Our teaching paradigms are so messed up. There is so much wounding in the teacher-student relationships around the world.

The wounding goes both ways.

Teachers wound students, and students wound teachers.

It’s sad.

So it’s really important to explain what a spiritual teacher is to clarify this sacred role amidst the wounding of teachers and students in this space.

Because healthy student-teacher relationships–and healthy spiritual student-spiritual teacher relationships–are amazing, uplifting, and freeing. And the spiritual relationship isn’t the same as the pedagogical stuff people are used to.

Also, if you want to get in touch with this spiritual teacher on this blog (I’m Jim Tolles by the way), you can sign up for my free newsletter.

Your Spiritual Teacher Doesn’t Have Your Answers

Many people are seeking spiritual teachers. But they don’t really know what to look for or what to do when they find one. They are acting like beggars looking for illuminated coins to drop from the hands of the teacher.

And certainly, you have a lot of people, whom I would term spiritual counselors, doing this. Some are just frauds.

You may become really excited, thinking that you’re getting a lot of value. The ego mind is always concerned about getting something–knowledge, experience, things, identities, etc. It can create a strange scenario where you are actually getting further from the Truth.

Just in case years of patriarchy have ingrained in you the idea of robed old dudes being the only spiritual teachers, let’s knock that idea right out of you.

Women can be wonderful spiritual teachers.

Young people can be wonderfully wise spiritual teachers.

Young women, people of colors, all ethnicities, and any other type of human being out there can be and are wonderful spiritual teachers.

They all have just as valuable spiritual wisdom to share with you as white, old male spiritual teachers.

End of story.

But whether a spiritual teacher is a man or a woman, that person doesn’t have your answers. Sorry. This may be disappointing. The more embodied awareness a teacher has, the less likely the teacher will presuppose to have anything at all. The spiritual teacher understands that this whole process of spiritual awakening is an uncovery–a pulling away of external ego, issues, pain, and so on. It’s a recovery of the you buried beneath all the social, emotional, intellectual, and physical contrivances and lies. It’s the recovery of you. The path a spiritual teacher points you towards is the one leading you back to you.

Encouragement, Advice, and the Occasional Hug

A spiritual teacher will have plenty of spiritual advice. It’s never enforced on you, although it can be emphatically and forcefully said. A spiritual teacher may also incredibly upset you–he or she will know how to ignite issues in you so that you can see them…eventually. You may not understand the process or why you’re so pissed at the teacher. But in time as you work with your spiritual teacher, you will understand that the teacher is helping you to heal. That said, the spiritual teacher is not controlling you or making you do stuff out of fear, guilt, or shame. Any so-called teacher who does that is not a teacher at all.

Above all, a spiritual teacher offers lots of encouragement, love, and the occasional hug–or whatever support you need. He or she knows that you’re working through a lot of stuff, and you do have to do the work on this path. It doesn’t just happen. But with a spiritual teacher, you may find that it is all a little easier to bear, and you will find a lot of compassion emanating from this person.

Levels of Spiritual Teachers

I don’t like breaking things into levels because ultimately the further on the spiritual path you walk, the more things blend into oneness. However, given all the spiritual teachers out there, I see a lot of different levels and varieties that I can express in some broad strokes:

  • Intellectual teachers: The intellectual teacher is like a lot of Buddhist teachers. They really give you a lot for your mind to work with in developing a conceptual framework around spirituality.
  • Psychic teachers: They can help you get in touch with past lives, empathetic abilities, the astral plane, angels, spirit guides, and all sorts of energy forms.
  • Heart teachers: These teachers really teach from their hearts. They can show up in just about any spiritual or religious tradition. You may notice that when you’re around them that your heart just opens up on its own.
  • Body teachers: Hatha yoga and Western Tantra teachers are great examples of body teachers. They really understand the body and spirit connection. Sometimes, getting just a hug from a body teacher can be a powerful thing because how they teach best is often through their bodies and touch.

Obviously, there is plenty of overlap. Boundaries are illusory, but you’ll start to see where people are strongest and what type of teacher will help you most. If you’ve already figured out a lot of intellectual truths of the spiritual path, having an intellectual spiritual teacher will not be particularly useful. Hopefully, however, you’re clear in your mind and haven’t simply created a lot of seemingly “spiritual” concepts to hide the ego. This happens all too often in which case you still need an intellectual spiritual teacher and will have to go through the process of tearing down these new concepts that you had adopted.

