Spiritual Teacher as Friend ~ 17th Karmapa

When looking for a spiritual teacher, in my view the starting point should be that they are a good person. You should consider not just whether the teacher is an educated and knowledgeable person, but also whether he or she is a genuinely good-hearted person who has real affection for you. This is hard to tell from the outside; a teacher doesn’t come wearing a sign saying, “I am good-hearted.”

People have different personalities. Rather than looking for teachers with a particular personality, you should examine whether or not they are kind, and whether or not they have a positive impact on others. Teachers can be reclusive or reserved, so you’ll have to use your own judgment to determine whether they care for you or inspire you in a positive way.

How long should you examine a potential teacher? This is not easy to say. It is not as if they immediately take care of all your spiritual or emotional needs. The connection has to be developed over time.

My own personal feeling is that there are actually two considerations in selecting a spiritual teacher. One is this initial process of examination. The other is trust. The relationship between teacher and student is a relationship that you have to cultivate. It is not something that you discover already fully developed. You let the teacher get to know you, including your faults. At the same time, you gain confidence that the teacher will continue to care for you as a student. It is important that you feel able to trust your teacher, and you yourself must also be trustworthy. In a relationship between spiritual teacher and student, trust has to be mutual.

17th Karmapa

from the book The Heart Is Noble: Changing the World from the Inside Out

translated by Ngodup Tsering Burkhar & Damchö Diana Finnegan

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