spiritual teachers

TRUE AND FALSE spiritual teachers

WE HAVE OFTEN EMPHASIZED the distinction that should be made between initiation properly speaking, which is the pure and simple affiliation with an initiatic organization, implying essentially the transmission of a spiritual influence, and the means that can thereafter be used to make effective what at first was only virtual, means the efficacy of which is naturally subordinate in all cases to the indispensable condition of a prior affiliation. Insofar as they constitute an aid brought from without to the interior work from which the spiritual development of the being should result (and of course they can never take the place of this work itself), these means can in their totality be designated by the term initiatic teaching, taking this latter in its widest sense and not limiting it to the communication of certain ideas of a doctrinal order, but including in it everything that in one way or another is of a nature to guide the initiate in the work he is accomplishing to achieve spiritual realization of whatever degree.

What is most difficult, especially in our time, is certainly not obtaining an initiatic affiliation - which may sometimes be only too easy[fn1] - but finding an instructor who is truly qualified, that is, as we have just said, one really capable of discharging the function of a spiritual guide by applying all the suitable means to the disciple's particular possibilities, apart from which it is clearly impossible, even for the most perfect master, to obtain any effective result. Without such an instructor, as we have already explained, the initiation remains merely virtual save for rare exceptions, although it is certainly valid in itself from the time that the spiritual influence has really been transmitted by means of the appropriate rite.[fn2] 

What further aggravates the difficulty is that those who claim to be spiritual guides [or spiritual masters] without being at all qualified for this role, have probably never been as numerous as they are today, and the resulting danger is all the greater because in fact these people generally have very powerful and more or less abnormal psychic powers, which obviously prove nothing from the point of view of spiritual development and in this respect are ordinarily even rather an unfavorable indication, but which are nonetheless capable of creating an illusion and imposing it on all who are insufficiently informed and consequently cannot make the essential distinctions. Therefore, one cannot be too much on guard against such false teachers, who can only lead astray those who let themselves be seduced by them, and who ought to consider themselves fortunate if they suffer nothing more than a waste of their time. 

Moreover, whether they be mere charlatans, of which there are only too many at present, or whether they delude themselves before deluding others, it goes without saying that this changes nothing as to the results, and in a certain way those who are more or less sincere (for there can be many degrees here) are perhaps even the more dangerous for their very unconsciousness. We hardly need add that the confusion of the psychic with the spiritual, unfortunately so widespread among our contemporaries, and which we have often denounced, greatly contributes to render possible the worst misunderstandings in this regard; and when one adds to this the attraction of alleged 'powers' and a taste for extraordinary 'phenomena', which moreover almost inevitably go together, one has a fairly complete explanation for the success of certain false teachers.

There is nonetheless a characteristic by which many if not all such false teachers can be easily recognized, and although this is only a direct and necessary consequence of what we have persistently said on the subject of initiation, we believe that, given questions that have been posed to us recently concerning various more or less suspect personages, it will not be useless to state it again more explicitly. Whoever presents himself as a spiritual teacher without attaching himself to a definite traditional form, or without conforming to the rules established by the latter, cannot truly possess the qualifications he attributes to himself, according to the case, he may either be a common imposter or a 'deluded' person ignorant of the real conditions of initiation, and in this latter case even more than in the former it is greatly to be feared that he is only too often nothing more than an instrument in the service of something that he himself may not suspect. 

We can say as much of anyone who claims to dispense indiscriminately an initiatic teaching to all, even to the merely profane, and who neglects as the first condition of its efficacy the need of affiliation with a regular initiatic organization; or again, of anyone, who proceeds according to methods that do not conform to those of any traditionally recognized initiation (moreover, these cases are identical to the first up to a point). If one knows how to apply these few indications and always holds strictly to them, the promoters of 'pseudo-initiations', of whatever cast, would find themselves almost immediately unmasked;[fn3] only the danger that can come from deviant, though real, initiations that have departed from the line of traditional orthodoxy, would still remain; but such cases are certainly much less prevalent, at least in the Western world, so that it is clearly much less urgent to worry about them in the present circumstances. 

Furthermore, we can at the very least say that the 'teachers' affiliated with such initiations, in common with the others we have mentioned, generally share the habit of showing off their psychic 'powers' at every opportunity and without any valid reason (for we cannot consider valid the desire to attract disciples or to retain them by such means, which is the end they usually have in mind), and attribute the preponderance of such displays to an excessive and more or less disordered development of possibilities of that order, something that is always detrimental to any true spiritual development.

As for true spiritual teachers on the other hand, the contrast they strike with false teachers in the different respects we have just noted, can make them, if not recognizable with complete certainty (in the sense that these conditions, although necessary, can nonetheless be insufficient), at least help greatly to that end. But here it is appropriate to make another remark in order to dispel other false ideas. Contrary to what many people seem to imagine, it is not always necessary that, in order to be able to fulfill this role within certain limits, someone must himself have arrived at a complete spiritual realization; indeed, it should be quite evident that much less than this is required to be capable of guiding a disciple validly through the first stages of his initiatic journey. 

Of course, once the disciple has reached the point beyond which the former cannot guide him, the teacher worthy of the name will never hesitate to let him know that henceforth he can do no more for him, and in order that he may continue his work in the most favorable conditions, direct him either to his own master, if this is possible, or to another teacher whom he recognizes as more completely qualified than himself; and when this is the case, there is really nothing astonishing or even abnormal in that disciple's finally surpassing the spiritual level of his first teacher, who, if he is truly what he ought to be, will be satisfied to have contributed his part, however modest it may be, in leading his former disciple to this result. Indeed, individual jealousies and rivalries can find no place in the true initiatic domain, whereas, on the contrary, they almost always play a very great part in the actions of false teachers; and it is solely these latter who should be fought and denounced whenever circumstances require, not only by authentic spiritual masters, but also by all who are to any degree conscious of what initiation really is.


fn1. By this we wish to allude to the fact that certain initiatic organizations have become much too 'open', which is moreover always a cause of degeneration for them.

fn2. We must recall here that the initiator who acts as a 'transmitter' of the influence attached to the rite is not necessarily fit to play the role of teacher [or a spiritual leader]; if the two functions are normally combined where traditional institutions have suffered no diminution, they are in fact far from always being so in present-day conditions.

fn3. As we have explained on other occasions, one must naturally not forget to count among the 'pseudo-initiations' all that claim to base themselves on traditional forms that no longer have any effective existence; the former at least are clearly recognizable at first sight, and without there being any need to examine things more closely, whereas this may not always be the case for the latter. 


See also: Creation, Non-Being, modernity, Role of Spiritual Masters, Tasawwuf, 

More Texts And Explanations:

freedom of thought
his personal traits
Islamic tradition
metaphysical zero
metaphysics 2
role of spiritual master
The Source - the Supreme Center
spiritual teachers
the end of time

back to Signposts < index >