The question of, do I need a teacher and guru on the path of yoga comes up periodically. In all other areas of life, this would not be a question, (do you need a teacher to play the violin?), but understood as a faster way to learn a chosen skill. Not so different in spiritual life and arguably more important.
Why? Because you are not dealing with objects, but with a subject, YOU.
How easy is it for you to embrace new understandings without a clarification of a teacher to ask and bounce of your knowledge?
Just reading a book, like “The Power of Now”, for example, will not help you. You need to embody this with help from a teacher, otherwise, it is just unembodied knowledge and will not help you to set you free.
Unfortunately, the role of a spiritual teacher has become a minefield of abuses of power, financially as well as sexually in the West. Let's just pick an example of a well-known teacher in the west, that I had the pleasure to meet, Mooji.
One of the qualifications a student has to look for in a teacher is his or her lineage.
Did they have a teacher that represented a spiritual lineage or is what he or she teaches just their own experience wrapped up in experimental language?
In the case of Mooji, he was a student of Papaji. I was with Papaji as well for a while, so I know a little bit what was going on. Papajii was a Shaktipat guru (a teacher who could transfer spiritual energy) and he did not claim to be a disciple of Ramana Maharishi. Another teacher Mooji often quotes as his teachers Guru.
Papaji never confirmed anybody as enlightened as far as I know, but lots of "enlightened experiences" happened, while students were with him. Ramana as well never claimed to be a teacher or had disciples.
Let's be clear, what does it mean, to be enlightened?
It means you know without the slightest grain of doubt, that you are uncreated actionless nondual ordinary awareness. Not more, not less. To top it off, you are this already, but you don't know it.
Knowledge is missing, but that's all. You as an "enlightened being" are in no way special or "God-like" as students claim, Mooji is. In fact, you are very, very ordinary, relaxed and yourself and you see everybody as the Self as well.
Mooji I happen to meet as well, many, many years ago, when he was just another spiritual teacher who roamed the hills of Arunachala in South India. He was a nice guy, easy to talk to and he had a warmth around him. The only thing that disturbed me a little bit, was that he seemed to need to be loved and liked by everyone. I felt he tried a bit too hard.
A spiritual world full of "Fallen Yogis & Gurus"
Move forward two years and a small group and I were sitting on a rooftop with our teacher, learning about Vedanta when we heard crying and screaming from another rooftop close by. After our lecture, we went down and we saw Mooji sitting in front of a group of maybe 50 students talking. He had one woman massaging his back, one woman holding one leg, another woman holding another leg and a woman sitting right in front of him, her head buried in his lap. It confirmed my observation that he seems to have boundary difficulties and a need to be loved.
If you need to be recognized, adored or put on a pedestal, it means deep down you feel insecure. Not a sign of an embodiment of Moksha, freedom. But more damage is done to innocent spiritual students who crave to be loved by an "enlightened master".
It will always end in tears, frustration and often anger. The western and eastern world is full of "fallen yogis" Andrew Cohen, Muktananda, Sai Baba, Bikram, and the list goes on. And the reason for the fall is always the same: women and gold, as one teacher says, or simply sex and money. Does that sound very familiar? I think it does.
So, how do you find a teacher who "walks its talk"?
The Dalai Lama talked about this many years ago. He said, scrutinise the teacher, the teachings and his or her students. Look at his lineage, look at the openness and gossip within the community. In Advaita Vedanta we don't have the idolisation of the teacher. We put the scriptures as the highest value.
My Teacher James Swartz does not allow any touching of feet or great idolisation. If you feel a lot of Bhakti, dance in front of your deity or join Kirtan groups and treat your teacher with respect and carry gratitude in your heart.
As a Vedanta teacher, you are always available to answer questions from students if time allows and the teachings are done by donation. This way no dependency is created and the students feels free to visit other teachers as well.
Teachers are necessary and just because there are some fallen gurus, don't give up, finding someone. Just walk with your eyes open, a teacher will always support you in finding freedom within your self and then finally, freedom from the teacher as well.