The Golden Sufi Center

An Interview with Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

by Mariana Caplan

This interview appeared in Mariana Caplan's recent publication, Do You Need A Guru: Understanding the Student-Teacher Relationship in an Era of False Prophets

Q: The topic I am addressing in this book is a deep consideration of the issue of spiritual authority and discipleship.

LVL: You will be totally misunderstood.


Q: I want help to elucidate this topic from a variety of perspectives in order to increase the likelihood of conveying some understanding on the matter.

LVL: I'm sure you do! So are you proposing a six-volume book? You see, in the West it's become very complicated because spiritual authority is understood on the wrong levels. The difficulty for me in talking about this is that it has never been a problem for me personally. I met Mrs. Tweedie when I was nineteen years old. When you encounter a real spiritual authority, something in you just bows down. I was always a rebel in school and never accepted any authority and got into a lot of trouble because of that, so it was a bit strange to suddenly to find myself in the presence of somebody to whom I would unconditionally do anything she said. But something in me just bowed down and accepted her authority.


Q: Yet people are afraid to agree to such a relationship because they fear they will be taken advantage of in some way.

LVL: A real master is totally free and wants to give you freedom, and therefore has no interest in imposing his or her will on you. He or she doesn't even have any will because their will is the Will of God.

What is not understood is that a real teacher will never threaten the free will of a human being because they know that it is gift from God. A real teacher will never force somebody to do something against their will because they respect the freedom of the human being. Before the master tests a human being, he or she has to give permission to be tested. He or she has to say "Yes." Because certain things can't be done to a human being, spiritually, without the human being saying, "Yes, do with me as thou wilt."


Q: What can't be done without permission?

LVL: The human being has to be turned inside out, has to be burnt to ashes, and a master can't do that to a human being unless they say "yes." They don't have the right to. Because everybody is free. The disciple, at each place along the way, is given a choice: Do you want to continue, do you not want to continue? The teacher is there to open your heart, to tear you apart and feed you to the lions of love. But not everybody wants that. They would prefer to argue about authority dynamics. It's so petty and so irrelevant.

There are some souls that come into this world already surrendered to God. There is a desire to be with God that overrules any human desire. But those people are rare. Most people say they want but they don't want. This is the whole struggle of the spiritual path do they want to surrender, or do they not want to surrender? Do they want the world? Do they want a love affair? Do they want all the illusions that come up? The teacher has to respect their free will in regards to each of these issues.


Q: The free will you speak about seems very different than a teacher's freedom. Is it really free or just some mechanical function?

LVL: You have the choice to say yes to God or to say yes to your ego. And it's a very definite choice. I have seen people choose not necessarily knowing that they have chosen but I've seen it. They rapidly drift away from the path, and suddenly they are back in the world. Maybe they get something they always thought they wanted like a new career, or a new lover in their life, and they don't know that they have said no, but they have said no. They were given a choice.


Q: Even if they don't know they were given a choice?

LVL: They know somewhere within. It depends how strong the longing is in the human being, and how much pushes them from within. It is said that even until the last initiation, the teacher does not know what choice the disciple will make. The disciple can say yes, or the disciple can say no. It has to be like that.


Q: What is the function of the teacher?

LVL: People make the mistake of thinking that spiritual power is about telling somebody what to do. Spiritual power is about being able to take a human soul and turn it back to God, to be given the authority to work with the soul of a human being, to work in the secret places of the heart that belong only to God. That is real authority. And that requires tremendous humanity.

In the West, individuality is so important and we project that into this relationship with the teacher and make a mess of it. We stir it up and get confused, and fight imaginary demons, but the teacher wants nothing from the disciple, because the teacher is free. How can the teacher want anything from a disciple? If they do, they're not a teacher because they're not free. But the disciple projects into this empty space of the teacher all of their psychological dramas. They find something that the teacher said that they disagree with, and then they fight about it and go off and say, "The teacher said this and this and this." Maybe the teacher did and maybe the teacher didn't. It really doesn't matter. The disciple is given the opportunity to play out all of their dramas, all of their psychological problems, and some people get stuck in the psychology of it all. And I've seen that happen. They walk away angry and resentful. And that's fine too, because human beings are free.

Those who don't walk away who begin to see that there is something else underneath start to find what is there. They get a little bit closer to themselves, to their own true nature. They walk another few steps on the path and the teacher just watches.


Q: How do you handle peoples' psychological projections onto you?

