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Thread: Thoughts about practice and the teacher/student relationship

  1. #1

    Thoughts about practice and the teacher/student relationship

    Dear all,
    Jundo has asked the priests to do some year-end reading related to training and Treeleaf - I feel strongly enough about these reflections that I thought I would share them here. Many of you are undertaking, have underteken, or do not wish to undertake Jukai. These are thoughts about relationship in a sangha, zen practice, and with a teacher. Sometimes it's easy to forget that this is a place of practice and we treat it more like a social medium - not a bad thing - there is just a difference. I'd like to share my reflections with you as we practice together, and think about, the coming year.

    You are all my teachers.

    Content follows:
    __________________________________________________ __________________________________________________ ________________________
    Hello all,
    I've been giving these readings a lot of thought and I will not duplicate what many of you have written here, which is expressed eloquently and far better than I could have done. I am inspired by my fellow priests and in particular by those who are approaching and/or considering ordination. I pay particular attention to those who are relatively new to our ranks as you have the opportunity to make observations that come from a particularly rich point in your practice - there are times when I wish I was just starting out again, in zen as in the martial arts. I will make an analogy - I was talking with my son (who studies Uechi with me) and I told him that my years as a brown belt (prior to achieving Dan rank) were my most carefree training years. I trained hard and spontaneously - now in the martial arts I am considered a senior and teacher (whatever that means). Not quite so in zen (I'm always a beginner) but I do have some of the baggage that comes from being around a bit and having visited different lineages, zendos, and teachers as I train and I realize that people are people everywhere - they bring their biases, opinions, desires for control with them wherever they go - even in Zen - particularly in Zen! So, with these thoughts in mind, here are some reflections - in no order of importance -

    1) We are all teachers - there are different ways to teach. I like to think of the "teachless teaching" - the power of example is the most simple, elegant, and powerful teaching of all. It also requires powers of observation and attention.

    2) The act of teaching requires a student or students to receive, or interact. Just as the act of giving requires an act of receiving to close the loop, a teacher needs a student, and a student needs a teacher, and each one has a responsibility to the other. It is not a one-way relationship. A student makes a commitment to the teacher and the teacher makes a commitment to the student. This commitment is not one of simple obedience, it is far more subtle and profound.

    3) Student/teacher relationships are not always smooth, and often go through periods of difficulty, and even silence. I would even go so far as to say that an apprentice relationship of the type we describe takes years, and this apprenticeship is incomplete without periods of difficulty (and ultimate reconciliation) -

    4) The centrality of a relationship with a teacher: I cannot stress this enough. Zen is going through many changes and iterations as it slowly sheds its Asian/Japanese identity and takes on a new form in the West, in the U.S., as it moves beyond the first and second generation of Suzuki, Deshimaru, Trungpa, etc. and their senior students. Whether the medium is the internet, in person, a combination, includes transcendentalist or secular humanist influences, professional clerical credentailling, whatever - this is all secondary and a distraction from the fact that the Dharma is trasmitted in various ways for various people - and many will claim their way is the only way - but this misses the importance of a good teacher to your training and development. You will know one when you see one. And you may have more than one teacher. But I feel one root teacher is critical to your practice. Stick with this teacher for years - folloow them, question them, challenge them, fight with them. They are not your friend or father or mother or therapist. They are your teacher. Think about what this means to you - yes, a teacher can be a friend but to conflate the roles diminishes how special it is to have a teacher in your life - what is a teacher in the context of Zen, and apprenticeship? It is not necessarily what you think it is, and it is far more complex than you do. If you do not know, ask.

    5) You give meaning to your priesthood. Check your thinking, your journey, your course with your teacher, with your colleagues. A good teacher sets the boundaries of your practice, the guardrails that keep you from going into the bushes off the road - sometimes your teacher pulls you back in - sometimes they let you wander. Don't be afraid to challenge your teacher. The trick is to learn how to challenge your teacher and show respect at the same time - challenge is not necessarily disrespect - but many don't understand the difference.

    6) Treeleaf is not a cookie-cutter zendo or training program. Our respective paths are different and unique - Jundo's relationship and guidance for each of us will be different. There are core skills we need to have in common (priestcraft), but our respective practices will manifest differently. We will make mistakes - we will work them out - and we need to communicate to stay on track. I do not know what the future holds for us - for me - but I do know this is the place for me.

    7) I'm not that big a deal. You are not that big a deal. This is very liberating. Not so easy if we are caught up in our own drama.

    How is your practice manifesting?

    Deep bows
    Last edited by Yugen; 12-31-2015 at 06:01 PM.

  2. #2

    Thank you for sharing. Your insight is thoughtful and helped further my understanding. Though I have interacted with teachers very seldom, they have often been a puzzle to me, then I learned they were human just like me. That was a major teaching.

    As you said, all are our teachers so I give thanks for those who observe and share here in this Sangha as I fall down and stand up, repeat.

    Best wishes for the New Year.



  3. #3
    Spot on. In another time and place and the written lore of zen, teachers are aloof and often unknowable. Some bring this image or preconception / expectation to the zendo - some teachers perpetuate this. Boundaries between a teacher and student are important but in today's day and age in intimate close practice the realization that a teacher is human can be a very valuable teaching - how that teacher deals with their own personal challenges and issues can be a living testament to the teachings, practices, and scriptures they are trained to transmit - the human aspect of example can be the most profound teaching of all. And it reconciles the "walk the talk" question.

    Thank you!

