What is a Spiritual Master? (Is it me? I feel like it’s me.)

I started with this: What is a spiritual master?

I wrote 2,500 words on that. Here are the ones that were at least somewhat coherent:

Who was the first spiritual master and how did she get that designation? She either self-designated or it was her followers who designated her as such. It comes down not only to self-belief, but the belief of others.

If a person attained spiritual mastery in the woods, but there was no one there to market the cult, did that person really achieve mastery?

I would think that most people who have been designated spiritual masters would demur the title because, having attained that height, they would be privy to seeing all the eternity of heights still waiting to be scaled. There’s this Brigham Young quote. To paraphrase: “Just as you are ready to have the mysteries of the eternities bestowed upon you, you realize there is an eternity of mysteries to bestow.”


(Whenever you have a chance to exclaim “sidebar,” do it. It’s good for the soul.)

To Christians, is Jesus the only spiritual master and everyone else, including saints and holy fools, is a spiritual piker by comparison?


End sidebar.

I think we have to get personal:

I think spiritual mastery is in the eye of the beholder. I think Joseph Smith was a spiritual master. I think the oracles at Delphi, if they were doing what they were purported to be doing, were spiritual masters. I think the Buddha was a spiritual master. I don’t know the Dalai Lama well, but I hear tale he is a spiritual master, though I suspect he especially would tell you he is not. Jesus was a spiritual master and would have probably told you that he was.

Let’s get even more personal:

If I were a spiritual master, what would I be able to do? What would I be? Very important questions for a future cult leader. As many famous cult leaders have proven in the past, you certainly don’t have to be a master of anything but charisma in order to lead a cult. As the leader of my cult, however, I think spiritual mastery—or near spiritual mastery—is just as important as education. We’re going to be sort of a highbrow cult after all.

I wouldn’t admit that I was a spiritual master either, but if my followers were to say so, who am I to deny the crown? Am I Caesar? Nope. That’s a whole other kind of cult.

When I pray, I hear responses in whispers in my mind. I hear them in casual speech. How do I prove to my followers that I converse with gods? No idea at all. How do I prove it to myself? Especially no idea.

Four out of five cult members agree?

I’ll shoot for that.

Mostly I get personal advice and comfort. Sometimes though it gets more global. That’s probably where I could prove my chops to my followers. It would be in how they feel about the spiritual wisdom I’m laying down. Does it ring true or false? Is it helpful to you? Does it sell books? Does it make you want to sign over all your property and life savings to me? Then I’m a spiritual master, says them. Yay god!

I got a little carried away there, but the part about it ringing true to others is big. As we have already discussed, the title must come from others, so others would have to find that wisdom about the world, spirituality, cosmology, and the logistics of godhood plausible, useful, and/or enlightening.

Pause for thought. Can you smell the burning rubber?

I just realized that, for all my big talk, I can’t define what would indicate a spiritual master to me personally because I don’t really believe it’s possible. It’s that whole eternity of mysteries thing again. I don’t even think there are any gods who are spiritual masters in that sense. Certainly they are more masterly than I am, but master implies full control and knowledge of everything having to do with the spirit.

Well now… I just got my definition there, didn’t I?

Is that achievable to humans? I don’t think so.

Is that achievable to any being? Not any being I know of. The only being I can think of that would be a spiritual master by this definition would be big “G” God because he is supposed to be omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. That would apply to the spiritual realm as well. I, however, do not believe there is such a god possessing those qualities, so I suppose I have aced myself out of believing there is any true spiritual master anywhere.


There are still questions: If pure spiritual mastery is not attainable, might there still be something we could designate as human spiritual mastery? That would be attaining all the knowledge and control of spirit of which a human is capable. But that comes down to faith. A person who may be considered a spiritual master in Buddhism could be considered hopelessly spiritually ignorant by adherents to other religions. Hopelessly spiritually ignorant or even evil.

Words. Words. Words. And yet I believe I’ve actually only established three things:

  1. True, objective spiritual mastery would only be attainable by a sentient being who is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent.
  2. Only subjective spiritual mastery is attainable to humans.
  3. The criteria for human spiritual mastery depends upon the faith of the title-granting person or people. One woman’s guru is another woman’s out-to-lunch weirdo.

If these three things are true, then we are all left to define for ourselves what a spiritual master is and what she should be able to do.

Sigh. Thinking for myself is hard.

I fear this one is going to have to be a two-parter. “Revenge of the Spiritual Master” coming to a blog near you. Winter 2019. Look out now!


About M. Ashley

Essayist and poet, my work has been rejected by some of the finest journals in America. Fortunately, it also gets accepted from time to time and has appeared in equally fine journals such as Word Riot, Inlandia, Brew City Magazine, and SageWoman among others.. In 2002, I was awarded the Academy of American Poets Prize for Vanderbilt University. For no good reason, I possess an unnecessarily dark humor which is why being third generation California Inland Empirian delights me so. My gods are weird. I once received $350 for writing a smartassed essay on “why the wise use of water is important in my daily life”. I am undoubtedly the Greek god Hermes’ special snowflake. I’m pretty sure I got into college via a series of fortuitous clerical errors. When I had to grow up and get a real job, I decided against it and stayed a writer. I have worked many odd—and I mean odd—jobs to support my habit: Commercial writer for country music hopefuls, resume massager, WalMart fitting room attendant and switchboard operator, telephone psychic.
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