The great sages, all members of the Parrot Lineage, have said essentially the same thing, and it can be boiled down to two core points:
- All suffering is caused by making a mistake about who/what you really are.
- The cure to this mistake is to know the Truth of who/what you are.
The bells & whistles that the sage in particular, or the students who come after them, lay upon these central points are numerous beyond counting. The form and flavor of the teachings is dependent upon the times, culture, and vessel in which it arises. As time goes on, more meaning and story will be heaped upon the teachings. At some point there will be a reaction that will give rise to another sage who will point back to the original teaching, either within the particular school of thought, or as a new school of thought. This cycle can be seen to repeat throughout history. Personally, I take that as a sign of hope. No matter how deeply buried the teaching gets, it always shines through and keeps bobbing to the top of the sea of meaning despite storms and calm waters alike.
Amidst all these twists and turns, we humble students can get lost in the maze of who we should look to, who we can trust. In the end, as the sages point out, it always comes down to one place: ourselves. Each individual must dissolve the problem of misidentification for themselves, no one can ever do it for another. But, still, without the Parrot Lineage the lesson would never come to our ears. So, teachers are needed, and gratefully received. And so, the problem remains, who to trust, who to trust.
The most accurate plumb line of any good teacher is your own instinct. The core of you that already/always knows the truth beneath all the layers of mistaken identity. One measure of that plumb line I find quite useful in determining the value of a particular teacher/teaching is this:
How much do they fight for market share?
In any business-minded endeavor concern should be paid to how much of the available market you have swayed to believing in, and depending on, your product. If a teacher spends time claiming to have the one true way, or states that in order to walk their path you must abandon all others, they might just be looking upon the business of spreading the Truth of liberation as a business deal. And, if they ask you to devote yourself exclusively to them, I would wonder what they expect to get from the deal.
Should a guru really be spending precious teaching time on jealously guarding their claim to your attention? Should a spiritual guide be concerned with a trade of any kind? Does the sage care overmuch about how they are going to pay the rent? (And, if they do why should it be your problem?) Is the teaching that is about liberation from worldly games supposed to be playing one?
When you feel like you are being sold on a spiritual product, I highly recommend you take a mental step back and really consider what is going on.
I quoted the Buddha on this very subject last week, and it bears paraphrasing: Just because someone said a thing is so, don’t believe it until your own experience (the only real authority) bears out the validity of the statement. Taking things on faith is fine when it comes to modern conveniences, such as the interior workings of an automobile, or the phantom machinations of the internet, but when it comes to something as serious as your own liberation, take nothing on faith. Find out for yourself. You are the only authority, in the end, on what can liberate you. Take any teaching with a grain of salt, and never give your right to your own mind away to anything or anyone.
If a teacher asks for your share of the human market, find out what the profit margins are.