There is a lot of difference between finding a meditation teacher and finding any other teacher. For all of the other teachers there is a qualification, there is a way to identify a teacher. If you want a math, physics, or a music teacher, there are very clear qualifications; there are degrees. There are documents that say that he or she is a teacher, so you can find teachers just based on credentials.
How do I identify a good meditation teacher?
Even if there aren’t any credentials, there is a way to identify the skill. You can look at the dancer and say, “I love the way he dances. I love the way she dances, and I want to learn from her.” There’s no way you’re going to learn music from a person who does not know how to play the musical instrument, right? When you interact with the teacher you would immediately get that sense that, “Okay, this person knows music; they know what they are talking about.”
None of this exists for meditation–absolutely none of this. Anyone can claim, anyone can say, “I have practiced meditation. I know what meditation is. I know the method, I know how to practice, and I’m willing to teach.” Especially in today’s day and age, there are a lot more people willing to teach, than there are people willing to learn.
With the available social media platforms–YouTube and Facebook, it’s so easy to become a teacher–your own teacher. Just gather a group of online students and start teaching. The problem with all this, is how do you know if you have found the right teacher? Or should you even be looking for the right teacher? Is there a right teacher?
Two Types of Teachers
The first type of meditation teacher is one who can teach you meditation. They can show you how to practice meditation, teach you how to get into the habit of meditation, tell you how to deal with the daily challenges of meditation, and help you to become better with the practice.
The second type of meditation teacher is the teacher who can take you all the way to self-realization. These teachers can guide you with a single-pointed focus of helping you to reach self-realization. These teachers have the experience of self-realization, and also know that if you are able to do certain things in a certain way you will get there, or you will not.
These two are completely different types of teachers. The second type, the teachers who can teach you self-realization, are the rarest, because there are very few people who have gone all the way through the journey themselves.
Unless an individual has fully dedicated himself to that process and has made meditation his or her life, they would not be able to go all the way. It doesn’t matter whether they’ve gone all the way or not, they would want to teach because they’ve learned something through the process. Meditation is such a phenomenon that even if you meditate for three months or six months, you would know so much more than somebody who has never meditated.
As far as getting the basic guidance of meditation is concerned, you could get that from a lot of people. All you have to make sure is that the person you are learning from has spent more time in meditation than you–plain and simple. At the basic level, that is all that you should be looking for.
The reputation of a meditation teacher does not come from numbers; it comes from the guidance. You’ve got to take a chance with a teacher; you have to approach, you have to start learning, and within a matter of a few days you will know if you’re headed in the right direction. If you are with a teacher who’s really willing to guide you, it is not that difficult to see, “Okay, the wisdom that he or she is sharing is really helping.” Another big pitfall in trying to find a teacher is trying to find too perfect a teacher. You know, trying to find a teacher who, according to you, is perfect. If you go on searching for the perfect teacher, it is a futile search, because there are no perfect teachers.
The difficulty in judging people, in judging teachers, or in finding the right thing in life, is really not about choosing the right and the wrong. The difficulty is choosing between the wrong and the more wrong, because everyone is flawed. Everything is flawed.
A Teacher with Experience
Teaching is a mechanism of transferring knowledge through the symbolism of language. Language is a symbol; it’s not an absolute truth. When you’re trying to teach using symbols, you can never be perfect. It’s like when I say, “Awakening is like swimming in the open ocean for the first time.” It is nothing like it; it’s an absolute lie! But, that is my way of saying it. When I say, “Meditation is difficult, meditation is painful, meditation is a torturous process initially,” that is just my way of saying it because it was like that for me, because of the way I approached it.
It might be easy for you. A teacher can, at the most, express what he has experienced, using the language of the world, using the expressions of life. There is no perfection in this process. Again, how are you measuring the perfection of a teacher if you’re not comparing him with another teacher?
If you’re looking for the perfect teacher, then you have an idea of perfection in your mind, which has to come from some other teacher. That is where the problem is. When you try to compare one teacher with another, you will obviously make a mistake. It doesn’t matter if your comparison is very critical or very analytical; it just doesn’t matter, because two teachers are completely different.
That is why meditation is such a tricky affair; you have to judge based on your intuition, based on your comfort level with the teacher, based on certain inner signs, which are not readily accessible. You “just know” this is the right teacher. You “just know” that you want to learn from this person.
Sometimes, you just want to play it safe; you just want to make sure that there are a lot of students around this teacher. You think if so many people are being misled then it’s perfectly fine; “I’m going to be one of them.” Sometimes it’s just safety; you think if a teacher has a lot of students, he has to be good. In meditation, it doesn’t work that way.
