How to recognize a true spiritual path...
1. A true path makes you ultimately more independent and sensitive. True spirituality puts the responsibility of your growth and regeneration into your hands. You will be responsible to find your own truth, or in other words: you will find out the truth for yourself. It won't consist in the repetition of set words or phrases, nor in mere devotion to some guru. Devotion to the truth as you find it can of course be expected.
2. On a true path there may be a 'teacher', but they will never teach on any other basis than on your being ready for the teaching. Money will not be asked (other than perhaps costs covering expenses). A poor student will be accepted if he/she is ready for learning.
3. In true spirituality right living is a number one consideration. Whichever list of virtues or vices is used is hardly important. It is important though that real learning only begins after a student has internalized them to some extent and sees for him- or herself that they are important. A student who doesn't see the importance of right living will have to postpone all else to learn the basics first.
4. On a true spiritual path there isn't any reward. The result may be enlightenment, but even that is not gained for oneself, but as 'the power to bless and save humanity'. Any path that promises reward in any form in this life, is partial and perhaps misleading.
5. A true spiritual leader acts on the principles he or she teaches. He or she is chaste or at least faithful to wife, husband or partner. There will certainly be no sexual relations between student and teacher. This is abuse of authority and betrays the trust between the two.
The danger of sects
Then there are of course those paths that are dangerous for social reasons. Many lists have been made on how to recognize a path that will not lead anywhere other than dependence and isolation from your former friends and relatives.
1. The first one has really already been said: in a sect you will be encouraged to let go of friends and family. On a true path one may naturally let go of certain friends as one has grown beyond them. A true path may make one change a lot. But the impulse to let go friends should come from the inside, not the outside. As for family - depending on circumstances of course - most people will find that their relationship with their family changes as well. For some all bitterness disappears and therefore the relationship becomes better. In other cases the family can't accept the changes a person goes through and will let the individual go. But in no case will a true student let go of personal love, just for the sake of the path. Love starts in the here and now, with the people we've been put into this world with.
2. In a sect one will be showered with personal attention at first. There will be a wooing period. More than a simple friendly welcoming, there will be people who act as though they were your friend and will 'reel you in'.
Unfortunately real and fake spirituality have many things in common. Both will appeal to your sense of wanting to belong to a greater whole. Both will encourage you to devote time and energy to 'the cause'. Every organization needs people to help sustain it. On a true spiritual path such selfless service will help to understand the principles of right living. In a sect such service (if performed selflessly), may in the end help to clear the mind enough to be able to leave. The appeal of a sect is partly the fact that it perverts the true. We sense the truth behind it and don't yet realize the false ways in which it has been used. Sects will, for instance, often appeal to a realization that the personality has to be let go. (Sexual) abuse will perhaps be justified in this way. In this case what is forgotten is that when the personality is let go, it will be replaced by a true awareness of what is right and wrong. The body and the personality are linked, so anything that strengthens the animal passions will only help pervert the personality. Sex will not help in going beyond the personality (except of course, temporarily).
If your heart is guiding you to embrace God through the Natural World-the Franciscan soul where the brothers and sisters of the Tau Community of Franciscan Universal Monks endorse the U.N.’s Charter of Compassion towards all faiths and none as modern day lay monastics from your monastery without walls, then why not visit our website: http://www.interfaithfranciscans.comOur next enrollment date for new members to our online non residential Oblate studies programme as an Franciscan Interfaith Oblate is:
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Pax et BonumBrother Sean
Spiritual Director of the Virtual Monastery of Saint Francis
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Brother Sean-Barefoot Franciscan Monk