The Transmission of Consciousness: Reviving the Role of the Spiritual Master

An interview with Dr. Dario Salas Sommer
by Jessica Roemischer

Jessica Roemischer
Bio & resources


In our cultural milieu, the traditional model of the teacher-disciple relationship is, for many, a relic from the past. Indeed, postmodernity has fought hard to wrench itself free from the strictures of religion and religious authority. In a time of unprecedented personal freedom, even those who are drawn to a spiritual life can find it difficult to imagine being beholden to anyone. So it is rare to find someone, particularly from the contemporary West, whose life and work express the conviction that in order to fully realize our human potential, we must yield to another to guide us and enter into the classic definition of discipleship.

That doubtless conviction comes from philosopher, spiritual teacher, and author Dr. Dario Salas Sommer. Salas, who has published eight books under the pseudonym John Baines, is a strikingly passionate advocate for the teacher-student relationship. He has rekindled a mystical teaching known as Hermeticism, which first emerged in the temples of ancient Greece and has been conveyed from one generation to the next by living transmission from master to disciple. Practiced and preserved over the millennia in the inner sanctums of secret societies, Hermeticism has inspired many of the West’s mystery schools, including Rosicrucianism, Freemasonry, and Theosophy, and Salas has revivified the essence of this teaching for a postmodern age.

A legendary figure in his native South America, Salas is becoming more widely known throughout the world. The director of the Institute of Hermetic Philosophy, which he founded in 1961, and which has centers on three continents, he is engaged with an expanding international body of students located in North and South America, Europe, and Russia. As the guiding inspiration to his students and thousands of others worldwide, he upholds the perennial goal of the spiritual life—“moral and spiritual elevation”—and affirms the only means by which, he believes, it can be attained: an authentic relationship between student and teacher.


What Is Enlightenment: In many religious traditions, the spiritual teacher was considered essential to transformation. But today, in an age of heightened individualism, you are a rare voice defending the classic tradition of the teacher-student relationship. Can you speak about the role of the teacher on the spiritual path and why it continues to be so essential?

Dario Salas Sommer: There are two kinds of relationships between the master and disciple. There’s one where the master gives the disciple information he or she will use to improve his or her life. But there is another kind of relationship where the master gives part of his own consciousness to the disciple. Through the consciousness of the master, students can become enlightened because they now have the parameters within them for what is real and what is false, and by that I’m talking about levels of reality—a deeper reality. Naturally, in the world there are many masters, but they work on different levels. And I believe the highest expression of the student-teacher relationship takes the form of this transmission of the master’s consciousness.

In the traditions of the past, initiation ceremonies were carried out in the temples, and these were extremely serious. When a candidate for initiation came up, they would ask him if his intentions were pure, and if he said yes, they would give him two glasses of wine. They’d say, “One of these glasses has poison in it, and the other doesn’t. If your intentions are pure, your spirit will guide you to choose the correct glass without the poison.” If the candidate doubted his own intentions, he was free to go. Otherwise, he’d choose a glass and drink it. Naturally, they had the antidote waiting in case he drank the poison. In that initiation, the master would transmit something to the person that would start a fermentation process within the student’s soul. And that transmission gave the student motivation, enthusiasm, and strength and initiated the student on the path.

WIE: Many today claim that we no longer need the teacher and that we can transform our consciousness on our own.

First of all, we have to ask who it is that is expressing that opinion. In the New Age movement, there’s too much esoteric information available, and people develop fantasies that spiritual transformation is easy. But the great difficulty has to do with ego. The ego defends itself. It has its own “program.” Within that program is something like a file, and that file is on self-defense. So, is the opinion that we no longer need a teacher being held by the spirit of a person or by the program of that person? I think it’s the program defending itself. It’s vanity, it’s pride, it’s an excessive feeling of self-importance.

It’s only possible to advance on the spiritual path if we lose our self-importance, because personal importance blinds us. We can’t see reality. We don’t value other people’s opinions because all we do is look at our own image, and this is the basis of narcissism. We only listen when the other person agrees with us. Narcissism damages the possibility of spiritual evolution because narcissists always think they’re right. They don’t listen to other people’s points of view. Narcissism strengthens the ego; humility, on the other hand, is the opposite of narcissistic self-importance.

WIE: So you’re saying that a teacher is, in fact, required to bring about spiritual transformation.