Finally, many people offer multiple aspects, and some few are powerful intellectual, heart, body, and psychic (or subtle energy) spiritual teachers. Finding spiritual teachers like this is probably more of a personal preference than a necessity, and you should not wait to find the perfect spiritual teacher before getting started on your own spiritual work.

Evolving Through Multiple Spiritual Teachers

Making a commitment to the spiritual path is key. That path, however, isn’t necessarily a commitment to one person. The only person you are truly committing to you is you–your divine self. As such, you may work with different spiritual teachers as you evolve and grow.  One teacher will help you with your heart, the next may help you to understand your mind. This isn’t done willy-nilly. Letting go of a spiritual teacher should be done with as much grace and reverence as stepping into that space. Honor the person who has shared so deeply with you, and let them know if you are concluding your work with this person. To do so keeps the space clean and helps you to set appropriate boundaries. Oddly enough, if you don’t, some spiritual teachers may still try to contact you or interact in some way as a spiritual teacher even though you’re no longer regularly meeting.

Lastly, committing to one spiritual teacher isn’t a bad thing. I want to be clear that you aren’t looking to find the latest and greatest flavor of the month with your spiritual teacher. Since things can get intense, many of you with commitment issues need to stay dedicated to the teacher and teaching you’ve chosen. If you run away, you will not heal the issues that need to be confronted.

Finding More Advanced Spiritual Teachers

Because Western Society often operates on the assumption that bigger is better, I want to emphasize that you don’t need the most powerful spiritual master in the world to teach you. You simply need the person who meets you best where you are now. I know that can’t really be measured or evaluated in a solid way, but that’s just another reason why listening to your inner knowing when choosing a spiritual teacher is so important.

You can get a sense for how powerful a spiritual teacher is the clearer you are about yourself. Initially, you probably will think certain people are more powerful than they actually are. In such an instance, the power you see is how much you have to learn from them. When you complete those lessons, the scales fall from your eyes, and you’ll see more about where they are in their own growth. A spiritual teacher is still a person after all, and this person is growing and evolving in their own divine way and divine timing.

Here’s how I break down levels of spiritual awareness among spiritual teachers:

  1. Spiritual Teacher Level 1: Knows the Path Because S/He Learned It from a Teacher or Book. This individual has been taught. This teacher filed away all the knowledge and is now repeating it. This pretty much defines 90% of spiritual teachers. For example, someone taught them the Bible, and now they are repeating that. There is nothing wrong with this, and it can help you to expand your spiritual understanding. In many ways, this type of spiritual teacher is a defender and preserver of their faith. They ensure that it is passed on as they learned. Meditation teachers, yoga teachers, ministers, rabbis, imams, and so many more can be level 1 teachers.
  2. Spiritual Teacher Level 2: Knows the Path Because S/He Experienced Some of It. This spiritual teacher has experienced a few profound moments, and s/he is sharing the spiritual tools that helped them achieve those experiences to help others find those experiences in their lives. This individual is likely to be interested in rituals, spiritual retreats, somatic experiences, and other spiritual activities that allow the person to engage with spirituality in an experiential way. This type of spiritual teacher is also likely to focus on the spiritual tool or path that helped them to experience their original profound moment. It would be like a yoga teacher who had an amazing heart opening during yoga once, and they now teach yoga to others in hopes of helping their students experience the same type of opening.
  3. Spiritual Teacher Level 3: Actively Embodies the Spiritual Path. In embodying awareness, this teacher is conscious on multiple levels in soul, mind, heart, and body, although probably not completely at peace on all of them. The body consciousness is where this teacher is likely to be least open. However, this spiritual teacher actively walks their talk and can help others move through inner barriers that earlier level teachers cannot do. There is quite a variety of embodied spiritual teachers, however, and there are many depths of self-realization in the heart, body, mind, and soul. This makes the level 3 spiritual teachers very unique from one another. This teacher also can use many different types of spiritual tools because they sense what spiritual tools work best to reveal the truth for each particular student.
  4. Spiritual Teacher Level 4: Allows Presence to do the Teaching. The level four spiritual teacher does the least and the most compared to the other three. S/he allows presence/awareness to do the teaching in the work they share, and most spiritual tools are otherwise irrelevant to them. While they can use spiritual tools and direct others to use them with a clarity about what the tools can and can’t do, they understand that Divine presence is the ultimate teaching. They understand how presence ignites energetic movement towards spiritual truth and freedom. This allows this teacher to offer profound levels of connection, healing, and growth to their students.

