Adapted from a talk at the Serenity Comunity early Spring 2004
Up until now the relationship between a teacher and his students in spiritual communities or similar contexts has been more or less one sided. The teacher knew and lived “it” and the students didn’t know and live “it”. So in a way the teacher was the king and the students were his court.
This model does not suit me very well, and to be honest it is “Old Age” to me, obsolete. The reality in which my life unfolds nowadays a spiritual teacher also learns from his students. Of course, he is much more experienced on the spiritual path and thus his students can learn from him, but they too have experiences that the teacher can profit from. It looks like a Moebius-loop to me: an endles braid in both directions.
I know, of course, that basically the relationship between a spiritual teacher and his students is all about what is beyond words, scriptures, thoughts and form. In the context of this article I will call what is beyond ‘the holy flame’. No spiritual teacher can pass on the holy flame no matter how much he would like to. He or she can only burn with this fire. The flame will go on burning, and when the time is ripe the flame itself will ignite the soul of the student. Up until that time they might catch fire for a moment or a while but it will extinguish again because the soul has not yet been ignited.
So the transmission of the holy flame is the true reason for the relationship between a spiritual teacher and his students, and as I see it nothing will change in that respect. I’m burning and at times the people around me catch fire, especially my students as they are very open to me. This fire can start whatever the context may be – just as with ordinary fire almost anything is combustable material… flames aren’t picky they’ll use anything combustable to fuel it. Nevertheless the context has so far been mostly feudalistic and it still is: a structure that doesn’t really fit in this time and age anymore.
It’s time for a revolution in heaven. God descended from his throne a long time ago, he doesn’t need it anymore. God doesn’t need bows. This doesn’t mean that a bow as a natural movement from the heart is now obsolete. When a feeling of deep thankfulness moves you bowing to god or your teacher may be the only way to truly express it. But to do that you need neither throne nor feudalistic structure. The king has abducted and now the court doesn’t have a job anymore…
The feudalistic structure of spiritual communities is based on the realisation that the ego needs to be modest and humble before the soul can be ignited by the holy flame. A fat ego, an arrogant or Ã¼berhebliche person doesn’t have the slightest chance to experience even a spark of the inner light. He or she is so full of himself, so pleased or abhorred – so busy with himself that not even the tiniest ‘something else’ fits in there. And to hear, “You have to yield, to obey and serve,” is quite humiliating for any ego, most of all an arrogant know-it-all. To humiliate the ego, to break the ego, to get rid of it: in a feudalistic structure everyone – except the very top of the pyramid – gets many lessons in humility, and that is as it should be. Modesty and humility are needed and we can’t do without them… but maybe we can realise them in a different way.
The revolution I am speaking about doesn’t need the traditional humiliation of the ego, yet it still learns the much needed humility – I’m sure because I have seen this happen time and again. It is not only the feudalistically structered obedience towards his teacher that makes the students ego more modest and humble but the love and respect of the teacher towards the student can also accomplish this – that is, if the student is not totally caught up his neurotic games but has already done a few steps on the path. Hard nuts need nutcrackers: the feudalistic structure is certainly good this regard. But most spiritually motivated people I meet apparently have already done away with this hardest of armouries – or never put them on in the first place. They can reckognize that humility is the proper attitude even in a non-feudalistic context.
Love and respect make you humble because good and bad or right and wrong don’t play a role here. Love and respect are not interested in those judgements. But the ego is always judging. It is in need of empowerment or justification, and it wants acknowledgement most of all – but love and respect are not acknowledging it. On the contrary, love undermines the ego structure. Love melts its armory. The tendency to isolate, to do ‘your own thing’, to be comfortably numb, to justify yourself etc. might appear when you are in the company of one who loves unconditionally, but these tendencies are simply not supported – on the contrary one sees their ugly faces and wants to get rid of them as soon as possible, so that you can rest and be where unconditional love resides… the ego armour melts.
That’s why love causes the revolution I’m speaking about.
Suppose one of my students is angry or even mad at me because I said or did something that hurt his feelings or convictions. In the feudalistic structure any kind of criticism is MajestÃ¤tsbeleidigung and will thus be suppressed or sanctioned. The student will either swallow his anger or suppress it or eine Breitseite abbekommen for being so preposterous as to express it. Within a feudalistic structure he will be humiliated and his ego shot at and maybe even broken.
Yet within the context of love and respect I’ll say (with words or by action), “I can see you’re angry… and will go on loving you.” Because when love and respect rule everything can be just the way it is. And confronted with these energies the ego has to either melt or – when it can muster that kind of strength – withdraw. And when one of my students decides to withdraw to tend to his wounds or to foster his anger (Groll zu hegen) – regardless of what I might also feel I’m respecting that without any buts and don’ts – than he or she can reappear any time as she can be certain of my love and respect. Then the ego melts a bit and becomes more humble as it cannot attach to it’s resitance because in love and respect it really is of no importance whatsoever.
