Teacher and the Path in the West

It has become popular to talk about the notion of self initiation in many Western schools, books, and teachings on esotericism. This notion has led many to believe that such a path is not only open to all, but also a preferred path for awakening.  I have been told many times, as an advocate myself of certain values of the path of self-initiation that in the coming few years all of the ancient systems will be swept away and only the solo path will remain. This sounds similar to what Aleister Crowley writes in The Book of the Law with regards to Thelema wherein with this revelation, all previous ones are made obsolete.  Yet, it is upon those old teachings and practices that any new, or seemingly new ones, come about. As such, we must be careful not to “throw out the baby with the bathwater”.  However, one of the oldest, most proven, as well as controversial and difficult ancient practices is that of the teacher and student relationship.

With the guru or teacher we enter into the notion of spiritual parentalism, or the idea of treating the teacher as “mother, father and deity”. While this may sound strange in the West, it is not unheard of.  We hear of Elias Ashmole making reference to his hermetic or alchemical adoption, but only passing reference to his Masonic initiation.  However, even certain Masonic questions used to ascertain one’s Masonic qualifications often make use of familial language.

Yet, still, we see little use for the role of what in the East is often called guru yoga in the West, and in fact, an outright rejection of it by many who could best benefit from it. This in part has to do with the very age we live in, the Kali Yuga, wherein rejection of authority, rightly or wrongly is a matter of course. Family roles are inverted, and children are encouraged by political and educational authorities to see their parents as an annoyance that need to be reported to various governmental and non-governmental bodies so that they can be reeducated. Totalitarians know this well, be it the Hitler Youth, or Soviet Youth Brigades as extreme examples, or more simply politicians with their various so-called youth movements or more insidious actions by some that encourage children to report their parents on websites if they are not supportive of a candidate or elected officials (and we have websites such as these).

While questioning authority has its place, particularly if you are the one who is to pay for an authority’s actions, be it with money, time or blood, the idea that nothing is to be trusted at face value becomes the guiding factor. In short, trust, the essential element for individual and social well being, is broken down.

As we read in all of the classical literature on mysticism, magic, spirituality and occultism, unswerving trust or confidence in the practice one has undertaken, the teachings being received, and the teacher who is delivering them is essential for any positive results to be obtained.

We have stated in the past that the role of the teacher has three levels: teacher, friend, and guide. Many come to a teacher wanting to listen, as they do to any common lecture, and not wanting to commit to any path. This is fine, as long as the student recognizes this within themselves. Then there is the time when the student enters onto a particular method and wants to be close to the teacher. They want physical and emotional support that comes with proximity – friendship.  Here, the teacher is no longer on a pedestal, on a stage, or behind a podium, but close, human, and personal. The final stage is when this friendship is tested, and the real reason for the relationship is undertaken. Here, the teacher becomes a guide, and takes the student down a dangerous road of self discovery.  This is the real reason for the teacher-student relationship, the most dangerous, and the one wherein the student, as well as the teacher, is most likely to fail.

For this reason, we must chose our teachers carefully, and while it may not be possible to follow His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s advice of waiting twelve years before deciding on a teacher, patience is important on both ends. A poorly picked student turned disciple is a waste of time for the teacher and may even be dangerous for others.  A poorly picked teacher by a student may mean having one’s trust broken, abuses of various sorts experienced, and faith in the entire notion of ever finding a suitable teacher destroyed.

However, these extremes are less common than the failings that occur on the middle part of the journey, wherein the teacher is perceived and treated like a friend, a normal human being, rather than as a god incarnate, or at least the voice of the cosmos speaking to the student for a period of time.

As George Feuertein writes:

“The guru is God not in the sense of having expanded (inflated) his or her human personality to divine proportions. Rather the guru, having transcended (not obliterated) the personality, is capable of assuming a liberating function in regard to the disciple…In other words, the guru…is capable of suspending personal considerations when it comes to assisting the spiritual awakening of others.  It naturally helps the disciple to know that the guru is himself liberated, or enlightened. But even if that is not the case, the disciple is traditionally encouraged to look upon the guru as if he or she were enlightened anyway. Thus the disciple’s faith plays a large role in the success of his or her discipleship.” (From: Tantra, The Path of Ecstasy)

In fact, this notion, while so often ignored or actively denigrated by various Western esoteric movements and teachers, is very often a contradiction to some of the very teachings they present. As mentioned in our Special Report, Wisdom’s Bliss, it is common in modern qabalistic circles to hear the writings of Crowley quoted regarding the Obligation of the Adeptus Exemptus, wherein he prescribes the following:

“He will have attained all but the supreme summits of meditation, and should be already prepared to perceive that the only possible course for him is to devote himself utterly to helping his fellow creatures [italics added].”

  1. I, O.M. &c., a member of the Body of God, hereby bind myself on behalf of the whole Universe, even as we are now physically bound unto the cross of suffering:
  2. that I will lead a pure life, as a devoted servant of the Order:
  3. that I will understand all things:
  4. that I will love all things:
  5. that I will perform all things and endure all things:
  6. that I will continue in the Knowledge and Conversation of My Holy Guardian                  Angel:
  7. that I will work without attachment:
  8. that I will work in truth:
  9. that I will rely only upon myself:
  10. that I will interpret every phenomenon as a particular dealing of God with my soul.  



