Certainly, there are several categories of disciple (beginner, middle, advanced), but now I will describe the most common mistakes made by disciples in general. Obviously, very advanced ones are not included.
Western culture strongly encourages individuality. There is another word that it is frequently mentioned in the West: “freedom”. By freedom most people refer to bodily and mental freedom, obviously. Anyway, even in the case of mind and body, the vast majority of people in the West and, of course, in the entire world, are not free in the fullest sense of word. Their bodies as well as their minds go here and there, but they are not really free. They are at the mercy of external circumstances all the time. This being the case, the word “freedom” really means “limited bodily and mental freedom”. One’s own body might not be in a prison for the entire lifetime, but it is not free ever. It is prone to falling sick at any moment, for example. It is doomed to die sooner or later, too. Mind can move freely from one idea to the other, but it is not fully free because madness is always here like a ghost ready haunt it. When madness is usual (e.g. to think uselessly all day long), people call it “sanity”. For instance, if you consult a psychologist, he or she will very probably tell you that having the mind ON all day long is completely “normal”. Rarely he or she will recommend you to stop your mind every day for a certain period at least. In this way, madness is accepted by everybody as “normal”. But if you ask a spiritual teacher, he or she will tell you that you are crazy (gently, of course) if you keep your mind ON the whole blessed day.
In short, the body is never free, because it is doomed to suffer from diseases, death, etc. from its very birth. If your happiness is based on the physical body, I can assure you that you will never be perfectly happy however hard you try. In turn, the mind is always prone to madness in different ways. A stupid but powerful idea can infect it at any moment and the final result will always be bad. You can analyze human history and see how stupid powerful ideas have infected humankind in the past. The same thing is happening right now, obviously. For example, if you turn on your TV you will see a lot of documentaries dealing with modern science. Along with the good contents you also receive garbage in the form of ideas stating that Life started from the union of some atoms and so on, or that the human being evolved from apes, or that your ancestors are ancient sea creatures, etc. All this garbage always ignores the presence of a Higher Intelligence responsible for all these processes. It is as if such processes happened “naturally”. That is completely false simply because you are NOT mere matter, but to make the things worse, such theories omit the existence of a Creative Force that is superior to human beings. These stupid ideas might seem inoffensive but through repetition people begin to believe that they are true. This is the way madness works. Therefore, if someone is going to build his happiness on this creature prone to madness (i.e. the mind), I can assure him he will not be perfectly happy ever, because the mind can never be freed from the constant bombing of crazy ideas.
Finally, there is the Self. The Self is the “real I”. Someone who builds his happiness on Him is sure to be successful. Such a person does not have to waste his time trying to turn his physical body into immortal and the like, because this body is doomed to failure from the very start. Such a person does not have to waste his time trying to modify his mind so that it will contain only “good ideas” either. NO, in the beginning such a person must learn how to stop his mind at least for short periods every day. Next, in a middle stage, he will have to meditate on his mind as being the Power of the Self. In an advanced stage, he will have to learn how to move his I-consciousness from mind/body to the Self Himself. In the end, that person will not keep the association between the Self and mind/body and he will enjoy perfect happiness forever. When he was ignorant, he believed that his Self or “real I” was his mind/body. As a result, all that occurred to his mind/body he saw as occurring to himself! Now, after having achieved spiritual enlightenment (perfect happiness), he realizes that his Self is never associated with mind/body. Consequently, all that happens to body/mind has nothing to do with himself. “Let this body continue living or let this mind contain wise thoughts. It is none of my business. Let this body die or let this mind go crazy. It is none of my business anyway”, this is the attitude of an enlightened person (a real person with real power).
My previous discourse is useful to understand the main mistake that practically all disciples make in some point of their spiritual path:
They do not listen to their spiritual teacher
This mistake is so usual. It is based on a strong feeling of supposed individuality and freedom. This feeling is strongly encouraged by mother spiritual ignorance, especially in the West. For example: “One is the architect of his own destiny” or “We live in a free country”, or “If I’d had an opportunity, things would have been different”, etc. If you examine these phrases, you will notice that all of them are based on a strong feeling of individuality and freedom. Unfortunately, except in the case of enlightened people, the human being is neither the architect of his destiny nor lives in a free country, nor could have done something different if he’d had the opportunity. This is hard to swallow, I know, but one must abandon such illusions if he wants to achieve Final Liberation. One cannot attain real Freedom if he supposes he is completely Free from the get-go. Therefore, the first task of a spiritual aspirant is not “to do something” but “to stop doing something”, viz. “to stop thinking that he is Free”.
