to the teachers

May 18th, 2011

Perhaps you’ve noticed I don’t write much about motherhood any more. Our children do an excellent job of being consistently, rather stubbornly, exactly who they are, and once we acknowledge that, our only job as mothers is to keep acknowledging it over and over. Or not. The not is what causes the difficulty.

Perhaps you’ve noticed I don’t write much about marriage any more. Our partners do an excellent job of being consistently, rather stubbornly, who we aren’t, and once we accept that, our job is to keep accepting it over and over. Or not. The not is what causes the difficulty.

At one time in my life, motherhood brought to me my most urgent and incomprehensible lessons. At other times, my marriage did. But by itself, over time, sure as day to night to day, in a continuous and miraculous transformation, a daughter becomes a mother and a woman becomes a wife. When that transition is complete, there’s not much to say about it, not much I can tell you, since you will have to make that passage on your own. Or not.

What is most interesting to me now is another transition, perhaps the last for me, and the greatest of all. It is the transition from the student to the teacher. In whatever form it takes, whatever time it travels, this is the longest lesson we undertake, because it is the lesson in how we live, how we give, how we grow, and how we know.

This matter is what occupies me now, what encourages, frustrates, challenges and intrigues me. This matter of teaching.

I’m telling you this so that I hear it myself, a roll call I feel ill-equipped to answer. I’m offering you a chance to consider the magnificent matter of students and teachers in this post, and enticing you with the chance to win a signed copy of my friend Donna Kaishu Quesada’s new book, The Buddha in the Classroom: Zen Wisdom to Inspire Teachers.

Donna, or should I say, Kaishu, the name I know her by, is a professor of philosophy at a nearby college and a Zen student at the Hazy Moon Zen Center, where I practice. In this book, her first, she examines the relationship that I now consider to be the most significant relationship in life: the one between the student and the teacher. Whether it occurs in a classroom, or in a kitchen, or in a Zen temple, the student-teacher relationship encapsulates the extraordinary power that comes in every face-to-face encounter: the chance to change one another with our sheer presence, acknowledging and accepting one another, or not. Sometimes the teacher is the student, and sometimes the student is the teacher. Isn’t it amazing? Far more amazing than any piece of instruction that can be summarized in a lecture, or a list, or a series of multiple-choice questions.

Because she is my dharma sister, I can recommend this book wholeheartedly. I have only read small portions and even those I can’t recall, as they have entered me clean through, like water to thirst. But I have sat face-to-face in a room together with Kaishu, the same as every true student, every true teacher, and so I know that what she offers is humble and heartfelt. Reading it, you may come to know what I have: every relationship is a student-teacher relationship. Every relationship has the power to change how we live forever. And every teacher needs not a student, but a teacher. A teacher is forever.

To enter the giveaway, leave a comment with the name – quickly, without thinking! – of a teacher who has changed your life forever. And be grateful, as I am for you. I will select a winner, as if approaching an altar, next Wednesday, May 25.

And the winner is: Imelda, commenter no. 75. Thank you to all who have thanked a teacher.

Read an excerpt of my commentary in the new issue of Buddhadharma magazine: What Are Teachers For?

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Meditation Retreat, LA, Sun., June 12

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  1. As a teacher of students and not teachers themselves for the past 26 years, I would say it is the children themselves that have been my greatest teachers. Whether it be those with disabilties that can show adults how to live life with grace, or just an everyday lesson of how beautiful a small flower or hug can be, the children have taught me everyday how to live life simply, happily, and with love for others.

    Comment by Kim — May 19, 2011 @ 4:32 am

  2. Oh, sorry, NOW a teacher of teachers. 🙂 The teacher should check her spelling!

    Comment by Kim — May 19, 2011 @ 4:32 am

  3. I have so many wonderful teachers in my life, my grandma probably being my first, but also a yoga teacher friend who encouraged me to become a yoga teacher, Pastor who encouraged me through leading and ministry, my husband for his strength, and no my children are my everyday teachers!

    Comment by Jennie — May 19, 2011 @ 4:39 am

  4. Sherri Stuber, HS Biology. Will never forget her.

    Comment by Kristin Hasselblad — May 19, 2011 @ 6:52 am

  5. Madame Jeanne Guyon, 17th-century French mystic. She taught me not to look without for what can only be found within.

    Comment by Christen — May 19, 2011 @ 7:24 am

  6. Ana Forrest and many more…

    Comment by Jenni Derryberry Mann — May 19, 2011 @ 7:44 am

  7. I was once fortunate enough to take a class with Yvonne Rand called “The Teacher/Student Relationship.” As a life-long student who was studying to become an Iyengar yoga teacher, it was a revelation to me. I’d never really thought about the immense power that a teacher has–even the most benevolent one.

    My husband is a professor of Education: he teaches future teachers. This book would be a fascinating and useful addition to our library!

    Comment by Robin — May 19, 2011 @ 8:11 am

  8. Professor Smith; European History.

    Comment by Mama Zen — May 19, 2011 @ 9:48 am

  9. My grandmothers.
    My mother.
    My son.
    Suzuki Roshi.
    Maezumi Roshi (through you, “Appreciate your Life” and “American Zen Bones”, etc.).

    Comment by Nichole — May 19, 2011 @ 10:35 am

  10. I have got to say you, Karen. Each day when I see that there is another post on your blog my spirit rises at the prospect of reading it, and whether or not I actually remember what you have written, I always seem to retain the essence of your message. Your words inspire me, and that, to me, is the the role, meaning and function of the Teacher!!

