The notion of a spiritual guide or of spiritual guidance is a difficult one in our modern world. It has become synonymous with manipulation, domination and readily conjures up images of an authoritarian figure who robs unwitting individuals of their free will. Charlatans have unfortunately paved the way for grotesque misconceptions about this important part of spiritual life, ruining many people’s chances to come into contact with authentic spiritual guidance, and desecrating this aspect of reality.
What is a spiritual guide?
A classic analogy often used in Tantric treatises to describe the notion of spiritual guide, is that of the mountain guide.
Let’s imagine we want to go for an expedition in the mountains, with a great deal of enthusiasm from reading books about how amazing and beautiful the mountains are. We prepare for this journey by obtaining all the necessary equipment, the most appropriate clothing, and a very detailed map of the area, as well as a good compass.
When we feel the awakening of an aspiration to conquer new heights, new perspectives and states of consciousness, the deep wish to truly know ourselves, we prepare for this journey as best we can. There is a lot of information to be found and techniques to practice, that promis to get you there.
However, even when we have finished all the preparations and have all the necessary tools, we still haven’t thoroughly fulfilled all the conditions for the trip to become the anticipated success. Even if we have read the description of the track in a magazine or studied the map, and trained for climbing and for mountain trekking, there is still something essential missing if we want to be sure of success – a mountain guide. The mountain guide has made the trip before many times, knows the challenges and how to overcome them, can support, encourage and inspire us in difficult moments. The mountain guide can also show us how to use the equipment we have in the most efficient way, giving us the knowledge of how to use it in ways we had never even considered.
We look to the mountain guide for an example, we aim to tread where he or she does, emulating their attitude, way of moving etc. In the same way, the spiritual guide not only has the role of showing us the path to be followed, but he walks ahead of us on the path to offer a living example for our own transformation. The spiritual guide will thus enable us to copy or mould his or her inner state, and to become able to decipher the esoteric keys that bring an efficiency to our practice, beyond any theory.
Just as the mountain guide doesn’t carry our backpack for us, but gives life to our map, in the same way he or she will give life to our spiritual path, and will be an alive mirror on the path, emboding feedback and direction for us, yet he or she will not take upon him or herself the lessons we are meant to learn.
To better understand the notion of guidance, here is another intuitive example:
Imagine we are convinced that the Earth is flat – as people did once upon a time. We have developed a system of measuring which enables us to even configure the maps of mainlands quite precisely. Certainly, whenever we want to measure something in our home or in the town in which we live the calculation and measuring methods are good enough, and the obtained results are satisfactory, further convincing us of the truth of our belief that the Earth is flat.
If we plan a trip to Australia from somewhere in Europe however, using the model of the flat Earth and the maps based on it, we would find there are great errors in our advancement. Even if the data we collected would enable us to deduce that the Earth is a sphere and not a disc, we would still not be able to connect all the experiences and models into such a puzzling conclusion, as we know for a “fact” that the Earth is flat. Such a genuine revolution in our way of thinking would be excluded by education and the habits we have formed so far.
The spiritual guide, by teaching methods of geometry and calculus, triggers a mysterious process of synthesis in our being, and a transcending of all preconceived ideas we have had up until that point regarding the shape of the Earth – as he or she is able to see the connection between our experiences and the data that previously did not make sense. The result is that we reach that “eureka” moment, even though the spiritual guide has apparently not spoken to us directly about the spherical shape of the planet we live on, but rather allowing us to reach the conclusion by ourselves, by seeing our experiences in a new light. Without this guidance we would remain confused and unable to make sense of our collected data.
From this initiating perspective, the spiritual guide is the catalyst of practical understandings. He or she mysteriously awakens a superior, supramental and perfect vision in our being.
Once we are touched by this ineffable grace we will be able to walk the path efficiently, so that not only will we be able to comprehend what we have been taught, but also we will be able to live in accordance with those spiritual teachings.
The spiritual guide is the catalyst of practical understandings. He or she mysteriously awakens a superior, supramental and perfect vision in our being.
Why do we need a spiritual guide?
Spiritual evolution is more than just receiving theoretical knowledge. As it is said:
‘a gram of practice is worth tonnes of theory’.
Personal direct experience of the results of the practice is essential. The guide offers experiential as well as theoretical knowledge, and serves as an example for the aspirant, a source of inspiration.
