Any true spiritual teacher knows that everyone is as much an expression of Truth or God or Buddha-Nature or Whatever as they are. We are all selling water by the side of a river. What is required is that the “student” is really interested in discovering this truth. If they are, the teacher may have a bag of tricks that may help the student realize their true nature. This bag of tricks may consist of various methods, practices, concepts and pointers, but the purpose of the bag of tricks is to set the student free from their imaginary chains and limitations, including the chains and limitations of the teacher, teaching and bag of tricks. The simpler the better. It can take no time and nothing has to happen first.
And then there is spiritual entertainment. When I first started out as a seeker in the 1960s, I lived a short train ride from New York City. Every week I’d check the Village Voice to see what yogi, human potential teacher, sufi, roshi, lama, or avatar was coming to town this week to sell their wares. And off I’d go to see what they had to offer.
After spending years with some of these teachers and actually doing quite well with the teachings, I came to see something very clearly. Almost all of them were selling reality tunnels – a new, unique, and sometimes fun way of interpreting who one is and what life is about. One could get a new name, belong to an exotic group, and have the best teacher and teaching around. Or maybe even be a direct disciple of an avatar. Zen, Kundalini Yoga, Shabd Yoga, Arica, Maitreya, est, Sufism, Bubba Free John, MSIA, Tibetan Buddhism, and on and on and on. It was wonderful!
It all depends on what you really want. If you want a spiritual identity, a sense of belonging, something to believe in, a bunch of experiences, something to do, and a parental figure to tell you how to live your life, these reality tunnels will do the trick.
I eventually went out to California and became involved in its spiritual scene. I lived in a spiritual commune. I went to a Buddhist temple. I did yoga on the beach. Eventually I returned to the east. And then something happened that completely sunk my spiritual boat.
One day in the 70s I went to visit a teacher at her home in Tonawanda, NY. She was then affiliated with a local Zen center, but soon to leave. She was very present with me, very kind, and offered me absolutely nothing. I kept trying to have a conversation with her about all of the Buddhist teachings I knew and practices I did, and although she listened carefully, with attention, she did not become engaged in my reality tunnels, nor did she offer me any alternatives. She had a little zendo in her basement. We did sit quietly together for awhile.
When I left, I continued on my spiritual journey, but what had happened with her was like a powerful koan that would not go away. It stayed with me for years until suddenly something popped and all cathexis stopped.
I saw what she was about. Reality is not a reality tunnel. It is not a belief system or set of practices. There is nothing to do or believe. There is nothing to sell or buy. This is it. This is all there is. And she was here. All she was doing was inviting me to be here with her. I wasn’t here. I was playing the tapes of my reality tunnels and autobiographical self instead. And yet we became quiet together.
And then something popped and it all fell away.
Ever since then, I can see what any teacher is up to. They may be using a pretend thorn to remove a thorn that doesn’t exist, and that is OK. It is how to get rid of what you haven’t got. Or they are feeding you and themselves a bunch of bullshit. And if it is bullshit you want, good, get some great bullshit, as bullshit is God too. But if you really want the truth, find a teacher who admits they have nothing to offer you and then shows it to you. You don’t need anyone or anything, but if you think you do, find a teacher that knows you are always already free. And with one with out bullshit!
The woman teacher is Toni Packer, by the way. Many gasshos to you, Toni!