Respect means, to honor the dignity of another person, no matter what his or her ego looks like. If I respect you then your soul will perceive that no matter what you might think about me. That will make it difficult for you to reduce me to my habits or the things I said or did. You cannot but see the love in me and acknowledge that, even if only in your secret chamber.
It is well known that “everything is permitted in love and war.” Regarding war it is quite clear, the one who carries the guns can allow himself to do anything. But that everything is permitted in love is not that obvious because love is often confused with romanticism and its Hollywood-version. In this version of ‘love’ it is only permissible what will make the violins play or sweeten the feelings. But the way I see it is that love moves you to a Yes, a feeling, total, unconditional Yes towards everything that is the case just the way it is, a Yes to everyone present just as they are.
The basic ego structure – this movement in you that is trying to own everything – is the opposite of love. The ego even tries to control love and tame it like it does with everything else – that’s why the romantic Hollywood-version, being nothing but domesticated love, has lost almost every natural aspect and power. So an ego-navigated person can only have limited and limiting releationships in which not much can be or happen.
But a love-navigated person doesn’t know any limits. When moved by love like this you don’t say, “I only love you as long as you behave.” Love doesn’t make those demands. Or would you tell your father, mother or even child, “I only love you when you are lovely, nice and friendly.” That sounds pretty absurd in my ears, even though it is quite clear to me that most people only know conditional love and we can assume that they will actually say or think something like that. Nevertheless unconditional love is also present in these people, maybe perverted or confused as the person is deeply entangled in his or her suffering.
(Since Bert Hellinger’s work we can know that this without doubt. A really earth shaking fact of family constellations is the observation that even in families where the father or mother has abused their son or daughter, there is real love. It is quite unfair, and it is against all we hold dear: to have to reckognise that there is love even in abuse, be it in extremely perverted form. Well, love is not a romantic phenomenon but rather comparable to a force of nature.)
Unconditional love will inevitably lead to the revolution I speak about. If I understand the Bible correctly than Jesus lived just this revolution with his disciples. He was certainly not sitting on a throne, and he wasn’t worshipped by his disciples. He was much more like a primus inter pares: the first one among his equals. This is reflected in many pictures of the Last Supper where everyone is sitting around a table enjoying food and drink and company. So his feet weren’t kissed, and no one adorned him with garlands ofd flowers like it is he case twith so many Eastern gurus and those that copy that structure.
So obviously the revolution I’m speaking about is no so very new, it seems. On the spiritual Way what is important today has always been important. When your soul has ignited, when you are ‘enlightened’ or have ‘awakened’, when the holy fire is burning in your soul, you will become a Brandherd. Then others will want the fire from you; that’s only natural and as it has always been. And you don’t have a choice to pass on the fire or not, because whatever you do you’re burning. But you do have a choice regarding the structure in which the transmission of the holy fire can take place even if some spiritual teachers may not be aware of that choice.
In the feudalistic structure the teacher or master is regarde as perfect; he has achieved what is achievable. This then shows itself in the form of spiritual kingship, and that in it’s turn does attract students that want to become a king themselves. That’s why the student whose soul has caught fire within this structure usually has to leave his teacher and start his own little fire somewhere as it is impossible to be king next to a king. But when we live this revolution we can all catch fire without anyone having to go anywhere else to start his own. We can be connected in love and give and take from each other – and start a veritable Flï¿½chenbrand. So wether the teachers is burning and his students are warming themselves at his fire or if some or many of them are on fire themselves, they are being together in love and mutual respect.
We could say about the spiritual way that one person is at milestone 5, another is at milestone 10 and still another at milestone 15 and so on. The feudalistic structure is based also on the conviction that the one at milestone 15 is much further than the one at milestone 5. But the revolution is fueled by the insight that both are on the very same way – and by the observation that there is no final destination. The well known saying, “All ways lead to Rome,” is complete nonsense.
All ways lead everywhere.
The spiritual way has no final destination and the mystical endeavour no “final solution” so it is complete nonsense to say that one person is further on he path than another. That doesn’t mean that you can’t learn from others that are on the way, on the contrary. But to build a throne on the wayside at milestone 15 and then say, “If you want to know how to get from milestone 5 to milestone 10 you have to kiss my feet first,” belongs to the middle ages. We don’t need this structure anymore.
