You can watch spiritual masters on YouTube. Living ones and dead ones. They answer questions and share their wisdom with you. The question is: Do you need a master for your spiritual journey? I am quite sure: No! And, somehow: Yes.
If I talk about “masters” and “teachers”, keep in mind that I have no authorization beside my own experience. There is no scientific data to support my claims, there is no organization behind me that tells me to draft them here.
I am not a master. And I’m not a teacher anymore, either. And I’ve got no intentions to become one again. But I have a long period of meditating behind me and visited a certain number of retreats or sesshins. I even met people who are called masters by their followers, some of them you would even know.
Today I will not simply fall back to translate Asian words like roshi, yogi, guru, osho, sensai or zenji and discuss which would be the best one to be translated to “master”.
It’s more about my personal opinion about the concept of “master” and “mastery” itself.
Because I think: There are no spiritual masters.
There is not one single list of enlightened masters that has any value or truth to it, though you will find thousands of them on the web. I found one that lists the Dalai Lama and Eckhart Tolle right beside Jesus and Buddha. And, apart from three of the mentioned four: The rest came all from India.
Why should there be no enlightened beings in Australia, Russia, Brazil or Slovakia?
If you have grown up in a Western civilization, as you probably have, this whole master-business will not work for you. And, even more, it’s dangerous, too. For the master and for you.
We had master and apprentice relationships in Western history, too. For the most time it was the way young ones learned their job. They would live with someone who was very experienced in this profession and watch him for a period of some years. And they would listen to him or her, if the master talks about things learned in decades of doing the job they wanted to learn.
In this scenario a master was nothing, but an experienced older person sharing the secret of his or her trade with unexperienced apprentices. And mastery was nothing more as to be really good at what you do.
Back then most of the apprentices would not have asked their master for life advice. Not if they should marry or drink less or visit a yoga class in the evening.
In fact, if you take a look at European literature, masters were often described as cruel and injust. As a power the apprentice has to overcome. The classical stereotype in European art is the apprentice who overthrows the reign of his or her master by getting much better at what they do as their teacher.
Then industrialization happened. It was not important anymore that you learn a craft. Charlie Chaplin in “Modern Times” turns two screws at his job on the assembly line. Over and over. No mastery in that. No mastery needed for most of the jobs that earn money.
On the other side universities and colleges taught more and more people their profession. This kind of training divides the job in many small parts which are taught independently. The professors specialize as their students do on their way to learn something that will earn them enough money to live.
And in most cases: There is no mastery in that. It’s a deal made to transfer knowledge.
And, secondly, we have democracy now. The rules of life are not given onto us as a burden to carry by the nobility or the almighty church. In fact every generation discusses this rules again and again. And that’s a good thing, by the way. Emancipation and the whole gender discussion is about a new generation discussing the rules of how to live together as a society. And the main problem is the older generation that is not able to adapt.
But both of this developments create a void in us. If there is no need for mastery needed in my job but mainly knowledge: Where do I learn how to do things in accordance with my needs?
And if the rules of society constantly change: How do I interact with other human beings properly?
This is not a small problem, but maybe the most important problem we are facing on a spiritual level in Western cultures.
We tend to believe we are free. We want to believe that we are living liberty in our societies, but we are not. The rules that make life complicated are not the ones written down. Not the ones you can learn watching a DIY-video on YouTube. Societies make rules invisibly and it is up to us to find out.
Just one example: The dating game in the United States. It’s a miracle for Europeans of my generation how this complicated set of rules was developed. What is appropriate for the first date? Are we allowed to kiss on the second one? When is it appropriate to have sex? Who pays which bills?.
It’s so complicated! How do you learn this? Who teaches you? You have to find out by trial and error. You have to find out the rules of the dating game and to any other thing in society, too.
So, you grow up and suddenly you are an adult. Now you should know everything about life. You are supposed to live by the set of rules your generation is making up right now. And you suck. I’m quite sure, that you suck, because we all do. Everyone plays pretend to a certain extent.
Okay, that is the state of our society. And it was similar to that after the Second World War II. Churches and the aristocracy lost their power, democracy gave it to the people.
But this systems leaves a void. Because it’s now up to everyone himself to make sense out of the mess called life, there’s an unanswered need for guidance.
Then, suddenly the master appears! Preferably born in an Asian country, he – and sometimes she – talks about a wisdom that’s centuries old. And he or she is enlightened. The master has not spent a single thought on how to play the dating game, that’s for sure!
He is not controlled by society, not controlled by life, but she controls life. She is in charge! The master knows meaningful answers to all questions of life. That’s why YouTube is full of Q-and-A-sessions with the masters of today. Because we have questions and the master has the answers.
Suddenly he or she takes the burden of finding answers from our shoulders. The master takes something from our responsibility and we offer this freely. Because, in a very profound psychological process we find in him the father we never had or in her the mother.
