Friday, April 8, 2011

How spiritual teachers do a disservice (sometimes)

(This entry was first posted on the old blog on Saturday, February 19th, 2011 at 12:51 am)

No, I’m not talking about the flagrant frauds (oh so many to link to, oh so few words here to link). I’m talking about what happens when some people get a little whiff of truth (but only a little).

Words are a pathetic vehicle for conveying ultimate truth. The best description possible would still contain within itself aspects which, taken together, render the description an inadvertent fraud. The first is that, being evocative of the truth, it would inspire many listeners and stir in them positive feelings. The second is that, being a mere approximation, it would fall far short of describing truth. When words of this sort fall on the ears of the spiritually lazy, what such people carry away is not understanding, but a bunch of feel good words. Because they “know” the words, and the words stir in them a pleasant feeling, they think they understand. They repeat the words to each other without real understanding. And, like a demoniacal inoculation, the words immunize them against hearing anything deeper and clearer and truer.

You can’t speak of love to someone who has memorized platitudes about love. You can’t talk of the truth in the silence to those whose minds are filled with noisy words about silence. Even the less popular, if sometimes more apt for the audience, words like surrender and sacrifice become blotters which absorb stray truth before it hits home.

How can one speak to such persons, when they’re looking for help, wanting insight, but have become immune to the meaning of words? These are not abstractions for me. I count among my friends people who are inoculated against verbal teaching in this way. Some of them are plainly stuck at being spiritual dilettantes, and there’s nothing to be done for that — I mean, if you really think you can buy enlightenment through pricy weekend workshops, what can anyone do but let you have at it till you tire of such nonsense (or go broke)?– but some are not. Some want more depth, and the words they’ve memorized have become their shackles. They would be better off if they “knew” nothing at all.

As a freelance mystic I obviously have my issues with notions like “initiation” and “inner” and “outer” teachings. Formal religious hierarchies built on those concepts fossilize quickly into all ritual, no substance. But there is something genuine in watching one’s words so as not to dispense descriptions where they can’t be understood except as a cliche. Of course there’s nothing that can be “hidden” anymore, with the world awash in spiritual triteness, but at least one can try not to add to it.

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