This is a chat about freedom that we can discover through Buddhist practice and study. I will probably continue this chat later, so this is part I.
What is the relationship between a teacher and a student?
For years I thought a teacher was someone superior, an authority, a responsible person, like a father or mother. He or she can tell me exactly what to do in my life, what wisdom is, what the truth is. Lots of Buddhists look at Buddhist teachers like that - to them they are authorities: extremely mature and wise people who have sorted their life out completely and live peacefully and in perfect harmony with the world. But thanks to Mike, my current teacher, I learned a new perspective on this problem.
What have you learned?
Firstly, a Buddhist teacher is not a superhuman being who has no desire, no problems and doesn't have to deal with everyday life challenges. And they are definitely not some kind of authority when it comes to how you personally should live and solve your problems. They are not some kind of moralist judges and do not have a secret key to the truth that you only hope to borrow from them one day. This woman accused Brad Warner of not being adult enough and responsible enough to deal with his teacher's role seriously. It's because this woman thinks that a Buddhist teacher is someone higher than the rest of us. I remember we used to have a similar kind of head teacher at high school. She acted as if she was a prefect person, knowing the truth about the world and what is right and wrong. So for most students she was a kind of perfect authority, but I didn't like her because I felt she only pretended she is the right person but in fact she lacked that wisdom and knowledge she pretended to have. Of course, today, after 25 years I am sure she was wrong in many aspects. For example she believed in communism but that system later failed and had lots of moral issues. She predicted that I would not be able to study at university but I graduated from university successfully later. So why should we take anyone in the world as a final authority and a moral reference point who will tell us what is right and wrong and how we should change and become similar to them? There are not such people at all. Kodo Sawaki once said: There is nobody I can admire.
Aren't there any teachers with useful values, aren't there no guides when it comes to learning what our life is about, what the truth is?
I mean there are excellent guides, master Dogen was a great teacher, Brad Warner is a great Buddhist philosopher and his writing and life is a great inspiration, it is something that very clearly points to reality. But being a teacher means exactly that you are a guide, not a dictator, not a moral reference point, not a final authority. If you believe a person could be a moral model and a final authority, that is something very clearly linked to fanatic sects.
Are you saying we cannot rely on anyone when it comes to learning what the truth is, or what is right and wrong?
After all, we have to find the truth by ourselves. We can only rely on such a teacher who will help us find the truth by ourselves. So we can rely on the fact that we have access to the truth in this very moment. Going to a Buddhist teacher, asking for the truth, is like going to buy beer with a jar that is filled with delicious beer already. So a good teacher has to point to that jar and say : Look look, already there. But of course, a Buddhist teacher may be very well experienced in Buddhist philosophy and help us understand a lot of Buddhist issues, which are actually a practical issues of life and death. No matter what we learn from him or her, it will be about our actual life and how to live it and that is something we have to do on our own.A teacher cannot be responsible for our own decisions. If anything, we have to learn to be responsible for our own actions. He or she may give us some kind of tips, but rather he or she will tell us about their own experience which could be very different from ours. So we have to do something on our own. My teacher Mike has been teaching me how to look after my own life and my own problems on my own. Actually, when I met Mike I thought I should change a lot of things about myself. Now I feel completely free. But much more responsible. How is that?