What is the nature of the relationship between spiritual teacher and his student?
The student-teacher relationship is one of mutual love and commitment to spiritual actualization. This relationship is not characterized by the student’s blind devotion and surrender to his or her master, which is in fact a type of slavery. Rather, a student must have deep trust in and respect for his teacher, while being empowered through practical tools and precise concepts to carry out the inner work in his own right. In addition to trust and respect, a student should also feel deep gratitude for the help he or she is receiving, and display natural humility towards his or her teacher. There is a law of gratitude within this relationship that can never be broken – when it is, the sacred bond between your soul and the divine that manifests through the living teacher is severed.
In some traditions, a teacher is seen as an omnipotent savoir, while in others, as a person who is more advanced and experienced on the path. What is the correct way to see a spiritual teacher?
No one is omnipotent, but your teacher is indeed your savior – he rescues you from a life of suffering by showing you the way out of the animalistic prison of low consciousness. At the same time, he is indeed just a more evolved human being that can guide you towards the realization of your true self. Given this, you could look at your spiritual teacher as a spiritual friend who already has access to the realms of consciousness that are still inconceivable to you.
Should a teacher behave in a moral way, such as not eating meat, abstaining from sex, not drinking alcohol, etc…?
Your spiritual teacher is a human as you are: he is not priest, monk, or saint. And if that teacher is truly free, he or she is not confined by the moral rules of society. Do not judge a book by its cover, as the saying goes. To feel who your teacher is, you must feel his heart and his intention.
If a teacher’s behavior goes against your expectations, you should try to learn from your reactions. You should ensure that you have confronted your idealism and examined any naive notions that society has brainwashed you with regarding what is right or good. In Buddhism there is a concept of ‘crazy wisdom’ which describes a master deliberately behaving in ‘unacceptable’ ways to help his students to reach emancipation from collective conditioning. He does whatever he wants, but he does it from a place of love.
In any case, how a teacher behaves is his own business. All you really need to be concerned with is – can he help you?
Where is the line between the students own responsibility and the grace and help of the teacher?
It all needs to be in balance. To put it simply, you rely 100% on the grace of the teacher and 100% on your own inner work.