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Buddhadharma : Winter 2014
winter 2 0 1 4 buddhadharma: the Practitioner’s quarterly 43 IN 1973, I FOUND MYSELF seated before a color- ful brocaded throne in a mediation hall in a small Tibetan Buddhist monastery near Kathmandu, Nepal. I was among a large group of young West- erners waiting with some excitement for a Tibetan lama to enter. The atmosphere was electric with anticipation. After a few minutes there was a whis- per: “Lama’s here.” We all stood up, and most people bowed respectfully as a relatively young man entered the room, made prostrations, and rose to the throne. When he began to speak, I found myself immediately enthralled by his presence and playful humor. This man was to become an essential focus of my spiritual life from that point onward. He became my guru. Like many Westerners at the time, I was some- what lost spiritually and very wounded emotionally. I would have given almost anything to find someone to guide me and give me a sense of meaning and direction. I believed and trusted that this Tibetan lama would do so. I also really wanted to be seen, so that I might have a sense of affirmation about my value and my nature. Part of this relationship to my guru was therefore a huge emotional investment. I became devoted in a way that was akin to falling in love and had a very idealistic view of how special he was. I recall sitting with other students, talking in a kind of romantic haze about all the qualities we felt he embodied. Our Teachers Are Not Gods longtime practitioner and psychotherapist rob Preece says that as students we may be devoted to our teachers, but we can’t afford to idealize them anymore. When I apply a Jungian psychological view to this relationship, I can see that at its heart was a massive projection. That isn’t to say the lama was not extraordinary, but that extraordinariness was the hook for my projection. Jung saw that what we are unconscious of in ourselves, we tend to project onto someone else. In the case of someone who becomes our guru, we project an image of our “higher Self” onto a person who can act as a car- rier of that unconscious quality. When this begins to happen, it is as though we become enthralled or beguiled by this projection. In the case of the projection of the Self onto a teacher, we give away something very powerful in our nature and will then often surrender our own volition in order to be guided. More problematic in this experience was that, like many of my peers, what I had projected was not just the “inner guru”; I had also imbued him with a quality of the ideal parent I dearly needed. In doing so, I gave away other significant aspects of my power: my own volition and my own authority and discriminating wisdom. Looking back, I can see that I had a lot of grow- ing up to do. My desire to idealize the external teacher was actually supported by teachings I received on guru devotion, which said explicitly that we should try to see the guru as the Buddha and that he (or occasionally she) was essentially A Buddha Head in a Coalfield, Ningxia, 2010 From the Yellow River Project by Zhang Kechun courtesyoftheartistandthreeshadoWs+3gallery