..The Intuitive Times
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Spiritual Communities

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Dear Intuitive Times

I have been searching for a long to find the spiritual community which is right for me. How does one know when you have made the right choice?

Bill R.
Charlottetown, PEI

Dear Bill

The search for the spiritual community which resonates with you is a journey that many people are on. The following excerpt may help. (Editor’s Note: The following is taken from the book, ‘Spiritual Traditions: Essential Teachings to Transform Your Life’ by Timonthy Freke. It is available in bookstores )

Spiritual community can be very helpful in maintaining and developing a spiritual practice. Most of us need spiritual friends to encourage us on our journey and to share our confusion and revelations. Just as with everyday pleasures a joy shared is often a joy doubled, so on the spiritual path having trusted companions to share our experiences can increase our insight and enjoyment. But how should we choose our spiritual friends? There are so many different spiritual groups we could join. How do we know which one is for us?

Choosing our Spiritual Friends
Often life miraculously does the choosing for us. There is a natural law of life whereby we are attracted to those with whom we have an affinity. Sometimes, however, we may feel the need to work within a particular tradition or place ourselves under a particular teacher. In so doing, we have the opportunity to learn a great deal very quickly. But we must be cautious and listen carefully to our deepest intuitions. Spirituality is as full of charlatans as any other area of life - perhaps more so!

“Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself, and yourself alone, one question. ‘Does this path have a heart?’ If it does, the path is good; if it doesn’t, it is of no use.”
Don Juan, Mexican Shaman

There are so many different spiritual traditions and practices,;how do we choose which path to follow? How do we know which path will actually lead us to our destination? There is no one right way. Each one of us starts off from our own unique predicament and each one of us must find our own way up the mountain of Truth. We can certainly be guided by the wisdom of the saints and sages who have gone before us, but to decide which teachings and practices we should work with at any particular time requires us to make our own intuitive decisions about what is right for us.

Avoiding Cults and Charlatans
Involving ourselves with the wrong people can be a waste of time or even be harmful. For this reason, it is sometimes recommended that we steer clear of new spiritual movements and work within tried and tested traditions. But the dangers and inadequacies associated with cults and false teachers are also common amongst groups functioning within the mainstream religions. How can we tell a genuine teacher and community of seekers from the many fanatical fakes and misguided cults? There are a number of warning signs that characterize those groups that are to be treated with suspicion and probably avoided.

Elitism: Spirituality is about experiencing a sense of oneness with all people and all things. But many spiritual groups attract adherents by making them feel special and superior to others. Often group members are taught to believe that they have been chosen to follow the one true path. Their particular teacher is the only genuine teacher who is on a mission to save humanity. In extreme cases this is accompanied by a paranoid sense of being persecuted by a hostile world. While it is perfectly natural for spiritual teachers to demand commitment from their followers, such elitist attitudes encourage an egoistical sense of self-importance and causes deep divisions between people - the very opposite of true spirituality.

Dogmatism: Spirituality is about transcending all concepts and beliefs, and directly experiencing the ineffable Truth for oneself. Some spiritual communities, however, require unquestioning adherence to the dogmas of the group. In extreme cases, those that question are ostracized and made to feel that they are unspiritual or even evil. Sometimes this is justified by teaching that the logical mind gets in the way of spiritual understanding and must be abandoned. While this is indeed an ancient and respected spiritual teaching, it is not the same thing as abandoning your own powers of discrimination and personal intuitions in favor of blind belief. Genuine spirituality does not advocate gullibility but encourages deep questioning until the seeker has genuinely found his or her own answers. Authentic teachers acknowledge that ultimately the Truth is yours already. They cannot give it to you, only help you to discover it within yourself. Those claiming that they alone can (for a fee!) impart the Truth to you are stealing your birthright and trying to sell it back to you.

Authoritarianism: A good way to learn anything is from someone who is already a master, and this is, of course, true of spirituality. But genuine teachers are interested in seeing their pupils graduate, not staying perpetual students. In dubious spiritual groups, however, disciples are left forever subservient to the master who is elevated to such an extent that he or she has godlike absolute authority. This does not set seekers free to realize their own unique spiritual potential by moving on from the particular group if they feel they need to do so. Rather it builds a fanatical group of devotees around a megalomaniac. Those that do leave the fold are branded as failures or traitors rather than being allowed to follow their hearts and encouraged to find their own way, whatever that may be.

‘To have friends in need is sweet, and to share happiness, and to have done something good before leaving this life is sweet, and to let go of sorrow.’
Dhammapada, Buddhist Scripture

‘To each person that way is the best way that appears easiest and appeals most.’
Ramana Maharshi, Hindu Sage

‘Be your own guru - your own teacher. You have the lamp within you. Light it and march on without fear.’
Sai Baba, Hindu Sage


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