Salas: Yes. How can a machine stop being a machine by itself? It’s impossible. How can a computer switch on and change its own program? How can a computer modify its own hard disk? There may be good intention, which is respectable, but it doesn’t lead you to anything practical. Human beings can’t see themselves. A person has a blind spot for their own mind; they can’t see their own defects.

Let’s relate this to entropy. Entropy is what is easy. When a rock is falling, it’s entropy. Can the rock get back to the top of the mountain by itself? It can’t. And spiritual evolution is like climbing Mount Olympus. I’m convinced that it’s very difficult for a person to change by themselves unless they have a catastrophe in their own life that produces an emotional catharsis—where they’re about to die and agonizing on their deathbed, or something like that. We need someone on the outside to look at us and tell us what is happening to us, a guide who’s already gone up that path and who knows what the temptations are, where the enemies are, and what you have to do to avoid them.

WIE: What is the student’s responsibility in this process?

Salas: I want to caution those who think that being directed by a spiritual master means to encounter a fountain of wisdom and spiritual help without giving anything in return. For the student, spirituality doesn’t address itself to his or her capriciousness or whims. If a student has ten defects, he will need to overcome these defects to perfect himself spiritually. God is not going to forgive that person his defects; nobody is going to wipe them away.

A student has to conquer them, overcome them. When an Olympic athlete wants to run a hundred meters and be the champion, it doesn’t matter if he’s a believer or a nonbeliever. It doesn’t matter if he prays or if he doesn’t pray. What really matters is the physical training, the willpower he has, the discipline he has, the emotions he has, his internal strength. And as he does this, he proves to himself that things work in a certain way according to scientific paradigms and not according to his whims. And through his own life, he’s able to acquire faith and profound conviction and create the energy necessary to evolve.

WIE: Can you speak about some of the temptations and obstacles one may encounter on the path?

Salas: They say that a teacher does his work because there are temptations on our path. If there was no temptation, people wouldn’t sin. If there was no sin, the teacher would be without a job. If the only thing that existed in the world was goodness, we would be like sheep that do not evolve. Temptations exist for a reason. They lead us to hell, and we can only go to heaven by overcoming and conquering the temptations that are put in front of us.

We might ask ourselves, “Why did God make this so difficult for us?” And the answer is that if we didn’t have a body, we wouldn’t be in sin; we would be in paradise, but we wouldn’t know what life on earth was like. You can’t evolve when you’re in heaven. You can only evolve if you have a physical body. Through the physical body, you can create the necessary energy that you need to be able to evolve and make your spirit grow. The body is continuously seeking for its own balance, its own homeostasis, but if it arrived at that perfect balance, it would die—as soon as balance occurred, it would be in a static equilibrium and that would be equivalent to death.

The same thing happens within the universe, and this is the reason for the eternal struggle between good and evil, which illustrates the perfect wisdom of the energy that created the universe. With regard to human beings, we have to conquer evil to be able to evolve and become more spiritual. So absolute evil is everything that stops the human being from evolving, everything that keeps him in a state of hypnosis. That which is good, from an absolute point of view, is everything that helps a human being to awaken.

WIE: Can you explain further how this applies to the pursuit of a spiritual path?

Salas: The student has to choose between good and evil for themselves. We choose badly when we choose the dark forces, which are opposed to our light side and which enjoy putting obstacles in front of us. They will tempt us to leave the spiritual path, and we may choose to run away. A person’s light side, however, will choose to remain on the path. And yet, when a student has created a good amount of light within themselves, that’s when the dark forces are going to attack that person even more strongly. As time goes by, a person will have to face even greater challenges and difficulties. Not physically, but through the person’s passion, through their emotions and their thoughts. They’re going to be tempted to lose faith. The path gets more difficult and the problems become greater. It’s very similar to what happens to someone who takes on bodybuilding. They start working out with small weights, and as time goes by, they need to use heavier and heavier weights. The same thing happens on the spiritual path.

WIE: So no matter what a teacher offers the student, it’s ultimately up to that student to choose for the light.

Salas: Yes, and in trying to guide his students, a spiritual master confronts this difficulty. There’s a cosmic law that says that you can’t make someone evolve—you can’t pressure them in any way at all. Our personality is very strong, and we’re not conscious beings. We’re mechanical beings, and our consciousness has to be developed. But as mechanical beings, the ego feels that it’s being threatened to death by the master.

