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Lions Roar : May 2012
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2012 70 THE TEACHER AS ELDER The starting point is the relationship to hierarchy or a parental figure in the Hinayana, the vehicle of personal liberation. Our ordinary sense of the growing-up process, whatever we think it entails, is based purely on our dreams. We think we’re going to become Ph.D. candidates without knowing how to speak or write or read properly, almost without being toilet-trained. That’s the kind of ambition we usually have. We say to ourselves, “Of course I can push my shortcomings aside. I can just grow up, and soon I will be accepted in the mainstream of the respectable, high- powered world. I’m sure I can do it.” That’s our usual approach. Many people believe that professionalism means having a self-confident but amateurish approach to reality, but we’re not talking here about being “professional” Buddhists in that sense. We’re talking about how to actually become adults in the Bud- dhist world, rather than kids who appear to be grown up. We actually have to grow up and face the problems that exist in our lives. We have to develop a sense of the subtleties, understanding our reactions to the phenomenal world, which are our reactions to ourselves at the same time. To do this, we need some kind of parental figure to begin with. In the Hinayana tradition, that figure is called a sthavira in San- skrit or thera in Pali, which means “elder.” The elder is somebody who has already gone through being babysat and has gradu- ated to become a babysitter. In ordinary life, that person is very important for our development, because we have to know what will happen if we put our fingers on the hot burner. We have to learn the facts and figures and the little details that exist in our lives. That kind of discrimination is important. There are spiritual facts and figures as well. As a practitioner, you might regard yourself as a grownup who doesn’t need a babysitter. But in terms of spiritual discipline, that reaction is infantile. You are closing off large avenues of learning if you reject those possibilities. Then you have nothing to work with. You will have no idea even how to begin with the ABCs of basic spirituality. So in the beginning, relating to the teacher as acharya—as master, teacher, elder, parent-figure, and occasionally babysit- ter—is necessary. That person’s primary goal is not to teach us what’s good and what’s bad, but to help us develop a general sense of composure. That is the beginning of devotion, in some sense. At this point, devotion is not faith at an ethereal or vision- ary level but a sense of practicality: learning what it is necessary to do and what it is necessary to avoid. It’s a simple, basic thing. So to begin with, the teachings tell you that your view of the world is an infantile view. You think you’re going to get ice cream every day. As a baby and a young child, you throw temper tan- trums so that your daddy or your mommy or your babysitter will come along with a colorful ice-cream cone. But things can’t be that way forever. What we are saying here is that life is based on pain, suffering, misery. A more accurate word for that experience of duhkha, which we usually translate as “suffering,” is “anxiety.” There’s always a kind of anxiousness in life. Initially, you have to be told by somebody that life is full of anxiety. The elder helps us to relate with that first thing, which is actually called a “truth.” It is truth because it points out that your belief that you can actu- ally win the war against pain and that you might be able to get so-called happiness is not possible. It just doesn’t happen. The elder tells us these facts and figures. He or she tells us that the world is not made out of honeycombs and oceans of maple syrup. The elder tells us that the world has its own unpleasant and touchy points. When you have been told that truth, you begin to appreciate it more. You begin to respect that truth, which actu- ally goes a very long way—all the rest of your life. For the elder, such truth is old hat: he or she knows it already. The elder has gone through it herself. Nevertheless, she doesn’t give out righ- teous messages about those things. She simply says, “Look, it’s not as good as you think. It is going to be somewhat painful for you, getting into this world. You can’t help it—you’re already in it—so you’d better work with it and accept the truth.” That is precisely how the Lord Buddha first proclaimed the dharma. His first teaching was the truth of suffering. So when you are at the level of being babysat, having the teacher as a parental figure, you are simply told how things are. Being told about the truth of suffering is like having your diapers changed. This is an example of the trust and faith in the teacher that develops in the early stage of the teacher–student relation- ship, when the teacher acts as a babysitter. THE TEACHER AS SPIRITUAL FRIEND Having understood the first noble truth, your relationship with your teacher begins to evolve into a different level in the Excerpted from Teachings on the Sadhana of Mahamudra, to be published in 2012 by Shambhala Media. ©2012 Diana J. Mukpo. Used by permission. Edited by Carolyn Rose Gimian, senior editor of the works of Chögyam Trungpa. As a practitioner, you might regard yourself as a grownup who doesn’t need a babysitter. But in terms of spiritual discipline, that reaction is infantile. You are closing off large avenues of learning if you reject those possibilities.