Leading up to tonight’s discussion we have talked about the insanity which has been a consistent aspect of our lives. Next we talked about how at a very basic level our true nature was completely open, awake, and consistent, sane for lack of a better word. Finally last week we actually got into the practice by contemplating how truly great our situation really is. We also saw that although our situation was quite remarkable, it was inevitably going to end and that when it finally came to an end the only thing that would be of any benefit to us or anyone else was our ability to see the situation for what it was and be at perfect ease with it. This type of insight and contentment comes only from practice and that practice is in fact meditation. So we developed a resolve or strengthened our commitment towards meditation practice. All of these topics have lead up to tonight’s discussion, which is the entryway to meditation practice, the teacher.
Meeting the teacher can be difficult. The reason isn’t because they are off in caves or hiding from us, in fact they are often right in front of us. The problem is the way we see and interact with the world. First we will discuss how the way we see the world is relevant to this discussion . We have so many preconceived ideas about everything, and religious practice is no different. In regards to the teacher it can often be difficult to relate with him or her, because we expect them to be a certain type of him or her. We expect them to be wearing red robes, or a white collar, and when they show up in a flannel shirt and overalls we can't see them. This is perfectly related in the story of Naropa. Naropa was a great scholar, and abbot of one of the most prominent Buddhist monasteries to date, Nalanda. So when he set out to find his teacher, Tilopa, he was looking for a great scholar, philosopher, someone wearing the finest robes, sitting on the highest throne. However when he would come across Tilopa doing something such as cooking raw fish on the river bank he would fail to see him as the teacher. Of course these were all secret teachings by Tilopa, ways of stripping away all of Naropa’s intellectual stubbornness. Based on our expectations we attempt to define everything. Perhaps we expect the teacher to be a male, from Asia, and a fully ordained monk. All of these expectations together create our definition of the teacher. Then when the teacher appears as a woman from England with two children we are unable to relate with her. In order to meet the teacher we have to become honest, honest on a very fundamental level. All of our preconceived ideas must be discarded. We have to meet him or her with an open mind. This I think is the meaning behind the statement “when the student is ready the teacher will appear”. The same saying could read, “if the student isn’t blinded he will see the teacher.”
This topic of the teacher can be very tricky as there are a lot of preconceived ideas about the Guru. The word Guru can have a very negative connotation in the west. We sometimes use this word to describe annoying know-it-alls. The teacher is not a person who has all the answers, rather they are a guide, a very efficient guide. They are someone who has walked the path we now find ourselves on. They don’t just give us the answers, rather they point us in the right direction. Here it would be helpful to see meditation as a path, maybe one with no goal, but never the less a path. This path can be a very tricky and confusing path to walk partly because there is no goal. As a result of ego’s games we begin to relate to the path as though it is a means by which we can attain something, become enlightened, saved, happy, find our inner child, or whatever. This is the same old game, it is us trying to squeeze happiness out of the world. Meister Eckhart said, “True spirituality was growth by subtraction”, and because the teacher has walked this path they understand that. They know that the path goes no where, it is simply a means to realize something already present. They realize that meditation doesn’t give you some new quality, or make you into a new person, it un-does all the layers we have covered ourselves with. So like any good guide would, the teacher hacks away at any brush which obstructs the path. Except in this case the brush happens to be those layers you use to mask yourself, and as a result the process can become somewhat messy and painful. The teacher does this out of compassion and the student accepts it out of necessity, although it can be quite frustrating. It is frustrating because the teacher is exposing your deceptive tactics. Your games are rendered ineffective, and you are forced to relate with things as they are. He pushes you forward constantly, until finally there is a break through. He pushes long enough and hard enough that he eventually punches right through. When this happens you catch a glimpse, a glimpse of your true nature, and with that comes great self confidence. We see that we can face life successfully, or for that matter that we are life. There is another part of Naropa’s story which perfectly illustrates this. Earlier we mentioned how Naropa had a real hard time. He was very stubborn, and his intellectual ways were deeply ingrained. In order for Naropa to gain realization he went through what is called The Twelve Trials of Naropa. These twelve trials were very difficult and rather painful for him. His twelve trials culminated in a single instance. That instance was when Tilopa took off his shoe and hit Naropa right in the face! It was then that Naropa finally saw the suchness of things. It was then that Tilopa busted right through all of Naropa’s layers. It may seem like sudden realization but it wasn’t. Naropa endurred a lot of trial and hardship, which lead up to that moment. Tilopa waited until the right moment to push him, if he hadn’t Naropa would have just been knocked out with no benefit to anyone. The point is that Tilopa guided Naropa by challenging the way he saw the world, all his preconceived notions, and challenging his games, or his way of interacting with the world. Naropa was stripped of all his ignoance and as result he realized Mahamudra.
This has been a brief discussion about the teacher student relationship. There is much more that can be talked about within this subject. However for the time being this should be sufficient. Hopefully we have seen that the teacher is absolutely essential, otherwise we are like a blind person wandering down some busy street alone. We have to make every effort to become brutally honest with ourselves, to open up and relate to the teacher. The teacher is our guide, they have walked this path and they know all the downfalls and dangers along the way. If we wish to actually benefit ourselves and others with meditation we need his or her direction and encouragement.