Sunday, August 26, 2007

Dharma Quote of the Week: The Guru-Disciple Relationship

Dharma Quote of the Week from Snow Lion Publications:

The Guru-Disciple Relationship

There is considerable ongoing debate regarding the traditional view of the guru-disciple relationship, which asserts that seeing the guru as Buddha, impeccable and without failings, is vital to ripen the disciple's potential to attain the fruits of the path. This is reinforced by the admonition that to see faults in one's own guru will result in karmic downfalls and future suffering for the disciple. Any faults in the teacher should be seen as the disciple's aberrations projected outside. The tantric teachings insist this pure view should be held at all times to protect the disciple from accruing negative karma.

However, underlying this is also the need to preserve the integrity, authority, and status of the teacher. This leads to a great deal of confusion when students begin to see evident flaws in teachers, and it would be folly to explain them away as the students' impure perception. Consequently it has become necessary to cultivate a less dogmatic, more pragmatic view. A teacher may not be a perfect carrier of the projection, but this does not contradict the tantric view that essentially the guru, an inner phenomenon projected outside, is Buddha.

If we literalize this principle of the teacher as the embodiment of perfection, we are in danger of blinding ourselves to the reality that most teachers are human, and therefore not perfect. An individual can have deep insights into the nature of reality and still have human failings, a shadow that has not been fully eradicated. According to the teachings on the Ten Grounds or Stages of the Bodhisattva, until the final ground is reached, there are still subtle obscurations to full enlightenment that can manifest in flawed behavior. Believing without question that the outer guru is Buddha also traps the teacher in an unrealistic, unconscious position. The Dalai Lama has commented that too much deference harms the teacher, because we never challenge him or her.

When disciples become devoted to teachers, considerable power and authority is entrusted to them. While a teacher's role is to support and empower disciples to discover their own potential, sometimes this does not happen. Some teachers become caught in the powerful position they have been endowed with and are unaware of their own desire for power and authority. They may begin to enjoy their power too much and take advantage of it for their own needs. This keeps their disciples disempowered, and ultimately does not allow growth and individual responsibility to emerge. Teachers may be unconsciously afraid to empower their disciples and allow them to gain a sense of their own authority and autonomy. They may try to hold on to their disciples, when to genuinely empower them could lead to their leaving to engage in their own journey.

~ From The Psychology of Buddhist Tantra, by Rob Preece, foreword by Stephen Batchelor, published by Snow Lion Publications.

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