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Buddhadharma : Spring 2014
SPRING 2 0 1 4 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 51 in which both teacher and student fully engage, each playing his or her proper role. The process itself effects the transformation. Think of it as a machine with many moving parts that interact in a complex system, each part affecting every other part. No one part “teaches” while another “learns.” Yet run the machine for a while and something happens: a product is pro- duced, in this case a seasoned Zen practitioner who embodies, in his or her own unique way, the values, the commitments, and, mostly, the feeling and vision of a life of practice. So it’s just as Huangbo says: there is Zen but, strictly speak- ing, no teachers, although yes, the machine won’t turn unless all the parts function fully in their proper places. The teacher, not actually teaching anything, must occupy his or her place in the process. Another analogy might be a mandala: each element has its crucial place in the over- all design, but no element is sovereign. Only the overall design matters. So yes, in just this way, teachers are important. In order to effectively take his or her place in the pattern, the teacher, ideally, has certain capacities. Faith in the practice, especially. And not just enthusiastic faith, but faith grounded in experience over time—faith that is not only spoken of but also demonstrated in action. Expe- rience in the lived reality of the practice is the source of this kind of faith, that certain knowing, to the very bones, that the practice is the truest way to live. “Practice” doesn’t mean only formal practice that happens in temples and meditation halls. It means understanding and living a human life among others. Meditation is fairly new in Western culture, and naturally we have overemphasized it, roman- ticizing the mystical experiences intensive medi- tation can produce. Such experiences are just a matter of course. They are among the least important things for a teacher to have experi- enced, but any Zen teacher will have experi- enced many such things. Sit there long enough and everything is bound to occur. But it isn’t the experiences that matter as much as the folding of them into a whole life and a whole view. But even this depth of faith, though essential and basic, is not sufficient. Ideally, a Zen teacher is also willing and able to share life completely with others. This takes a wide and deep accep- tance of and interest in the many wily and wild manifestations of the human heart that arise in the course of practice over time. Practice with people for a while and you will bear witness to births, deaths, marriages, divorces, love affairs, enlightenment experiences, endless tears, tragic illnesses, angry feuds, breaches, collapses, and surprises of all sorts. A Zen teacher will eventu- ally live through with others almost everything human beings perpetrate, so he or she needs long patience, deep forbearance and forgiveness, and a healthy sense of the immense tragedy and beauty of human life. The more the teacher has an idea of “Zen” that students must conform to, the more everyone (teacher included) will suf- fer, if not at first, then later on as people who were initially inspired by that idea come to feel oppressed or even betrayed by it. No doubt there are many important skills people would like their Zen teachers to have, but deep faith and a will- ingness to share your life honestly are the core of what I have come to feel is most important after having been in this business a long time. But I have also seen Zen teachers who seem seriously lacking in these capacities still be of benefit to others. There seem to be no universal prescrip- tions in Zen or in life. Zen practice is dialogic, interactive. Com- pared to other forms of Buddhism it is, classi- cally, “together practice.” In a formal Zen meal, I still believe that students are responsible for their own practice and their own awakening. No one can communicate a truth worth knowing. On the other hand, Zen is not Lone Ranger practice.