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Buddhadharma : Summer 2007
buddhadharma| 19 |summer 2007 Q aSk the teacherS send Your Questions BY mAil or to teAchers@theBuddhAdhArmA.com Zenkei BlAnche hArtmAn is former ABBess of the sAn frAncisco Zen center. geshe tenZin wAngYAl rinpoche is A lineAge holder of the Bön dZogchen trAdition of tiBet. nArAYAn lieBenson grAdY is A guiding teAcher At cAmBridge insight meditAtion center. PHOTOSBY(l-R):BARBARAwENgER,MARYEllENMCCOURT,MARYlANg Question: For the last five years, I have been com mitted to meditating daily, either at home or at the zendo I currently go to. I also participate in our monthly daylong sesshins, zazenkais, and week long retreats. Actually, practice has gotten to be almost addictive! I respect and admire my current teacher, but recently I participated in a zazenkai with a teacher at another zendo and really liked her dharma talk and the sangha members. I originally chose my current zendo mostly because it is near my home, making morning sittings convenient. But after hearing this other teacher’s dharma talk, I got a sense that a teacherstudent relationship with her would be more supportive and nurturing. I feel I’m being disloyal to my current teacher for considering moving to another one. Yes, “it’s a poor workman who blames his tools.” Am I just imagining that my practice would grow and strengthen with another teacher? What if it really would? I find myself going from one teacher to the next – a few years with one, a few with another. Living in New York, I am fortunate to have a variety of Zen teachers from various schools and backgrounds available to me. How do you know if you should be with one teacher or another? geshe tenZin wAngYAl rinpoche: To follow the path, it is necessary to find a teacher and to follow that teacher consistently. In order to find the right teacher, you must take your time and use your intellect to analyze and judge the qualities of a teacher. Also, before you decide to follow a par ticular teacher, it is necessary to feel the connection from your heart. Once you have made a commit ment to follow a particular teacher, the relation ship should be maintained. In choosing a life partner, you feel the con nection from your heart as well as intellectually make a decision to marry or otherwise commit to the relationship. While the studentteacher rela tionship is not exactly the same, as far as work ing to maintain a longlasting relationship, there are similar challenges in both. When you make a longterm commitment, you don’t just follow your fleeting attractions and desires. You maintain some sense of what initially led to your decision. A heart connection with a person cannot develop if you change every year or two due to convenience. If you have a disagreement or your teacher does not fulfill your desires, it is important not to dis tance yourself from your teacher or to criticize him or her. A dharma relationship with a teacher is not based on fulfilling ego’s desires; it is the place where one’s own ego should be weaker. We can find many places in our life to strengthen our ego, but ego needs to be tamed in the studentteacher relationship. Situations may arise where one can decide to follow another teacher, such as a teacher passing away or even living far away. This does not dimin ish the previous relationship, which can still be strong. You don’t replace a teacher; rather, you build on the foundation of that relationship while you are also being supported by another teacher. If you haven’t connected with a teacher in this deep and essential way, continue to search until you find this connection. Once you find it, commit to it and maintain the relationship. Even if your teacher is living on Mt. Kailash and you live in New York City, you should still be able to follow this teacher because that connection is deeper than the conditions of time or place. Zenkei BlAnche hArtmAn: Your question is very dif ficult to answer and at the same time very impor tant. As I read it, I was right with you until I came to the part where you said that you find yourself going from one teacher to another. That sounds painful to me. It impedes the development of an intimate, trusting, teacherstudent relationship that can facilitate the total surrender of “forgetting the self,” “dropping off body and mind,” or what ever words we may use to describe the full and complete relinquishment of self. It also suggests to me that you may be hoping to “get” something from a teacher (or from practice) to add to “your”