This post summarized the idea of what contact with a Master looks like in regards to the writings of Alice Bailey and then goes on to examine some of the potential pitfalls of the “Guru/Disciple” relationship borrowing primarily from the writings of those within the Transpersonal, Integral, and Buddhism field. These writings are particularly invaluable because they come from the real life experiences of those who have lived out these relationships, especially in modern times.
In the previous post I started to share some insights regarding how the Alice Bailey teachings view what they would call contact with a Master. Ultimately, that Master can be seen as the inner Master, or guru, which is equivalent to the state of consciousness known in the Bailey model as residing within the Spiritual Triad. That Master can also be seen as an outer Master, or guru, who exists in a physical body and whose consciousness is likewise said to be polarized at the level of the Spiritual Triad. Here the Master is simultaneously concerned with continued recognition of the REAL, and with the uplifting of human consciousness so they are more able to tear away the veils of illusion and recognize the REAL as well.
Masters, however, are not Gods. They cannot transform all of human consciousness by themselves. They need help. So they seek out “chelas” or those who are willing to move through the stages of spiritual development described throughout this blog. Some of these stages include: 1) mental polarization (which is the ability to be mentally detach and reason things out); 2) having an increasingly unselfish motivation that leads to a true desire to serve others; 3) the capacity to have a continually calm and non-reactive emotional nature; 4) the ability to be of true service in the world in a practical and grounded way; 5) knowing how to discern between higher and lower psychic powers so one does not get caught up in over-emphasizing the importance of certain “siddhi” powers over spiritual truths and capacities; and so forth.
As for when a Master does contact a chela we are told that this is rarely done in person. Instead, the Master is said to simply drop intuitive insights into that person’s brain. In an era of cell phones, this kind of intuitive “text message buzz” seems less fanciful. However, what needs clarification here, is that at least in the Alice Bailey model, it is heavily emphasized that any intuitive insight dropped into your brain from a Master is going to have nothing whatsoever at all to do with solving any of your personal problems. In short, they will not show up to tell you how to find a job, meet your soul mate, make money, get in touch with someone who has crossed over, teach you ways to recover from your anger or grief, give you instructions about using the Law of Attraction to get whatever you want and so forth. Time and again it is stressed that contact with a Master does nothing to feed one’s selfish ego, let alone teach you how to “Think and Grow Rich” or have more “money, pleasure, and power.”
Even more radical, we are told in the Alice Bailey teachings, that a Master isn’t even involved in helping you destroy your ego (using the word ego in the modern sense of the word as being connected to helping you overcome your selfish motivations). Your own soul is what helps you work that out. If you do have a spiritual teacher come to you in human form who helps you work through your personal limitations, it is stated that this person would be considered as a disciple, or student, of a Master, and not a Master at all. Why? Because a Master is said to only contact someone for the purpose of inspiring that individual with insights that will help him or her solve the problems of humanity in a selfless and wise way. This said, some will comment that in the Alice Bailey teachings there were letters to various disciples that did include suggestions for personal improvement. That is correct. Yes, you could view that as a contradiction that invalidates what is being taught. Or, you could note the fact that the letters were sent to a group of people who were being trained to participate in a particular service activity, and some of them had to be “tuned up” so to speak so that service activity could take place, meaning the letters true intentions were not for the purpose of individual growth.
Keeping this distinction in mind I would now like to turn my attention to the Integral and Transpersonal movements and some of the various writings I have encountered regarding Master/Disciple, Guru/Chela, and Spiritual Teacher/Student relationships. But, first a preface. When we talk about a Master in the Alice Bailey teachings it frequently does not mean the same thing as when we talk about a physical person who is considered to be a Master, Guru, Spiritual Teacher, or Enlightened Being in Integral or Transpersonal circles. In fact in these areas there is still a lot of debate as to what a truly realized or enlightened person looks like. Also, even though it is probably wise to minimize or downplay the entire idea of contact with a Master, that doesn’t mean there is not value in having spiritual teachers at various stages of spiritual development to guide us. There is. Just as an athlete benefits by having a teacher/coach who has mastered that sport guide them, so we too benefit by having spiritual teachers who have various levels of mastery guide us. Many people know how just being in the presence of a spiritual person helps to change them somehow. Fortunate is anyone who is so blessed and inspired.
