In spiritual communities, particularly those that have been brought from the East to the West, the issue of authenticity comes up fairly often. At some point, there is a movement towards getting to “the source” of the teachings, or practicing as the founder of a system once did.
It’s important to know the historical roots of a spiritual practice, and understand the meaning behind the practices we follow and teach. However, I’ve recently been engaged in a discussion with a group of other Reiki teachers about the differences between Japanese and Western Reiki. It has gone, like many of these discussions do, down the rabbit hole of “this style is more authentic” or “this teacher is the one who practiced/taught most like so and so.” I’m not going to get into the specifics, but anyone who has been part of a spiritual community that came over from another culture is familiar with this line of discussion. Sometimes it can be interesting and sometimes it can be a tedious exercise in ego-tripping.
The worst part about it is that eventually, it gets ugly. One teacher starts making statements about another teacher’s lineage or authenticity and not only are the teachers divided within their own larger spiritual community, so are their students. I experienced this situation recently, and it pained me to see well-known, well-regarded teachers engage in this behavior. The Reiki Precepts take a back seat to egos and personal conflicts. I debated about whether or not to blog about this on my Reiki site, but I decided I wanted to talk about this more in a personal context, rather than take a professional position one way or another. I’m not here to sling mud or say who’s right or wrong, although I think as a community, we should hold ourselves to a higher standard of behavior.
I take the teacher-student relationship seriously. I believe a teacher needs to uphold certain ethical values, but I also don’t believe s/he needs to be perfect. I respect the ones who are fully who they are – quirks and all – much more than the ones that seem larger than life. Even His Holiness the Dalai Lama, whom I’ve had the good fortune to see in person, feels quite approachable despite his exalted status. I take the teacher-student relationship seriously because there is a heart/mind connection that forms between a teacher and student during all or part of their relationship. This is especially so in any of the spiritual practices that involve a teacher-led initiation.
The teacher is there to help the student see the light that shines within herself. The student needs the teacher and the teacher needs the student. However, just as a finger pointing at the moon is not the moon itself (Dighanakha Sutra), the student knows the teacher is not the path or practice itself either. But both are necessary – the teacher and the practice.
Lineage is important, but not as important as the practice. Knowing the “original way” of doing things can be important, but not as important as living and practicing with compassion. And sometimes, the spiritual teacher who resonates with us most is the one who seems all too human in their failings – the emotionally absent spouse/parent, the womanizer, the drug or alcohol abuser. We know what they are, and we still attend their workshops, buy their books, and follow their wisdom. Not because they got it so right all the time, but because they were able to shine a light in the darkness, and their own insight and experience helps others do the same. (That said, we also should be mindful to separate the teachings from the behaviors. One does not condone a womanizer simply because that person is an insightful teacher. But we can recognize something of value in the teachings in spite of the behavior, if only because it may help us confront our own issues.)
Ultimately, the only “true” or “authentic” teacher is the one who is right for you – the one who, in their own way, is able to help you get closer to realizing your original, authentic nature.
(Photo credit: Edward Dalmulder on Flickr)