A teacher who has a lot of students could be a good marketer–or he has a group of students who market for him. It doesn’t mean that he’s not a good teacher, so there’s really no way to judge the teacher based on external qualities that we normally measure success by—The number of people, amount of money they’ve made, or the number of years they’ve lived, their experience. He could be a young man, or he could be fifty he could be sixty, and you could be forty or fifty—age doesn’t matter.
When you meet such a person, if he has spent time in meditation, you will know—this is something different. Irrespective of the external flaws, there is some wisdom that I want to have, wisdom that I don’t possess. That is all that you should be looking for in a meditation teacher. You don’t have to complicate things, and you should also understand that a teacher is human.
When you meet a teacher, you’ll have to assess both his ability to guide you inward, and his worldly affairs. As long as you’re able to manage the worldly affairs and you see that there is some light, some source, something he possesses that you want to learn, then you have a teacher. Another of the easiest ways to judge a teacher, is that a good teacher is all about you—a bad teacher is all about himself, plain and simple.
In the spiritual world, a teacher cannot be too obsessed about himself; yes, a teacher can share his personal experiences. The value of this is that those personal experiences are relatable, and they can be learned from. But, there is a difference between personal experience sharing and personal aggrandizement; these are two completely different things. If a teacher is “too full of himself,” and he’s not really interested in the student as much as he is interested in the student loving him and respecting him and considering him like a teacher, that is where the student needs to make a call.
If the teacher is all about you, if the teacher is talking about you, helping you, and guiding you in any way possible–it’s very rare you would find such a teacher–if you’re able to find them you’ve got to latch onto them. No matter how difficult it gets from the external environment, you have to try to hold on to them. You have to keep holding on to the idea that, “I want to learn from this teacher.”
How to Begin the Search for a Teacher
As far as beginning a meditation journey is concerned, you don’t have to worry too much; just begin. Listen to videos, start practicing it. Just try it out on your own. In the journey, in the process, you will connect with some teachers. You will connect with people. Keep in touch with the community; keep in touch with the idea of meditation. Keep exploring and keep reading.
The teacher will not find you. You will have to find the teacher. The teachers are simply there. Nowadays they are doing a lot of marketing. Trust me when I say this, “We’re doing a lot of marketing.” Still, it’s all about the student. The student has to find the teacher and has to have the willingness.
One of the things, one of the most wonderful things that is simply going away, is this deep desire to find a teacher and emotionally and psychologically surrender to the process of spiritual awakening. That strong desire is missing; the desire is there, but since it’s not strong–anything and everything–even a small negative criticism from people around, put them off. They might be going to a teacher and they might be learning, but if there’s even one streak of negativity, they drop off.
It’s not going to make much difference to the teacher, but it’s going to make a lot of difference to you. It is not easy to find a meditation teacher whom you can trust, and begin this wonderful inner journey, but you’ll have to keep searching. In a spiritual way, you have to keep searching for those signs, and you have to go and meet the teacher. It cannot just be online searching; it cannot just be reading books. The best way to know if you have found the teacher is to be with the teacher.
When you Finally find a Teacher
There is something that you will experience in the presence of a teacher that you cannot experience through the bookstore or online. The presence cannot be communicated online; we have not yet reached that advancement. As of now, we can communicate ideas, we can communicate the symbolism of what it is that we are trying to communicate. But the presence, the emotion, the feeling, the love, the connection in finding a meditation teacher is a combination of all these things.
A meditation teacher is more of a guide, and he’s also your emotional support. The teacher should be smart, and he should be intelligent enough to understand how the world works, and what it takes for you to walk this path. He cannot just be only about meditation. He has to help you to see how you can balance your desires of worldly affairs and your spiritual quest.
Isn’t that what we’re all struggling with? If we had a single-minded desire to become spiritually awakened then we wouldn’t even need a teacher. We would just go sit, begin our practice, find the books, and find the resources. We would get there. Because we have all the distractions–What do we do with sex? What do we do with the desire to make more money? What do we do with the desire for material comfort? What do we do with the desire for name and recognition? What do we do with the desire for building organizations? This is where a teacher comes in.
The biggest advantage of having a teacher in your life is that he always puts things in perspective. He says, “In the midst of all the things that are happening, life is still about being here, about being relaxed, about meditating, and about practicing.” If you can find such a teacher, a guide, a friend, that’ll be the best thing.
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