Having talked very briefly about the benefits of contact with a spiritual teacher who is in a physical body, I would like to say that things have changed greatly in the one hundred plus years since the early pioneers (many from the Theosophical Society) first made the Western world more aware of Eastern teachers. At that time, few people knew about Mahatmas, Gurus, Masters, Avatars or Lamas. They all seemed quite exotic and mysterious. Since that time now it might be fair to say that millions of Westerners have come face to face with actual physical spiritual teachers who were said to be spiritually enlightened or realized. Though many, many people have benefited at the same time many of these encounters have not turned out too well, especially when these encounters highlighted a number of abuses that often can take place with this Master/chela dynamic.
These encounters with seemingly spiritually enlightened human beings have also emphasized a number of cultural differences that were not so obvious to Westerners a century ago when Eastern religions were not as well known, and Indian gurus and Tibetan lamas seemed out of reach in remote places in the Himalayas. Today, when gurus and lamas can be found living down the street from us in our busy Metropolitan western cities, these cultural clashes have become more evident. So as I highlight the various areas I see as abuses that can take place when someone becomes a “chela” or follower of a spiritual teacher, I am also more aware than ever, of the culture clash that is also taking place.
So what are these cultural differences that in our modern times are now leaving many Western followers of spiritual teachers feeling disillusioned, abused, or duped? Almost all of these differences, as far as I can tell have to do with Western norms regarding the following: 1) What constitutes freedom? 2) What constitutes abuse? 3) How should we treat women, the poor and those we may view as beneath us? 4) What shall we do with the notion of the infallibility of the Master, spiritual teacher, or guru?
Ironically, Blavatsky, Besant, and Bailey were three amazing women who championed the rights of women, worked hard against abuse, promoted the equality and freedoms of oppressed groups, and in general had fiercely independent spirits that allowed them to question the standards and thoughts of the times with their vastly open ended minds. And, all of them were from cultures whose value systems were more Westernized. Blavatsky was from Russia but spent a great deal of time in the United States and London. Besant and Bailey both were born and raised in England, and though they did spend time in India, they too spent a lot of time in the United States. All three were women, which is a remarkable fact if you consider that at the time they were doing their work, women had few equal rights. In fact, for all of their lives, or most of their lives, women didn’t even have the right to vote. How ironic then, that at the same time these three women were helping to promote religious and spiritual systems from the East and bring them to the West, the cultural underpinnings of these religious and spiritual traditions were frequently fundamentally opposed to many of the cherished beliefs these three women espoused.
For example, the caste system in India, which was also found in the feudalistic society of Tibet right up to 1959 when China took Tibet over, is in many ways designed to keep people, especially women and the poor in their place. How else do the people in the upper castes (especially the Brahman priests and high lamas) find a way to stay in power, maintain their wealth, and keep themselves from having to do menial tasks in life? Yes, it could be argued that in the West there is a sort of caste system also. For instance, it could be argued that we see such a system within the Catholic Church. It could also be said, that despite all the talk about opportunity to get ahead, democracies everywhere are being replaced by plutocracies as more and more people are being forced into poverty and being subjugated to the increasing whims of the super rich. Regardless, the point is the same. Culturally, the notion of some people being superior to others because of their caste has been built in.
Then there is the notion of karma. Another example, if you are a woman in Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhism, except for extremely rare examples you are seen as greatly inferior. And, until you are reborn as a man due to having accumulated better karma, you have no prospects for a decent, let alone a spiritual, life. Be it among the Hindu Brahmins or especially Tibetan Lamas, women are given little to no power. Many of them are even despised. Yes, lip service is being given by spiritual leaders such as the Dalai Lama about women’s rights and women’s equality, but precious little is actually being done about it. True, in the West we can look at the Catholic Church and say that fundamentally they are not much different. However, more has been done in recent years to expose the Catholic Church to their hypocrisy and misogyny than has taken place in these other religions, where too many Westerners still fail to see that the same abuses seen with Catholic priests are running rampant among Indian ashrams and Tibetan lamaseries.
