No matter your tradition, you will need a guide in the holy life. Within our hearts exists a compass by which we can orient ourselves in a general way toward the Good, the True and the Beautiful. We see this wholesome potential breaking out into society again and again throughout the ages. Nevertheless, this inner sense is greatly obscured by the burden of passion and delusion inherited by our common humanity. Most have a functional conscience, but how many follow it, and how closely? Additionally, our capacity for spiritual orientation ceases at the boundaries of our subjectivity. The innate instinct for Absolute Reality in either it’s transcendence or imminence remains hidden behind the veil of our egoity. This inner alienation from our Ultimate Ground is understood differently by different religions. In the Judeo-Christian traditions it is called original sin. In Hinduism it is thought of as either maya, God’s power of cosmic illusion, or as prakriti, imperfect material nature evolving towards the Divine. Buddhists understand it as avidya, the primal ignorance of reality that we are all born with but that can be overcome.
This situation has immediate consequences in our lives and in our contemplative disciplines. At almost every opportunity our deluded nature will go astray. Even during prayer and meditation, mind wandering, excessive reflection, speculation, beliefs, views, pride, incorrect practice, clinging to pleasant meditation experiences, over-concentration, over-effort, under-effort, confusion, delusive thinking, compulsive attention or misunderstandings about the nature of spiritual disciplines are the norms and not the exceptions of our damaged human nature. Nor will the deluded mind, that is to say the mind whose vision remains uncorrected by the disciplines of spiritual life, be able to recognize these unwholesome conditions when they arise.
The occasions for straying in spiritual life are many and the various forms that they take are myriad. The student might think, “Oh, I understand them and will not fall into these traps” but their very nature is to hide within the blind spots of our intelligence and exploit our developmental weaknesses. The proper development and balancing of our spiritual faculties is not a natural instinct; rather it goes against our damaged and deluded human nature. In fact, so stubborn is this tendency of the human heart to stray that the insistence of all sacred traditions upon the objective reality of malevolent spiritual influences will seem increasingly credible as we progress along our path home.
It is natural to need different teachers at different times in our lives. No teacher can guide us in every way we need. But if we are serious, and we have found a mentor with something of value to share, then we should settle down for a bit and become serious in learning what we can from them. No teacher is perfect in either knowledge or character, but neither are we, and patience will allow us to garner the benefits that any particular spiritual director has to offer.