I read the seventh and final volume of Thomas Merton's journals, The Other Side of the Mountain, in 1998 when it first appeared. I am currently re-reading it. It is once again proving to be page turner for one who has both a nostalgic and a scholarly interest in the far-off and fabulous '60s. But what a gushing liberal and naive romantic Merton was! Here is but one example:
Yesterday, quite by chance, I met Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and his secretary . . . . Chogyam Trungpa is a completely marvelous person. Young, natural, without front or artifice, deep, awake, wise. [. . .] He is also a genuine spiritual master. (October 20, 1968, p. 219, emphasis added)
Unfortunately, the 'spirituality' of many 'spiritual masters' is of the New Age type, a type of spirituality that fancies itself beyond morality with its dualism of good and evil. One of the worst features of some New Age types is their conceit that they are beyond duality when they are firmly enmired in it. Perhaps the truly enlightened are beyond moral dualism and can live free of moral injunctions and prohibitions. But what often happens in practice is that spiritual aspirants and gurus fall into ordinary immorality while pretending to have transcended it. One may recall the famous case of Rajneesh. Chogyam Trungpa appears to have been cut from the same cloth. According to one report,
. . . Trungpa slept with a different woman every night in order to transmit the teaching to them. L. intimated that it was really a hardship for Trungpa to do this, but it was his duty in order to spread the dharma.
With apologies to the shade of Jack Kerouac, you could say that this gives new meaning to 'dharma bum.'
That Merton could be taken in by the fellow says something about Merton. A phrase such as 'genuine spiritual master' ought not be bandied about lightly. But perhaps Trungpa's excesses were not in evidence at the time.
Herewith yet another indication of why philosophy is essential to balanced thinking and living. Jerusalem and Benares are both in need of chastening, and Athens wields the rod. Although I maintain that philosophy needs completion by what is beyond philosophy, that maintenance is not a license to abandon rational critique. Every sector of life requires critique, including Philosophy herself, and Philosophy is the Critic.
As for putative 'spiritual masters,' run as fast as you can from any such 'master' or 'guru' who has something to sell you or is not in control of his lower self.