LVL: I did discover people like to play power games against me, but I also discovered that "It takes two to Tango." If I don't involve myself in it, then there is no game and the person is left chasing his or her own shadow. I have other things to do with my time. You see, the relationship of the teacher to the disciple is just love. The love is present there at the beginning and the love is present there at the end. As a teacher, you see the disciple's potential to realize. You have no interest in playing authority games.

Occasionally you have to be a bit rude to wake something up in them. Sometimes they take it right and sometimes they don't, but that's up to them. If they don't want to remain a student they are welcome to go. Sometimes they come back after a few months or a few years. Sometimes they don't, and that's fine too.


Q: Tell me about your teacher.

LVL: I went from upper middle-class, English boarding school, to sitting at the feet of a woman intoxicated with God. And I stayed there. It was my only reality. My wife and I lived and stayed in the same house with Mrs. Tweedie for ten years, and she was always under orders from her teacher. So we lived in a house with somebody who was under orders. And there was never a question. We couldn't have lived there if we didn't jump when we were told to jump. What I'm trying to say is that with real authority, you can't question it.


Q: How should a student work?

LVL: It's different for each of us and a mystery as well. The moment you try to crystallize it, it's like a dream, like a butterfly. The moment you try to hold it, it's gone. Spiritual life is alive! One day it's like this, the next day it's like that. The Sufis say it has more to do with inner attitude. There is no rigidity. This is why it is so difficult for people in the West. They want to be told what to do. They want to remain like children, so they project the father or the mother onto the teacher. Then there is an inevitable authority conflict and all sorts of exciting dynamics.

But spiritual life is not like that. It is about catching this golden thread of your own destiny, and looking for the signs of God everywhere. Those hidden signs in yourself, in the outer world, listening to your dreams, your intuitions, what books come your way, what your teacher says and what your teacher doesn't say.

The moment you try to crystallize a spiritual path in the rules of this world you've lost it. Because the whole purpose of the spiritual path is you attune to something which isn't quite in this world, which is faster than the vibrations of this world, which isn't caught in crystallized patterns.


Q: Given the ambiguity of it all, how should a student proceed?

LVL: You will attract the experiences you need. You will learn what you need to learn. If you need to learn to be deceived by a charlatan, a charlatan will deceive you. You will learn something and you will go on. And the next time, if your karma allows, you will find a real teacher. It is so simple. It is your attitude that matters. The light of the higher self will guide you where you need to go. If your attitude is correct then you will see what you need to see. You will get the experiences you need to get. And that's the way it is. It is the attitude of the disciple that matters.


Q: Can you do it without a teacher?

LVL: You can't do it on your own. You need a certain energy what Sufis call the grace of the guru to reach reality. It is given into the heart, given to the higher organs of consciousness. That's what the teacher does. The teacher makes sure that you are living in a way that doesn't interfere with this inner process so that you can develop, get in touch with, and awaken to your higher consciousness. That's all.

Those who want to find the way to God will find the way to God, because God wants them to find the way. He will guide them and He will show them the way. Even if it's not apparent. Even if it's not visible at the beginning. He will give them hints. He will give them signs. He will talk to their hearts. That is how it happens and that's how it always has happened since the beginning of time. And you can't convince anybody else about it, because you either have experienced it and you know it's real, or not. It is like trying to explain the effect of being drunk to somebody who has never tasted wine. You can't. You can write books about it, but being drunk is something else. When you have sat at the feet of a true spiritual teacher it doesn't even have to be your teacher you know. Something inside you knows. And you can't explain how or what. The mind can argue with it and the personality can defend itself against it, but it's real and you know that it's real.


Q: Whereas the path you describe appears to be quite free of linear reason and conventional ethics,the quality of surrender you suggest would seem to result in very specific actions in accordance with "the will of God."

LVL: It is true that the ethics on this path are incredibly high. You're not even allowed, for example, to have a chair if you don't use it—that's considered stealing. If you keep an overdue library book that is considered stealing. Maybe somebody else would need it more. You're not allowed to eat more food than you need because even the worms could use it. But these ethics are not imposed. Nobody tells you that you have to behave in a certain way. It's not written down. But it becomes the way you want to live because then you entangle yourself less in the density of this world and then you are free. Then you have more time to be with your Beloved. Things of the world don't hold you so tightly, and somehow they give you less pleasure. You know, once you have really meditated it is so fulfilling. That's why all these power dynamics seem so odd to me. Why would anybody want to engage messy power dynamics when they could go into meditation and be with their Beloved? Why?


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For further information about Mariana Caplan and her book, Do you Need a Guru, please visit her website at: