How Can We Rate Spiritual Teachers?

Dr. Charles T. Tart, Mindfulness, Institute of Transpersonal Psychology,

Lecture 4, Part 14 of 19 parts. To start class from beginning, click here.

Student: So what is the hallmark of a good spiritual teacher?

CTT: Wow! Good question!

Student: Sitting full lotus for three years!

Student: With a bottle of whiskey in one hand, you can do it in two!


Student: “Drink, or you won’t be enlightened.”


CTT: We would agree, I think, that places like Stanford or Harvard or something like that are first class universities. How do we make that judgment? Do we make it by the devotees who hang around the professors?

Student: By how often they are mentioned in U.S. News & World Report.


CTT: Oh. Okay. No.


That’s one way to do it, right? But I think the real criteria is that you judge them by their graduates. A lot of people who’ve accomplished a lot in the world have gone to universities like that, so we think they’re good universities. And yeah, there are things like how fancy the buildings and labs are, and scholarships. And that’s nice, but the ultimate test is the graduates.

I think that’s the ultimate test you need to apply to spiritual teachers. How many graduates do they produce and how much do their graduates give to the world?

Now at one extreme, you might have some spiritual teacher who insists there are never any graduates. Everybody hangs around as a devotee and looks blissed out.


I guess that’s all right, but they’re not going to get my ranking as a top teacher.

And on the other hand, you have some where the only people who ever leave a particular spiritual group are the ones who get thrown out. Does that make you think of a cult or something like that, or maybe because they genuinely weren’t suitable?

And on the third hand, there are teachers who’ve had students who’ve ended up being teachers or otherwise made contributions themselves and we think pretty highly of that. But we don’t do that in any systematic kind of way.

So you know Swami Yogananda gave rise to… I don’t know if I have the succession right. Let’s say, famous Yogi No. 1 had a student, who was famous Yogi No. 2, to be more generic about it. But it’s not like there are clear records kept. Maybe this was 1 in 100,000 students. The only one who was worth anything. Maybe it was 1 out of every 10 who actually became a very effective teacher who helped people, or something like that.

So yes, how do you rate spiritual teachers?

One comment

  1. Hi,

    I have some thoughts on what makes a good spiritual teacher on my web page on mediumship (link below).

    There are two sources of problems with spiritual teachers. One source can be the teacher, another source can be the student. It is quite common to hear about bad teachers and the problems they cause for students. But, what is also common is students who are so impressed by the teachings that they idolize the teacher. They may forget that the teacher is only human. When a student finally figures out that their idol is just a normal fallible human they can get upset and blame the teacher.

    Here are some of my opinions on how to identify a good teacher:

    The most advanced teachers are the most humble, and will be uninterested in titles, hierarchy, or financial gain.

    Observe their actions not just their words.

    Avoid anyone who believes they are infallible, or who justifies their actions by saying they are guided by spirits.

    You should not entrust your spiritual development to someone who cannot manage their own personal affairs.

    Avoid anyone who tells people they have some type of spiritual problem (a curse, a black aura, evil spirits around them etc.) and then charges fees to fix the problem. Do not believe them, study with them, or associate with them in any way.

    Be on your guard for any group where one or more persons exercise inordinate influence on others. Often cult leaders seem beneficent at first and it is not until they have abused their status, often in subtle ways, that one realizes their selfish, egotistical nature.

    On the other hand, when you see a teacher in front of a class, their pubic persona may give you the impression that they are extraordinary. Then when you find that, behind the scenes, they have the same combination of strengths and weaknesses that all people have, you can become disappointed – which is a bit unfair to them.

    The web page is here:

    scroll down to the section: “Another Warning”

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