I was at a workshop recently where a spiritual teacher made a statement that has been rattling around my cranium for a number of days. Now, mind you, this is not the first time I have heard this statement, but, perhaps, I had reached the tipping point vis-à-vis this information and could no longer just puff up indignantly. I needed to give this some serious thought.

The spiritual teacher, in this instance, is Derek O’Neill, an Irishman complete with brogue and a quick laugh. He has also been a psychotherapist; these days, he is a healer and spiritual teacher. O’Neill calls himself “an awakener.” He says he is “like the hospital nurse who wakes you up in the middle of the night to give you a sleeping tablet.” In other words, he is all about consciousness.

O’Neill is a devotee of Sathya Sai Baba. Both men, I am told by eye witnesses, can manifest vibhuti, sacred ash used in Hindu worship, out of thin air, and both men can heal others. Additionally, both men are avatars.

Avatars are associated with the Hindu tradition. Wikipedia tells us that the word avatar “literally means descent and usually implies a deliberate descent from higher spiritual realms to lower realms of existence for special purposes.” These very special beings are “marked with superhuman qualities.”

The way I understand it, avatars are divine beings in human form. They operate at such a high vibration and extraordinary consciousness that they can take actions beyond the normal human range. Further, they have incarnated in their lifetime to be of service to humankind. For example, Jesus and Zoroaster were seen as avatars during their days. Amma and Mother Meera are also considered avatars in today’s world.

During the workshop, Derek O’Neill said, “If you want to find water, dig a deep hole.” He elaborated and told us to find a teacher and become a disciple. With an audience numbering about 800 people, he tells us – and with his finger pointing for emphasis – that we need a spiritual teacher, or we will not get where we want to be on the spiritual path and attain the levels of consciousness that we desire. He allowed that we need one teacher, one path, one focus. (And O’Neill added that we could study with his group.)

O’Neill’s words irritated me, because I think we are all fractals of the Divine. We carry the spark of the Godhead already. I believe that our journey of consciousness is learning to honor the divine within as well as the divine in others.

I would guess O’Neill would counter that I am choosing “the path of Buddha which is to continue the path of incarnation as long as sentient beings suffer.” In other words, I would be continuously spinning on the Wheel of Samsara, the Tibetan Buddhist wheel of life, death and rebirth that eventually leads to enlightenment; the focus of O’Neill’s workshop.

Yet, I still struggle with this find-a-teacher idea. I am a person rooted in a country founded on religious freedom. The whole one-teacher, one-path seems so singular and limiting to me. I have tasted the wisdom from a number of sources. O’Neill would likely argue that I have diluted my path with my varied teachings. I would counter that it has been expanded and integrated with all of my interdisciplinary pursuits.

I have worked with people who have lived in ashrams and been betrayed by their guru, and others betrayed by their priests, ministers or rabbis. They were, at one time, one-path, one-teacher people until their experience changed. This makes me think of spiritual teacher, Caroline Myss. She talks about the disciple archetype, whose path is to ultimately experience betrayal from the teacher, which, in turn, requires that the now untethered disciple reclaim their personal power.

I am wary of groups with groupies and their seemingly blind allegiance. I am not someone who drinks the Kool-Aid, but am I in denial? Have I missed the boat to nirvana and enlightenment?

I began emailing and chatting with friends and fellow sojourners on the path. In response to my ruminating emails, one friend wrote:

“That thing about needing a teacher and being a disciple is a very eastern thing. I never understood it until I met Amma and then I understood not only the concept but the way it works. The teacher has already ascended to the divine and so when you’re in his/her presence you are with the divine. It isn’t that you don’t have access to God, but the teacher is the route for ascension. It’s just the way they believe, and I get it. When you’re with Amma you’re definitely in the presence of God — no doubt about it from my point of view.”

Another friend responded:

“Here I am, definitely a devotee and a one teacher person and yet in my thinking I don't think that everyone must have a teacher in order to reach the next level or whatever it is. In my thinking, there is a wide open way, not a specific way. …

One thing that is distinctive in my experience of having a teacher is the initiation into the practices. It wasn't just that he taught the practices, it was a live transmission when he initiated me into the practices (kriyas, meditation). I realize now that all the yoga and meditation I did before, everything I cooked up, was so little compared to what this is. It is through him that I have this. Whatever this is, all I know in my experience is that it is really something and, for now, I am compelled to continue on this path.”

These heartfelt responses were helpful and reminded me that all things work.

If you are familiar with my writing, you know that I am an advocate of the “and and” approach to life as opposed to the either/or platform. And, clearly, that holds true here. Unlike O’Neill, I do not feel it is mandatory to find one teacher, the teacher. I think as long as we trust our own good instincts and listen to our hearts, we will know what’s right for us and how to proceed on our spiritual journey.

There are many ways to find God, to find ourselves in God and God in others. I honor them all.

And all is the operative word for me. I remain a rebellious type. And that is one of my styles of learning to question and argue and poke holes until I can make peace with what works for me. I am simply not a one-teacher kind of gal, but, happily, I am not so irritated at the suggestion.

© Copyright 2009 by Adele Ryan McDowell.

Author's Bio: 

Adele Ryan McDowell, Ph.D., is a psychologist, empath and shaman who likes looking at life with the big viewfinder. Her website is www.channeledgrace.com.