As for abuse and especially sexual abuse? Over and over again we keep hearing about these problems with various spiritual leaders and gurus. Rape, pedophilia, violence is most likely seen in every kind of spiritual organization. However, unlike in places like the Catholic Church where these acts are known to be a violation of a monk or nuns spiritual vows, especially in the Vajrayana tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, and the Crazy Wisdom “non-dual” traditions of Tibet and India, this kind of abuse isn’t even seen as abuse. Rather physical abuse is often seen as necessary for destroying the egos of the chelas, disciples, or followers, an attitude still held by many today.
As for sexual abuse? Culturally, again it frequently is not seen as abuse at all. Rather, sex with young men, women or even children was (and in many ways still is) seen as part of a spiritual practice necessary to elevate the spiritual teacher. How else can the spiritual teacher maintain his health and virility? How else can he reach the highest states of Tantra? This kind of sexual practice would be fine if it was consensual and mutually empowering. Overwhelmingly it is not. And, here again we see the cultural problem. In India or Tibet, there is a long history of child marriages and child consorts (the ideal age is around ten because the adult hormones have not kicked in yet) who are brought in to engage in sexual practices with spiritual teachers. Too often this is not even seen as abuse to them. It is normal and families who hand over their children to the lamas and gurus as child brides or sexual consorts may believe that their sons and daughters are receiving a great honor.
But, in the West things have been changing along these lines. More and more we are questioning the role of sex and taking a harder look at what constitutes sexual abuse. Witness for example the explosion in 2018 of the Me Too Movement. Having at one time specialized in working with victims of sexual abuse as a counselor, I was already familiar with the themes of sexual exploitation and saw first hand the damage it can do to children and also adults. It is very hard as a Westerner not to see this same kind of exploitation happening in the spiritual culture of the East. For those who understand sexual abuse, it is rarely about consent. After all how can any ten year old truly know what he or she is in for when engaging in sexual relations with a mature adult, whether “spiritual” or not? Sexual abuse is thought to be abuse primarily because it is not about pleasure or love. Overwhelming it is about power, subjugation, manipulation, and especially geared for the advantage for one participant (the spiritual teacher) at the expense of the other. As more and more women and children have been gaining greater freedom and rights, is it really a surprise to find out that when they feel at liberty to speak honestly for themselves, they don’t really feel honored by a sexual encounter with some “guru?” Are we really shocked to find out they feel confused, ashamed, afraid, violated, humiliated, victimized, and yes, abused?
Now add to this mix the very common notion that one’s physically present spiritual teacher, guru, lama, is infallible, and the culture clash and potential for difficulty becomes much more greatly enhanced. Westerners in general are taught to think independently. Even those who may not think well, still believe they have a right to think on their own. True, a beneficial part of the spiritual path often involves as a chela (student) learns to set aside his or her own arrogance and becomes humble enough to consider that the spiritual teachers they follow may just know what they are talking about. Too many spiritual teachers and their followers start floundering over the rocks, however, when spiritual teachers are suddenly viewed as infallible. When the followers of a spiritual teacher are given no recourse to question the behaviors of their spiritual teachers, lamas or gurus, or threatened with hell realms or retribution in this life if they make any criticism of a teacher, then overwhelmingly we are once again dealing with the issue of power and most likely the arrogant shadow side of the teacher, and not the student, is dominating.
