infinite, or God, or the Supreme. Each and every one of us has that capacity. Perhaps today you will realize God, tomorrow he or she will realize God. A genuine Spiritual Teacher is someone who realized God just the day before. He is simply an elder brother of humanity, but as someone who has ascended the realization mountain, he can help and guide others up that mountain.

The Teacher and the path

There comes a time in almost every seeker’s life when they choose to be consciously schooled in their spiritual processing, and the seeker will adopt a spiritual Teacher and path. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that the Teacher and seeker adopt each other. And, in many regards, the experience and relationship is very much like those that you may have had with other teachers but, in two major ways, it is wonderfully different. First of all, the predominant medium through which lessons are taught is via the silent language of consciousness. Secondly, your spiritual Teacher will not pass or fail you. Quite the contrary, a spiritual Teacher’s commitment is to escort you to your goal, no matter how long it takes or how much effort it requires. The spiritual Teacher will stay with his student until the student achieves his goal.

Is a Teacher necessary?

Interestingly, whenever Sri Chinmoy is asked this question, he always answers, “No,” and then qualifies it by saying that the first person to realize God, obviously, did not have a spiritual Teacher. He would also comment that if a seeker is extremely advanced, God himself may play the role of Teacher for that seeker. But in practical terms, this caliber of seeker is extremely rare, and they probably arrived at this point by having had a spiritual Teacher at an earlier point in their spiritual-aspiration career.

A Spiritual Path

The sum total of the spiritual Teacher’s teachings is what is referred to as a “path”, and this is a perfect word. If you’ve ever done any trekking or hiking, you know the value of a clear-cut path. It creates a confidence on the part of the hiker that he is indeed going in the correct direction. Furthermore, just the existence of a path can provide impetus to walk it.

Having a path is so helpful. You know when you are on it and equally important, you know when you are not! Jusy, whatever the grade level.Consider declaring a major at a college or university. You declare a major, i.e., you decide on a goal: “I want to be a bio-medical engineer.” Then a path is laid out. You have to take course A, B and C in this order. You need teachers along the way to guide you along the path. With appropriate discipline and study, you accomplish your goal.

The teacher and the path are even more important in achieving spiritual goals because, unlike being an engineer where there are many examples, the achievement of self-mastery or God-realization is very rare. We don’t know what the goal looks like or, perhaps even more troublesome, we don’t know how to get there.

Sri Chinmoy's Path

How does a spiritual Teacher teach

Whenever you spend time with an individual or group of friends, you are affected by the consciousness of these people. When you spend time with someone who is happy and upbeat, you come away “happified” by the experience. Conversely, should you spend time with someone who is down and depressed, it is not unusual for you to be a bit tainted by that depression. Herein lies the merit of group meditation and associating with others who are aspiring. The collective consciousness impacts the individual consciousness.

This is most certainly true when interacting with a spiritual Teacher. Simply being in the presence of that consciousness lifts the consciousness of those around him. This phenomenon is perhaps the most important thing that a spiritual Teacher does: to convince the seeker of the reality of his own spirituality. This is so important because the more one believes in his own spirituality, the more one acts in accordance with it. And the more one acts in accordance with it, the more it makes itself felt in the seeker, thus setting up a wonderful upward spiral in the direction of spiritual progress.

Secondly, as mentioned above, the spiritual Teacher will present the seeker with a path. The path is a set of wisdom-guidelines for the seeker to follow. For example, on Sri Chinmoy’s students are vegetarian; we run or otherwise embrace physical fitness; we read and study writings; we meditate every day a number of times; we attend group meditation and more. These are all part of the path, to which each of his student-seekers apply themselves.

Why not learn from many Teachers?

It is commonly asked, “Why one Teacher?” In other words, doesn’t it make sense to have many teachers and learn from all of them? Well, at first consideration, while this may seem to make sense, the answer to this question is quite simply, “No.” There is a saying that you are more likely to strike oil by digging one well deep rather than 50 wells shallow. It is true that there are many paths up the mountain and any one of them will take you there. one path may be very steep, while another may wind back and forth. Yet another may be lined with flowers. The seeker’s task is to find the path that is best suited to them, and then climb that path. Seeking out the guidance of many different teachers is the same as walking around the base of the mountain and taking a few steps up each path. While this process may be necessary to initially find your proper path, in fact, once you do find it, it is best to concentrate on your particular path to reach the summit. You may turn your head on occasion and respectfully acknowledge those walking on other paths, but your concentration and focus should be on your own road.

Sri Chinmoy is fond of using the boat/boatman metaphor and this works well. He says that each teacher is like a boatman whose task it is to take those who are in his boat to the goal. Let us expand this image. Imagine that the task is to reach the Atlantic Ocean. You could be in a boat on the Mississippi River, and the boatman instructs you to row south and only south. For those in his boat, clearly this is the correct direction. On the other hand, if you were in a boat on the Delaware River, the boatman would instruct you to row east and only east, as this will take you to the goal. Both teachers are  absolutely correct for the people who are in their particular boats. But, by honoring both teachings, one can easily become confused. Or, one may think, “Well, this teacher says to goes south, while this one says to go east. I bet its faster to go southeast!” That simply is not true. That person will end up walking a long way and probably become discouraged long before he arrives at the goal!

So, the seeker’s task is to find the path that best suits him and then to walk that path.

But can'y I do this by myself?

