Teachers, Privileged & Not

The previous post brought up the topic of the role of spiritual teachers. Over the last few decades in the west, we have seen some of the pitfalls of bringing teachers and teaching styles from a more authoritarian Eastern traditions to more egalitarian Western cultures. There is no shortage of examples of power abuse in many different forms, especially in terms of sex and money.

One of our current koans in the West is, what is the currently appropriate role of spiritual teachers?

Spiritual teachers do have a privileged position in terms of the realization that comes through them, and the integration of it into their lives. They have spent decades exploring this territory, which does give them a natural authority in this one area – the spiritual line of development.

This does not mean that the learning does not go both ways even in this limited area. Students may well have deeper insights and more extensive experiences in certain aspects of this process than their teacher.

At the same time, it seems important that other areas of their relationships with their students are more egalitarian and democratic, and follow ordinary common sense, respect and conventional ethics. For instance, money could be handled by the community as a whole (if it is small) or an elected subgroup of students. And the teacher is obviously accountable for their personal actions and relationships with others, as we all are. They are not immune for human flaws, nor for justified criticism or actions if they abuse their position.

This is just common sense. Someone is naturally gifted or has a great deal of experience in a particular area – in this case the spiritual line of development – and others gather to learn from this person. At the same time, the guidelines for behavior and the mutual relationships among all these people can be governed by mutual respect, conventional ethics, and mutual accountability – just as what we would expect from any voluntary gathering of people in our contemporary Western society.

There is nothing inherently esoteric or particularly complex in this. And it seems that this is getting worked out more in contemporary groups.

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