This doesn’t mean we’re all equal. No we are all different and everyone is unique. That means I can learn from every single one of you, and I do as a matter of fact. I didn’t catch fire or ignite my soul with you; it has been ignited elsewhere. But I did learn from you on many levels. And of course everyone of you can profit from my experience and being.
Surely, in my seminars and events I am in charge, I say where we will go and what we will do next. But the feudalistic structure where I sit on some pedestal and all of you sit one level below me is not up to date anymore. I’m experiencing this all the time: Someone is stuck in some ego movie somewhere, and I become still and leave it up to love and respect. Then usually that person wakes up to see what’s going on – what he or she is doing. And having been on this path for quite some time now I do know some ways to maybe make this a bit clearer to him or her. But I’ll only do that if love wants me to or if you draw it out of me.
I do not have particular plans for anyone; I don’t want you to go anywhere where you are not now. If I look at someone with the eyes of love and this person is in some movie or other then nothing in me wants to stop that movie. I might see – and usually do – that he would be much happier without it but that doesn’t mean I’ll try to get him out of it. This movie and the ego structure that projects it don’t encumber this love; on the contrary, where this love is no owning (the main activity of the psychic system called ego) can function. We don’t need the feudalistic structure to become humble, we do it with love and respect.
As it does seem much easier for the people today to ignite their soul in a non-feudalistic context it seems to me the time has come for this revolution. That will also take care of one of the other problems of the feudalistic relationship between teachers and students on the spiritual path, and that is that the teacher is slowly losing contact with the reality most of his students live in. This is so because within this structure it is very hard to approach the teacher personally. And then we haven’t even mentioned the fact that within this structure abuse is very, very easy and students have a hard time noticing that (You can think of the inquisition in this regard or so called islamic terror, but you might also think of Sheelas “fascism” in Oshos buddhafield in Oregon; all these abuses in the name of god or enlightenment are being fostered by feudalistic structure that are not to be questioned.)
Nevertheless all of this has not hindered the transmission of the holy flame in the past as the only thing that is needed for this is a teacher burning with the fire and a student humble and trusting enough to ignite his soul. But – and now I come to a point that is very important to me – the feudalistic context in which this flame is being transmitted is always transported with it too. This is due to the way our psyche is apparently structured: we project the content usually to that form in which the content comes to us. Every structure in which the holy flame can burn is thus sanctified by it, and over time to the students and often even the teacher the form becomes just as holy as the fire itself.
If for instance you have deep mystical experiences in the christian context you would sanctify it and regard the form of worship, the christian teaching, the church hirarchy in which your ‘divine revelation’ happened as the body of the holy spirit, as it were.
Or suppose you have a deep spiritual experience in the context of buddhism. Then you would think that the special form of Zen, Vajrayana or Theravada – just to name a few buddhist schools – in which it happened is ‘it’. You would identify the form with the content simply because you saw the light in this form, and so you would probably speak with much conviction of the dignity of the Buddha, Sangha and Dharma.
And it is almost inevitable that most of the people having spiritual experiences in my presence will regard the structure and patterns we have created here almost as just as holy as the experience itself. This is often the case because as you’re having a mystical experience you often also feel an enormous authority, these experiences have a divine characteristic and divinity is the highest authority – that’s what many people feel. In these experiences you often have the feeling that you are perceiving an enormous or fundamental truth, an all encompassing meaning, eternal beauty, bliss and so on. All of this is, if you aren’t careful enough, projected onto the form in which it manifests.
As I see it the experience itself – if it is truly deep or mystical – will transport you to a dimension beyond form; but you mostly return to the form where you ‘started’ from. So in your understanding of what happened the formless and the form relate to each other in a way in which the formless sanctifies the form in some manner. But if you’ve been to that dimension often enough and your trust and inner certainty has grown than you see that the formless is actually sanctifying all form – unconditionally.
All these experiences and insights have led me to this revolution that I propose here and that we are already living at the Serenity Community, a revolution in which we leave the traditional feudalistic structure and the one sided relationship between teacher and student behind. And apart from everything I’ve said so far I want to really stress this: With this revolution we sanctify the context of love and respect, that structure in which the teacher and the student are moving along one and the same path – and we are charging this way with our holy fire so that it might carry us through new and fruitful landscapes.
Since ancient times the transmission of the holy flame happened in the context I have been calling feudalistic here – and as we can see this fire is still burning today. I don’t know if the revolutionary structure of love and respect can safely carry the holy fire like that. We’ll know in a few hundred years if this is so. But here and now I see the holy flame flowing and florishing within this context of love and respect, and so I am very zuversichtlich
God does not sit on a throne.
He is not even the center around which everything revolves.
If there is a whereabout of God
it is everywhere and in everything
and everyone is his homeststead.