    Deep bows


  4. #4
    In zen and in martial arts, I am still getting a feel for how to view and interact with my teachers. How to properly show respect to the person and the level of skill or wisdoms they have obtained through practice..and to the art.

    Moreso in recent years, I have made more of an effort to follow the teachings of the teacher or Sensai...and less of putting him/her on a pedestal or by way of emulation. slowly practice and interaction has knocked down my previously built up ideas of Zen Buddhism and the teacher student relationship.

    Too many interesting and thought inducing points in the above post to single just a few out. I will let it sink in and come back to it.

    Thank you Yugen. Very helpful.

    Gassho, Kyotai
    Sat today

  5. #5
    Thank you, Yugen!


  6. #6

    Thoughts about practice and the teacher/student relationship

    Quote Originally Posted by Yugen View Post

    How is your practice manifesting?
    To call it practice is to not practice. This is why it is called practice.

    I am not to sure what practice means.

    This is what I do:

    Zazen 30 min per day.
    Treeleaf Zendo forum daily.
    Binge read zen.
    Good to my patients, family and pets.
    Torture my fellow treeleafers with my silly posts.
    Pay my taxes.

    From a philosophical perspective, I try not to get stuck in emptiness although it is a very powerful place to be. There is work to be done.

    Gasho, Jishin, _/st\_

  7. #7
    How is your practice manifesting?

    As a know nothing nobody. It's not 'my' practice. It belongs to the universe or god or Buddha nature. Being a dreamer, a sleepwalker more practice is necessary morning, noon and night.

    SAT today
    無 (MU, Emptiness) and 氷 (HYO, Ice) ... Emptiness Ice ...

  8. #8

    "How is your practice manifesting?"

    Don't know. Never owned one.

    Practice is.

    Myosha sat today
    "Recognize suffering, remove suffering." - Shakyamuni Buddha when asked, "Uhm . . .what?"

  9. #9
    Dear Yugen

    Thank you so much for your reflections. I really appreciate you having grown into your priesthood and your deep thinking about the path and life at Treeleaf.

    For me, the student-teacher relationship in Zen is very similar to the one I had during my PhD programme. The teacher starts off as total fount of knowledge and guide along the path, answering basic questions and pointing the student in the right direction. As the student grows, there is more debate and challenge from both sides, and a growing respect until they end up as near equals, with the teacher still watching on as a parent does once their children reach adulthood I agree that it is an incredibly important part of practice and I remember my days of random reading and unfocussed practice in the days before I met a teacher and had an established path.

    Myozan posted this article on the role of the teacher by Norman Fischer a few days ago on Fb and I found a lot in it to chew on:

    Deep bows to you and all my teachers

  10. #10
    Thank you Yugen for your thoughts. (4) gave me a lot to think about. Maybe it's time to sit sesshin again with the teacher I consider my root teacher.
    Also thank you Kokuu for the article from Norman Fischer - I wish I had read it before meeting him.


    dlt life preserv zazen.jpg
    Last edited by Jundo; 10-01-2020 at 02:02 AM.

  11. #11
    Thank you, Yugen
    Kaishin (開心, Open Heart)
    Please take this layman's words with a grain of salt.

  12. #12
    Lovely, thank you for this Yugen. =)



  13. #13
    Gassho Yugen



  14. #14
    Thanks Yugen for your reflection and pointing out the importance of sticking to one teacher for at least some time. The more I read in this forum and take in the teachings, especialy Jundo's, the more I get the feeling that I made the right choice to become a member of this sangha. I have 'fooled' around long enough now. I would also like to share an experience I had lately.

    You know the feeling that you learn something, you understand it's logic, you're able to explain, but that's it. We get often people at the door asking for money for the various different charities. This always raised some resistance within me, "I pay my taxes, government should take care of this", "I want to make my own choice to give when and where and not be bothered with it now", "I rather give my money this this organisation then that one", etc. Now I look back at this, I feel rather stupid about it. I always have been aware of the needs and urges for these organisations, nevertheless I always feel this little resistance rising when the knock at our door. Now one and a half week ago the folowing happened:

    I was going around handing out holliday greeting cards for the newspaper I deliver every day. From some people I get a tip for doing so the whole year. These weeks I am also in the middle of reading and study the precepts as sugested preparation for jukai. Especialy the one about "not sparing the dharma assets" is in my mind. Mostly the people who want to tip me go around the house to seek some change they can miss, but one woman opened up and imediately grabed an old sock next to the door where she picked some money and handed it over. I thanked her and said something funny about her sock-wallet, she explained the she had it always there just for everyone who came at her door. So there was no need for her to go around the house, ask her relatives. She could give something immediately. How simple.

    The next few hours it was for me like all the words of Robert Aitken about the eight precept, and more about giving and recieving came slowly tumbling down like an avalanche . As said before, one can learn things and know them, but this was like it was taking a place in every single cell of my body. Away went all my stupid arguments for not giving. If I have something another person needs or asks, I just give. If it is for a good cause and someone asks, I give. If it is for a bad cause and someone asks, I give. (Who am I to judge?) This woman, that day freed me from something.

    Now in relation to teacher/student, although it is very important to stick to an 'official' teacher, I see the world aroud me as my teacher as well. Therefore my relation with the world should be one of teacher/student as well. That day the woman was my teacher, another time it wil be a kid, sometimes a stone in the ground that I bump into with my toe.

    dlt life preserv zazen.jpg
    Last edited by Jundo; 10-01-2020 at 02:13 AM.
    Kind regards


  15. #15
    Erik: Thank you today you are my teacher.

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