How Many Spiritual Teachers
How many teachers do you need to reach enlightenment? Don’t forget to count yourself!
by Marcos Taquechel
I often read spiritual and self-help books, and become inspired. I feel like I have a deep understanding while the book is in front of my eyes; I get momentarily enlightened. I notice, however, that soon as I put the book down, power and inspiration vanishes like a cloud. The moment I walk away from the book I can’t quite feel as positive and steady as did when enthralled by my readings. So I go back and choose a different book. I feel like I get addicted to the process by thinking, “This new book will make me happy.” Something feels real when I’m reading, but unreal when I’m away from the book. I read it many times hoping to internalize the teachings, to no avail. I know I’m not alone in this frustrating routine, so I decided to explore further.
I understand teachings intellectually. I am able to absorb the words and ideas. I understand it so well sometimes if feels like my own mind is making it up. I begin to feel as if I’m actually living the teachings, but that is only an image. After a lot of soul searching, I realized this problem is caused by something rather simple.
We cannot live the experience of others – we have to learn it ourselves. These experiences are good stories, or good ideas, but they don’t belong to us. We have to earn it in order to make it our own. But there is another problem; how can we even trust the teachings that we read are worth anything? Who is the gatekeeper?
Teachings can be traditions passed down through generations, or experiences directly lived by teachers or thinkers. But how can we trust them? A teaching is made up of words, or thinking: ideas with potential. The teachings we come across might not even represent what the communicator really feels or knows in his or her heart. He or she might be quoting other teachers or relating experiences others have had, some time ago, in some distant country. But teachings are only useful if they can affect change in our daily life or in our world. Only your heart can tell you if a teaching or teacher is real. Your intellect will often make mistakes.
The transmission of a teaching is indeed difficult and challenging, because teachings are sort of unspeakable things. We might get it and know it for a moment, but lose the understanding later. Other times we might just be repeating what we’ve heard without understanding (more often the latter, in my experience). Oftentimes we are trying to learn teachings that are out of our reach at this point in our development.
Complex and life-changing teachings are easily available through a seemingly infinite collection of books and lectures; they might be amazing but out of reach simply because they are too advanced. To fully grasp them requires huge life experience we might not have just yet. But we are ambitious with our spiritual quest. We want to become enlightened quickly, so we fill ourselves with teachings that only make us more confused.
I became frustrated with acquisition of teachings. Frustration led to depression, and depression turned into hopelessness, in a vicious circle going around and around. After a while I just gave it all up. All my hopes for fruition were gone. I sat there without nothing to do and wait for. Then I found a little gold nugget.
Once I let go of all the teachings, there was actually more light. It became roomier and more spacious in my mind, and it was as if a fog had lifted. The room was filled with emptiness; I saw objects I’d never realized were there. I found that the only teachings really worth knowing were the ones within my reach, and there were quite a few of them. These little insights were small and simple but they were real and within my grasp. I continue to visit teachings, but now I don’t expect so much from them.
Maybe just the true knowledge of how meditation has affected my life was one of those insights. Just a simple realization, but truly palpable and useful – powerful. Others began to emerge. Maybe I’ve only learned two things in the last five years, but I’m proud of them because they are real. I didn’t read about them in some book, I actually found them by simply realizing their existence. How do I know for certain that they are real?
I don’t! Life is a work in progress. If I told you I know everything, or if anyone tells you they know – be suspicious. Teachings are as impermanent and brief as our lives. I am only sure of one thing: insights have a clear and consistent quality, and appear to be alive. Sometimes they are very clear and obvious, other times more diffuse. Sometimes they just appear to you like a rare bird that lands on your windowsill. Other times you have to work extra hard to even get a glimpse of them. If you see it clearly one day, that doesn’t mean you always will. Sometimes I feel like it is when I get rid of everything that I start learning. At the end of the day only you yourself can decide what’s right or wrong. Leave the decision to your heart for a job well done.
Marcos Taquechel is a registered nurse working with the elderly and living in California. He is a member of the Shambhala community, blogger, dreamer, meditator, and a researcher of the mind and human nature. His most recent professional incarnation includes going back to jewelry making and progressively doing more of it as time moves on.