by Michael Maciel
There is only one story, says the famous mythologist, Joseph Campbell, and that is The Hero’s Journey. It is the story of all of us as we leave the safety of the known and venture into the unknown, to find there the Pearl of Great Price and bring it back into our everyday lives.
This Pearl is, of course, the Self, called by many names by many faiths, but always the simplicity of who and what we are. It cannot be described. But the Way to it can be described. It has been laid out in countless tales by those who “for My sake” have left the world behind and traveled the inner paths to the real.
Once arrived, no further description is needed. Nor is there any necessity for a “path.” But there are those who are called to teach, to lead others on the same path that helped them achieve their enlightenment, who know the value of the Ancient Wisdom Teachings. These master teachers would never set these teachings aside. They would never dismiss them because they were buried under centuries of misinterpretation and erroneous translations. Because, having been there, they can see through the clutter. Therefore, they know what is useful and what is not.
The Teachings are a living thing, and like all living things they require constant renewal—the continual adaptation to present-day circumstances and levels of consciousness.
It’s reckless to say, “You don’t need the Bible or _________ (fill in the blank),” because as we grow in spiritual consciousness, each new level brings with it a test, the temptation to stop at the border station as though it were the destination. One teacher said, “The student will be tempted to take the bit and run.” Thinking they have the whole story, they set themselves up as spiritual authorities, and then devote most of their time to self-promotion.
The other temptation is when they regard their own minds as the pinnacle of spiritual attainment. Having grown accustomed to their superiority, they lay aside the principles they learned on the path that got them to where they are, and they advise their students to do the same, even though they’re not ready to strike out on their own.
This is an all-too-common mistake committed by those who are enamored by their own achievements. They say things like, “Just be!” as though that’s the all-and-everything anyone needs to know in order to wake up. They will spout endless streams of platitudes pointing to some elusive state of being, which for the average person is unattainable—not because they’re unworthy, but because they are unprepared.
It would be ludicrous for a virtuoso violinist to tell his students, “Just play!” Such guidance could only come from an ego completely separated from reality. Why then is it so believable when a pretend spiritual teacher says, “Just be”?
Oprah Winfrey, who has done so much to bring spiritual teachings to the world through the mass-media, nevertheless once told one of her guest-speakers, “We sell the dream.” As long as spiritual attainment is portrayed as a “dream,” it sells. But the very instant you place requirements on it—the way a master violin teacher would require of his students—the dream loses its appeal and ceases to sell.
And it doesn’t matter whether the fee is in dollars or applause. When so-called teachers present spiritual awakening as a vague allusion, an exalted state to which everyone is entitled whether they work for it or not, they are only drawing attention to themselves. They care nothing for the actual spiritual advancement of their students. Their entire presentation is a fraud and will only serve to keep people stuck where they are, replacing one “dream” with another.
True spiritual teachers are not self-promoters. One of the greatest teachers—Buddha—told his followers, “I am the finger pointing at the moon, not the moon.” He too was beleaguered by followers who wanted to turn him into a god. Whenever someone passes themselves off as a “spiritual authority,” continually pointing their finger back upon themselves, beware. They do not have your best interests at heart. All they’re looking for is to get something from you, either your money, your applause, or your sex—and sometimes all three.
Spiritual attainment requires work, the same as any other worthwhile discipline. It doesn’t matter how many books you read or the words you use or the symbol you hang around your neck. The only thing that matters is the amount of time you spend practicing. This requires intense inner work.
Meditate. Pray. Be charitable. Lose yourself in self-forgetting service for the good of all. There is no other way, and there are no shortcuts. If someone says, “It’s easy,” they’re lying.