The Ethics of the teacher and the way of the student
A two way street of Ethics and avoiding Frauds

As always, there are two sides to any teaching situation, there is the teacher, and the student. Far too often
we tend to focus only on the teacher, totally forgetting the fact, there are two people involved.
In order for any teaching situation to work, both parties have to play there parts as it were, below are my thoughts on the matter.

First off, there is no one, and only one teacher, for any of us, no matter what the subject. It's almost impossible to expect any one person to be able to teach you all you want, or may need to know, unless it's a very simple matter you are learning, and spiritually is hardly simple.

I mean, think about it, in school you had at least one teacher a year in grade school, a half a dozen or more a day in high school, at least a dozen different teachers for every subject, from math to reading, English, etc.. as you progressed through school, so why would you consider that for something as involved as spiritually and metaphysics, you would need only one teacher ?

As you go along the pathway, your needs will change. Everybody who seeks spiritual enlightenment, goes through a whole variety of stages along their chosen spiritual pathway. It's a simple matter of fact, that most people will study with a lot of teachers during their lifetimes, and will have different relationships with each and every one of them.

Some days I look back, and it's like a whole box of dominoes lined up in row behind me :) and I bless them all ... but it's not a path one walks without risk and the need for responsible actions ...

The possible pitfalls, problems and responsibilities:

Your spiritual teacher, at any level, may not know all you need or want to know is the first thing. Which means, you may well pass up your teacher at some point. What was a perfectly good teacher, in the beginning, may not be sufficient as you progress. So changing teachers as that need arises, is not only wise, it's necessary.

This can cause a great deal of conflict however, for both the student and the teacher. You may feel guilt for "leaving" your guide behind. They may not want to let you go, having become very attached to you. This is not like leaving any other teacher, I mean this is not like leaving the guy whose teaching you how to build your front deck, at home depots do-it-yourself classes here. There is a deep bond between a spiritual teacher and student, that is not lightly separated.

Now, a "good" teacher, for lack of a better word, will see and recognize this point in time, and encourage you to seek out others, as they want you to grow and " be all that you can be", sorry to rip off the Army by line, but it fits so well :)

Like any good mentor, they want you to learn, and if that means you surpass them ... Great ... they are happy to hear it, and will stand behind you with a smile as you go, and often point to other possible places you can get more information.

A poor one will often try and hold the student back, by pretense if needed, as the teacher tires to bluff when they have reached the effective end of their knowledge, and tries to keep the student dependent, despite the fact they have no more to give, often by sabotaging their training, even though the student needs or wants more than the teacher knows.

The spiritual pathway is all about freedom, not dependence, and anyone who purposely fosters dependence, of any sort, is one to be leery of, and to seriously question if you should remain with them.

Then of course there is the fake teacher: Meaning one who presents themselves as a spiritual guide, who is a fraud. The ones who are playing at being a teacher, who are in fact, controlling, deceitful or manipulative people, who are out for money, personal power, or into some major ego trips.

The last two here, are why a strong set of ethics and adherence to responsibility, are mandatory for any teacher, however, those ethics are not, as is commonly believed, only one sided.

Ethics and responsibilities expected of the student.

Be prepared and willing to learn:

Now, this sounds a bit odd, in that the whole point of taking up with a teacher is TO learn. However, spiritual teaching is not the same as say teaching someone how to use their word processor ! There are many challenges the teacher must often make to the preconceptions and or weaknesses of the student, in order to help them grow. This is not easy, or simple, however, unless one is willing to at least attempt to learn, and face ones own shortcomings, there is no point in becoming a spiritual student.

And yet, if the student does not learn, it's often the teacher, and they alone, that is held to blame.

So job one for a student is:

To have enough open-mindedness, to not be so attached to your own preconceptions and opinions, that you refuse to consider other thoughts and accept that you may have things you must learn, things that may not, on the first look at any rate, be something you enjoy. No one likes to have their less than strong points, pointed out to them, but this is inherent in any teaching situation.

There is no getting around the fact, that the largest barrier to learning a truth, is thinking one already knows it. One becomes in effect, un-teachable. This happens a lot more than most people think.

As we do tend to go into a teaching situation, with expectations, yes, but on no other level of teaching, are our basic conceptions so challenged, as in spiritual teaching. It can and often does, rock the very core of what we perceive to be "the self", but one must have an open mind to accept this possibility.

Not taking care on who they chose as a teacher:

A student is also expected to use some common-sense in picking a teacher, and have a basic level of emotional maturity and stability. Meaning, they are considered sane, and rational, and are willing to take responsibility for their own actions.

Far too often we hear of someone whose been "taken advantage of" by some fake or poor teacher. To which I say, yes it's possible for it to happen, with a sufficiently talented, charismatic person as the fraud. However, no matter how talented the faker, the "student" has to have failed in some way, to see the past the flash and dash.