So when someone enters the spiritual path and finds a master, they’re often going to be faced with a problem. They come to the master and say, “I want to change. I want to evolve. I want to be spiritual. I’m tired of myself.” The master says, “Then do this.” And the student replies, “Yes, I understand that clearly,” and starts off with a great deal of enthusiasm. But as time goes on, the mechanisms that defend the ego start to work. Gradually, the student begins to believe that what the master says to him is not quite right. The student believes that the master is being abusive. And as a result of these defense mechanisms of the ego, he or she may leave the spiritual path. The student may begin to have aggressive feelings and thoughts toward the master. What happens most frequently is that the student runs away, they leave.

And at that moment, the ego causes tremendous anguish, because the person divides into two: a part that really does desire to be on the spiritual path and a dark side that feels that the spiritual path is a death threat, and that closes the path for that person. But the spiritual state a disciple experiences while following this path is so different, so sublime, that once the student has gone beyond a certain limit, he or she will not be the same as before, even if they leave the path. One who has tasted it is eternally bound to it.

WIE: Can you describe what occurs if the student does choose to stay on the path?

Salas: In the end, all initiation represents a struggle between good and evil, between the blind, bestial, and destructive force of the disciple and the intelligent consciousness of the guide. This is why the disciple must obey the teacher’s will. Milarepa was one of those great masters who said that people cannot evolve unless they hand over their will. This was practiced in ancient times, but it is not practiced today. At the same time, if a student does actually hand over his or her will, then the master becomes responsible for that person’s life.

In fact, that’s the worst possibility for a master. It’s as if you will yourself to become infected with AIDS; nobody would do that. Because, in helping the student to change, the master is taking on the karma of the student—they are changing that person’s destiny. I’m not talking about destiny in terms of astrology, but the destiny created as a result of all the actions a person has taken in his or her life. The actions that a person has committed in the past define the person’s destiny up to the present moment, and those actions also define what’s going to happen in the future.

It’s very easy to predict somebody’s future without a crystal ball. You just need to know what the main mechanism is for that person and you can guess what’s going to happen in their immediate future. So when a spiritual master changes the life of a person, he becomes responsible for that person’s life; he is changing that person’s life, and in that he is altering life itself.

WIE: The kind of teacher-student relationship you’re describing has mostly been relegated to our spiritual past, at least in Western culture. Is it really possible for this kind of relationship to exist in our twenty-first-century world?

Salas: The world is undergoing a crucial period, and we are in desperate need of just, strong, wholehearted, and upright human beings imbued with the ideals of peace, love, abundance, and good for all mankind. To achieve this, each human being has the inescapable obligation to seek moral and spiritual elevation and thus contribute to world peace. And the one who yearns for this must contribute with his own love for humanity. But there exists only one path, and that is to enter into contact with an authentic spiritual guide who will lead the aspirant by the hand along the steep and arduous path, who will be a pillar of support without which he may never successfully overcome the obstacles that are placed in his way.

This process is the rebirth of the human being—a complete regeneration through the vehicle of consciousness. It is freedom from fate, chance, ignorance, vanity, and pain, and one who has accomplished this and is fully conscious of his human duties starts a crusade of impersonal help to humanity. The goal is cooperation toward universal peace, and to give others an opportunity to acquire the same knowledge he or she has received. In this way, a great universal chain is formed whose origin is lost in antiquity and whose existence will never end, because there can be no more sublime power than that of an individual who becomes the complete master of his soul.

DVD Blueprints for Awakening – Wisdom of the Masters


Blueprints for Awakening is for everyone who has an inner passion to know who they are and what they are doing here as a human being. It is for all who ask the question ‘Who am I?’ and for those who are looking for guidance on the teaching of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi to ‘be as you are’.

‘This is arguably the best and finest introduction to the hallowed teaching of Advaita Vedanta that has ever appeared. … a marvellous collection of authentic sage wisdom-teaching, perfectly designed to give the correct pointers to Self-realisation for today’s seekers after essential Truth.’ Alan Jacobs, President Ramana Maharshi Foundation UK

This unique film presents fresh, modern dialogues with 16 Indian masters about ancient truth. Premananda’s familiarity with this subject, combined with his many years of experience guiding spiritual seekers, create fascinating, lively interactions with each of the Masters. The questions relate to major topics which we meet on the spiritual journey, such as Enlightenment, Self-enquiry, the Nature of the Mind and the World, Guru and Devotion.

Premananda – Blueprints for Awakening. Wisdom of the Masters (2008)

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