Just let me know if you’d like to see a film together and we’ll find a date.
I have been thinking about appointments and disappointments, expectations and assumptions…. so whether you are new to the group or an ‘old hand’ I would ask you to read chapter 15 in the book Simply Being by James Low as I think it is important to explore your own expectations about the Dharma and how it is taught.
Just as a student cannot be known and labelled judged and discussed as if they were a thing, so neither can a teacher.
It’s wise to check a teachers credentials and important find out if there is a connection and whether you learn anything from them. Later, if issues arise which cannot be integrated then it is appropriate to raise this directly with the teacher. Friends will often confirm each others assumptions or opinions, and then what started out as a thought can end up as a ‘solid definition’.
If the student is disappointed with the teacher, or the teacher disappointed with the student, this means that one party has made an appointment for another to behave in a particular way, and an expectation has formed which has not been met.
Expectations are usually based on assumptions formed from past experiences mixed with imaginary hopes or fears, yet these can be taken for granted as self-evident truths. ‘You should be this… or you should not be….!’
Whether you are practising with a hinayana view, a mahayana view, or that of a non-dharma practitioner then a teachers behaviour will not always fit your frame of reference. This may trouble you but does not necessarily mean that an error has occurred. However if they should get a bit lost, and teachers are finding their way too, an apology should be forthcoming.
The dharma is very precise, as a medicine it has been used, tested and proven to be effective over thousands of years. However, as with contemporary medicine where only fifty percent of chronically ill patients take the prescribed medicine correctly, students can forget to take it, double the dose, mix it with other things or apply it incorrectly. Whilst the dharma teachings are the antidote to the ills of samsara the patient has to both trust the doctor and take the appropriate medicine regularly for it to work.
Others will have more facts at their finger tips and surely greater teaching skills but I have been given validation, within a lineage, to teach hinayana mahayana and vajrayana buddhism, including dzogchen, by someone who has full authority to do this. If you are unsure about this then you can check with me or with James Low. At the very least, this should mean that you have confidence that from the dharma point of view there is sufficient realisation and understanding to teach, and that I can be trusted never to be malicious.
I have also completed the Bangor mindfulness teachers training course…this kind of mindfulness is derived from one of the eight stages of the Noble Path practised in the Hinayana view.
At times i can be teachery and sometimes even preachery but i am also in the process of change!
When the recluse speaks much ’tis on and of “the Way” (zen saying) …
They criticise when he says too much
and when he says too little…
and when he does not speak (the Dhammapada)
So…it’s genuinely hard to strike the right balance.
But whatever occurs, the Dharma speaks of the truth of impermanence and dependent co-origination (on the basis of this, that arises) so any opinion, view, situation or behaviour is transient and contingent. Learning how to teach is a process and hopefully my skills will increase with practise. James Low teaches in a very different manner now from that which he employed twenty years ago..
So for students all this invites examination of the assumptions they hold about the dharma and the teacher.
In your opinion should the good teacher leave you to travel at your own pace or encourage you?
Should they be always sympathetic and understanding and never challenge your views?
Should they be kind and gentle or a bit rough and acerbic?
Do they have rules to follow?……
A good teacher will do what’s appropriate – this will vary…their function is not to fall asleep with you but to help you wake up.
I wrote a verse which relates to this
What we can do with super glue!
Identity is a CV— a story used to limit me, which stunts my creativity.
If you stick stories onto me you’ll make a shape which seems to be a person of ‘solidity’.
If I bind with your certainty I compromise our liberty and movements are no longer free.
The truth of our reality is openness and vitality displaying momentarily.
So, if ever you’re upset by me the Bristol talk – first MP3 is a perfect apology.
(the talk is on this web-site under audios and videos)
Growth and change is not easy. If you’ve seen a chick picking its way out of an egg, a butterfly emerging from the chrysalis, or a snake sloughing off its skin you know that perseverance is vital…samsara with just a sprinkling of dharma doesn’t taste too good and is not sustaining.
A student may be keen for a while, even very appreciative of the teachings, however the winds of karma blow and off they go.The teacher cannot hold on to them, they themselves have to do the holding on until the view becomes not ‘second nature’ but first nature. Progress is not necessarily onwards and upwards. There is hope that students will study, reflect and practice — that they will respect the Dharma and the efforts of teachers who for thousands of years have studied practised and made many sacrifices to maintain the continuity of the teachings but they may not. So teaching also helps the teacher with the development of equanimity. Thank you if you have contributed to that somewhat uncomfortable process!
We are lucky to have James’ advice and I had a chat with him about the way forward for the group this year. The thinking is to give a short (15 mins) talk, meditation for half an hour and then study maybe fifteen lines of the Dhammapada. We’ll see how it goes.
As always, if there are issues which you would like to discuss outside of the class i am happy to talk on the phone or meet up with you and have a chat.
Well…. perfectly! Surely that is obvious.
But what do you mean by ‘perfectly’?
Well… perfectly… according to the rulebook in my head.
But if the teacher shares your rulebook you might not learn very much from them. As my teacher’s teacher told him — ‘the buddha is not a “nice man”.’
Awakening to the unborn natural state or ‘buddha nature’ results in a change of operating system…no longer standing apart and judging with a dualistic perspective but responding to dynamic situations with freshness and attunement.
A good teacher acts to wake us up to our attachment to the illusory nature of the fixed patterns we use to create the duality of samsaric existence. Some will even be kind enough to continue to point out that our shoes are far too tight until we wake up and feel the pain of our blisters, callouses and corms. At the same time they remind us that our feet are naturally beautiful and, with the right kind of dharma massage, these corms and blisters will become wings. Then we will work at freeing ourselves from these shoes and discover the pleasure of walking barefoot and moving through space in different ways!
Depending on your condition these may be the kindest teachers of all, but sometimes they may seem unpleasant. We want them to appreciate our lovely shiny shoes and sympathise with our limp however whilst they see our view they do not share it — they see beyond our felt limitations.
On the other hand a teacher may be just being rather unpleasant; karmic winds can shift a teachers behaviours, so this is something to look at — can we learn something by engaging with this person as they are and as we feel uncomfortable?
The ego will not readily choose to engage in a struggle where it feels its existence to be threatened but in dharma practice we are engaged in a process of softening and becoming undefended, allowing the ego to be what it is, just an aspect of our awareness, relaxing to the point where this awareness is revealed to us.
There is more on this theme, and about the relationship between teachers and students in chapter 15 – The Transmission of the Dharma — in the book Simply Being by James Low. It is important to try to have a sense of this relationship so please let me know if you have any questions.
I’d also be delighted to hear from you when you have read the preceding chapter, on refuge and bodhicitta…we can formalise taking the taking of refuge and bodhicitta vows if you would like…and discuss any questions which arise.
We were talking the other night and I thought that these two recordings— 3A and 3B from Balancing relaxation and effort in Buddhism were just on the point.