Seeking A Teacher By Neil Selden

“Follow without hesitation, those who are the possessors
of love, you shall surely achieve your good. Follow only
those who try by strength, skill and tact for the welfare of
all beings, you shall surely achieve your good. Follow
them alone who never hurt anyone by word or deed, but
never indulge evil, you shall surely achieve your good.”
— Thakur

When seeking an opportunity for growth and positive change, I think it might be best to approach a potential teacher, mentor, coach or therapist slowly, even warily, and to do so in a common-sense and investigative manner. For example, although I do not admire some of the personal predilections of Chogyam Trungpa, I have learned useful practices from reading several of his books and four books by his woman disciple Pema Chodran, who seems fresh, alive, existentially grounded in a practical approach to Buddhism, and very easy to understand. I’ve been impressed and grateful for Trungpa’s books and by his establishment of Naropa University in Colorado. But I know from a scientific point of view that I must take responsibility for testing and experimenting in a safe and common-sense way the ideas and practices he or anyone recommends, remembering that any teacher– in any spiritual or psychotherapeutic path– is only a signpost pointing out possibilities already alive— though often buried—the love and wisdom deep within ourselves that can never be destroyed.

Danger lies in the predilection from which all humans suffer to imitate the behaviors, attitudes and even personalities of those in whom we see greater wisdom than our own. There is nothing wrong with learning by imitation, as long as you are experimenting scientifically and without being obsessive or compulsive or attached to the ways of thinking, speaking and acting that you are choosing to imitate.

A Hindu existentialist teacher called Thakur, whom I never met, whose teachings I was introduced to by various disciples in America and India, told potential students of his, “Before you take me as your teacher, spend at least twenty-four hours at my side, see how I eat, how I sleep and bathe, how I relate to my wife and children, relatives, friends and students, and see if I live the way you want to live.”

One suggestion I can make, if you are interested in the Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Yogic, Sufi, Muslim, Quaker or Existentialist or any other path of transformation, is to do some serious reading about that path. Before you jump head first or feet first into any long-term spiritual/psychological undertaking, I can unequivocally recommend, in addition to any books by Pema Chodron, as well as Open Heart, Open Mind by Father Keating, The Way of the Heart by Jack Kornfield, any book by Eknath Easwaran or Eckhart Tolle and Chogyam Trungpa and Ayya Khema.

In my own work with myself and my world, I have used as guides and teachers men and women who have clearly shown themselves able to act with loving-kindness, compassion, joy and peace and creativity, even when they face blame, personal losses, failure and discomfort, people I have lived with, walked with, dined with, argued with and loved, whose love for me I have felt with clarity and depth, whose teachings I have tested and found to create happiness untainted by the suffering life can cast upon us all, men and women I have experienced as able to look upon me with empathy, genuineness, unconditional positive regard, strength, skill and tact.

This is not to say that the writings and teachings of teachers imperfect in their personal relationships cannot be highly useful signposts on the way to peace and joy and gratitude and freedom, they can, as long as we remain aware and awake enough to eschew imitation of their destructive speech and behaviors.

Keep your eyes and ears open, you will also be able to learn many lessons for living with loving-kindness from those extra-ordinarily ordinary folks who never imagine themselves as teachers,. I cannot forget, for example, the cleaning lady in the hospital where my beautiful and inimitably strong and happy and caring sister-in-law, Dawn Imbrie died– the cleaning lady who was sweeping the floor in Dawn’s room and stopped to offer a smile of such gentleness and love, while reaching out to wipe away the tears of my grieving wife.

And sometimes there is no greater teacher than a child still allowed to be wild, spontaneous, creative, and true to her body.




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