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Spiritual Teachers

I like to think of myself these days as being without a teacher. I've decided to find my own way, during the years ahead, to draw my own conclusions, etc. And I realise I have grown a little dull, not just to the lure of teachers, but also somewhat to the magic of life itself. And I think that this dullness set in a long time ago, and was preceded by confusion. When I look back on life I don't see things with much clarity, but as a confused sequence of events, though the outline is perhaps becoming clearer.

Be that as it may, there have been a few times that I have sensed the magic emanations that we associate with more enlightened beings. The first time was with Swami Vishnudevananda. Though there was always a parallel sense that there was some flaw - maybe ambition, perhaps anger, as well as considerable gullibility. But there was also a sense of purity, deep sincerity, inner strength, devotion to his own teacher, the ability to look at the world from a different perspective than the rest of us, a sense of mission, a sense of his being in and coming from another place. At the time I knew him, I and most of the people who were involved with him were very young. Immature. Deferent. Cult material. It probably irritated him beyond measure to be around people like us, and one could sometimes feel his exasperation, just as we were occasionally exasperated with him.

At the time, I was aware that he was the only teacher that could somehow captivate my attention. His talks, though he would repeat things a thousand times, were full of life, enthusiasm, interest. His voice and its tonality were full of passion and feeling, his facial expressions were animated and rich in their variety and expressivity. He was a real showman, he but also hit you with his sincerity. His laughter was infectious, and his compassion was palpable. Other teachers would be dry and boring. They would speak about spiritual ideas or values but could not bring them home to me.

His behaviour would be unpredictable. I remember one time we managed to get him a valuable slot of a few minutes on Israeli live radio, and instead of using every minute wisely with a focused message that might pull in hard-nosed Israelis, he began with long minutes of vedic chanting. The radio announcer must have been stunned or nonplussed. It wasn't something you could interrupt, you couldn't shut him up or just pull away the mic.

When he did speak to the press, I would feel annoyed that often what he said would feel logically inconsistent or misplaced. But then I would find that he had been able to get through to people anyway. His message would reach them in a way that I didn't anticipate or expect.

When you would say something to him or ask him a question, you might try to predict or imagine his response, but you could be completely off. There was an oracular quality, sometimes, about what he would say.

In a different way, I have been similarly able to respect Thich Nhat Hanh as a teacher. I was never privileged to meet him personally. Only to see him on stages, usually from afar, and, since he would divide his talks between English, French and Vietnamese, sometimes in translation. But if ever a sage expressed his sagacity in every movement, every gesture, every glance - even without any word or movement whatsoever, you feel that that he is expressing wisdom and truth. But when he does speak, his words are brimming with intelligence and compassion.

A senior student of Swami Vishnu who I knew quite well, and who himself seemed to possess almost supernatural power, would say that one of the marks of a sage was that they would be multi-dimensional. They would have somehow that extra dimension that we cannot grasp but can sense. That's sort of how it is, I guess.

Swami Vishnu, and some others that I have known would say - and I think this has a scriptural source that one of the marks of a true teacher is compassion. The presence of it is usually felt. If this quality is absent, then one should not approach that person for guidance.