What will you rely upon: Raising up teachers

One of the things I’ve noticed about spiritual practice is the urge to see someone else as a perfect or enlightened practitioner.  But this has terrible consequences.

 I’m not sure where this desire comes from. Is it simply that they show our goal is possible? Or is it more insidious: that he or she is perfect, and so will take care of us.  Perhaps it’s wanting to see something divine, something other than this ordinary, human realm.  Or perhaps it’s a form of laziness, of subtly wanting someone else to do the work for me.

An odd thing I’ve noticed is that every time I try to say “He (or she) is a great practitioner,” they invariably disappoint me.  Why is this? Well, my judgement might not be very good….^^ However, I think it’s not that they failed me or betrayed me, but rather they and their qualities are not where I’m going to find my liberation. I’m looking in the wrong place, and what I need just can’t be found there. I have to do the work myself, and learn to discover and rely upon the divinity that has always been a fundamental part of myself.

“You will not fail to go unpunished”

I don’t remember where I heard this phrase, but I often think of it when I see a situation where it looks like people are abandoning their own, upright center.  I’m reminded of this when I think of the series of scandals American Zen centers experienced some years ago.  Looking back now, I think there were several contributing factors.

One was that people were given major teaching roles after only a few years of practice. Ordinarily this might not have been a huge problem, but it was also coupled with the idea that the teacher was infallible. This to me is where the real disaster started. It’s bad enough when the students are looking to put someone on a pedestal, but when the teacher is also encouraging it, look out. A more experienced teacher would, hopefully, have avoided this ego trap.

Another huge risk factor is when sustaining the center or lineage becomes too important. Corners get cut and people are kept around who normally wouldn’t have been. Chillingly, an Irish friend told me this is exactly what happened with the Catholic Church.

What is a teacher? 
Daehaeng Kun Sunim once said that taking refuge in the Sangha doesn’t mean blindly following teachers, monks, or nuns. She said you could take someone as a teacher when their words and actions all agreed, and were also consistent with your own good judgement.

A teacher is someone who got there first, or who is ahead of you on the path. And a realized teacher is someone who understands the pain of where you are, and wants to see you free and able to live for yourself. In my opinion, an awakened teacher never tries to foster dependencies. Things gather and separate according to their karmic affinity, according to where they are in their growth, so to try to force them beyond that is to invite disaster. This is something that all the great teachers I’ve met seem to understand.

That said, we can learn from everyone around us, those who are doing well, and those who aren’t behaving so well. The key to me is this upright center we are all part of. This is the thing that we must never abandon. While trying to be humble and uphold the precepts, we must always keep returning to this.

A tree lives by relying upon its root

To be frank, I really don’t like talking about others’ shortcomings. I’ve got enough of my own that I’m ashamed of, and which should be plenty to keep me busy. However, people interested in spiritual growth must absolutely be cautious about these points, so I’ve said a few words here. Please forgive me if I’ve misspoken.

with palms together,
Chong Go

“failing” (a response to Marcus)

One of the most touching points, for me, in Marcus’ speech, was the matter of fact affirmation and admonition that, “I’m going to fail.”

There is hardly a day that goes by that I don’t fail, obviously or subtly, outwardly or inwardly. A wonderful thing that I’ve learned from the teachings is not to get upset with myself about it. I observe with what mind I made this mistake, and, as Marcus put it, “re-orientate” myself.

Reading his speech, I was immediately reminded of the first meeting I had with Ven. Sandima. We were discussing the focus on breath in meditation.”When you find you have wondered away,” he said, “don’t get upset or angry at yourself, just come home! Return to your home!”

In Sandima Bikkhu’s analogy, “home” was the breath, but the same analogy may be applied to the precepts (among many other things), making them your home to return to, again and again. Another wonderful thing about this is that you are essentially learning to forgive yourself. Once you experience that forgiveness in yourself, how can you not then extend it to others?