Are you looking for the perfect spiritual teacher? If so, you may be surprised that you have already found it--whether you know it or not; your life is your greatest teacher. But when identified with the ego we are not open to learning what life has to teach us; we are much more invested in validating what we think we already know. The ego is always trying to prove that it is right and it will interpret every life experience according to what it believes to be true. Leonardo da Vinci observed that “The greatest deception men suffer is that of their own opinion.”
A powerful spiritual practice is to adopt an attitude which deliberately undermines this prevailing attitude of the ego. An example would be to adopt an attitude such as “Everything (and Everyone) is My Teacher.”
This practice may be likened to that of a scientist conducting research. In order for science to learn the laws of nature it must first humble itself before nature.
And so you become a researcher of your own life. Before you can master life you must humble yourself before it to learn what it has to teach you.
This spiritual practice is a form of learning, but it’s very different from conventional learning; it is not gaining more knowledge, but cultivating more wisdom. To grow in wisdom requires a deep emptiness, which is the best attitude for this practice.
A Japanese Zen master received a learned university professor who came to inquire about Zen. The professor introduced himself and commenced telling the Zen master how much he knew about Asian religion, Asian history and Asian culture, but he knew relatively little about Zen, so he wanted to add this to his vast repertoire of knowledge.
The Zen master served the professor some tea. He filled the visitor’s cup to overflowing and then kept pouring. The professor shouted “Stop man; the cup is already too full!” The Zen master responded “Like this cup you too are full of your presumed knowledge. I cannot show you Zen unless you first empty your cup.”
Meeting every experience as the empty teacup requires a willingness to stay open and vulnerable—this is true humility. True humility is being teachable; being empty.
To make something (or someone) our teacher does not mean that we turn our life over to it; it simply means that we allow ourself to be open to its teaching. True humility is not self-abasement; and it does not mean that we abdicate our power to make choices.
Don’t be attached to always understanding what a particular teaching is—that can be a subtle way for the ego to co-opt the process! The practice is about cultivating a certain attitude; it is not about acquiring knowledge. Just imagine bowing to every experience and saying, “This too, is my teacher.” That will lead to wisdom, which is much more than knowledge or intellectual understanding.
“In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves
beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”