A kind of symbiosis. A win-win-scenario, you might think. We have found someone who can lead us through life. Suddenly we don’t suck anymore, suddenly we know what it’s all about. Okay, it’s strange why an enlightened being needs a dozen of Rolls Royce, but as long as it’s playful, why not?
But it’s not a symbiosis. It never is. Both sides of this deal suffer from it. You, the discipline or the apprentice suffer, because the message is never enough to fill the void in you. There simply is no universal message that is enough to answer your specific persona. Sooner or later you will experience the greatest disappointment of your life. You will think, it’s all a scam. Because, frankly, it often is.
And the master suffers, too. Because he or she is not a living person anymore, only the silver screen that others can project their personal movies on. He or she will sacrifice their own spirituality and their own beliefs completely. What if the master experiences doubts? What about masters that change their opinions? Because both are very normal things in any spiritual path, again and again.
Just like movie stars or rock stars they will endure a massive form of imposter syndrome. It may even be a specific ‘celebrity neurosis’ and I guess there are even studies for this phenomenon.
That’s why so many of these masters go down in flames. They run away with the money, they rape, they drink, they hurt people, take too much painkillers, do drugs or even commit suicide.
Countless of examples, really. Countless!
There are no masters, so you don’t need one.
There is not one single human being that transcended even their most basic bodily needs. Masters eat, drink, take a dump, have headaches and are afraid of sickness or death. That’s part of the human condition and those who claim they achieved a transcendence of these things, are delusional.
There is a sect out there that claims that air is just enough. That, once you are spiritually evolved, you don’t need food or water. Air is enough. That’s no joke! And people even die believing this bullshit!
So, do you need a master? Hell, no!
Not in the way we believe in spiritual masters here and now.
Rule of thumb: If someone says, he is a master, then she is not!
And, have a close look: In most cases these masters would jokingly say: ‘No, I am not’ and then say a sentence that implies otherwise.
But! Even if you don’t need one of these masters, you will need a teacher. Because the funny thing is: Especially meditation is something where experience leads to a kind of mastery. It’s like the 10.000 hours rule: If you concentrate on something for a very long time, you will achieve a certain mastery.
But this mastery is not about saying profound things into cameras. That’s the worst way to pass on anything important. This mastery is not about controlling the thing you do. It’s not about controlling life.
The opposite is true. If you are a master chief you are not controlling cooking, but you let the cooking control you. If you are a master golfer, you do not control your swing, but you let the swing control you. That’s the reason why mastery tends to look effortless.
This kind of mastery can not be transferred via microphones, cameras or books. This can only be learned by example and by discipline. It’s nothing sudden, not something you can buy, not easy to achieve. It takes patience and effort for a long time.
And you need a teacher, because any spiritual path is not straight. A good teacher will not teach you what your path has to be, because he or she cannot know. But – there are some detours they already took that they can warn you about.
You will run into these detours anyhow. And you will, not only once, think that you achieved some very important things, when in fact you just passed a door to the next stretch of your walk.
I personally believe all these modern masters we talked about, made some spiritual experiences. That they had insights. That they, most probably, know things I don’t know. But somehow they stopped walking and started to talk into microphones.
If there are really enlightened masters – which I do not believe – then: they are in hiding somewhere. They live a very simple life far from microphones.
That’s funny! See, what happened there? I did design a picture of a true master and, one second later, I produced expectations that I projected onto that picture. That’s what we do! And that’s exactly the problem!
Find a teacher. Don’t find a master. A good teacher is a person that let’s you watch – well, basically – their existence. Their example of being a human without imposing their way on you. That’s all you need.
A good teacher will not discuss your childhood with you or your traumas and hopes. He or she will not give you answers on how to treat your boss, on how to be a better person or on how to be happy.
These teachers are bad teachers.
A good teacher is there for you to learn from his practice. Not from her wisdom. There are not many things about walking your spiritual way that you can learn from books, movies, podcasts or YouTube. Sooner or later you need to leave the comfort zone of intellectual knowledge and simply live your spiritual life.
And only you can do this. The questions that will arise on this way will be mostly your own questions and the answers absolutely have to be your own answers. Mastery can solely be achieved by experience.
All these Q-&-A-sessions of the spiritual celebrities on YouTube are not worth your time.
You could learn more about spirituality in this ten minutes just watching the old grandmother or grandfather praying in a church after a life of believing in a kind of religion you secretly frown upon.
Because it is not about true or false. About right or wrong. About wisdom or knowledge.
In the end it’s about practice, about being ridiculously honest to yourself and about practice and about the audacity to feel uncomfortable and about practice. Mainly it is about practice, to sum this up.
And – you know, what I will say – it is about life!
I always say this, because it’s so true: It’s about life itself!