When we first came across this short article by John Kain about picking a guru, we were ready to pick it apart. It starts out a bit thin and twee, if you asked us. But then we got to the meat of it and were happily surprised:
Alexander Berzin, in his book about Tibetan practice, Relating to a Spiritual Teacher: Building a Healthy Relationship, describes six different attributes of the student-teacher relationship: (1) Almost all spiritual seekers progress through stages along the spiritual path. (2) Most practitioners study with several teachers during their lifetimes and build up different relationships with each. (3) Not every spiritual teacher has reached the same level of accomplishment. (4) The type of relationship appropriate between a specific seeker and a specific teacher depends upon the spiritual level of each. (5) People usually relate to their teachers in progressively deeper manners as they advance along the spiritual path. (6) Because the same teacher may play different roles in the spiritual life of each seeker, the most appropriate relationship each seeker has with that teacher may be different.Great stuff, especially the part about how students often "check their common sense at the door." The wrong kind of guru zeros in on this tendency like a vulture smelling carrion from 20 miles away. It is responsible for every big-time guru's satscam going today.
This list is filled with sober insights and common sense; it’s a good reference point. Yet for some mysterious reason students often check their common sense at the door, like an overcoat at a fancy restaurant, when entering spiritual practice. The best thing teachers can do for their students is to convince them that such notions are fantasy. If a teacher is sleeping with a student, nine times out of ten it’s a bad idea. If a teacher is an alcoholic, that teacher is an alcoholic. Some things are exactly as they appear. In the book How to Meditate: A Guide to Self-Discovery, an early work on spiritual practice (published in 1974), the author, Lawrence LeShan, gave some practical and sage advice about choosing a spiritual teacher—“Watch how they treat their spouse.” At the same time teachers do make mistakes, all of them, and if we think otherwise we’re on the wrong track.
But there's nothing mysterious about it. People drop all logic and reason at a guru's feet because they want their space mommies and daddies to make everything ok for them. Peoples' infantilism is at the root of their wanting a guru and their expecting their gurus to magically solve all their life's problems for them.
It sounds like John Kain is someone worth listening to. He's got a book: A Rare and Precious Thing: The Possibilities and Pitfalls of Working with a Spiritual Teacher. Based on what he says in this short promo piece, it could be worth reading. If we ever get to reading it ourselves, we'll let you know what we think.