We all need to learn to trust our gut. Perhaps I need to learn it most of all. As the world of spirituality increases, one of the problems is that there isn’t any central body that licenses or otherwise acknowledges teachers. That means there isn’t a central body that can discipline them, either. Of course, that true of some religion as well. Non-denominational Christianity doesn’t have a centralized body where teacher misconduct can be reported, and neither does most of Buddhism – though, to be fair, the Insight Meditation Communities have a strong code of teacher ethics and a system of discipline, and Zen has acknowledged the need to develop such a system. The problem is that there will always be rather large corners of the spiritual and religious world where adequate supervision doesn’t exist or where teacher credentials are rather esoteric and unverifiable, such as the Tibetan Buddhist system of reincarnate Lamas.
All of this means that we all need to trust our instincts. If something consistently doesn’t feel right, or if a particular teacher or center seems to have repeated ethical lapses, or if there are behaviors repeatedly seen in allegedly advanced students that don’t seem consistent with advanced spiritual practice, it’s best to err on the side of safety and seek instruction elsewhere. Of course, anyone can have a bad day or even a bad week, but when patterns start to emerge over a period of time then we are justified in having serious reservations. It can be especially difficult for those of us who seek to study a tradition where local teachers are few, and we can put our reservations on hold because we desperately want to work with a teacher. At those times we have to ask which is worse – studying at a distance or through video teachings or risking working with a con artist? I know what my answer is.