“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” This familiar adage is composed of several key components, which we will analyze in the context of spiritual realization. First, who is a student? A person who aspires to realize their full spiritual potential. What is this potential? Ideally, nothing short of full-blown enlightenment. And so, a student is a spiritual aspirant who is following a spiritual path that will unfold the highest spiritual realization attainable according to the path they are following.
In the language of Catholic mysticism, this rare state of realization is known as Transforming Union or Spiritual Marriage. In Sufism it is called fanā al-fanā or baqā. In Hinduism it is referred to as jivanmukta or kaivalya or turiyatita. In Theravada Buddhism it is called nirvana. In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition of Dzogchen it is known as rigpa. These advanced states refer to a permanent state of enlightenment wherein the aspirant’s realization is so deeply ingrained that they are transformed, and their illumination continues no matter what they do.
Ah, but how many students know of the ultimate goal toward which they can aspire? How many settle for a lesser goal? A person may be content with a sort of comfort religion, whereby their progress comes to a screeching halt at a certain stage. This leads us to the next component: What is meant by “ready”? Ready simply means being receptive to learn what it takes to advance to whatever stage of spirituality on which the aspirant has set their sights.
Next, who is a teacher? The teacher is that which can lead the student to the goal to which they aspire. But sometimes a teacher is not always human. Let’s say a person aspires to master the virtue of patience. Then one’s teacher is every circumstance in life that presents itself. Each circumstance contains a moment that provides an opportunity for the student either to advance toward their goal of mastery, or if ignored, they will complacently remain as they are. The teacher can also appear as a dream. A pet can be a teacher. A dramatic sunset can teach. There are no limits to our teachers.
Finally, what is meant by “appear”? The answer presupposes one key element in the student: aspiration. The student must keenly want to attain their spiritual goal. This desire to progress will fuel their journey. It is in the midst of their fervent wish to progress that the teacher will appear; this is more or less a spiritual law. But one can have several teachers along the way. These outer teachers all serve the one purpose of awakening one’s inner teacher. And so, when a dedicated student seriously pursues one of the higher paths to spiritual realization, a teacher or teachers will mysteriously appear to help catapult them to the next stage, which they must want more than anything in life.
And so we can add another section to our saying: When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. If the student’s intentions are focused and noncompromising, the goal will be attained.