Spiritual practice requires commitment and devotion, but the traps posed by cults are very real. Discernment is essential.

How can we learn to be devoted without being cultish?

Khandro Rinpoche's Profound Thoughts on Devotion and Cults (Photo by Birrell Walsh)
Khandro Rinpoche By Birrell Walsh

Tibetan teacher Khandro Rinpoche provides some profound answers to these questions in her talk here.

Elizabeth Bader has summarized some but by no means all of the important points below.

Devotion is Essential for Spiritual Realization

Devotion is essential for spiritual practice.  Realization can’t happen in a mind that does not have devotion.

But we must ask what devotion is. Being able to put a spiritual practice into practice is the essence of devotion.

Devotion Without Wisdom is Dangerous

Devotion without wisdom or discernment is dangerous.  Here, the West is correct to emphasize investigation.

Investigation and discernment are important so that devotion does not give a rise to a cult or just imitating a teacher.  The wisdom aspect of devotion cannot be omitted.

A Map of the Spiritual Path: The Stage of Fascination

In the beginning of the spiritual path, one either doesn’t know something or one questions something, and becomes fascinated when they seem to find answers on the spiritual path.

This is the time of a big breakthrough.  You become very excited about spiritual practice.

Another Stage: Meeting the Resistance

Eventually, you realize that what you were fascinated with actually entails a lot of hard work.

Now the resistance comes.  At this point, a person may turn back from the path.

Another Stage: Inspiration

Sometimes, something happens which inspires a person to go on. This can take many forms, a parent, teacher, or life events, such as a death.

When something comes at this point to help you continue on the path, this enables you to take a further step and exert much more courage.

Devotion and Unshakeable Confidence

Then a point may come where one sees that no matter how hard it gets, there is nothing else that makes sense.  That is devotion.

At this point, one may still suffer from fear, hesitation and hope, but one develops an unshakeable conviction that no matter how hard it is, one must continue because that is what makes sense. These are the first stages of devotion.

At this level, if one meets with a good spiritual teacher or friend, the devotion can begin to flourish or be refined.  One develops an irreversible confidence which is unshakeable by circumstances or even the teacher.

Devotion allows one to take what has learned from a spiritual teacher and put it into practice.