The Nature of a Teacher

“When you forget all your dualistic ideas, everything becomes your teacher, and everything can be the object of worship.” – Shunryu Suzuki

If several teachers are available in your area, how do you select one? I say in your area, because you needn’t go far afield to begin meditation. To travel all over looking for the perfect teacher adds more to your melodrama than to your liberation. Virtually any teacher is suitable simply to begin, and if no teacher is available, you can do much on your own. In the end, you are your own best teacher.

Later on you may feel drawn to a specific teacher. As you look about for teachers, be open. Listen, tune, feel. Sense whether the teacher, teachings, and practices are harmonious with your needs.

You may meet a teacher whom everyone else respects, loves, and honors, but in your heart nothing happens. There’s no reason to judge this person, nor to persuade or argue with others. Simply decide what’s right for you at the moment. Move on if you must. This does not deny the possibility that at some later date the same teacher may be perfect for you, or that he may be perfect for others. It’s tempting to sit around and judge teachers rather than use their teachings and get on with it. There’s no need for spiritual gossip.

When you take teachings you have certain obligations to your teacher and the lineage from which the teachings come. Surrender. Open yourself to the instructions. Don’t hold back, saying, “I’ll take just a little teaching from you, but no more.” To get the most from a teacher you must dive in and immerse yourself fully. Risk getting wet. Trust that you will be able to get out of the water when you’ve had enough.

In one meditation course I took, on the first day the teacher said, “During these ten days you must take a vow to surrender to me, to do just as I tell you.” This was a limited contract and I had no trouble with it. I understood that this surrender was necessary for the proper transmission of his teaching.

When the teaching is over, what are your obligations? Sometimes a teacher says, “Now that you have taken teachings from me, you must serve me and proselytize on my behalf.” Or, “You can’t leave now, you’re not ready: you need more teachings.” Yet you know in your heart that your business together is finished. When you have finished with a teacher, your only debt to that teacher is your own liberation. As Shakespeare said, “This above all – to thine own self be true… Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

All a teacher really offers is his or her own being.

Whether teachings experienced along the way are beautiful and pleasant, or unpleasant and harsh, or even bland, all are grist for the mill of awakening. The slightest reaction reflects the subtlest clinging. It is a meaningful clue to where you are still holding on. Simply watching your reaction makes everything a teaching.

Teachers and teachings are forms, and ultimately you must go beyond forms. If you are true to your own inner voice, as it gets subtler and subtler it brings you to the moment beyond separateness of seeker and guide. Then you have served your teacher well.


– Ram Dass

Leave a Comment


Ram Dass Online Shop

Buy books, media, digital downloads, apparel, devotional, art & other great items!

Join Our Newsletter

Sign up for the Love Serve Remember newsletter to receive teachings, exclusive offers & more.

Something went wrong. Please check your entries and try again.

Donate to LSRF

Help ensure that the teachings of Ram Dass will be available to generations to come.

A Network of Mindfulness & Spirituality Podcasts
Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap