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A Rare and Precious Thing: The Possibilities and Pitfalls of Working with a Spiritual Teacher Hardcover – September 5, 2006

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harmony (September 5, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307335925
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307335920
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1.1 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,835,341 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

According to Kain, the spiritual teacher's duty is to offer new ways of seeing. He acknowledges that this is no easy task, that it requires a "delicate surgery," since both student and teacher, by dint of their complicated relationship with one another, are in vulnerable positions. Power can be dangerous. If misused, it can lead to such tragedies as those of -Jonestown and Waco's Branch Davidians, even to a 9/11. Kain profiles spiritual teachers from Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Native American, and Vedanta traditions; with the exception of Joan Chittister, they aren't famous. He explains what to look for in a spiritual teacher, when to be suspicious, and whether a teacher, rather than personal study, is even necessary. He points out that the teacher-student relationship can be life altering, and that "For every teacher who goes astray, there are ten who never waver." Those interested in spirituality, let alone in spiritual teachers, may find this book a useful resource. June Sawyers
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


“Spiritual guidance can be treacherous—literally a matter of life and death—as we have seen with Jonestown, Heaven’s Gate, and the Branch Davidians. Yet the yearning for spiritual teaching is a constant in human nature and must be answered if we are to be complete. John Kain’s elegant book is a Gray’s Anatomy of the spiritual search. Read it before embarking. It could save you years of wasted time—or your life.” —Larry Dossey, M.D., author of The Extraordinary Healing Power of Ordinary Things

“It is a gift to be given glimpses into the parallel journeys of these seekers of truth. This book is a fine example of the interspiritual consciousness that is arising today, of a unity that exists at the contemplative level of practice and that offers profound hope for humanity.” —Kabir Helminski, author of Living Presence and The Knowing Heart, teacher, and translator of Rumi

“An extremely worthwhile and timely book that provides an inside perspective of eight well-known teachers and clarifies what to expect of authentic spiritual guides.” —Rabbi David A. Cooper, author of God Is a Verb and Ecstatic Kabbalah

“An excellent, generous book and a much-needed blessing on the varieties of spiritual life. Kain has a genuine feel for the great spiritual quest and enthusiastically immerses you in the many, many ways you can successfully work with a teacher.” —John Tarrant, author of Bring Me the Rhinoceros and Other Zen Koans to Bring You Joy

“Judging from so much publicity about scandals involving spiritual teachers, one might think of the teacher-student relationship as a can of worms. John Kain lets us see it as a basket of herbs—some of them medicinal and bitter, others sweet and fragrant: truly a rare and precious thing. Teachers and students speak for themselves in these pages; no theorizing here. This book is for readers who like to get the facts firsthand and draw their own conclusions.” —Brother David Steindl-Rast, OSB, author of Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer

“Ever since arriving in the New World in bulk four centuries ago Americans have tried to beat their own spiritual paths. John Kain’s fascinating book is a fine guide to the spiritual possibilities of our time.” —Jim Harrison, author of Saving Daylight

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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See all 9 customer reviews
John's writing is solid; his poetry background shines through in this lyrical, thoughtful book.
A. H. Marsh
Understanding their work as the result of extraordinary dedication by an ordinary person should help us all to see our own potential for depth in spiritual practice.
Kosei Hartel
Anyway, "A Rare and Precious Thing" is full of many stories about teachers and their students--each more interesting and enlightening than the last.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Eric Paul Shaffer on November 21, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
John Kain's A Rare and Precious Thing is a book which is astonishingly accurately named, for, indeed, it is. Kain introduces eight teachers from different spiritual disciplines, including an adept in Ahmsta Kezbeh (which is some sect of Sufisim); the bearer of the sacred bundle of the Lakota, Dakota, Nakota Nation; a Benedictine abbess; a rabbi; a Buddhist monk; a Hindu Vedanta reverend mother; a Zen abbot; and a Zen renegade (if that's possible).