In fact, pushing these kinds of abuses to further extremes, too often the behaviors of many spiritual teachers are justified as proof of the spiritual teachers advanced status claiming because they are “non-dual” they have gone “beyond” traditional norms of good/bad and right/wrong. Using this justification spiritual teachers can now do whatever the hell they want. Abuse others? It is not abuse, it is liberating people from their egos. Sexually abusing and taking advantage of others? It is elevating the gullible or unwilling through a spiritual sexual encounter with the teacher. Pedophilia? It is simply children helping spiritual teachers or lamas to preserve their vitality as the vital sexual energy of the children is absorbed through the male penis and channeled up the spine. Allowing priests, lamas, gurus and spiritual teachers to live like multi-millionaires and billionaires by taking excessive amounts of money from their students while leaving their students broke? It is simply giving their students an opportunity to do “karma yoga” and gain good merit in this life time so hopefully they can be a guru or lama and live high on the hog themselves in a lifetime to come. Finally, dare to question any of these behaviors of a spiritual teacher, guru, or lama as perhaps proof they are not nearly as enlightened or spiritual as they say they are? Then be prepared to be condemned to various Tibetan hell realms, or be told that you are going to reincarnate backwards and be born as a slug in your next lifetime. Then again, maybe you will end up burning in some Christian hell for eternity somewhere because you dared to challenge some Christian spiritual hierarchy. Or, you may simply be ridiculed because you are obviously not a “non-dualist”, or considered clueless as to what enlightenment really is, or subjected to a number of other ploys that are used to keep you oppressed, abused, marginalized, broke, afraid, gullible, and worst of all locked into what is not at all a true Master-chela relationship, but a Master-slave one.
So coming back to the culture clash perhaps it is time to seriously question the following. Are the cultural ideas of caste systems and karma that are used to oppress women (who are more than half the human race) and the poor really the kind of Master/chela dynamic we want for the future? Are physical and sexual abuse really justifiable any more? Do we really want to import to the West the notion that spiritual teachers are infallible and we should all just follow them like lemmings and jump over cliffs just because they say so? Is this really what Blavatsky, Besant, and Bailey were hoping for when they tried to get Westerners to value some of the ideas of Eastern religion? Is it really crazy wisdom, or just crazy, and we have thrown out our minds and drank the Jim Jones Kool-aide because of our own inability to reason, think, and look clearly at what is really going on right before our eyes? And, does non-dualism really mean that human beings are meant to act as if at the end of the spiritual path everything is now a free for all and because there is ultimately no “good for bad” morality doesn’t exist and essentially we can do whatever want no matter how ethically abhorrent it seems? After all, some of the highest Vajrayana Tibetan Buddhist practices involve things like eating excrement and even cannibalism (see note at the bottom of this blog) as final proof that we have transcended all dualistic thinking and behaving. Is that really what we Westerners have signed up for when, starting with the Theosophical Society, we began to glamorize Eastern religions and the kingdom of Tibet?
All this said, there is tremendous value in Eastern and both Western religions. And, a true Master/chela relationship is one of the greatest gifts anyone can have. However, I want to leave us with some final questions for consideration lest we end up going back to feudalistic societies where oppression of women as second class citizens without rights was the norm; where large portions of humanity were essential forced into serfdom and slavery; where abuse, rape, sexual assault, and child brides were pretty much the way to go; and where spiritual leaders were like God-Kings that everyone worshiped and no one questioned because, hey, they are perfect and infallible.
- Is it possible in the future to establish enlightened cultures where in spiritual communities women are not second class citizens, and better yet women hold equal spiritual and political power to men? Could we even go so far as to create a new paradigm where the new enlightenment requirement means that especially men who claim to be spiritual realized can only make that claim if they are actively helping to dismantle entrenched misogynistic systems? In other words, if they are that enlightened, why can’t they possible acknowledge and see that over half the human race (women) may be just as spiritual capable as them?
- What can be done to ensure physical and sexual abuse (especially in regards to children) is no longer justified, and especially is never considered as necessary for other people to become enlightened? How can spiritual teachers (even those at the highest levels in both Western and Eastern spiritual traditions) be held accountable for such abuses? How can the underlying so-called “spiritual” reasons that justify these abuses be dismantled and shown to be more about power, subjugation, and getting high off another person’s energy, than any real spiritual realization? And, how can we create a better understanding of sexual expression so that is no longer about power, subjugation, or spiritual highs, but about a true depth of conscious consent, mutual joy, equality of awareness, and a true expression of love?
- How do we prevent as a modern society the surrendering our freedoms under the guise of being led by Popes, Gurus, or Lamas, especially since historically every time the masses have done this it has led to the masses being enslaved, turned into serfs, or led slowly into increased ignorance and poverty? And how can we avoid how slavery or serfdom is then justified by the “God-Kings” the masses are forced to worship, as a necessary consequence due to due to their bad deeds or bad karma (instead of their economic subjugation)? Worse, the masses are then taught that the only way out of their bad deeds or karma, is to do penance of some kind, by paying the priests, lamas, and gurus off some how through rituals, sacrifices, or prayers that rarely ever improve their lot in life as much as broad economic, educational and political reforms would do. And, yes I am well aware that in the capitalistic countries the “priests and lamas” are often C.E.O.’s that are treated as Masters or Gods. (Some even call themselves the Masters of the Universe). My point remains. How do we keep from going down this road?
- Finally, how do we build an ethos that encourages questioning the supposed “perfection” of spiritual teachers, gurus, or lamas in a reasonable way? Yes, I am mindful that we do not want to go the other extreme and pretend that there are not spiritual teachers, gurus, or lamas who may be far more spiritually advanced than we are. But, there must be a way to hold these teachers more accountable for their abuses without letting them hide any longer under notions of infallibility, non-duality, or crazy wisdom. And, there must be a way for chelas, disciples, and students to feel safe enough to question their teachers and hold them accountable without fear of condemnation or reprisal.
I sincerely believe that it is time to set the old spiritual paradigms that include abuse, oppression, and infallibility aside. And, I believe that if the issues in this blog are addressed, much head way could be made allowing future generations a whole new approach to the Master/Chela relationship that would be much more healthy and beneficial to everyone. Finally, at the very least I hope my thoughts in this blog have at least given those who are reading it, much food for thought.
BOOKS THAT HAVE INSPIRED MY WRITING HERE.
- Reflections on a Mountain Lake by Tenzin Palmo
- Spiritual Bypassing: When Spirituality Disconnects Us From What Really Matters by Robert Augustus Masters
- Sex and the Spiritual Teacher: Why It Happens, When It’s a Problem, and What We Can All Do by Scott Edlestein.
- Eyes Wide Open: Cultivating Discernment on the Spiritual Path by Mariana Caplain.
- The Guru Question: The Perils and Rewards of Choosing a Spiritual Teacher by Mariana Caplain.
- The Guru Drinks Bourbon by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse and Amira Ben-Yehuda
- Enthralled: The Guru Cult of Tibetan Buddhism by Christine Chandler.
- Holy Madness: The Shock Tactics and Radical Teachings of Crazy-Wise Adepts, Holy Fools and Rascal Gurus by Georg Feuerstein and Roger Walsh
Notes: “A significant component of the ritualism [of Vajrayana Tibetan Buddhism], to which also belong various–as a rule deeply contempuous of women–sexual practices, is the ingestion of ‘unclean substances.’ These include five kinds of meat (bull, dog, elephant, horse and human meats) as well as five kinds of liquids (excrement, brain, sexual fluids, blood and urine). The in-depth reasoning for this kind of Tantric rite is to obtain knowledge that ‘no thing in itself is clean or unclean and such notions are simply based on false abstractions. Consequentely, even human flesh has to be eaten to prove one has transcended the false duality of appearances.” (Goldner, Colin. The Myth of Tibet. 1999, pp. 14 – 15 — Reprinted and translated by Eunacom Secluar Publications, accessed April 18, 2016, http://www.eunacom.net/DalaiLama_E.thm)
Further note in reference to the above practice actually happening.
“Nancy Steinbeck, wife of the late John Steinbeck Jr., in her memoir about her and her husband’s days in the Vajradhatu community of Chogyam Trungpa, recounts how Trungpa, in more honest moments, shared the dark secrets of his monastic training. This included a time he was feeling sad about his young friend dying in the monastery. The older lama rinpoches, chuckling offered him a piece of meat that turned out to be a piece of flesh of his young friend. It was a lesson in ‘impermanence’ the lamas told him, as they laughed together at his expense.” (Chandler, Christine. Enthralled: The Guru Cult of Tibetan Buddhism p. 65)
This Series Continues Below.
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