Spiritual Masters

January 9th, 2019

“God is a concept
By which we measure
Our pain
I’ll say it again
God is a concept
By which we measure
Our pain

I don’t believe in magic
I don’t believe in I-Ching
I don’t believe in Bible
I don’t believe in tarot
I don’t believe in Hitler
I don’t believe in Jesus
I don’t believe in Kennedy
I don’t believe in Buddha
I don’t believe in mantra
I don’t believe in Gita
I don’t believe in yoga
I don’t believe in kings
I don’t believe in Elvis
I don’t believe in Zimmerman
I don’t believe in Beatles
I just believe in me.”

“God” by John Lennon

I friend from the synagogue gave me a copy of “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying” by Sogyal Rinpoche. The author writes extensively about the importance of having a spiritual master. He quotes the Buddha as saying,

“Of all the buddhas who have ever attained enlightenment, not a single one of them accomplished this without relying on a master, and of all the thousand buddhas that will appear in this eon, none of them will attain enlightenment without relying on a master.”

Sogyal Rinpoche goes on to say that, if a person’s karma has been sufficiently purified over the course of thousands of lifetimes, he or she will find a master (I think he means the word “master” in a gender-neutral way). This master will be an outer teacher that reflects the inner teacher of the disciple.

I have to assume that my karma is still pretty nasty, because I haven’t found a master that matches the job description. Maybe I have met a master, but I didn’t recognize him or her as such. True spiritual guides seem to be scarce. Or maybe a person just has to be open and ready to accept the teachings of a master. I know that I am way too skeptical to completely buy into any program that a guru would have to offer.

Sogyal Rinpoche also talks about the problem of doubt. He is adamant that doubt keeps a person from gaining enlightenment. His words almost make him sound like an Evangelical pastor. He suggests that a person should possess “noble doubt”,  which seems to be a lot like “faith”. A person with noble doubt seeks the truth, and is not overly skeptical. But, like Pontius Pilate said, “What is truth?” Apparently, a person need a master to find the truth, and that person needs to trust that master.

Therein lies the problem, at least for me. It is hard for me to trust a master. The author notes that Buddhism isn’t the only path that emphasizes the master/disciple relationship. All of the world’s great spiritual traditions focus on that connection, on that deep bond. Twelve Step groups do that too. Twenty-seven years ago, I had a sponsor, who was supposed to be a master of sorts. The guy abandoned me when I was vulnerable and desperate for help and guidance. I have never completely trusted a master since then. The experience with that sponsor has perhaps blinded me in a way. Maybe now I can’t even see a master if he is standing in front of me. I don’t know.

Over the years, I’ve met plenty of people who might in fact have been true spiritual guides: rabbis, priests, Zen masters, tribal elders, shamans. I have learned things from all of these people, but none of them seemed to be the “one”. I’ve also met spiritual guides who were homeless guys, pysch ward patients, refugees, and ex-prisoners. I learned a lot from them too. Once again, none of them seemed to be “my master”. Maybe I don’t need a particular person to be my master. Maybe I can learn from all sorts of people at different times. I don’t know.

I’ll keep searching.






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