If one expects the teacher to be the "be all and end all", then falling into the path of gullibility is rather easy. The very fact that we need and want to know, so very much, is our own downfall in many cases. It is simple to see how the situation can be abused, especially if the student is walking around with their eyes shut !

There is, make no mistake, an "imbalance" of power between teacher and student, based on, one hopes, the fact the teacher knows more than the student, and has been practicing longer. But it's an unavoidable fact, there is a state of power on the part of the teacher, embedded in the relationship.

Side note here:

This is why a teacher should never have a sexual relationship with their student, as the tight union of sex, destroys the power balance, as you are now lovers, not teacher, student. If you become lovers, which does happen, people do fall in love, even with teacher and student, but it means you need to stop being teacher and student and find another teacher for the student, as it's nigh on impossible to maintain your objectivity as a teacher, in such a situation. Even with the best of intentions, your relationship has changed to where the emotional distance needed to really teach, is no longer there. Not to mention, your relationship as mates, is going to suffer, if you attempt to continue teaching.

This is the same reason why most "mom and pop" shops, often have trouble, why ? Because if you have a fight with your mate over the breakfast table, it is bound to carry over into the work situation. Teacher to student, the same problems exist, if they are mates.

But the bottom line is, if the student fails to chose wisely, it is ... in the end of all thoughts, their own fault. Now, hold on a second before you scream at the screen "WHAT !! ?" ... This sounds harsh to say I know, however, it is no more than fact. I know there are those who will disagree with me on this, but let's look at it for a second.

Yes, the student may well be ignorant enough to fall for the well spoken patter of a fraud, however, there are signs to detect manipulative people, no matter what the subject. Anyone who has ever fallen for a fake, without fail, looks back and can now see, what they should have seen to begin with, which they might well have seen in them, in any other teaching situation, which is the very apparent signs that they were being led around by their own needs.

This is no cause to heap abuse on ones own head, as it's a lot easier to get into that situation than one might expect, however, at some point, one needs to open their eyes, and learn to see this for what it is, and stop glamorizing the situation. It can be one of the largest lessons we learn on the path to spiritual maturity, that just because we are seeking information, that is outside of the typical realm, does not mean we should give over common sense.

Spiritual maturity is all about freedom, and seldom does the poor or fake teacher allow freedom of thought or action, it's the biggest red flag in the book.

So a wise student, takes the time to investigate the "teacher" carefully, to ask of other students, to do a background check if you will on the teacher, before they make a commitment. And even if you have made a commitment, if these things start to show up later, it's time to say ... "I'm outa here" and head for the door ... pronto.

More care of choosing a teacher:

There are, in short three kinds of teaching or mentorship levels:

And these can all be the same person, and often are, but you have to ask yourself, what you expect and want from a teacher ?

Do you want help with your personal life issues, then the Therapist/counselor might be the kind your after.
Do you want just information so you can learn for yourself, then the Teacher/instructor.
Do you want to learn very deep and spiritual things, outside of just information ? Then a Master/guru might be the ticket.

Problems that can arise:

Now, it's perfectly normal in the relationship of teacher student to experience all three of these, and not necessarily in that order, in fact they can be taught, on various levels, all at the same time. It depends on what you need at that moment. But what do you want ? Is the question you need to ask yourself.

Here in the West, we tend to lean a lot towards the Therapist/counselor and the Master/guru ends of the spectrum and mostly the last of Master/guru. The reasons are simple, our culture tends to teach us to follow authority figures, as well as, we often give the teacher much more personal data, than say a student in the East would do. ( Which unfortunately, makes it very easy for the frauds )

The chela (student) of an Eastern Guru might have an association with the Guru for years, but have never even discussed their personal life with the Guru, at all. Whereas, here in the West, often the first thing a teacher hears is the personal life of their student, whether they want to hear it, or not. Now is this needed? Often yes in my personal opinion, but as the Eastern model proves, it's not a requirement to spiritual training.

Further, we, as a group, often rebel against the Teacher/instructor role, for the simple reason, if one is taught a thing, one is therefore expected to know a thing, and ergo DO a thing, on their own. Once we "know" we are expected to take independent action, which for most of us, defies the very model of spiritual teacher as mentor. Mentor didn't tell me to do it, I'm not doing it ! is the common refrain.

This again, is due to our culture, our viewpoint of our family relationships, our relationship with the law, etc., they all stem from a habit of, we do X to either gain approval from the authority figure, and or, more importantly, to avoid punishment or error. So it makes us more than a bit timid to say the truth. We tend to keep waiting for the mentor, to tell us what to do, rather than risk "making a mistake".

The Therapist/counselor and the Master/guru, are heavier with the imbalance of power, and ones that can easily be subverted into a case were the student has little to no personal liability for what they learn, or their actions.

