advice for those who seek

November 15th, 2019

 

Recently someone asked me about the student-teacher relationship in Zen.

It’s not so different from the way any teaching occurs—that is, the way true teaching takes place and not the rote learning of formulaic answers or information. It occurs in presence. It occurs in seeing and following. It occurs in the mutuality of time and space.

Even in finding a teacher, something has already occurred: an attraction, you might say, that is not the outcome of discriminating thought or evaluation. A true teacher-student relationship is something that neither party has a hand in choosing. We call it Dharma.

When I met my first teacher, I didn’t know who I was meeting. I was drawn to the way he walked and talked. It seemed so natural and genuine, even though it was utterly unfamiliar.

The relationship is thus borne of an inexplicable encounter. We can’t know the infinite causes that lead to the sequence of coincidences culminating in a first meeting.

The relationship always carries fear as well as trust. What we are afraid of is stepping forward beyond our self-consciousness and being seen as we are. But that’s what all teaching requires. Teachers stand in front of you and call you to step out of your fear and self-imposed limitations. Come this way, they say, step free. If we trust, we follow.

So a Zen teacher shows the way. We meet and practice zazen in person as often as possible, and when not, we communicate with mutual interest and intent. In the same way that a face-to-face encounter is intimate and honest (whether we realize it or not), what passes between us is the living truth as we experience it. In Zen, the student-teacher relationship is both silent, as in sitting zazen together, and spoken, as in a private conversation. A teacher is necessary because otherwise we get stuck in our egocentric thinking and fear, repeating the same old mental and emotional patterns that cause us a lifetime of suffering.

My teacher likes to say it this way: the student is in a dark room and can’t see the way out. The teacher understands because they were once in a dark room too. There are many windows and doors leading out of the room, but the student is blind. So the teacher says, “Walk three steps in front and then two steps to the right.” Then, boom! Into the daylight!

That’s how it has worked for me, and that’s what I have to share. But a student has to take all the steps. It’s entirely voluntary. There are no contracts. There is no formal curriculum. You simply have to show up and sit down. And whenever you show up, I’ll be right there with you.

Photo by Edrece Stansberry on Unsplash

7 Comments »

  1. Thank you Maezen. I’m ready to step out beyond and see if there is any I out there. Thanks for being my teacher.

    Comment by Rosebud — November 15, 2019 @ 7:05 pm

  2. Grateful that you’re there with me ❤️

    Comment by Navreet — November 15, 2019 @ 7:11 pm

  3. I am both teacher and student

    Comment by Martha — November 16, 2019 @ 4:56 am

  4. I love the path picture !!!

    Comment by sharon davis — November 16, 2019 @ 6:19 am

  5. 💛💞💛 … 🙏

    Comment by Bonnie Rae — November 16, 2019 @ 10:29 am

  6. Yes to the fear and trust, always. Thank you for seeing me and being my teacher.

    Comment by Michelle Cohen — November 17, 2019 @ 5:03 pm

  7. “My teacher likes to say it this way: the student is in a dark room and can’t see the way out. The teacher understands because they were once in a dark room too. There are many windows and doors leading out of the room, but the student is blind. So the teacher says, “Walk three steps in front and then two steps to the right.” Then, boom! Into the daylight!”
    Yes exactly, as I always say, an unhappy person is in a locked room with the key on the inside of the door. You can be with them, and that will probably give some degree of comfort, but you cannot free them from the room if they don’t turn the key and open the door.

    Comment by Simone — November 18, 2019 @ 1:59 am

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