The role of the teacher

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4 years 1 month ago #106401 by every3rdthought
Really good piece on the role of the teacher/guru, with a realistic view of awakening. I often find that any piece on this either errs far too much to the side of blind guru-worship and seeing the guru as perfect, or else far too much on the anti-guru side without actually thinking about the necessity for humility, deference and being prepared to do things that make you uncomfortable (but not involving money, sex, extreme asceticism, free labour etc) in order for spiritual growth. The author, Douglas Brooks, is in the Sri Vidya tradition which is a nondual tantric Goddess tradition closely related to Kashmir Shaivism (he was also an early influence on Anusara Yoga though broke with John Friend after the scandal). I think we need to be careful of 'victim-blaming' when we say that people abused by gurus didn't take responsibility for themselves, but generally a great piece.

Reframing the Spiritual Life and The Certain Failure of the Guru Tradition
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4 years 1 month ago #106404 by Laurel Carrington
I'm interested in this topic because of the question of transmission. Do you think that the power to affect a disciple by one's very presence is no more than a myth?
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4 years 1 month ago - 4 years 1 month ago #106405 by Noah
Replied by Noah on topic The role of the teacher
I've experienced it directly with Stuart Perrin and Amma.

Muktananda (who is marred by scandal) was known to put skeptical non-meditators into trances. He loved to give shaktipat to famous people. My mom hung around him in the 70's and saw Jazz singer Roberta Flack get brought into the front of the room in Manhattan. He immediately put her into some state - no problem.

Regardless of what it is and how powerful you think it is, the evidence for transmission (more than placebo) is there (in my opinion).
Last edit: 4 years 1 month ago by Noah.
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4 years 1 month ago - 4 years 1 month ago #106406 by every3rdthought
Great question! Personally, I've never been deeply involved in a community where shaktipat was important (e.g. Satyananda, Siddha Yoga), though I have a big personal investment in the Tantric traditions in which it's sometimes seen as central. I've never had that kind of experience in the presence of a teacher (e.g. Amma), but then again I'm not prone to mystical experiences (though I've had a few). I was a bit disappointed coming into the presence of some of the famous Mahasi teachers and not feeling anything.

in the traditional teachings, there sometimes seems to be a view of shaktipat (which literally means 'descent of shakti') that is more 'ritual' oriented than we presently think of it, i.e. if we set up the right conditions and conduct the rituals appropriately, shaktipat happens, rather than it being a more 'personal' transmission of energy from a charismatic guru. Interestingly, Zen transmission these days is also often seen as a quasi-mystical recognition that the transmittee is awakened, but historically in China and Japan it was often used for the purposes of authority, lineage continuation etc.

My observational view is that, when I see people who seem very invested in shaktipat, they seem to become highly reliant on the guru in a way that leads to all the bad outcomes we associate with guru abuse - dependence, turning a blind eye to immorality, etc. There was a big scandal in Satyananda recently and the Australian ashram moved to separate itself from the Indian parent body due to abuse by the founding guru. One of my Satyananda friends said that she couldn't support this, not only because she didn't believe the accusations, but because she thought that without the guru and his chosen disciple-teachers the shakti wouldn't flow. Many of the traditions I can think of that focus on shaktipat have had pretty nasty guru scandals - Muktananda/Siddha Yoga, Satyananda, and the Shiva School of Meditation here in Australia.

On the other hand, it definitely seems to be a good experience when it encourages people to go deeper or shakes them out of an old paradigm (rather than when it's seen in itself as the be-all and end-all, to try to be repeated or made a permanent state).

Anyway that's more an answer to a question about the morality of shaktipat - in answer to your actual question, I wouldn't say it's a myth, inasmuch as I can certainly envisage that being in the presence of a teacher could arouse a strong spiritual experience, and that certain teachers do have a certain energy which might conduce to that. So I wouldn't call it a myth, although I'd imagine it's easily scripted - but then, it's a nice philosophical point to ask what the distinction is between a scripted and non-scripted 'peak experience'... But subject to all the usual cautions about peak experiences and structures/beliefs that conduce to spiritual abuse.
Last edit: 4 years 1 month ago by every3rdthought.
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4 years 1 month ago #106407 by Noah
Replied by Noah on topic The role of the teacher
If it's scripted, but it causes a permanent shift, was it scripted? :P
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4 years 1 month ago #106408 by every3rdthought
Maybe the permanent shift is scripted :)
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4 years 1 month ago - 4 years 1 month ago #106410 by Laurel Carrington
The impression I get from accounts of Amma is that she is in a class by herself.

ETA: I also believe it can happen for real, but there are serious dangers when a person puts a guru in a position of such power.
Last edit: 4 years 1 month ago by Laurel Carrington.
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4 years 1 month ago #106475 by Derek
Replied by Derek on topic The role of the teacher

Laurel Carrington wrote: Do you think that the power to affect a disciple by one's very presence is no more than a myth?


In the Dzogchen tradition, the first step is Direct Introduction, where the master directly transmits a taste of pure awareness to the student. I have no reason to believe this is a myth. On the contrary, Dzogchen seems to be a level-headed and sensible tradition.
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4 years 1 month ago #106480 by Laurel Carrington
Which is why I am not ready to say that gurus are a universally bad idea.
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4 years 1 month ago #106483 by Derek
Replied by Derek on topic The role of the teacher
Right. Another example would be Nisargadatta, who often said that all he did was to believe what his own guru had told him and practice accordingly. Also I read Irina Tweedie's Daughter of Fire recently, and all she did was to do as her guru told her.
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4 years 1 month ago #106485 by Noah
Replied by Noah on topic The role of the teacher
That's a good book. There's a shorter version called Chasm Of Fire IIRC. But it wasn't really about following the technical meditation instructions. Moreso about the shaktipat, which is a very specific phenomenon that this Sufi dude apparently had in droves.
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4 years 1 month ago #106489 by Derek
Replied by Derek on topic The role of the teacher
Yes, clearly a large part of it was shaktipat, which is another response to Laurel's #106404. But if you remember, she also had to do as she was told, which involved handing over all her money (!) and spending years sitting outside while the guru taught his other disciples inside. Pretty amazing that it did actually pay off for her in the end.
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4 years 1 month ago #106500 by Shargrol
Replied by Shargrol on topic The role of the teacher
Great article.

"We defer to each other to learn but surrender no power."
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