Finding an Authentic Spiritual Teacher
Becoming a spiritual teacher, especially in ancient traditions, requires much more than the knowledge one can get from reading books or attending workshops. How can you tell if a teacher is truly qualified?
The James Ray Spiritual Warrior retreat in Arizona in which three people died and 19 were injured in a sweat lodge ceremony raises this and many other questions. It was a reminder that teachers of indigenous spiritual beliefs and practices bear heavy responsibilities to assure the safety of participants and to respect sacred traditions.
Huna is the ancient Hawaiian understanding of energy, healing and life that I teach and have learned through my lineage and experience. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to begin learning Huna at the age of 13 directly from Hawaiian elders. They passed down this knowledge, a gift based on thousands of years of experience, to our family.
As someone who has studied and been authorized to teach from an ancient sacred tradition, I offer these guidelines for finding a reputable and authentic teacher:
1. Do your research. Check out the teacher’s background. A spiritual teacher should have extensive personal experience and either cultural or academic credentials. Does this person come from an established lineage? Does he or she have academic degrees from an accredited and respected university? What is the extent of the teacher’s practical, real-life experience with participants? Has he or she completed original research, participated in studies, written articles or books?
2. Beware self-hype. Does the teacher call himself a guru? If so, he's probably not. True spiritual teachers are humble and don't need to puff themselves up. One of my Kumu (teachers) Uncle George Naope would say, “if you have to call yourself a Kahuna, you’re probably not one.” In ancient times, these titles were given, not taken, and even when given, there was humbleness.
3. Check out followers. Are these the kind of people you want to associate with? Are they like-minded individuals with goals similar to your own? Are their testimonials believable? What kind of progress have they made during their course of study in the tradition you're considering?
4. Does the safety and wellbeing of students come first? What safety precautions and procedures are in place? Are these explained thoroughly before any kind of adventure, challenge, or unusual act is undertaken? Is there an alternative for people who don't feel up to the challenge so they can still enjoy and benefit from the experience? For 20 years now, we have been running our Huna workshop every March and September in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. During the workshop, we take our haumana (students) on a field trip and hike across the volcano. Not everyone can make the hike, and so there is an alternative field trip at the volcano that is just as powerful and profound. Spiritual studies are not about pushing the limits, but finding your foundation and exploring the mana (energy) in the simplest moments.
5. Beware autocracy. Does the teacher demand that you follow him to the exclusion of all other teachers or paths? If so, that is a red flag that should alert you to stay away. Teachers who are secure with themselves and their teachings encourage their students to discover knowledge on their own and not to take their word as “the truth.” A trustworthy leader asks that students check in with themselves to find their own inner knowledge.
6. Look for openness. Does the teacher encourage you to find your own voice and path? Does he or she create a safe space for participants to voice their fears, concerns or questions?
7. Does the teacher "walk the talk?” This goes back to doing your homework. Research the teacher’s background and talk to people who have been through the training to determine if the leader practices what he teaches. Does he lead an exemplary life? Is he honest about his mistakes?
8. Beware of false promises. The old adage applies here: if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Don’t be afraid to quest