Ever since the 1960’s in the West, there has been much talk about “Gurus” or spiritual “Masters” who have a direct connection with the divine and who can help guide people on the road to their own spiritual discovery and growth. You probably already know that the tradition of the Master or Guru has been customary for thousands of years in the Sufi, Hindu, Buddhist, Jain and Sikh traditions… But have you ever considered that there is also ample support for a living being capable of direct spiritual transmission in other traditions, like Judiasm, Christianity and Taoism?
According to religious scholar and author Andrew Vidich PhD, having a living master to guide us on the path to enlightenment is elemental in all major spiritual traditions. Dr. Vidich has researched the poetry, prose, art and writings across multiple major spiritual traditions and synthesized the commonalities of psychology of humankind’s deepest experiences into his book, now in it’s 25th Anniversary Special Edition, Love is A Secret. He joined me this week on Lucid Planet Radio to discuss the psychology of mystical experiences, spiritual awakening, the journey to enlightenment, and how to manifest a spiritual teacher or master.
Now, I’m no religious scholar. In fact, I don’t even consider myself particularly religious. I was raised Jewish, and throughout the course of my life I have been atheist, agnostic, secular humanist, Buddhist and during a near death experience (NDE) a few years ago where I was fighting for my life, I actually had a conversation with Krishna (one of the most widely revered and popular Hindu deities).
What Krishna told me, and the veracity of NDE’s, is a conversation best saved for another time (or, if you really want to learn more, listen to Episode 2 of Lucid Planet Radio where I interview expert Dr. Eben Alexander about NDEs and his experiences) but suffice it to say, my experience showed me that there is a source of Divine love who has created us, who is greater and more powerful than we can even imagine, and that love is our true essence and our eternal home. I will always be a woman of science, and yet I also know deep down to my core (in a way that I cannot even fully describe) that there was profound truth in my experience. And I’m totally OK with this.
And yet, I did not run out and convert to Hinduism. I’m still very much a seeker of truth and knowledge, and in many ways I feel like I am still in my spiritual infancy (and I’m OK with this too, because the spiritual journey is not a race or something you can force!) I do not have, nor have I ever met a “Guru” or a “Master.”
I call myself an Omnist, a term my partner and long time Lucid Planet contributor Jimi Ohm taught me, meaning that I believe there is a universal truth of Divine Love across all organized religions, but there is also dogma which can be distorted, misused or turned into lies to control, shame and incite people.
I am a natural skeptic – some may find this funny due to my interests and beliefs in certain allegedly “unscientific” concepts like Reiki, crystal healing and extraterrestrials. But one thing I am definitely skeptical of is PEOPLE and what they will say or do for POWER. I think that my natural skepticism has always kept me away from the “Guru” types, because there have been so many documented cases of people being terribly hurt and taken advantage of, not only by religious leaders, but also by spiritual ones purporting to be masters.
I suppose that is why Episode 31 of my show, Lucid Planet Radio, was so inspiring for me and prompted me to write this article. Dr Vidich has studied under three Masters of the same lineage, and what he had to say about finding a true Master felt very authentic and legitimate to me. Now I will say, the humanist part has always felt that we do not need help from anyone other than ourselves to connect with the Divine, and yet, every major spiritual tradition seems to propose that our connection to the Divine, and our overall journey to enlightenment, is greatly enhanced and illuminated by having someone who truly embodies this connection and who can teach us.
As Dr. Vidich points out in Love is a Secret, “We in the West are often averse to seeing the need for a living spiritual master. Yet in every other field of endeavor, we are hesitant to proceed without a teacher…”
As someone who has spent most of my adult life in graduate school and as as a college professor, of all people I can definitely understand the value of being guided by experts! But how do we distinguish a TRUE spiritual Master from someone who is just a teacher? According to Dr. Vidich, these are the qualities to look for:
1) A Master Is Someone who WALKS THE TALK
Anybody can give a good talk, write a book, say the right things or attract a large amount followers with the right publicity or media exposure. According to Dr. Vidich, this is no guide whatsoever to indicate that this person would be a real spiritual MASTER. There are a lot of people out there preaching compassion, loving kindness and forgiveness, but the master is someone who actually truly embodies these traits in his or her daily life, character and personality. A Master is fully in control of his or her mind and senses and absolutely embodies and radiates love and compassion to everyone they come across.
2) A Master can SHOW US the DIVINE
A competent spiritual teacher has the ability at the time of initiation to actually grant us a first hand experience of the Divine. In other words, he or she can help us see ourselves as true soul for the first time. Much like when this happens during an NDE, we become absolutely certain that we are an eternal conscious spirit, much more than just a mind and a body.
- A Master’s Teachings are ALWAYS FREE
A true Master does not charge for his or her teachings. True Masters do not need to. Many spiritual traditions have always indicated that the teachings from the true Masters should be free to the public. Jesus did not charge, Buddha did not charge, Mohammed did not charge. This is not to put down anyone who is charging for their teaching, they may still be giving out good information and they can be very inspiring. Be grateful for wisdom no matter where you are getting it, but if you are making a full commitment to become a disciple, be very discerning. Dr. Vidich likens those charging for their spiritual teachings to 6th graders whereas the true Masters giving it away for free would be like PhDs.
- A True Master is EGO-LESS
A true master is a conduit, a vehicle for the higher power of the Divine working through them. Their Sense of “I” ness is simply not there, replaced by a sense of universal “one-ness” with the Divine and with humanity. This is a rare quality indeed, and it is a precious gift to come into the presence of someone like this in our lifetime. It can also be hard for many of us, looking through our own imperfect perspective, to really recognize someone who is ego-less and on the level of a Master. In other words, a novice can rarely even recognize a true master, for the master often reveals himself or herself in accordance with the degree of spiritual maturity of the seeker.
There is an old Hindu phrase that “When the discipline is ready, the Master will appear.” So, in addition to looking for a Master who truly embodies these qualities, we also must work on ourselves to ready our space for them to enter it, and for us to enter theirs.
- Your Desire for A Master Must be SINCERE
If there is a sincere desire to find your Master, you will be guided to the right place. Dr. Vidich cites many different spiritual traditions that say that the pull to find a teacher is orchestrated by the teacher himself. There is a phrase in Hinduism, “Love emanates from the heart of the Master.” In other words, they are actually drawing us in as our desire for them becomes greater and greater. We really have to want this, not just saying it with our lips, but truly having the cry of our souls be sincere and real, and wanting this from deepest part of our hearts.
- You Must Actually BE in their PRESENCE
It is important to research thoroughly when we are seeking a Master. Yes, you should read books, learn about people, and check them out, but if you really want to find your true spiritual Master, you must GO and visit them, and actually be in his or her presence. You cannot tell what is REAL through literature or the internet. You must BE there. Touch them. Feel them. For some individuals who are very spiritually developed, they may actually see their Master inside (such as in visions, meditations or dreams) before they connect to them in the outside world.
- You Must CULTIVATE Yourself as Spiritual Being
No matter what your spiritual or religious beliefs are, all traditions talk about putting in the work to become a better person, more greatly connected with the Divine. If you want to find your true Spiritual Master you must cultivate your spirituality. This can come through a variety of channels. For Dr. Vidich the most important are meditating, attending spiritual gatherings, changing our diets and lifestyles and most all, living life as a LOVING COMPASSIONATE BEING. In fact, he tells me in the podcast that the single most important thing you can do to manifest your Master is to practice kindness, compassion and forgiveness as much as possible. Just remember that these efforts are never wasted- This preparation for your spiritual journey is the essence of your own transformation! Even if you do not believe that you will ever find a Master, and even if you do not believe in spirituality or religion, this is all about making efforts to become a BETTER human being- and it is up to you, and you alone, to decide what that looks like.
If you enjoyed this article, or you want to learn more, please listen to the full podcast for a more complete discussion about Masters, Gurus, mystical experiences, spiritual awakening and enlightenment.
LIGHT AND LOVE!