We students often believe that great spiritual insight and sexual addiction (or, indeed, any addiction) are mutually incompatible. We think, Surely anyone with such wisdom would recognize the painful consequences of addictive behavior and be able to hold themselves in check. Once again we are ignoring reality and clinging to a cherished ideal. Not only do some spiritual teachers suffer from sexual addiction, but a few have become notorious for their compulsive sexual encounters, which typically involve their students.

Many of us take this delusion further. We think that spiritual insight can somehow prevent or cure all psychological (and even physical) ills, including those that have neurological or biological roots. In real life, though, spiritual teachers, can and do experience mental illnesses, personality disorders, Alzheimer’s, dementia, ulcers, cancer, and pretty much everything else. (Some students and teachers carry this delusion further still, into the realm of physical injury. When one spiritual teacher was injured by a New York City cab that strayed onto the sidewalk, he was surprised that such a thing could happen to him.)

But spiritual insight does not somehow destroy all of a teacher’s neuroses, moral blind spots, goofy ideas, and difficult temptations. However, the wisest teachers have relatively few of these, are aware of most of the ones they do have, freely admit them, and take care to adjust for them as necessary.

Excerpted from Scott Edelstein’s Sex and the Spiritual Teacher, which we’re discussing over at the Tricycle Book Club. Special book offer available for Tricycle Community Members.

Image: from the Flickr photostream of wallyg

Temple
Dharma to your inbox

Sign up for Tricycle’s newsletters