A sign of the times is an increasing cross-fertilization of religious traditions as seekers become more interested in exploring new areas. Spiritual teachers — they call themselves by many names: keepers, guides, whistleblowers, or friends — are available to provide guidance. John Kain, former associate publisher of Tricycle magazine, has assembled an edifying overview of the student-teacher relationship.

Many people approach a teacher with the expectation that those with special insight and training can quickly make them more spiritually mature, but these fantasies soon vanish. Any regimen requires surrender, discipline, a taming of the ego, and a polishing of the heart, and such things don't happen overnight or during a short retreat. There is also the danger that irresponsible teachers may be guilty of sexual, financial, or power abuses. But since today's spiritual renaissance offers so many fine teachers from all traditions, it is good to check out the rare and precious things they do offer. Kain introduces us to eight teachers.

Murat Yagan is a Sufi who specializes in the ancient Kebzeh tradition from the Caucasus mountains. He calls himself a "whistleblower" because, like a mirror, he "exposes reality and makes noise when a student's vision gets blurry." Yagan tells his students that letting go of long-held opinions and ideas is an essential part of the spiritual journey. Sister Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun, would agree: she challenges those who read her books and listen to her speeches to question everything. This Christian fills her work with Sufi parables, Zen stories, and Hasidic tales, and is happy to see that all the traditions salute compassion and awareness.

Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, the founding father of the Jewish renewal movement, is another spiritual teacher who is alive and alert to what other traditions are saying and doing. When asked about this fascination, he replies with the kind of wit that has made him an endearing elder who speaks across the generations: "I do this because I am a spiritual Peeping Tom. I like to see how people get it on with God."

Kain also covers Gehlek Rimpoche, a Tibetan teacher who is a master of the ordinary; Reverend Mother Sudha Puri, the first American to lead a Vedanta order in the West; John Daido Loori Roshi, a Zen abbot who sees art and creativity as a gateway into Buddhism; and Adyashanti, a middle-aged American teacher of awakening.