The Oath of the Adeptus Exemptus is similar in tone and purpose to the Bodhisattva Vow. The grade of Adeptus Exemptus relates to the sphere of Chesed on the Tree of Life, and each of the ten points listed is a sphere for the Tree as perceived from the perspective of Chesed. As was mentioned earlier, each sphere has its own qualities, energetic nature, and set of correspondences with the material and psychic worlds. Each in its own way can also be experienced as its own little world. The nature of these ‘worlds’ relates directly to the qualities of consciousness that are required to, and developed as a result of, awakening that sphere within our psyche. However, like the Bodhisattva vow, the above obligation is not to be undertaken by beginning students. Yet, within it we can see the very contradiction that many students hold within their perspective of their teachers – that all things are divine, except their teacher who is simply human like them, only maybe a little less so. Regarding this the Dalai Lama states: the teachings on seeing the guru’s actions as perfect should largely be left for the practice of the Highest Tantra, wherein they take on a new meaning. One of the principal yogas in the tantric vehicles is to see the world as a mandala of great bliss and to see oneself and all others as Buddhas. Under these circumstances it becomes absurd to think that you and everyone else are Buddhas, but your guru is not! (From: The Path to Enlightenment)

The above can be seen as one of the fundamental and core stumbling blocks to realization for Western students, not only in Eastern systems, but for students within Western esoteric practices as a whole. The role of the teacher is never fully elucidated, leaving students to figure out for themselves their relationship to the one who is to lead them down the dangerous labyrinth of alchemy, evocation, ceremonial magic, or even the path of illumination itself. Unfortunately for too many, when this is not the case, and the teacher clearly states their role, they often overstate their own attainments, and thereby fail the first test of a genuine teacher of the mysteries – honesty – with themselves as well as others. Without honesty there can be no trust, and without trust there can be no confidence, and as such, no significant advancement on the path, and quite possibly, significant reversals.In Kabbalah for Health and Wellness, some of the issues that Western students have around their relationship to their various spiritual teachers are addressed along with methods of resolving problems and better appreciating the roles presented on both sides. Yet, to fully appreciate the roles involved in the teacher and student relationship we must be clear about its ultimate purpose and method. The purpose is to dissolve the relationship of student and teacher and replace it with one of equals or peers. This is done through the rigorous and unceasing practice of “holding their nose to it” as Paul Bowersox, shaman and co-author of Seeing in the Dark (RedWheelWeiser, 2009) stated to me. While it is possible to desire to assist students in becoming genuinely independent, as well for students to desire to become their teacher’s equal, this can only be realized by removing those things that keep this already present reality from expressing itself. This reality is not one of simply technical learning: how to handle a retort, crush an herb, caste a circle, make a talisman, but one of pointing out the moral and ethical failings, the self created delusions the student maintains so that they can be eliminated.Or in Masonic terms, it is only through this kind of constant and focused abrasiveness, that the rough surface of the crude matter we call a personality can be worn smooth and clean enough to allow its true usefulness to come into play.The role of the teacher, at least from the perspective of lineage, is also important in verifying the quality of teachings one may receive in advance. In the magical domain, one expects certain things to be instructed in if one formally associates with a magical group such as the Golden Dawn, OTO, various Martinist groups, etc.

However, in the domain of alchemy no such public lineages exist, as far as Western alchemy is concerned, this is not true of those schools active in India, Tibet, China and elsewhere in the East. For example, it is true to say that Frater Albertus taught many students, but he never appointed a successor or gave any form of apostolic succession. As such, many can say that they studied with Albertus, however this is essentially meaningless, unless certain alchemical results can be produced. Herein, alchemy is very specific about what those are.

Here, in this time of self imposed ignorance, in the last days of the Kali Yuga, we ask you to take time to reflect on your various spiritual teachers, your relationship to them, and to ask yourself: am I a disciple of the mysteries or a student? If called upon, are your ready to take on the role of “friend and guide” to those seeking it, and if so, how far can you take them?

In short, the lack of clarity on the relationship between teacher and student, verifiable lineages for the various branches of the occult sciences, and cultural milieu that is hostile to traditional practices places the student of any one of a number of Western esoteric practices in a difficult situation.

In other organizations, such as larger, fraternal initiatic orders or societies, the teacher is often approved of and appointed by a known authority, but their qualifications, other than years of membership and willingness to accept the duty, can be in question. While it is easy for anyone to intellectually instruct on a given topic, it is the ability to demonstrate the efficacy of the teaching – be it in meditation, ritual or psychic demonstrations – that gives certitude to the student. Lodge instructions devoid of actual demonstrations are, for all practical purposes, no different than hearing a lecture in a large auditorium. Only in the lodge is one given the false or dubious impression that some kind of inner progress is being made. At least in the auditorium one knows it is a lecture and only a lecture they have come to hear.

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