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Buddhadharma : Fall 2017
36 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly fall 2017 the path No Teacher of Zen by Zoketsu Norman Fischer One of my favorite Zen stories is about teachers. The great Zen teacher Huangbo strides into the hall and says to the assembled monastics, “You people are all dreg-slurpers! If you go on like this, when will you ever see today? Don’t you know that in all of China, there are no teachers of Zen?” A monastic comes forward and says to him, “Then what about all those peo- ple like you who set up Zen places that students flock to like birds?” Huangbo replies, “I don’t say there is no Zen, only that there are no teachers.” There is more to “no teachers of Zen” than meets the eye. I still believe that students are responsible for their own practice and their own awakening. No one can communicate a truth worth knowing; the only worthwhile truth is the one you find uniquely, for your own life. On the other hand, Zen is not Lone Ranger practice. Zen teachers are important to the practice, as the tradition certainly indicates and experience proves. Yes, there are no Zen teachers because Zen isn’t a teachable subject matter or skill. There are things to be learned, such as Zen liturgy, how to comport oneself in a zendo, and how to strike a proper bell at a proper time, but it is clear that Zen itself, while not exactly something other than these things, isn’t the same as them. Zen is much more slippery than that. Zen is not an educational process but rather a transformational one 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 produced, 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. Occupying the teacher gear in the whirling Zen machine requires that you receive everything with an open heart and have the willingness and stamina to take full responsibility for each and every relationship you enter, which means to care and try your best to help. Of course, the Zen teacher, an imperfect human being, is going to disappoint a fair number of those who come to practice. Some will be disappointed on the first day, others only after many decades. You, the teacher, will misunder- stand them and they will misunderstand you. You will say and do things that are hurtful, even if you never intended to. Meaning to straighten someone out (always a dubious proposition), you will completely botch the job, reinforc- ing the behavior or view you were trying to soften. Students who have prac- ticed faithfully with you for years will realize it has all been wrong and leave,