Spiritual Teachers: From Disillusionment To Enlightenment with John Kain

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Here in the Western world, we're a fairly independent lot. We like to be in control of our lives, and we've all heard stories of unscrupulous spiritual teachers. We hold tightly to our own power--and still, there are times when we're so drawn to a charismatic teacher, we lose sight of our good judgment. Is there value in putting ourselves in the hands of a guru? Or is it wiser to keep some distance, and get our lessons from books and an occasional lecture? John Kain looks at these questions from inside, as the student of a Zen Master, and from the broader perspective of observing the spiritual practices of others. In this interview he shares the words of spiritual leaders from many traditions, including Buddhism, Christianity, Sufism, Hindu, Native American, and Judaism, and offers a balanced understanding of the risks and benefits of aligning ourselves with a master. Kain suggests that when our eyes are open and we remain true to ourselves, the rewards can be immense, because "just watching how they are in the world is such a great lesson, such a great teaching. We need those people, those teachers, to show us, to model for us different ways of being. They don't have to model God, they just model for us the route they've already traveled." He explains how you can identify a teacher who may be more destructive than enlightening, and open your heart to one who will help you find your own way, on your own path. (hosted by Michael Toms)


John Kain has been a practicing Buddhist for more than two decades. He has been publisher of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review magazine, and his articles and poems have appeared in Tricycle, Shambala Sun, Yoga Journal, and on Belief.net.

He is the author of:

  • A Rare and Precious Thing: The Possibilities and Pitfalls of Working with a Spiritual Teacher (Bell Tower/Random House 2006)

Topics Explored in This Dialogue

  • Why it's helpful to know your teacher's flaws
  • What is the most difficult and the most rewarding aspect of spiritual practice
  • How spirituality can become an addiction
  • Why the teacher-student relationship can be so destructive
  • What you can do if you become disillusioned with your teacher
Host: Michael Toms      Interview Date: 2/16/2007      Program Number: 3194