How to spot a fake spiritual teacher? First of all, if you’re asking this question, you may be overly skeptical. I don’t see this as such a big problem, and I’ve only encountered one fake teacher throughout my own spiritual journey. If you’re constantly on the lookout for falseness, if you’re always worried about when and how somebody will cheat you, it’s natural that your mind will notice falseness, even when it’s not there. Whereas if you focus on truth, you’ll find truth even among the fake. You can learn something from every kind of teacher, just extract the truth, and dismiss the rest.
Don’t make the mistake of labeling a true spiritual teacher as false, because you’ll miss many opportunities to learn. People tend to criticize others, especially spiritual teachers, for exactly those things that they don’t like in themselves. They deny their weaknesses, push them down into the subconscious, and then project these repressed qualities onto others. If you make a negative judgment about somebody, you’re really just judging yourself, and don’t want to accept it.
If you say that a spiritual teacher is doing it only for the money, and you expect him to share his wisdom for free, reflect on yourself a little. Aren’t you the one who’s greedy, wanting to get everything for free, and paying nothing in return? You’re greedy for spiritual knowledge, but you don’t want to pay the price neither with money, nor with effort.
If you criticize a teacher for having or promoting sex, aren’t you the one who’s repressing your own natural sexuality? If you feel guilt about it, you also make others guilty. A sinner always becomes an accuser, but someone who accepts himself totally will accept others as well. So stop projecting your own issues and inner demons onto spiritual teachers, and you’ll be able to see them for who they really are.
Projection happens not only in a negative, but also in a positive way. You may elevate your teacher in your mind into the heavens, you may see him as somebody beyond yourself. That’s an equally big mistake, because again, you miss to see the truth. That’s how people get disillusioned with spiritual teachers: they set themselves up for it by creating an illusion in the first place.
The other mistake many spiritual students make is having various expectations towards spiritual teachers. If a teacher doesn’t meet your preconceived ideas, your strict standards, you dismiss him entirely. But you fail to recognize that these standards are set on nothing more than beliefs about how a true spiritual teacher should behave. A Master will shatter your expectations, he will surprise you, he will act spontaneously, because that’s what you need to wake up. So throw away your expectations and projections, and open your mind to truly hear what he’s saying.
With that said, there are in fact false spiritual teachers, and I’d like to give you some pointers as to how to spot them. These people can actually be dangerous to your spiritual growth, they can lead you down to dead end roads, they can entrap you into a cult-like mentality. There are three main types of false spiritual teachers. Those who deliberately delude their students, those who delude even themselves, and those who genuinely want to help people but lack the proper knowledge and experience.
Let’s start with the third group: the preachers. You can actually learn from these people, and they actually want to help you. However, you have to recognize the limitations of what a teacher can provide you, and use your own discernment from separating the true from the false. Preachers typically rely on books and scriptures to gain their knowledge, and then present these ideas as their own. They can often speak very eloquently, and can be very convincing.
However, their knowledge is very superficial, because it doesn’t come from direct experience. They don’t walk the walk, they just talk the talk. They can’t connect the dots, they don’t have a grasp on the depths and complexity of the subjects. So you can test them by asking them how one thing relates to the other. If they can’t provide you with a coherent answer spontaneously, it’s a sign that their knowledge is only acquired and not inherent. Those who can’t explain a subject in a short and simple manner, usually don’t really understand it themselves.
This is especially relevant in the context of spiritual enlightenment. If you haven’t experienced it, you shouldn’t teach about it. They also say that those who experienced it shouldn’t claim it. If they do, it means they are fake. Well, I understand the logic behind this, but I don’t quite agree with it. To me, somebody who doesn’t speak about his own enlightenment is rather suspicious.
Even for an enlightened teacher, it’s really hard to tell whether the other person is enlightened or not. It’s not like a private club or something, and you don’t get a certificate for it. If I want to find it out, first I read about this person’s enlightenment experience, and then I see whether what he’s teaching is coherent with that or not.
The truly enlightened teachers are in a big dilemma: if they claim to be enlightened, they’ll be regarded as egoistic, which is the exact opposite of enlightenment. But if they deny it, they’re not telling the truth. They don’t brag about it, they’re not really motivated to speak about it. In my own private life, only a very few people know about it at all.
But in my spiritual teaching practice, I do claim to be enlightened, because I don’t want people second-guessing, I want them to know that they are in good hands. But at the same time, I also claim that I’m a nobody. Heck, I don’t even let you see my face, I don’t even want you to look at me as a somebody. I’ve become a total nobody both inside and outside. As for the other two types of fake spiritual teachers, please watch my video titled “7 signs of a cult leader”, where I explain everything in detail.
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