While it is true that you could accomplish this all by yourself without the help of a Teacher, the fact is that it is much, much more difficult. Often, an individual has a fear of letting someone else into their inner space. Ironically, the fact is that we are letting people in all the time! Frankly, until one has spent time in meditation and inner discipline, our inner space is very vulnerable and porous. You can be walking down the street and pass someone who is extremely depressed, and without being aware of the cause, your own thoughts become depressed! Consider how a simple sound bite from an ad agency can create a desire in you for the product. So the consideration should be not whether or not to let someone else into your inner space, but rather (1) to filter those who you let in, and (2) consciously choose to let someone in who is in a position to illumine your consciousness.

In truth, the Teacher does not let you relinquish your responsibilities. Instead he guides you, encourages you and perhaps coaches you in how to achieve the goal. When climbing a new and challenging mountain, an experienced mountaineer will take a guide who knows the path. At a crossroads, that guide may say, “This is the right direction,” or “This is the safest path for you.” But the guide does not climb for you. In exactly the same way, a spiritual Teacher will guide you in the direction you should take to climb the inner mountain. Knowing that there is a steep grade up ahead, he may tell you to exercise your quadriceps at a lower level. In other words, he may help you to develop some patience or forgiveness in preparation for a more difficult trial which looms further along your spiritual path.

When you swim the English Channel, you must have a boat to guide you from one shore to the next. the swimmer has to train, the swimmer has to place one arm over the other. The swimmer does the work. But the presence of the boat guides the swimmer so that he/she can successfully succeed in the task.

Communion in consciousness

This is the primary and most important vehicle of teaching. It permeates the other methods and is the primary tool by which the Teacher illumines the seeker-student. Today, you will realize the highest. Tomorrow, someone else may realize the highest. A genuines spiritual Teacher is one who realized the highest yesterday. as regards spirituality, he is an elder brother of humanity. The Teacher is someone who is at once human, but at the same time, someone whose consciousness is already merged with the infinite. As such, he is a link, or a bridge over which humanity can cross. On one side of the bridge is humanity’s cry for the highest goal, and on the other side of the bridge is God’s Grace. We, as seekers, cross over that bridge; we “pass through” the Teacher by virtue of our communion in consciousness. This passing through the teacher is prominent throughout spiritual history:

From The Christ to his apostles : “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”

From Sri Krishna to his disciple Arjuna: “I am the goal of the wise man, I am the way.”; “I am the end of the path, the witness, the Lord, the sustainer.”; “Fill your heart and mind with me, adore me, make all your acts an offering to me, bow down to me in self-surrender.  If you set your heart upon me thus, and take me for your ideal above all others, you will come into my Being.”

From Lord Buddha to his devotees: “You are my children, I am your father; through me you have been released from your sufferings. I myself  having reached the other shore, help others to cross the stream; I myself having attained salvation, am a savior to others; being comforted, I comfort others and lead them to the place of refuge.”

Here are 2 poems from Sri Chinmoy's book,  My Flute,  which beautifully demonstrate both sides of the bridge—on one side, the cry of a lost seeker, and on the other side, the eternal aspect of one fully identified with the God-nature:

A Little

A little joy have I of ceaseless joy,
A little day of timeless day.
Yet knows no bound this empty show of mine;
I march along a goalless way.

O Love! A desert within me ever pines.
Do turn it into a song of dawn.
I know not in what hour of evil night
Thou art, my Lord, from me withdrawn.

Life now must reach Thy Breath of Bliss supreme,
Make Thee the one and only Guide.
Thou art the Bridge between my death and birth;
O let my longings in Thee abide.

The Absolute

No mind, no form, I only exist;
Now ceased all will and thought;
The final end of Nature’s dance,
I am it whom I have sought.

A realm of Bliss bare, ultimate;
Beyond both knower and known;
A rest immense I enjoy at last;
I face the One alone.

I have crossed the secret ways of life,
I have become the Goal.
The Truth immutable is revealed;
I am the way, the God-Soul.

My spirit aware of all the heights,
I am mute in the core of the Sun.
I barter nothing with time and deeds;
My cosmic play is done.

And so, it is by crossing over, or passing through the Teacher, that we attain the God-consciousness. The communion in consciousness between teacher and student is the primary vehicle by which they both fulfill themselves.

Start from wherever you are!

Start your spiritual journey now. It is up to you to find your path and to set your pace. Here is an inspiring  passage from Sri Chinmoy’s writings, from his book, The Wings of Joy:

Start Here and Now

In order to become one with God, you have to consciously start your spiritual journey. Here and Now is the soul’s motto. If you have not yet started, then your soul wants you to start your spiritual journey at this very moment. If you have doubt with regard to God’s existence, no harm. Doubt as much as you want to. Eventually, you will become tired of doubting God. If you doubt the existence of inner peace and bliss, doubt as long as you want to. Even if you have doubts with regard to the inner life or God’s reality, it is best to start your inner journey anyway.

If you are curious to know what spirituality is, you can accept spirituality with your utmost curiosity. See if it is just superficially fascinating or if it is something deep and vast, to which you can devote your entire life. You may start with curiosity, but soon your curiosity will turn into real aspiration. If you enter the spiritual life because others have done so, this is also fine. If you see that somebody’s life has become peaceful and happy after he has accepted the spiritual life, there is nothing wrong with imitating him…

...If you still cherish doubt or curiosity, then start with doubt, start with curiosity. But start! Step by step, you will be able to march toward your goal. God is already eager to have you. You may not be eager to have God, but God the eternal Father, God the eternal Mother, is crying for you. You must make the decision that you want God. If you really want God, then start where you are—here and now. The goal of conscious oneness with God the infinite Light and infinite Truth shall be yours. 

Your heart’s cry is a real treasure.
Your heart’s cry flies like an eagle
To reach the highest goal of your purest soul.