The Spiritual Master: A Rare Find

Finally, we come to the spiritual master. The spiritual master radiates energy. When she or he enters the room, the room shifts. The presence of the master can naturally call out darkness in others, and the spiritual master offers a powerful doorway to spiritual freedom to all who come into their lives. This is a powerful, powerful person, and this type of person is one whom you only seek when only the spiritual path matters to you. By the time you are with a teacher at the 3rd level, that should be your mindset, but with the master, you won’t be the same just by being in the same room.

Spiritual masters don’t have to teach. Many of them will be at peace being in the now and not have any motivation to teach. As such, the master spiritual teacher is a rare find.

For more on this topic, you can read my blog called: “Spiritual Masters.”

The False Spiritual Teacher and Cult Leaders

It’s unfortunate, but false spiritual teachers do exist in the world. They use their authority to get things from other people whether it is sex, money, or something else. Some false teachers create communities and become cult leaders. While I don’t see these people as numerous, they can be dangerous, and so it is important to simply know that they exist. They thrive off of controlling others, and they often tell their followers that they are their followers doorway to the divine, enlightenment/awakening, or something else. But this is not true. All of your wisdom is within you, and you are always in the arms of God. Anyone so-called spiritual teacher who claims that you are not good enough as you are or that you aren’t able to access the Divine on your own should raise warning flags in your mind.

For more on the topic of false spiritual teachers and cult leaders, please check out this blog post:

A Great Spiritual Ally on the Path

A spiritual teacher should be seen as a powerful ally and not a friend.

Many people confuse the space by trying to make the teacher their friend. A spiritual teacher can only be considered a friend in the highest regard because s/he is helping you to find the deepest and purest truth within you. Unlike the typical friend, a spiritual teacher may thrust you into difficult parts of yourself so that you face your darkness. A spiritual teacher may say many things that upset you. There is no ego coddling from spiritual teachers–especially the more advanced they are. We know that you won’t want to waste one more second being trapped if you truly understood what spiritual freedom is and what you were missing being trapped in all your pain and lies.

So we help you to destroy illusion and cut away lies. It’s all part of helping you come into your true life and to life from a space of deep love, acceptance, and peace. In that way, the spiritual teacher is the best friend you’ll ever have.

Many, Many Amazing Spiritual Teachers at Your Fingertips

In no age have spiritual teachers been so readily available. In centuries past, you had your one priest or local rabbi or someone else, and that was it in your town. The Internet has changed all of that. Be grateful of this gift and use it well and with curiosity.

Obviously, I am one of many spiritual teachers, and I encourage you to take a chance if you feel called to work with me. Your freedom and your love are worth it.

For more on the topic of the spiritual teacher, you can check out this YouTube video. Hey, look at the fluffy-haired dude. Haha.


I'm a spiritual teacher who helps people find freedom from suffering.


  1. Hi Jeff. I think that's a question best left to your own heart as you discover your spiritual path. You'll know who is a master when the time is right just as you'll be ready for a master when the time is right.

  2. Thanks, Mia. Yep. Teachers are always around us, but the most important spiritual teacher is the one inside you. 🙂

  3. Yes, a Spiritual Teacher guides you to become 'able' to think and feel one's own true self-generated thoughts and emotions. A 'Cult Leader' tells you what to believe.

  4. So is there no point in becoming a spiritual teacher? As when you reach mastery you won't want to teach anymore?

  5. Mastery is about really being good at doing something. The master is someone who is beyond attachment to being good at doing something. S/he can teach or not as they are guided.

    The idea of something having a "point" or "meaning" to it is an ego idea. This should be investigated. Many people do not actually want to be spiritual teachers; they are doing so because they're trying to meet deeper ego issues.

  6. Thank you for this article.
    Your blog has been a blessing to me.

    Lots of love and blessings.

  7. Pingback: Forgiveness Is The Key To Happiness - Dorothy M. Neddermeyer, Ph.D.

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