I’ll admit my initial temptation was to write a quick and dismissive review of Rupert Spira. For one, Spira (via his handlers) has repeatedly turned down my request for a podcast interview. Two, the questionable depth of Rupert Spira’s lineage. One of Spira’s primary teachers was Francis Lucille, who in turn was a student of Jean Kline. More about that later. Three, his almost unquestioned status as one of the clearest articulators of Western nonduality.
Instead, I’ll attempt to lay aside these preconceptions and see what Rupert Spira is really about. Is he the “real deal” or an articulate talking head?
On the plus side, I find no evidence that Rupert Spira is consciously exploiting people, operating a fraud, or running a scam. There’s no hint of scandal or intrigue. In fact, some refer to him as the “gentleman guru.” However, it’s clear he is in the business of being a spiritual teacher and charges a tidy profit-making rate for his events. A three-day online retreat (1.5 hrs the first day, 3.5 hours on days two and three) in 2023 is $99, which is quite lucrative considering the description says “hundreds” of people will attend. Even if only 100 people attend, that’s nearly $10,000 for what amounts to one full day of work on Spira’s part. Given how slowly Rupert Spira speaks, for a normal human that’s closer to a four-hour workday. Similarly, a seven-day retreat in the U.S. is $1,795 without lodging or food, and only includes four hours of meetings each day.
Maybe there are a few who can retain their integrity while making a living selling that which is priceless, but there is a real danger of teachers unconsciously adapting their message to grow their income stream — little different than your favorite band that “sells out.” However, Spira’s message seems remarkably consistent over the years.
Diving into his teachings, perhaps the most concise critique of Rupert Spira that I’ve seen is: “Rupert Spira speaks of the readily available experience of being aware as your real Self. [In contrast,] Swami Sarvapriyananda explains how the ego, identifying with reflected consciousness, becomes an ‘aware I’ and gives us the experience of being aware, which is also an object from the perspective of the real Self. Anything you can be aware of, even the awareness you might feel to be who you are, cannot be the Self proper.” After investigating Spira’s teachings, I concur with this critique.
Rupert Spira’s YouTube channel has many videos with intriguing titles. From the plethora of choices, I decided to explore what he says about enlightenment, self-inquiry, and try one of his meditations. Unfortunately, the first video, “Enlightenment Is Not an Exotic Experience,” confirmed the above critique. Spira falls into the same trap as Sailor Bob Adamson, believing that the feeling of “I am” is the end-all, be-all of enlightenment: “All that is spoken of is the nature of your being. Not some extraordinary, mystical enlightened being, just the ordinary, intimate, obvious familiar being that enables each of us to say with absolute certainty ‘I am.’ Is there a single person in the world that could not say from their experience ‘I am?'”
As I’ve said elsewhere, many mistake “beingness” as consciousness/awareness. I maintain that every sensation and experience of ours is mediated through the human body/mind, and the honest investigator of these matters suspects that when the lights goes out (death), all that was known, experienced, and felt by this body/mind may go out as well. Thus the admonition to die before you die. Whatever is left when every known thing and experience vanishes – that “pure being” – would be what is eternal. This is not the “I am” that Spira says is awareness. I would love the chance to explore this further with him.
When each of us says “I,” that name refers to awareness’ knowledge of itself. It is the same awareness in each of us.Rupert Spira
Another friend sent an audio extract from an interview that he thinks captures the essence of Rupert Spira’s teaching. Once again, I found this truncated self-inquiry. Spira led the interviewer in an exploration of “actual experience.” “Go now to the experience of the body,” Spira directed, “the actual experience. Try to draw what you are experiencing. What sort of mark would you make? Would the drawing have a contour or shape…? There are no boundaries…. There is empty, luminous, open space.” Spira then concludes: “Experience always says one. One seamless totality. Thinking says two.” While this inquiry was a little reminiscent of the work of Douglas Harding, it lacked Harding’s unique and spirit-full approach. Yes, it is an achievement to still the mind so that the canvas of awareness is revealed, but Spira’s leap from the personal perspective to Oneness uses logic and belief to span the gap.
