Spiritual enlightenment is something that many of us seek, and throughout our lives we are looking to others to help us along the way. If one of my clients asked me, “How do I find a spiritual teacher or guide?” I honestly wouldn’t know where to begin. Luckily, Greg Bogart’s book, In the Company of Sages: The Journey of a Spiritual Seeker, can help people find the right teacher.

This process is much more complicated than it seems, however, and Bogart does a great job of bringing his own experiences on his personal journey into the entire work. He draws from many different spiritual paths of both Eastern and Western spirituality and mysticism, so you don’t necessarily have to be familiar with one particular way of doing things.

One of the challenges of reading this book for me was its length. At 280 pages, not including the glossary, extensive bibliography—the entire book is thoroughly sourced—and an index, it can seem rather intimidating. The author uses plenty of stories and details to paint an extremely vivid picture of his own search for a guru. While autobiographical, the book is very objective and is far more than just a collection of spiritual stories.

Bogart has compiled a cogent work that delineates this entire process into nine distinct stages, from choosing a teacher, through the process of learning from one, testing, awakening, separating from the teacher, and then becoming a teacher to others.

One portion of the book that I didn’t necessarily agree with was the secrecy of the initiation process in Stage Two. Bogart points out that in many cultures, initiation rites were secret to protect them and to make the experience more meaningful. While I can understand and appreciate these points, I think a lot of folks from the west would have difficulty with the idea of a secret initiation ceremony considering the many wrongs that have been done and kept secret by members of the clergy over the years. A ceremony can be meaningful without being secret, and while initiations are not something that just anyone should be able to come and watch, there must be safeguards in place to protect the physical safety and dignity of the seeker.

As a spiritual teacher myself, I found the portions on when to leave a teacher—“Stage Seven: Separating from a Spiritual Teacher”—to be interesting and valuable.  Bogart correctly points out that separation from a teacher is inevitable, that the status quo cannot be forever maintained in the relationship. This is actually a good thing, because the student is evolving. Bogart also suggests that those teachers who are most “enlightened” will not attempt to keep their students from leaving. I definitely agree with this last point. When a student is wise enough to decide for himself or herself that it’s time to move on, getting in the way is counterproductive.

This book may not appeal to a lot of people because it is highly specialized, but if you are looking for a book on finding a spiritual teacher, I highly recommend this one. It reminded me of the Nikos Kazantzakis quote: “True teachers are those who use themselves as bridges over which they invite their students to cross; then, having facilitated their crossing, joyfully collapse, encouraging them to create their own.”
 
~review by John Marani
 
Author: Greg Bogart
Inner Traditions, 2015
pp.280, $19.95

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