Spiritual Apprenticeship—do you need a teacher?

swankby Michael Maciel

Apprentices learn by emulating their master. The master says, “Do it exactly how I show you. Later, you can make your own adaptations.”

Formal spiritual development always involves the deconstruction of the student. Everyone comes with ideas about what “oneness with God” looks like, and that has to be unpacked. This is why many gurus and ashrams won’t take students who are beyond a certain age—they simply have too much baggage. But while this may be impossible, with God, all things are possible.

In the movie “Million Dollar Baby,” Eddie Dupris (Morgan Freeman) says this about apprenticeship:

“To make a fighter, you gotta strip them down to bare wood. You can’t just tell ’em to forget everything they know, you gotta make ’em forget it in their bones… make ’em so tired they only listen to you, only hear your voice, only do what you say and nothing else… show ’em how to keep their balance and take it away from the other guy… how to generate momentum off their right toe and how to flex your knees when you fire a jab… how to fight backing up so that the other guy doesn’t want to come after you. Then you gotta show ’em all over again. Over and over and over… till they think they’re born that way.”

The law of spiritual development is simple: “Water can only rise to its own level.” But like any law, this one can be broken, or at least bent, meaning that there are ways to push apprentices beyond their normal limits. This is best done by a master teacher, but students do find ways to do it on their own, either by certain kundalini exercises or psychedelic drugs. But force the water over its banks and it will always come sloshing back. Drugs and extreme exercises can offer but a glimpse. Their beatific visions are unsustainable.

True oneness with God is more than an “aha” moment. It takes commitment and training. A gemstone has a jewel within it, but it takes a master craftsman to cut away the excess.