BY HARV BISHOP
There is no shortage of teachers with profound messages who have stumbled or worse.
What do we do with the teachings that come through flawed vessels?
“The teacher is inseparable from the teachings,” a respected esoteric thinker recently wrote on Facebook. If their lives don’t match their ideals, the teachings are worthless.
Is that true?
Last year a charismatic and brilliant teacher whose work I have followed for years fell from grace yet again. I’ve found this person’s teachings profound and even life-changing, including, ironically, the best response to the question of evil and suffering in the world I have ever encountered. I had planned to blog about that teaching before the scandals erupted anew. Previously there had always seemed room for reasonable doubt when charges of sexual improprieties were leveled against this person. There were two camps for and against this person with respected people on both sides. Then someone my wife and I trust and respect came forward with a personal story of a horrendous experience at the hands of this wisdom teacher.
Does seeing the positives of the teachings legitimize teachers who do harm?
This teacher is not alone. Nor is any tradition immune. Too many teachers stand accused of lack of boundaries with students, personal ethical lapses, and worse.
And it’s not only individual teachers, but also organizations. In the last year I have witnessed morally reprehensible behavior, wholly lacking in compassion, by a New Thought umbrella organization I have supported my entire adult life. Do I separate the organization in my mind from the teachings that have changed my life?
How many times can we pull the curtain back on the great Oz only to find weak and flawed human beings?
Did Napoleon Hill really meet Andrew Carnegie to be charged with the task of talking to successful people? That story is well known, but has been widely questioned in recent years. Who knows? Questionable scholarship persists in pointing out other possible ethical lapses of Hill’s. For the purposes of argument let’s say these shaky allegations are true. Do we stop reading Hill’s work?
The consensus on the late Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chögyam Trungpa is that he was brilliant but deeply flawed. He both served and harmed people.
The Deeksha healing energy movement known as the Oneness Blessing traveled widely via Tony Robbins and New Thought churches, but the guru who originated it may have engaged in questionable behavior.
It is profoundly sad when a teacher’s behavior discredits dharma the world so desperately needs.
The philosopher Ken Wilber argues that trouble follows when the depth of a teacher’s spiritual realization exceeds their moral, ethical and psychological development.
It’s my theory that at a certain point the teachings transcend the flawed vessel, becoming more about the intention and energy of the people using the teachings and practices.
Mastermind groups practice and expand on Hill’s teachings, changing lives for the better and helping others via Hill’s Golden Rule-based vision of success. Does it matter whether he met Carnegie?
Deeksha groups’ collective energy created a powerful field around that energy-healing modality. That intent to channel Divine healing to my mind would in fact manifest that result, quite apart from whether the founding guru was on the up and up.
I was recently discussing this issue with my friend and fellow seeker Clay.
“The teacher and teachings are a Zen master’s finger pointing at the moon,” he reminded me. “We must look beyond the finger to feel what is being pointed at.”