How to Identify An Authentic Spiritual Teacher (and Avoid The Fake Ones)

How to Identify an Authentic Spiritual Teacher

By Christopher Bueker

Guest Writer for Wake Up World

Today, spiritual teachers seem to be a dime a dozen. Many of them are asking for large amounts of money in return for the spiritual teachings that historically were freely passed down from teacher to student.

Many of these teachers offer a solution that involves joining an exclusive community or cult-like group that has been formed around the so-called spiritual teacher. The message is: “join my community and pay me large amounts of money and enlightenment will surely be yours.” When in reality it is a trap that involves manipulation and control.

From personal experience, I know that it can be beneficial (for a limited amount of time) to join a group that claims to practice an ancient mind-body practice, however if a person gets stuck there feeling they cannot leave, then there is a danger that person will forever identify with only that which has been laid out by the co-creators (the cult leader or teachers) of that group. Any unhealthy identification with the ego of the group leaders/teachers will then become and obstacle on the path of attaining everlasting enlightenment.

It is perfectly okay for spiritual teachers/practitioners to receive compensation for the time they offer their students, but we must be aware that there are those who claim to be spiritual teachers when in fact they are nothing more than sophisticated con-artists.

The intention of this article is not to undermine modern-day people who instruct asana classes or those who are facilitating new age workshops.  My reason for writing this article is to help clear up some perceptions, so readers may have a greater ability to recognize authentic spiritual teachers. If you are a person that seeks the guidance of a more experienced practitioner, it is my hope this article may be of assistance to people like you in finding your path to bliss and liberation.

To that end, I have put together what I consider are 14 characteristics that describe an authentic spiritual teacher in the modern day. The first five characteristics are derived from Mastery: The Keys to Long-Term Success and Fulfillment by Aikido Master George Leonard. The other characteristics come from my studies, experience, and personal practice.

So if you are seeking the guidance of a spiritual teacher, these are some questions and a “litmus test” that can be applied in order to see if the person serves an authentic spiritual teacher.

Did They Receive Quality Training Themselves?

Who is/was the teacher’s own teacher? Is the person experienced in the realm of egoless consciousness? How familiar is the person with non-ordinary states of consciousness? Some skills can be learned independently; yet, if you are seeking a path of self-mastery or self-realization, the best thing you can do is arrange for first rate instruction from an experienced teacher whose own teacher was experienced. Knowledge, expertise, technical skill, and credentials are important when seeking the guidance of a spiritual teacher.

Does a Potential Teacher Practices What He/She Teaches?

What is the person’s personal practice like? Does he/she meditate daily?

Often times a teacher hears from a student: “How do you do this? How do you do that?” And much of the time the answer is: “practice, practice, practice.” Coupled with non-attachment, enlightenment (or Yoga) is achieved through persistent practice over a long period of time.

Does He/She Practice Non-Attachment?

Is the teacher non-attached to the fruits of his/her labor?

Non-attachment is about being okay with results of our actions. Non-attachment is about letting go and surrendering to the flow of the Universe. Authentic spiritual teachers do not allow their following to go to their head. A person who serves as an authentic teacher lives a principle-centered life and is okay with how things turn out.

Does a Teacher Live Their Own Life with Intention?

Does the person live an intentional life? Is the person mindful of what he/she eats? Is the person mindful of what products he/she acquires?

Intention is why we are doing a certain task, activity, or job. Intention is living life with purpose. People who serve as authentic teachers are connected with their intuition. Authentic teachers serve as vehicles for higher consciousness.

Plays the Edge?

Masterful teachers fall in love with practice for the sake of practice. Masterful teachers are constantly looking for areas in which they can improve, even just a little. Little improvements on a daily and weekly basis amount to large improvements over time.

Is There Generosity of Spirit?

One of the ethical principles in Hinduism and Jainism, specifically Ashtanga Yoga, aparigraha is a Sanskrit word that can be translated to mean non-hoarding, non-possessiveness, or non-attachment. The positive attribution of aparigraha is generosity.

Masters and astute people alike know that the Universe is abundant. Authentic spiritual teachers know that each individual has infinite access to an abundant supply of prana, the vital life energy. Authentic teachers give their love freely, which includes people who are not financially supporting the teachers.

Authentic teachers know our enlightenment is intertwined and thus intend that all beings may be happy and free. Manifesting itself in many different forms, authentic teachers give freely, with no expectation of reciprocity.

Do They Live in a Humble Way?

Happiness is an ‘inside job’. A teacher who is down to earth and lives humbly are signs that the person is a true spiritual teacher. Jesus teaches us about importance of humility. An authentic teacher has no need for luxury cars, a mansion, or other materialistic goods. Even though the teacher may likely be financially independent, an authentic teacher is happy living a modest life in a modest home.

Are They Receptive to Constructive Feedback?

No one is perfect – we are all human. Being open to constructive feedback can only make the person a more mindful and masterful teacher. As we are all one consciousness experiencing ourselves subjectively, when a person offers up well-intended constructive feedback, this is an aspect of our consciousness that is inquisitive and facilitating the teacher’s progression.

Is Their Focus on Serving People Selflessly?

The purpose of life is to experience joy. The way to experience joy is through the path of compassion. Compassion involves loving ourselves and loving other people. Love involves appreciating the natural beauty of all and serving as a vehicle of divine grace. This centrally involves serving other people in a way that truly benefits the receivers.

Do They Reject Flattery?

Flattery and bribery binds the teacher to the person who is doing the flattering or offering a bribe. Authentic teachers know that accepting flattery and bribery is counterproductive to a liberated state of awareness.

Does He/She Believe That Prosperity and Liberation is Humanity’s Birthright?

Nature thrives. Humanity’s natural state of awareness is one of happiness and joy. Authentic spiritual teachers wish the best for their students. Authentic spiritual teachers teach that joy and bliss are humanity’s natural state of consciousness and that liberation and prosperity is available to all people.

Do They Laugh Regularly and Appreciate Humor?

Some say that laughter is the best medicine. The Dalai Lama seems to laugh a lot. Authentic spiritual teachers do not take themselves so seriously that they never laugh. Laughter is natural medicine and this characteristic displays a level of playfulness.

Do They Speak the Truth, Even If It is Unpopular?

In the Indian life philosophies, Satya is a Sanskrit word meaning truth or truthfulness. True spiritual teachers tell it like it is, even if the masses of people do not acknowledge the truth. Truth is not to be used as a weapon, which can hurt people’s feelings; and at the same time, an authentic spiritual teachers knows that it is his/her responsibility to be a representation of that which is truthful and wholesome.

Do They Teach that Self-Mastery is a Lifelong Pursuit?

Mastery is a path. In at least Western cultures, authentic spiritual teachers are on a path of never-ending personal development.

In Conclusion:

If a person meets all – or a large majority of – the aforementioned characteristics, it can be considered that the person is serving as an authentic spiritual teacher. Also, check in with yourself about how you feel about the person. What is your own intuition telling you?

I hope this has been helpful to you in your path to happiness, joy, and liberation.

About the author:

Christopher Bueker, BS, RYT is a practitioner and teacher of Ashtanga Yoga, blogger, public speaker, and Life Coach. He teaches at various Yoga studios and community centers in Cincinnati, Ohio. Christopher blogs about mindfulness, meditation, and Yoga. He is passionate about sustainable living, healthy eating, and higher consciousness.

Christopher ‘s website is The Mindful Communicator and you can also connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.


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