They are doing X, as they were told to. It's real easy to see how fast this state of affairs could be abused. And in the case of a fake, whose in it for power, the student can literally invite such abuse by leaning too far into the concept of "being told" what to do.

Be warned, there is always some slime ball out there, calling themselves a teacher, who will be more than happy to "tell you" what to do, but it will generally be to their benefit, not yours.

Are these teaching stances needed ? Yes, of course, depending on what's being taught and what the student needs, but as with anything else, always within limits, and done always with the best interest of the student in mind.

Expecting all teaching to be the same, for every student of the teacher:

Very often, a student will get rather irate with, and leave, or worse, decry the teacher, when they find that another student is learning different things than they are. They feel cheated perhaps, or that the other student is somehow more in "favor" with the teacher. Not so.

"Because the same teacher may play different roles in the spiritual life of each seeker, the most appropriate relationship each seeker has with that teacher may be different. Teaching is often given on a mentor basis, with the teacher adapting the lessons, for each student. The type of relationship appropriate between a specific seeker and a specific teacher, depends upon the spiritual level of each."

Which means, simply put, that what each student needs, is not and cannot be the same. Even in a general class room, with standard subjects this effect happens, some students need little guidance and will learn mostly on their own, most need the general training and help, and others need special tutoring and lot more help, and they are all in the same class.

Spiritual teaching is no different, each student walks in the door with a different set of skills, knowledge, maturity level, and needs, so expecting the teacher to teach everybody, at the same rate or progress, is not reasonable.

Expecting perfection:

Now, this ones tricky, as there is a certain level of competence, and credibility one has every right to expect of a teacher. One expects that

They know more than you about the subject
They practice what they teach
They have the ability to teach

All of these.. quite true, as without them, it's not likely they are a good teacher. However, this does not mean, they are perfect. It does not mean they will or even should live the life of a some kind of saint. Your personal expectations, may not be realistic. Please see "Bane of the teacher" for a few other thoughts on that subject, if you have not seen the page already.

We are all students of life, any good teacher, is themselves a student, and is learning things as they go, as it's a never ending process, so there is no way your teacher can "know it all" and expecting them to is foolish, not to mention, dangerous.

This expectation is, as mentioned above, what often gets people into the trap of being led around by a fraud, who has convinced them they do "know it all", and will share it with them ... for a price.

Run, do not walk, to the nearest exit if you hear this coming out of any "teachers" mouth. As this kind of statement is a huge red flag of ... fraud. Ditto with any teacher who expects veneration, beyond what is culturally expected.

Exceptions: Now, there are some Guru types who expect adoration from their students, prostration before them, etc. etc. Given some cultural differences, this can be just traditional "showing respect" for the teacher, however, view any requirement for treating the teacher as something other than a normal human being, with a very critical eye.

In short, if such behavior is not the norm for your culture for showing respectfulness, it's highly likely it's being done simply for the ego trip of the teacher. "The best student-teacher relationship is founded on the teacher being there to serve the student," ... "It's not about the glorification of the teacher".

No real teacher is a know-it-all, as any good teacher knows they don't know everything, and cannot possibly know it all, they can't live long enough to learn it all, but they do, one hopes, know more than you. But they are people, just like you.

You do not want a demi God on Earth, the "fount of information from on high" as that is the way of the charismatic fraud. A good teacher lives a life of service, to you, not the other way around. They are a person, just the same as you, respect them, of course, but don't expect them to be, or want them to be, something other than human.

Practice what they teach:

This ones a huge flag in the face. It doesn't take being a rocket scientist to see that if the teacher preaches poverty, yet lives in the lap of luxury, there is something wrong with this picture ! Ditto whatever else they teach, if they do not make a serious effort, to live it themselves, then they are a hypocrite, that you need to get away from as rapidly as possible.

Now, again, will they be perfect at this ? Not likely, they are human and therefore as subject to human failings as anyone else. If they claim otherwise, they are lying to you and perhaps to themselves.

Now, this is not to say they have never, or will never make mistakes, some of the greatest spiritual teachers I've have ever met have been people who have been through every dreadful situation imaginable, and now, on account of that, dedicate themselves to helping others avoid some of the same issues.

It's a case of, for many, they have, "been there, done that" so they do understand. AA comes to mind, in that its founder, was himself an former alcoholic, so who better to understand the problems of someone who still is ?

The long and short of it all is, as with any teaching, one is still responsible for their own actions. Not the teacher ... YOU ... the teacher has many many responsibilities of course, but in the end, what you learn and how you progress on your chosen spiritual pathway is entirely up to you. Your teachers are your guides, nothing more. They have walked a path, and can help you, by the simple fact they HAVE walked it and may be able to show you a way to walk it yourself. But you and you alone are responsible for that growth ... no one else.


Return to Ways of the Craft