The genuine spiritual guide is able to bring the teachings we can all read in books to life. In the famous ancient epic, Mahabharata, it is stated, “Books are but a burden as long as we do not realise the truth beyond the words.” The spiritual guide inspires life into the words so that we can see beyond them.
The occult power radiating from the being of the spiritual guide makes it so that the darkness of ignorance is dissipated and replaced by a state of spiritual awakening. This state of spiritual awakening is deeply rooted in the being of an authentic spiritual guide, and it is his or her main characteristic.
The spiritual guide plants the seed of enlightenment in the being of the aspirant by means of the mysterious process of initiation. The germination of this seed takes place due to the occult power which is transferred during the initiation process. The aspirant will reap the fruits from this seed which begins to germinate, by nurturing it with love and tenacious practice.
Tantra holds the godly grace manifested through the being of the spiritual guide in the form of initiation, or diksha, in high regard. However, one should not understand from this that initiation is only a formality; a ritual practised within a strict and rigid frame. Initiation can occur in the most unexpected moments. The spiritual guide experiences a situation with maximum intensity, while at the same time he or she transfers their way of living into the being of the aspirant. This is contained in a seed which is instantly transferred into the soul of the aspirant like a seal transfers its shape into a piece of hot wax. Through this initiation the occult power from the being of the spiritual guide is transferred into the being of the aspirant. This means, for the moment, that all the blockages, that once stopped the aspirant from spontaneously achieving that new state of consciousness, are cancelled or eliminated.
If we only receive theoretical knowledge we will filter it through the limited perspective we already have, that characterises our current life experience. The process of initiation allows us to make huge spiritual leaps that can occur when our inner agitation and blockages are eliminated, at least momentarily, allowing us an experience beyond our current level of consciousness – that is then re-invoked and nourished by the aspirant in his or her daily practice and daily life.
How do we find a spiritual guide?
It can take perseverance and deep spiritual aspiration to really find genuine guidance. But as the saying goes, “When the disciple is ready, the master appears”.
There are two main conditions to be ready to receive the guidance of a spiritual guide.
- to have the strong need for guidance – genuinely wishing for profound transformation
- to make the proper efforts to fulfil the above needs – following the advice given, practising, acting on aspiration
Finding spiritual guidance cannot be a passive attitude. It appears as an answer to your aspiration to know yourself and to know God. To meet the best mountain guide you need to be serious about climbing the mountain – not just wanting to look at pictures of the view.
When there is a genuine need, it will be met in accordance with the universal principles. So, when you aspire and act on that aspiration you will attract the right guidance.
The relationship with a spiritual guide very much depends on our transfiguration and love.
If you look upon your spiritual guide as a perfectly accomplished spiritual being, you will receive the grace of a being who is perfectly spiritually accomplished.
If you look upon your guide as a spiritually enlightened being then you will receive the blessing of a spiritually enlightened being.
If you look upon your spiritual guide as a special being endowed with paranormal powers then you will receive the grace of a being endowed with paranormal powers.
If you look upon your spiritual guide as an ordinary being then you will not receive anything from the spiritual guide. ~ Tibetan saying
There is an element of trust that is needed to benefit from spiritual guidance – it is not a rational relationship between student and teacher, but more like the relationship between child and parent. The deep love that exists between the spiritual guide and the aspirant allows the trust and openness needed to follow guidance, even when it does not make complete sense in the current mental frame of the aspirant, and to receive the grace that allows spiritual leaps to appear.
‘It so happened that I trusted my Guru. He told me I am nothing but my self and I believed him.’
said Nisargadatta Maharaj. So complete was his faith in the words of his spiritual guide that he began to act accordingly, and thus he had the profound revelation of his Immortal Self.
It was the intensity of the faith Nisargadatta Maharaj had in the words of his guru that gave him the right attitude and allowed grace to flow into his being. Faith in the guru is based on the inner consciousness, a faith in one’s Self that allows one to open fully to genuine guidance.
A genuine spiritual guide is not trying to make you into something in accordance with his or her will, but rather to help you discover who you really are, and to approach your path authentically.
You do not lose your freedom by having a spiritual guide. Instead, he or she helps you to become free. Truly free.
The notion of spiritual guidance is an essential aspect for any aspirant who walks the spiritual path full of aspiration, to discover and contemplate, aiming to intuitively open to its importance. As we open to this grace our life begins to unfold as an integrated path of transformation, filled with continuous revelation.