Three Keys to Choosing a Spiritual Path

Ministers in New Age Spiritual Centers are familiar with the visits of “seekers” – people who spend their weekends visiting Churches and enters, looking for the perfect teacher, the right teaching, the best spiritual practice. They won’t “settle” for just any place, but relentlessly travel and do comparison shopping among all the spiritual goods on display. Jack Kornfield, a Buddhist teacher, wrote:

Spiritual transformation is a profound process that doesn’t happen by accident. We need a repeated discipline, a genuine training, in order to let go of our old habits of mind and to find and sustain a new way of seeing. To mature on the spiritual path, we need to commit ourselves in a systematic way. My teacher Achaan Chah described this commitment as “taking the one seat.”
He goes on: “Achaan Chah’s description is both literal and metaphorical, and his image of taking the one seat describes two related aspects of spiritual work. Outwardly, it means selecting one practice and teacher among all of the possibilities, and inwardly, it means having the determination to stick with that practice through whatever difficulties and doubts arise until you have come to true clarity and understanding.” – “Take the One Seat” – Jack Kornfield, Tricycle, 1993

Advancement on a spiritual path requires that you let go of the role of “seeker” and embrace being a disciple. Instead of searching for a perfect teacher, the work begins when one sits down and says, with the old Civil Rights anthem “I will not be moved”. There are teachers everywhere, and prospective students can spend a lifetime looking – or can sit down and choose to actually begin a practice that will lead to connection with the Divine. Finding the right place and teacher are important – but never more important than beginning to practice.

Find a space and teacher that:

  1. Fits well with your ethical beliefs
  2. Stretches you beyond your comfort zone
  3. Provides a supportive community
  4. Encourages your growth and development
  5. Demands your best effort

Of course, there are cults and those who would abuse your trust. Run away from a place or teacher that:

  1.  Demands all your belongings
  2. Expects sexual favors
  3. Supports behavior you consider immoral or unethical
  4. Suppresses personal opinion or questioning of dogma
  5. Endorses violence
  6. Separates you from loved ones

In Buddhism these principles are stated as the three refuges: “I take refuge in the Buddha (the teacher) the Dharma (the teachings), and the Sangha (the community).” When all three are in place, spiritual practice and growth are supported and become possible.

The Teacher (Buddha) is ideally someone who lives the teachings in daily life. Avoid the trap of searching for the Buddha himself – remember the Buddhist adage “if you meet the Buddha on the road, KILL HIM!” The Buddha is long gone, and anyone claiming to be him is an imposter, trying to take advantage of your spiritual longings.  Commit to a teacher with integrity, experience, and  love of spiritual practice.

If the Teachings (Dharma) are some you are familiar with already, fine. If you must learn a new structure, names, titles, name for the Divine – that can be fun, and offer a whole different experience of spiritual work! There may be a sense of “coming home” when the message resonates at a deep level. There is no one “right” path for everyone – explore enough to find the one that feeds your soul, make a commitment, and SHOW UP!

The Community (Sangha) is where discipleship grows. In the community, there are many teachers, examples of life lived well, and people to offer support and guidance through the weeds. The community provides new friendships, partners, role models and help. Most of all, the community is a refuge, a place to find comfort when life brings pain and despair.

Becoming a disciple is more emotion than logic! The soul recognizes its home, and breathes a sigh of relief when the resting place appears. The guidelines for making a selection are simple and easily met, and to begin does NOT require a long study – though proficiency certainly will require mental effort and courage. Expect to encounter doubt, confusion, and disappointment. The journey is long and never easy, though it is joyful and satisfying – and in the end, the entire reason for this visit to Earth!

AUTHOR BIO Tess Pender is an ordained Interfaith Minister, active in 12-step programs for over thirty years. Her spiritual practice began with Native American Sweat Lodges, and continued with a series of Vision Quests. She led a Teen Spiritual Education Program, and regularly teaches classes on accessing intuition. She practices Earth-Centered Spirituality. She can be reached on Facebook at 1333335763419001/

ABSTRACT Explains what to look for, and what to avoid, when searching for a spiritual home. Explains whey being an eternal seeker will never lead to enlightenment, and the importance of making a choice and a commitment. Explains the three refuges of Buddhism.

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Comment by Tess Pender on May 31, 2017 at 3:32pm

Hi, Kathy!

I'm sorry, but I remain SOOOOO  confused!   I do not remember seeing a "sample abstract" you "provided the other day"!  Did I miss some other message?  I''m sorry to keep being obtuse, but I'm just not getting it!  Is there a way I can talk to someone on the phone - maybe then I could understand!   I'd claim old age, but that is a constant.  this seems to be some kind of mental gap that I just cannot bridge! 

More apologies....



Comment by Kathy Custren on May 29, 2017 at 3:30pm

Tess, just the abstract alone could do with some changes. Did you compare how it looked here with the sample we provided the other day? ~ Blessings! 

Comment by Tess Pender on May 29, 2017 at 2:32pm

Hi, Kathy,

I made some edits.  But from your comment, I got the impression you were suggesting an expansion of what I wrote - but I'm feeling particularly dense today, I guess!  Which area did you think could use more explication?

Thanks, Tess   Namaste!

Comment by Kathy Custren on May 28, 2017 at 5:46pm

Hi, Tess - for consistency's sake, would you have any problem with substituting "teachings" for "Dogma" in the second definition? 

Also, in light of the added description of the Abstract, would you want to expand on or amend what you have here? Let me know once you have made your adjustments and I will review once more. Thanks! ~ Blessings! 

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