Kain introduces a bike-riding Zen dude called Adyashanti, whose picture reminds me pleasantly of a thirty-something Charlie Brown. His words are even more pleasant: "I don't want to be in the role of `wisdom guy' all the time. . . . I mean, who wants to sit around talking about the Truth for any longer than is absolutely necessary?" I heard that, and I've lost count of the times I've wished somebody would say it. Now, somebody has, and Adya (as he is known affectionately to his friends) has other stirring things to say. My favorite: "Most spirituality is a construction project," he says, "But enlightenment is a demolition project." I like this guy's approach to teaching. Step one: stay out of your own way.

Chief Arvol Looking Horse is the nineteenth-generation keeper of the sacred bundle, and for a guy with so much responsibility, he seems circumspect and thoughtful, unlike so many charged with such duties. The chief finds himself in a difficult position. Pledged to protect his religion, he cannot profit from ceremonies related to it nor can he live off the reservation. As a result, he finds his income limited, and unfortunately, like truly religious people anywhere, he finds that the poverty his office requires is not eased by the people who benefit most.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Justyn Livingston on November 3, 2006
Format: Hardcover
John Kain's thoughtful and sensitive writing speaks to much more than working with a spiritual teacher. The candid and often intimate conversations tell us of the common messages inherent in all spiritual practices. There is a circular thread in this book which leads the reader inside these relationships; allowing us to see the human-ness in both the students and teachers. A Rare and Precious Thing is about ALL relationships and how we might be wise to embrace them.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Kosei Hartel on September 20, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This book by John Kain is an exceptional aid to all who have a spiritual teacher, are considering such a teacher, or are curious about spiritual teachers in general. In my years of Buddhist practice, I have observed tremendous energy focused on understanding one's relationship with teachers. Too often this attempt at understanding occurs post-hoc in the wake of a problem or rift in the relationship with a teacher or the community of a teacher. While nearly all traditions have explicit lineages of teachers, there is very little written about this the relationship especially across traditions. In this way, John Kain stands in for all of us as he asks questions of well-known teachers and their students actively working in a wide range of spiritual paths.

Mr. Kain has a keen eye for the character, style, and every day environment of these teachers interviewed outside their formal roles. With him, we appreciate the great dedication of these genuine human beings --not super-beings -- who are sometimes called "teacher." Understanding their work as the result of extraordinary dedication by an ordinary person should help us all to see our own potential for depth in spiritual practice. It may also help to remove the mystique surrounding religious leaders that has sometimes led to imbalanced and improper behavior in so many religious and spiritual communities in America.

John Kain's writing is a pleasure to read with its poetic touches throughout this basically journalistic approach. I appreciate that the author has not left himself out of the dialogue as he reveals but does not belabor some of his own views in working with his teacher.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Lenore Shisler on September 29, 2006
Format: Hardcover
John Kain approaches each teacher and spiritual practice with a genuine warmth and respect that creates an immediate connection with the reader. Neither the author nor the teachers ever speak from some removed, condescending pinnacle of spirituality--quite the opposite--the engaging personalities, exuding a great mix of humility and humor, are introduced in a way that makes you wish to share a meal and conversation with any one of them. Their down-to-earth openness offers many surprises, too, as they alternately support, nudge, sometimes even provoke their students toward higher levels of self-reliant spirituality. These are remarkable individuals, all, with tremendous insight to share about spiritual growth. The book therefore offers something precious not only to individuals who have or are seeking a teacher within a specific spiritual practice; it speaks just as directly to those of us who are living everyday lives without the benefit of a formal teacher, but who value spending time with wise souls wherever we encounter them. The sincerity of the spiritual search, and of the questions raised by the teachers and students alike, satisfies.
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More About the Author

John Kain has been associate publisher of Tricycle magazine and his articles on Buddhist teachers and teachings as well as his poetry have appeared in Tricycle, Shambhala Sun, Yoga Journal, and Terra Nova and on This is his first nonfiction book. He lives in Ashland, Oregon.