Students and Teachers – A Little Can Of Worms!
It needn’t be.

This is mainly about Tibetan Buddhism, but it appertains to all spiritual groups and traditions. All spiritual ideals have been acquired from another culture, apart from indigenous people who have their own traditions. For example, Tibetan Buddhism was acquired from India and was adopted by the ancient Bon tradition (it’s relevant that there is a strong belief in ghosts), and Christianity has Pagan elements.

This mixing of cultures can be a cause of confusion = worms.

In Tibetan Buddhism, we go to the Buddha, Sangha (spiritual community), and Dharma (teachings) for refuge until enlightenment. However, the teacher embodies all three: without the teacher we wouldn’t know about the Buddha’s teachings, so the teacher is more important than the Buddha. The same goes for all spiritual paths. The main practice in Tibetan Buddhism is Guru Yoga = Vajrayana. Guru-yoga is guru inspiration; it is a means to an end. However, some make it an end in itself.

This is a very sensitive subject because it is something we all take personally: our relationship with the teacher can bring up loads of emotions. It all depends on the level of the teacher’s and the students’ understanding. It’s obviously not possible for everyone to understand the highest teachings, so it’s necessary to have methods to break down the process leading to understanding ultimate truth. The teachings of the Buddha span the range from ignorance to absolute understanding.

Here is where we can get confused = worms!

There are three aspects to teaching: the rituals which are a relative support, the absolute meaning which is the clarity aspect, and the unity of both which is the experiential aspect, putting it all into practice on an everyday level.

The whole point of the teaching is for the student to realise the nature of their own mind – the inner teacher (ultimate reality) realising that everything in the universe (relative reality) is the symbolic teacher. A healthy working relationship between the relative and the absolute.

The can of worms

If we merely receive teachings on the rituals: ring the bell…wave the dorje… do the mudra… imagine the lights…visualise the teacher…chant the mantra…prostrate…conform…get confused…think we are not doing it right…feel guilty….start to doubt…believe we’ll go to hell…we have got the wrong end of the stick. Conversely, just doing it as a lucky charm is even more deluded.

We are confused because these are things from another culture that we feel we ‘should’ do without them being fully explained. I’ve lost count of the empowerments I’ve attended, sitting through them and watching in amazement at the spectacle.

We are all trying to squeeze ourselves into another culture, when the teacher should be understanding our culture and how it has developed, and the effect that the modern world has had on us. This is something that Tibetan teachers do not fully understand, even though they may claim to: we are not neurotic and speedy for no reason. We have been distracted and deceived by the manipulations of those seeking power, using the principles of the Dharma – desire, aversion and ignorance – as an instrument to control and impose conformity in the guise of individuality.

A bit more worm

Tibetans do not lack self esteem. People growing up in the developed world do. Tibetan have been brought up in a strict way with a firm spiritual background, and in accord with the Tibetan-ness and so they feel very sure of themselves. We lack confidence and feel vulnerable, and maybe too ready to jump into something exotic, just to get away from the crowd. And so, we start acting strangely…very strangely 😉 … getting easily upset at being questioned. That alone reveals instability.

The Dharma is about realising our true nature, and not guru worship. This probably has its place in certain countries, but not so much in the modern world, where devotion should be in the form of a deep appreciation for the teachings.

I was once in charge of recording a teaching on visualisation practice: it filled 21 tapes (before the digital age), and I didn’t understand a word! The translator kept saying thing such as, “As usual, the straws come down from the deities to us…” What straws? What deities? Why? How? It hit me that this wasn’t my culture at all, that it wasn’t being explained very well and that we were being expected to conform as if we were Tibetan. This went on for years, until I finally discovered Dzogchen.

The completion stage in Vajrayana is Dzogchen or Mahamudra…which is beyond Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, teacher, deities, path, meditation, bells, dorjes, mudras, chanting….

In the Kagyu tradition, I was taught that Dzogchen was the “golden roof” – the end of the book – and that westerners were arrogant for wanting this before a firm foundation had been laid through the preliminary practices, considered to be the beginning of the book. However, that was only because that tradition thought that way – start at the beginning.

For some of us, that didn’t feel right; not that they were wrong, but it just didn’t feel satisfying. And one could be stuck there for years, wondering what it was all about. I was.

It all depends on one’s point of view. From a Dzogchen perspective, we are Dzogchen ,the “golden roof”. However, Dzogchen is the basis of all practice – it’s the Ground.

Ground = Our true nature.
Path = our confusion about that true nature.
Fruition = is realising that the confusion about our true nature never existed.

How can we avoid getting stuck in the can of worms?
By knowing what it’s all about –
and that is

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  1. Daisy says:

    Thanks, Tony – you’re tackling a tricky subject here and for me, you’ve handled it honestly and without drama. I too have had a rough ride in some respects. I truly wish the lamas would be more proactive with their students…rather than just ignoring when someone is having a problem (which is the Tibetan way), engage with them and – dare I say it – even make suggestions! Have you read the book about the relationship between students and teachers by Berzin?

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