Admittedly disappointed with Rupert Spira’s view of enlightenment, I plowed forward to see his thoughts about self-inquiry in “How Do I Practice Self Enquiry?” Here’s a paraphrasing of Spira’s view of self enquiry: “Let’s say you’re unhappy. Turn in the other direction, away from the cause, and towards the ‘I’ that says it is unhappy. Ask yourself what is this I? The I that is unhappy is always the same I. Look for what it is in yourself that is referred to as an I. Thoughts, feelings, sensations. You notice my thoughts are always coming and going but I’m aware of my thoughts. You take it deeper. Your feelings. All these feelings are passing by. What I am is not my feelings either. What about your sensations? They come and go. You are aware of them. I thought I was a mixture of thoughts, feelings, and perceptions, but all of these are things that come and go. This awareness, consciousness that is aware of this person. ‘I’ is this perfectly peaceful background of awareness. What is this aware presence that I always am? We begin to give this aware being our attention. Who is aware of that? It is aware of itself. It is this ‘I’ that is aware of itself.” Rather than being puzzled by awareness of awareness, Spira concludes that is simply a quality of awareness (i.e. Awareness is aware of itself).
Yes, it is incredibly valuable to do the inquiry that Spira describes. Imagine if this were taught in schools at an early age! Yet, what I’m saying is, if you’re talking about enlightenment, who you “really, really are,” there is further to go.
I ended my video tour of Rupert Spira’s teachings with the meditation titled, “Three Pathways to Ourself.” While the description was promising, “In this meditation we contemplate truth, love and beauty, three pathways to ourself,” this hour and fifteen minute meditation was little more than Rupert Spira talking about three concepts and stringing them together with a lot of long pauses. This was the most disappointing of the videos, as Spira seemed to be acting: relying on long pauses to make ordinary statements sound profound. I found the meditation very “heady,” highly intellectual, with no actual looking inside. Instead, there was just Spira talking about ideas of perception and essentially “leading the witness” to the conclusions he wanted them to reach, while dappling in platitudes such as “All artists tend only towards beauty” and “Beauty is always a taste of our Self.”
Rupert Spira a nice person, patient, and sincerely wanting to help. While many will disagree, I find he lacks “presence.” While articulate, when Spira says the word “eternal present,” it falls as flat on the ear as if he had slowly intoned “pancakes and syrup.” For better or worse, he seemingly has an explanation for everything and is more than happy to share it. Discussing this review with a friend, we both agreed that Spira is either unable or unwilling to say “I don’t know.” Rupert Spira’s teachings do have their merits, and you might just stumble upon a nugget of wisdom that resonates deeply with you. He delves into topics like nonduality, the nature of consciousness, and the illusion of self with such conviction that one can’t help but be impressed. Overall, Rupert Spira is likely a well-enough place to begin your spiritual search, but don’t stay too long. You will be better served by checking out some of my 4-star and 5-star rated spiritual teachers.
The Lineage of Rupert Spira
Francis Lucille was one of Spira’s primary teachers, while Lucille’s teacher was Jean Klein. Early in my search I read a book by Jean Klein, but he played little role in my seeking. Some quotes by him are intriguing, though, as they hint at the resolution of what I see as the deficiency in Spira’s teaching:
Q. Is the awareness our real nature?Jean Klein
A. In awareness there is no limitation of brain function but there is still a conceptual duality: ‘I am aware of something.’ This something is global functioning, energy uncontaminated by the cerebral structure and the senses. Here you find yourself at the threshold of your timeless being….
A. How does one go from the threshold to the stillness beyond all movement?
Q. You cannot cross the threshold by any activity. Only abide there and you are spontaneously taken.”
I’m curious what Jean Klein would have thought of Spira’s teaching. I never got the impression that Klein was trying to build a spiritual empire. I recall he was in poor health shortly before his death and there was an appeal for donations, so I suspect he was primarily interested in living his life in service to his teachings rather than making money. Like Spira and Jean Klein, I find no hint of scandal in Lucille’s career, but he, as well, makes his living as a spiritual teacher.
In addition to their love of discourse, another commonality I note among Klein, Lucille and Spira is the “long pause.” Here you can see the transmission of the long pause from Jean Klein to Francis Lucille to Rupert Spira:
I hope you enjoyed this Rupert Spira review. For more information on Rupert Spira’s events, books, and more, see the official website.