Monday, October 15, 2007

Changes in Student Teacher Relations

Student Teacher Relationship ZEN

There's no formula for the student teacher relationship. Each teacher is unique-in temperament, style, and also in interests. Some are strict and formal; some casual and relaxed. Also each student is unique. So there's no one way the relationship should be.

Even within Buddhism there are three traditional models of the relationship, each quite different from the others. In the Tibetan model the teacher is seen more as a guru; and there is often a strong devotional aspect on the part of the student. In the Vipassana tradition the teacher is seen as a guide or a spiritual friend, quite different from an elevated guru. In Zen the teacher is often seen as the living transmitter of the teaching; including all the romanticized stories of the master who bashes the student into enlightenment with the whack of a stick. Even though the romantic images may be gone, the Zen teacher may still be seen as the enigmatic agent of transformation. Each of these three models has its own limitations, but the point is there is no one way the relationship has to be.

Regardless of the differences in style, the real function of a teacher remains the same. The job of the teacher is to clarify what practice is. This is done on a general basis, by clarifying the nature of the self-centered dream and how to awaken from it. It is also done by helping the student clarify their own particular difficulties, and how to practice with them. Along with this, the teacher will encourage the student, both directly with words, and indirectly, by example.
The function of the teacher is certainly not to be the student's mommy or daddy. Nor to be the student's therapist, even though the practice will often include working on the psychological level.

There are three basic stages of the student teacher relationship. The first is to realize the need for a teacher. Some practitioners never get beyond this barrier. Once we accept that we need a teacher, the next stage is to find a teacher that we feel compatible with. This may take a period of trial and error, since not every teacher is suitable for every student. The third stage is to learn how to work with the inevitable difficulties that will arise in the relationship.

Many of the difficulties that arise in the student teacher relationship are the result of the filters that the student brings, including all of the expectations and assumptions about what the relationship is supposed to be like. For example, do you have the expectation that the relationship is supposed to be pleasant, or at least not difficult? You may think that you don't have this assumption, but notice your reaction when the teacher points to something in yourself that you don't want to see. Or when you're asked to do something as a practice approach that you don't want to do. This is a very interesting point to consider: how do you react when it's suggested that you practice with something in a way that doesn't suit you?

Another assumption we may have is that the teacher should be perfect, or at least not have certain flaws. Again, you may think you don't have this obviously unrealistic expectation, but what is your reaction when the teacher does something you judge as off? If you have a strong reaction, it means that you do, in fact, have the belief that the teacher should be and behave in a particular way. You need to ask yourself, what "flaws" aren't okay with you? And what do you do when this situation arises? Do you get righteously angry and speak your mind? Do you withdraw or feel like giving up? Do you go numb? It's good to know your own patterns.

We have so many uninspected beliefs in this area that they are bound to cause us difficulties at some point. Why? Because teachers aren't perfect; they're an ongoing process. In fact, unless teachers continue to work with their own edge, their own fears, they are no longer effective teachers, because they will be disconnected from others.

Of course, there are certain situations when the teacher may, in fact, be off. And these situations may need to be eventually addressed. But the point is it's best to work with and see through our own emotional reactions first, which are mostly based on our conditioned views and judgments.
There is another, more subtle, assumption that many students have: that the student and teacher are the same. This is a tricky topic. I'm not saying that the teacher should be seen as better, or above—just different. If the student has the frontiersman mentality, seeing himself as independent, doing his own thing, the delusion is that he sees himself as already free. If the student's cup is already full, he will only do what he wants, and thus not be truly open to learning. This is unfortunate, because no matter how skillful the teacher, they can relate to students, or "teach", only in proportion to the student's willingness to learn.
One other important factor that every student, no matter how advanced, will bring to the relationship, is their own ego-strategy. If you have trust issues, they will no doubt eventually arise in relation to the teacher. If you need to submit to an authority, you will no doubt set up the teacher as the authority. You may also find yourself having to rebel against that same authority. Or perhaps you need to be liked, to please, or to be understood. Whatever our ego-strategy is, it will play itself out in the relationship with the teacher just like it plays out in every other relationship. The only difference is that hopefully the teacher will help you see what you're doing.

This doesn't mean you have to then beat yourself up for your "faults," or struggle to be a better student. What it does mean is that you can become increasingly aware of your own beliefs and actions. The point of being a student is to learn. The more we see through our own conditioned beliefs and behaviors, the more free we become of them. This is the wish of every teacher: to see the student learn to stand on their own two feet.

Ezra Bayda

No comments: