The topic of finding a teacher and of being a student is, it seems to me, a very very important topic. Many websites, in respect to this topic, will give a list of qualities a “true” teacher has. These lists don’t work for me, and the reason is because the student/teacher relationship is intimate and personal, it is fluid and changes depending on many “things.” Finding the teacher that is right for you is not about finding a teacher that tallies up a certain way on a qualities list.
The other common response I hear about finding the right teacher is that one should observe the teacher for 10 years before committing as a student. Riiiiight. And in the meantime, what are we personally doing with our lives for those ten years? How serious are we about studying the dharma that we are going to put it off for 10 years while we observe someone else’s behavior and see if it suits us? And suppose in the 9th year we decide the teacher is a wanker. Do we now waste another 10 years observing someone else?
Having studied with different teachers in different situations, and watching others do the same, it seems clear to me that one cannot know whether the student/teacher combo is right until one jumps into it. It’s like girl or guy watching. Watch away! But you will never know if he or she is “the one” until you start going steady.
Obviously we will be drawn to a teacher for some reason. Maybe because the teacher is funny or cute. Maybe because the teacher is serious or gave a really good dharma talk or smiled at us or is reputed to be very wise. Maybe the teacher has supernatural powers. It doesn’t matter what draws us to the dharma or to a particular teacher. What matters is being a student. If you put your concentration on being a student, even if you picked out a charlatan for a teacher, it will all work out ok. You will realize the teacher is a wanker, you will see why you were drawn to a wanker and wisdom may ensue. I myself once studied with a teacher who was a total scam artist using the dharma to pad the teacher’s ego and line the pockets. (obviously I didnt stay long) I also have studied with teachers who were so deep in the dharma that to this day feel I very humbled to have met such people. They are all out there- the good, the bad, and the saintly. We can be fooled- for a little while. But if we are dedicated students, real students, everyone and every situation we find ourselves in (“good” or “bad”) will be a learning experience and a chance to strengthen our practice and take our practice deeper.
This may make one say “hey, I am my own teacher. The Buddha did it on his own! Therefore why take a teacher? That’s just putting a head on top of a head. Be a lamp unto yourself!” First off, the Buddha studied with several teachers. He didn’t just do it all on his own. Secondly, until one actually is someone’s student, one’s ego is probably going to be running the show… and that’s going to lead to disastrous results. Been there, done that.
I’ve seen alot of definations of what it means to be a student. And most of those definations consist of putting total trust in the teacher. In my experience, that is NOT what it means to be a student. In fact to do such a thing is not even Buddhist. And it is certainly NOT Celtic either. To be a student is to listen to your teacher, to observe yourself and to question. Now, there may come a time when a teacher asks you to do something you do not want to do, you do not feel good about doing it! – perhaps your teacher will ask you to allow the arrogant sangha member to defeat you in dharma combat, or will ask you to give something to someone who is very cruel to you, maybe your teacher will ask you to not do a favor for a student that relies on you. In such a situation one should indeed listen to one’s teacher and do as asked. In general, if a teacher asks you to do something that you do not want to do (because of your ego)- then you should do it and watch closely. watch your emotions. watch your mind. However, when a teacher asks you to do something, like kill a mouse or scream at another student or some action that you feel will actually cause harm, some action that deep in your gut doesn’t feel in keeping with your heart (note I said YOUR HEART- not the precepts) then you should respectfully decline. It may be that for the teacher the action he/she is requesting of you is not a big deal. I have known people who felt that killing mice was ok because it kept the sangha safe from the diseases they could get in being exposed to mice. There are many ways to look at an action. I must be cautious in judging other people’s actions, but I must be very aware of my own actions and if they are in accord with my heart.
So, if in your heart (don’t confuse your heart with your ego) it feels wrong, then for you it is wrong and one must trust one’s self in such a situation and not one’s teacher. One should also try to see where the teacher is coming from and where one’s aversion is coming from also. Righteousness is not a pretty quality for any of us to have. When we are being Bible thumpers or Precepts thumpers we can become so focused on being righteous and pure that we forget that the whole intent of spiritual teachings is actually to let our gentleness, humility, compassion and love shine out and heal others.
Teachers are students and students are teachers. I do not think there is ever a point where one graduates from being a student and is just a teacher. A good teacher is also and foremost a good student.
We contain everything.
Let us not be afraid to take chances. Let us not be afraid to be students. Let us not be afraid to trust ourselves also.