When it comes to the spiritual teacher – disciple relationship, this plague known as “strong feeling of supposed individuality and freedom” keeps playing its infectious role. That is why a disciple advances slowly for the most part: he simply does not listen to his spiritual teacher. He has better ideas instead. For example: the spiritual teacher will tell him not to meditate for more than one hour and a half every day. He will do so for some time, but in due course a lot of disciples will meditate for longer than that (say, 2 or 3 hours). Why? Because of spiritual ignorance. When this happens, the system of the disciple will get damaged sooner or later. There is a reason for that, which I cannot explain here because it is off-topic. Anyway, beyond the damage to his system, there is another invisible damage occurring: the institution called “spiritual teacher – disciple” was established by the Self (the Supreme Lord) in the scriptures. When a disciple crosses the line as far as obedience to his spiritual teacher is concerned, he is also breaking all the laws that the Self established for the spiritual teacher – disciple relationship. Consequently, he stops being a disciple of that spiritual teacher while he keeps his disobedience. This being the case, what is the point of meditating for more than one hour and a half then? To try to realize the Self by breaking His own rules is absolutely nonsensical. Nobody will be able to do it that way.
One day, that very spiritual teacher tells his disciple that he is now allowed to meditate for more than one hour and a half every day provided he meets certain conditions (e.g. being celibate). If the disciple behaves as he should, he advances quickly, but if he crosses the line again, his system get damaged. Meditation is not a toy you play with but a powerful method to realize the Self. If you do not follow the instructions of your spiritual teacher, you will fail in the end. There is no doubt about it. You will fail not only because your system will be damaged sooner or later, but because you cannot realize the Self without paying due respect to His laws. The Supreme Lord established that the spiritual teacher – disciple relationship must follow certain rules (e.g. obedience). If you break this, you cannot expect to realize the Self. It is the Self who reveals Himself to the disciple out of His Free Will. If the Self does not want to do so, you will not realize Him however hard you try. So, certainly, the methods are very important when it comes to Self-realization, but it is much more important the way you treat your spiritual teacher and his teachings. You are “free” to follow your own ideas about spirituality, but this is never recommended. If you were able to become a free person on your own, you would not need a spiritual teacher in the first place.
I repeat, the notion that one is an individual full of freedom is taken for granted, especially in the West. You cannot imagine how effective this plague is in slowing down the advance of people desirous to realize the Self. It should be considered as a pest because it really is one, be sure. I can affirm that this plague is the root-cause for 50% or more of all the problems a disciple runs into in his spiritual path. Many will never overcome it, indeed. This disease is constantly strengthened by almost all that is around a disciple. How to realize the Self in a world which is always encouraging exactly the opposite? Well, the disciple will have to manage to overcome all the obstacles in his way or he will not be able to attain Self-realization. It is that simple. Hence, this task is not for timid people but for real warriors. Real Freedom is not cheap.
They assign a good or a bad ego to the Self
The Self is inconceivable. He is good, bad and something else too… and at the same time He is neither good nor bad, etc. You cannot say what He is ever. He cannot even be delineated in though by any means. This is not my invention but a truth established in the scriptures. When a disciple assigns a “good” or “bad” attribute to Him, this could be useful for some time, but in order to finally achieve spiritual enlightenment, he must realize Him as He is really: inconceivable.
All the genuine disciples are devotees because they are “devoted” to the Self. The most common kind of devotee strongly considers the Self as always “good”, while the rest of garbage is attributed to mother spiritual ignorance and so on. They are all the time thinking that the Self is a mine of Compassion while all that is bad comes from somewhere else. Accordingly, all the people who realized the Self “should” be good, compassionate, etc. in their opinion. So, if a Self-realized person assumes other characteristics than goodness, compassion and the like, they fail to recognize him as such. Despite their narrow conception of the Self, these people are devotees anyway, because they are devoted to Him alone.
There is another strange kind of devotee who thinks that the Self is a bad Guy always pestering him. I am not joking. I have seen this type of devotee in person. His protests about how bad the Self is are laughable. He can never find a good thing about Him. Who is spoiling his life? The Self! Who is bringing all these problems to him? The Self again! These rare devotees are not even considering assigning at least a little portion of their misfortune to something else but the Self: not even destiny, fatality, inherent human evilness, mother nature, etc. can enter their minds as the possible cause for their misfortune. NO. It is always Him. They are real devotees anyway, despite their strange condition, because they are devoted to Him alone.
However, whether they assign a good or bad ego to the Self, they must abandon that attitude in order to attain Final Liberation. The Self contains all the attributes, be sure, but essentially He is devoid of them all. The Self is absolutely inconceivable and if you want to fully merge into Him, you have to cease treating Him as a good or bad Guy. Since He is essentially beyond description, if you can describe Him as good, bad, etc. you are still subject to mother spiritual ignorance. Therefore, you must abandon, sooner or later, your assigning attributes to Him, the inconceivable One, or you will not attain spiritual enlightenment as you should. This is easier said than done, but somehow a disciple must get rid of all those things or he will not realize the Self as He is really. The “devotee” stage is like a vehicle that takes you to the temple. Once you get there, you must leave the vehicle and enter the temple on foot. In the same way, to be a devotee implies “dualism” (you and Him). In this way, you cannot enter the non-dual Truth (the Self) if you retain dualism. You must achieve complete identification with Him or no spiritual enlightenment will take place in the right manner. You will experience visions, supernatural sounds, etc., but that is not Final Liberation. Final Liberation means acquiring His Freedom. You cannot get It, if you keep being a narrow-minded devotee full of duality.
In my next article I will continue speaking about this topic.