As an old-school spiritual disciple with a fair bit of teaching under my belt, I want to share one very important insight: respect and reverence for the teacher is the most powerful and necessary ingredient in spiritual progress. Without it, you may have the external trappings of spiritual life, and you may be able to convince yourself that you are on the path. But more likely, you are just an imitation disciple and will get nothing more from your spiritual practice than decorations for your false ego.
I learned to approach a teacher the old-fashioned way: bowing humbly with an attitude of surrender, offering in hand. I always tried to be a blank slate before my teachers, ready to offer any requested service. You can find out a great deal about a teacher by how he responds to such an approach. If he arrogantly tries to use you, or on the other hand, treats you too much like an equal, beware. If he is grateful, not condescending, acknowledges your respect with kindness, really hears where you are coming from and gives substantial instruction, you’ve struck gold.
The blessing of a realized teacher is the most valuable thing in the world. It can mean all the difference between empty, superficial following and deep realization of the teaching. When I met my mentor Bhikkhu Ñānananda, after approaching him as described above, we chatted for some time. He put me completely at ease but nevertheless asked probing questions about my history and insights. At last he leaned back and said simply, “You know, nibbāna is non-conceptual.” Period.
The words hit me like a brick. I found myself instantly in deep concentrated trance. Suddenly so many things made sense, so many mysterious connections were revealed, the Path stood clear before me. Of course I had already read the same words so many times in his books, but they were a blunt instrument compared to this incisive remark. That experience led, more or less directly, to realizing Fourth Path almost a year later. But had I not approached him properly, there is no doubt in my mind that the immensely valuable conversation and experience could never have taken place as it did.
Since taking up the role of sharing my insights here and elsewhere on the Internet, I have been appalled at the bad attitudes I have encountered. No one wants to respect a teacher, but simply criticize and manufacture faults from their fertile imaginations. I’m sorry, but I am not responsible for the bad attitudes and actions of other teachers. I am not going to respond to fabricated allegations of misconduct. It’s still the students’ responsibility to approach the teacher properly and offer respect and service. Otherwise, why should I continue to work so hard for your benefit?