    Comment by Edith — May 19, 2011 @ 11:01 am

  11. My Grandmother- Marion- who’s birthday is actually May 25th, because I am now a willing student on the growing of geraniums (her favorite), though she is no longer here to share their joy with me. I plant them in her honor and learn freshly each day the simple beauty they have to bring to my own life. Who says only rosemary is for rememberance? 🙂

    Comment by Julia — May 19, 2011 @ 2:04 pm

  12. My big sister, Kris. She has spent every day of her life teaching me and -as an adult – she transforms a classroom of 6 year old immigrant children into confident youngsters who know they can do anything they set their mind to. She is wicked smart and determined and unafraid.

    Comment by Emily — May 19, 2011 @ 2:37 pm

  13. Herbert Tanklow who taught me to love language.

    Comment by Eileen — May 19, 2011 @ 5:40 pm

  14. Dr. Kammer, my religion/ethics professor at The College of Wooster. He taught me to better examine the complexities of difficult issues. College freshmen are often like toddlers in that they only see the world in terms of black and white.

    Comment by Audra — May 20, 2011 @ 2:14 am

  15. Nancy, my yogi and my mentor.

    Comment by Jeanne — May 20, 2011 @ 6:57 am

  16. Right this minute I am away from home – at a hotel – to write a book called “Things I have learned from my teenage-daughter” (well, in Danish, that is…). What a joy and a surprise it is, that she is now my greatest teacher. Teaching mee to be fierce, emotional, strong, and SO much alive!

    Comment by Anna Skyggebjerg — May 20, 2011 @ 7:45 am

  17. education of a child begins in d lap of mother and d kisses of father,mother is d first “guru” a child is blessed with,normally we think that knowledge passes from a teacher to his student but dis relation is symbiotic both d sides gain from it,teacher attains pleasure n satisfaction in passing d knowledge from his predeccessors n d disciple attains wisdom n solace, it is d “purest” relationship between any two individuals as take d case of Janak-Ashtavakra in which an able guru of d merit of Ashtavakra found an able disciple of the calibre of king Janak,mother nature is our truest of teacher we can discover d reason,objective n goal of our physical form merely by concentrating on d messages of almighty passed on to us through mother nature lastly i would like to say a teacher is no teacher unless there is an able student, the greatness of a teacher can only be defined by the quality of his student as take the case of Dronacharya who had many disciples and was a real master but he is remembered mostly as guru of Arjun no doubt in dis very short life we are influenced by charisma of many a magnetic personalities but our best teacher can be none other than our soul which can be a guiding light in the life if focussed upon.

    Comment by boby kalra — May 20, 2011 @ 7:17 pm

  18. My missteps have been my greatest teacher. My Dad has been my greatest mentor to help me know how to be my own student.

    Comment by Renee — May 20, 2011 @ 9:19 pm

  19. My dad abhorred and discouraged mistakes, but I’m a life embracer who revels in what they teach. He was my unintentional teacher.

    Comment by Melanie J. — May 21, 2011 @ 5:45 am

  20. Diane Barnes, the first teacher to teach me about spirituality in raw form.

    Comment by penelope — May 21, 2011 @ 5:25 pm

  21. My mean, unhappy dad. I am genuinely, after many years, VERY thankful. It really couldn’t have been any other way. I see him as he is and the amount of compassion I feel is utterly in every cell of my body. Now, my mum, still working on that syllabus…If I win, I’ll place it by my copy of Courage to Teach by Parker Palmer, if I don’t, I buy it. Thanks for turning me round to it. Now back to my four old who really “needs” teddy to have some water. Man, when does the bell ring?

    Comment by Kelly — May 21, 2011 @ 8:25 pm

  22. Lovely, challenge and invitation, Karen. Thank you! So many teachers. How about this one? My kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Dodgson, who encouraged us every day to lay down on our mats and have a little rest. I think she may have been the first teacher who encouraged me (us) to calm and center myself. This would have been 53 years ago! Or perhaps SHE simply needed a time-in. (wink). Either way, the die was cast: the value of time in silence….
    Blessings to you and all.

    Comment by Jan — May 22, 2011 @ 8:50 am

  23. Mary Girmonde Darman. High school social studies teacher, eternal optimist, chain smoker, independent, powerful, funny and believed in the possibility of all students.

    Comment by brigid — May 22, 2011 @ 8:17 pm

  24. my husband.
    my children.
    my father.
    my mother.
    my brothers.
    my friends.

    Comment by wesleyjeanne — May 23, 2011 @ 6:06 am

  25. Professor Eric Moore. No words can come after that name that could ever fit him or explain him.

    Comment by imelda — May 24, 2011 @ 5:09 am

  26. Swami Sachidinanda, Om Shanti!

    Comment by Leigh — May 24, 2011 @ 8:05 am

  27. Sr. Catherine Michaud. She embodies grace and mindfulness. I was blessed to learn from her.

    Comment by daisy — May 24, 2011 @ 12:27 pm

  28. My twin sister. My partner. Kees, my first teacher when I started meditation practice. And Corinne Frottier Sensei, who taught me, with her presence, to live with an open heart.

    Comment by Els — May 25, 2011 @ 12:14 am

  29. I bought three copies! Already a balm for the burnout…

    Comment by Kelly — May 27, 2011 @ 8:23 pm

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