Q: I’ve been reading books about the perennial philosophy recently and they often state that to develop spiritually you need to be attached to an exoteric tradition or you probably won’t detect any errors, and will be essentially wasting your time or worse. I’m not attached to any tradition, never have been, and can honestly say that the only one I’d be interested in would be Hinduism.
Hinduism strongly suggests that you need a teacher, but my question is, how are you supposed to get a teacher when there are so many experts out there taking advantage of our ignorance, and money.
A (Dennis): A true teacher will never take advantage of your ignorance and will only take money to support basic needs (travel, hotel, food etc, as relevant). If someone is charging lots of money for large gatherings, give them a wide berth!
That is one point. The other is that you could spend a lifetime doing the rounds of the various traditions and not feeling comfortable with any. There may be a single truth behind them all but the finer details of the process, and even the final positions, differ. You cannot even refer to ‘Hinduism’ as a single approach. Vedanta, which is probably what you mean, has three branches with quite different teaching. Advaita uses scriptural-based arguments, logical reasoning and experience to refute all the other Indian philosophies.
Ideally, the optimum way forward would be to read widely in all the traditions and then decide on one to pursue in depth. Only then, look for a teacher – and do that by asking those who have already been following that path for some years to make recommendations based upon their knowledge. The problem with this is that you do not know which books to read to begin with. I, for example, have read very many books on Advaita and I am now able to say that a large percentage contain erroneous or at least misleading statements. Either that, or they are so academic as to be unreadable! All very difficult!
I can’t really help any further, I’m afraid. My knowledge is really only in Advaita. I know that this ‘works’ but why should you believe me? And that is the third point. Eventually, you have to resort to ‘faith’ to some degree, where this means putting trust in someone whom you believe to be trustworthy.
Dennis has given a very mature, balanced and unbiased answer to this Question which often arises in the minds of many seekers. My commendations to him.
While it would undoubtedly be presumptuous on my part to think that I can add anything to it, let me suggest a couple of easy points from where the seeker may begin his ‘look out’ for a teaching / teacher.
It will be helpful if the seeker is clear about his/her own motive in taking up a deep study of the philosophy (Vedanta or any other). Is it because of an inner urge to search for the ultimate truth or because of certain setbacks in life at the moment – health, wealth, career, relationships etc. and one is merely looking for temporary palliatives.
Secondly, it will also help to quickly locate a philosophical approach that is most comfortable to the seeker if one’s own inclination is known – is one a devotional type of person easily believing in a supernatural power/God or out and out an analytic person who would like to incisively examine any given postulate.
Thirdly, it is useful to hang out with like-minded people, discuss the various approaches available and take up a deeper study of the one which feels most attractive to the heart.
Finally, one need not have any regret of the time/thought/money already spent as wasted, if a particular past choice does not feel attractive anymore and a better choice seems to be available later. Whatever good / needful had to be accrued by the past choice, it has been accrued and just move on to the next pick, but quickly settle down with one or the other and pursue it to the end..
A funny thing, faith. The body/mind who is seeking really HAS to take a leap of faith that the body/mind who is seeking is in fact NOT real. For if not-duality is true, then only awake-ness IS. Note, this is not awareness caught up in the act of being aware, but just and simply pure, empty, everyday as-it-is awareness. No doing at all. Take the leap of faith that this is true. It cannot be understood so once you understand that you can’t understand, you will start to melt.
This is perhaps one of the fundamental and most tricky questions.
At the first level, how do we know what someone else has experienced, and whether what someone else says is true or not?
At the next level, given that all of our thinking is inevitably a result of our environmental influences, i.e. conditioning, how can we be certain that the judgement we make on whether a teacher is to be trusted or not, is a valid judgement, or influenced by our prior conditioning?
At yet another level, we live our lives, from childhood, being told that we should follow someone or other: our parents, our school teachers, our university professors, our managers at work . . . and increasingly, given all sorts of advice on ‘leadership’. So we follow others in order to gain something – better grades, better career – is enlightenment just another thing to gain by following a set of rules?
Our entire lives, we are conditioned to live within parameters, to follow rather than to learn for ourselves. And yet the paradox is we are born alone and entirely free, and we live finite (self-imposed) shackled lives, until we die, alone. And in the intervening period we willing give up our freedom to some hierarchy or other, in order to gain something. And what a mess the world is, as a result of so many followers not questioning such ‘authority’. I wonder if moksha can ever be the result of simply following a teacher.
Th primary datum of experience is ourselves, our sense of existence. Everything else arises from there. So isn’t this what we have to investigate? Paraphrasing JK, a teacher can only point out a direction, no more – it is them up to you to do all the work.
Venkat, Krishnamurti says to ‘begin where you are’. So if I am confused, uncertain etc I must face this fact and ask why am I uncertain, anxious and why am I seeking a teacher. If I simply go looking for a teacher, my problems will continue since I have not even bothered to examine them or find out their causes. And even if I eventually manage to find a ‘genuine’ teacher, he is going to ask me to inquire into these fundamental issues. The basic ‘mistake’ is that most people simply assume that somebody else (whether human or some divine entity) can resolve their problems. Why? That is because the human need for security and comfort in times of a great personal crisis is very strong and easily overwhelms logical explanations offered by the intellect. This again is a fact and must be faced by those offering explanations from Advaita or from some other philosophy. It is only when one moves from fact to fact that there is no self deception. Anything else leads one to delusion.