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Buddhadharma : Winter 2005
buddhadharma| 47 |winter 2005 The relationship between student and teacher seems to be a central feature of Buddhism. From the perspective of your own tradition, why is it so important? noRman fischeR: In the Zen tradition, the relation- ship between a teacher and a student is crucial. There is an alchemy that takes place when we put together the teachings, the student, and the teacher. The teachings are not external material that one masters. In the dharma, the external material is just a tool to effect an inner transformation. That transformation requires a deep spiritual relation- ship with another person, who in our tradition is understood to be an ordinary human being and yet at the same time is envisioned as an empow- ered Buddha. It’s a human relationship conducted on the basis of dharma. It’s not something that’s optional or that makes the dharma better if it’s there. It’s required to bring about the transforma- tion that is the heart of the dharma. shaRon salzbeRg: In the Theravada tradition, the word for teacher is kalyana-mitta, which means “spiritual friend.” The teacher is not a friend in the sense of being a pal, yet the teacher embodies all those qualities, like trust and comfort, ease and guidance, and a sense of inspiration, which we asso- ciate with a very good friend. There is also a lot of importance placed on one’s own effort in working with the teacher. This principle of applying one’s own effort starts with our relationship with the Buddha, who as the primary spiritual friend points the way and inspires us to follow his example. He asks us to make the same effort he made. We have enormous regard and respect for the teacher as the one person who, as one text puts it, “is always on our side” – the one who is moti- vated not by self-aggrandizement or a wish to be venerated but by the wish for the liberation and freedom of the student. The teacher guides us by relying on their expertise both in methodology and the teachings. It is also said that the teacher brings us back to a balance of mind, out of which insight, love, compassion, and other such good qualities can arise. We work with the teacher to open to all of those qualities, and the teacher responds directly to our effort, our seeking, and our understanding. The Yellow Buddhafield, 2001 Oil on canvas