Teaching, Learning and Sharing Spiritual Knowledge

“A wise man, whether teaching or learning, only wishes to learn or teach those things which are useful. He who merely has the appearance of wisdom, whether asking or answering questions, only deals with relatively trivial things.

“A person who through the grace of God partakes of divine blessings is under an obligation to share them ungrudgingly with others. … He who hides the gift in the earth accuses the Lord of being hard-hearted and mean, … while he who sells the truth to enemies, and is then revealed as avid for self-glory, hangs himself.” ~The Philokalia

Teaching and Learning

Teaching and learning are never entirely separate. The wise teacher always learns something from her students. Likewise, the student always has some knowledge to share with the teacher. Instead of teaching and learning, we should probably call it information exchange.

Unfortunately, not everyone who acts as a teacher is wise and not everyone who professes to be a student really wants to learn. This is probably more true in spiritual disciplines than in the more materialistic learning and teaching. I would dare say that one way you know you are working with a real spiritual teacher is that he is willing to listen to his students. He may not agree with them. Letting them do whatever they want is also not reasonable. But he will listen and respond politely and respectfully.

On the other side, there are always students who attend classes with no real desire to learn anything. We have probably all been like that on occasion. I know I have sat in lectures I didn’t pay much attention too because they were required courses that I had no interest in. Months or years later, we find out we could have benefited by paying attention. There are also those who think they know more than the teacher and are their just to show off. The wise teacher generally avoids them.

What is Useful

The author of this section of The Philokalia advises us to teach and learn only that which is useful. Sage advice, but not easy to follow. If we are attending a lecture as a student, we often have only a general idea of what will be taught. And when teaching others, we know what was useful for us, but not always what is useful for the students to learn.

This is not as much of a problem for the spiritual teacher as it is for teachers of the mundane. The spiritual teacher knows that what he is teaching is useful to any student who is truly interested in spiritual development. Even if student is only there out of curiosity, what the teacher has to say remains useful. It may even inspire that person to take a more serious interest. The spiritual teacher does need to avoid getting so advanced that he is talking above his audience. That is why it is important for him to ask questions and learn from his audience. A good teacher of any discipline adjusts his teachings to meet the abilities of the audience.

Share Ungrudgingly

Why bother to teach at all? When it come to the spiritual, the answer is not simply because the person has a desire to teach. It is great f she does, but that isn’t always the case. We do it because we are required to share spiritual knowledge within certain parameters. The parameters beings that we must try our best to teach only those who will use the great wisdom for good. Students who want to gain such knowledge to use to make money or control others should be avoided.

That is why the ancient mystery schools always had a trial period for new students. During the probation, teaching only limited knowledge was practiced. Yet it was shared because we must grow and change together. Individual spiritual growth is limited by the conditions around us. We therefore need to make those conditions more spiritual to allow ourselves to continue to grow. We also do it because if we truly are spiritual, we have great love for all of humanity, no matter how lost many have become.


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