Question: Does one have to have a spiritual teacher in order to follow the spiritual life?

Sri Chinmoy: The necessity of a spiritual teacher in the spiritual life is of paramount importance. As you know, a teacher is necessary in our outer life, no matter what we want to learn. If you want to learn how to swim, how to dance, or how to play a musical instrument, you need a teacher for some time. This is university. Here, all the students are studying under professors. The professors also, once upon a time, had to study. They themselves were students. Now they are in a position to teach and the students are learning from them. Soon, the present students will also start teaching. So it is not that one has to study all his life with a teacher. One studies for fifteen or twenty years. Then one gets his Master's degree and he starts teaching. In the spiritual life, one has to learn how to meditate, how to concentrate. This subject also one has to learn from someone, from an adept, from a spiritual Master. In the spiritual life, if one learns how to meditate and gets inner knowledge, inner illumination, then he will be in a position to communicate with God constantly. Something more, a spiritual Teacher does not act like a teacher or a professor. That is to say, a teacher or a professor will pass you or fail you according to the papers that you have submitted. If you have done well, he will give you a high mark. If you have done badly, he will fail you. But a spiritual Teacher acts like private tutor. He helps you wholeheartedly and unreservedly to pass the examination. And what is the examination? It is to cross the sea of ignorance, which is right in front of human beings. The spiritual Master himself has crossed the sea of ignorance. Then he teaches the aspiring seekers, disciples and followers how they too, can get across the sea of ignorance. This is what he does. He is like a private tutor. To come back to your question: everybody needs a teacher. Then when one gets his own illumination, he does not need a teacher any longer.

But, you can ask, who was the teacher for the first God-realised soul? He didn't have a teacher. He who realised God for the first time didn't have a human teacher, it is true. But, we have to see how many God-realised souls Mother-Earth has been blessed with: many, many, many. Most of them, if not all, had a teacher for three years, ten years, twenty years or forty years. Especially in the beginning, one must have a teacher. Otherwise, one will be terribly confused. One may get high, elevating experiences, but he will not be able to give adequate significance to his own experiences. He will have high experiences and he will tell his friends, his intimate ones. They will say, "It is all your mental hallucination. Forget about the spiritual life." Then if you have faith in your friends, you will do away with your spiritual life. But if you go to a spiritual Master at that time, he will encourage you. He will inspire you and give you proper significant explanations of your experiences. Again, if you are on the wrong path, doing something wrong in your meditation or concentration, he will be in a position to correct you. So, the role of a spiritual Master is that of a private tutor.