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Buddhadharma : Summer 2011
winter 2005| 52 |buddhadharma a lot of compassion and love from the teacher. You can see their mindfulness and how they relate with each and every minute of their life. It’s not just serv- ing the teacher, then. It is actually serving oneself, because in the profound moments you spend with your teacher, you learn more about the dharma of everyday life than you can learn in formal teaching. You see how a great master manifests dharma in simple situations, like eating or speaking to their friends or working with their emotions. noRman fischeR: If we have interactions with the teacher on a more mundane basis, then the teach- ing becomes concrete. Otherwise, if we simply hear the teacher presenting dharma from the high seat, it can be idealized, more than human. I would add that having this kind of relationship transforms all our relationships. So in serving the teacher, we can learn how to serve all sentient beings. We want to be kind and giving and capable of helping people, butitcanbehardtodothat.Ifwecanstarttodo that with the teacher, someone whom we respect and admire, maybe we can learn how to relate that way to ourselves and then to others. shaRon salzbeRg: It’s striking to me how many times, in speaking about their teacher, people will say, “She was very kind to me.” Usually people are speaking about the less formal, unstructured moments. It’s not that we’re excluding their bril- liant scholarship or eloquent explanations, but there’s something about the quality of the human kindness that comes out so strongly in situations that are not set up as formal teachings. What about when the teacher asks you to do something that you resist, that goes beyond what you would like to do? noRman fischeR: You’re talking about what’s involved in being obedient to the teacher as a practice. shaRon salzbeRg: Yes, when the teacher is making you stretch. Exactly. shaRon salzbeRg: You might say the teacher exists for that very reason, to take you beyond what you think you can do or who you think you are. In 1974, when I was studying in India, I traveled to Calcutta to see Dipa Ma on my way back to the United States for what I was sure was going to be a very brief visit. I was planning to return to India and live there for the rest of my life to study with my teacher. As I was about to leave she said, “When you get back to the United States, you’ll be teaching with Joseph Goldstein.” And I said, “No, I won’t.” And she said, “Yes, you will.” And I said, “No, I won’t.” This went on and on. I felt the absolute con- viction that I was completely incapable of doing anything like that. She told me that was the very reason that I should teach. That was a tremendous blessing. It pointed me back to the pain I had been in when I came into the dharma and the pain so many people are in. It made me appreciate again the extraordinary value of the dharma and the power of meditation as a tool for addressing people’s fun- damental pain. All my hesitations about my abilities as a public speaker, and so forth, became secondary. It is never how I would have imagined my life, but she was right about what I needed to do. Every teacher I’ve had has done that, not only by saying you should do this or that but by simply taking me beyond my sense of limitation, either explicitly or implicitly sending the message: Yo u can do this! noRman fischeR: It’s important to note that those commands or directions can only be given when you have given deep permission for the teacher to give them to you, and you are ready to receive them. In Sharon’s case, I imagine that Dipa Ma must have understood Sharon’s deep turning of the heart, which gave her permission to give Sharon that direction. It’s not as if the teacher is going around giving people directions right and left. They are sens- ing where there’s permission for that, and even though the permission might be unknown to the student or might require a stretch, the teacher can see whether the permission is there or not. And if it’s not there, there are no directives. The giving and receiving of specific directions can only really occur after the relationship has ripened. PonloP RinPoche: I agree that students do need to give permission for the teacher to be able to give instructions and direction. In the Vajrayana, that permission is called devotion, or confidence. Following the teacher’s instructions comes from one’s own confidence. It demonstrates how deeply we have attained confidence in dharma, in the wisdom of the teachings, and the wisdom of the teacher. The student’s confidence arises based on the qualities of the teacher. It does seem that we expect a lot from the teacher. Doesn’t that sometimes lead to disappointment? PonloP RinPoche: Sometimes our disappointment clearly shows that we have a misunderstanding of the teacher-student relationship. We have tre- mendous expectations and a sense of never having enough knowledge or enough materials. We mis- take the role of the teacher and what we should The teacher is not scheming, “How can I pull the rug out from under the student?” The teacher is just going about his or her own business, in accord with dharma. The student will feel the rug disappearing because of the gap between the student’s ordinary perspective and the perspective of the teacher. — Norman Fischer