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Reverence for teachers

KeromeKerome Did I fall in the forest?Europe Veteran

So I was wondering what people think about displaying reverence for teachers. In my local Tibetan Buddhist centre there is a tall pedestal, almost like a pulpit, which is used by the Rinpoche when he visits. There are many other examples of how a kind of enforced reverence for teachers is built into Buddhism... How do people feel about that?

Most of Western society is built on the notion of equality. I would even go so far as to say that it's a built-in human instinct, to like situations where all are equal. We usually hold that respect or reverence is to be earned, not assigned or inherited.

Comments

  • @Kerome said:
    So I was wondering what people think about displaying reverence for teachers. In my local Tibetan Buddhist centre there is a tall pedestal, almost like a pulpit, which is used by the Rinpoche when he visits. There are many other examples of how a kind of enforced reverence for teachers is built into Buddhism... How do people feel about that?

    Most of Western society is built on the notion of equality. I would even go so far as to say that it's a built-in human instinct, to like situations where all are equal. We usually hold that respect or reverence is to be earned, not assigned or inherited.

    In the vinaya, it states that monks shouldn't sleep on an elevated bed. That's why the kutis are so simple.

    When I did a uni course on 'Buddhism in the Contemporary World' it said that the reason Buddhism hasn't been practised in China for centuries is because the monasteries took advantage of their position to the detriment of the locals. They uprose and that was the end of that!

    It seems to me that the Tibetan monastic traditions focus a lot on guru yoga. As an Australian I'm wary of authority but I can see its benefit for dismantling the ego. That said, I'm not sure whether Marpa wasn't actually physically and emotionally abusing Milarepa for all those years, despite what he claimed and said to his wife.

    lobster
  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Moderator

    TbH, I have an even level of respect for all beings. Truly, I do. I honour Life and their right to be who they re.
    But a person's Actions (verbal and physical) then determine for me, whether my respect for them grows or diminishes. I still respect their right to life, and would not wish them harm, at all. But how they demonstrate their character through what they say and/or do, is a gauge for the amount of respect I hold for them.

  • @federica said:
    TbH, I have an even level of respect for all beings. Truly, I do. I honour Life and their right to be who they re.
    But a person's Actions (verbal and physical) then determine for me, whether my respect for them grows or diminishes. I still respect their right to life, and would not wish them harm, at all. But how they demonstrate their character through what they say and/or do, is a gauge for the amount of respect I hold for them.

    I find this such a tricky one - one of the lojong slogans is 'don't be so predictable', i.e. if a person disrespects you then you'll disrespect them - that's being predictable. I'm very predictable but I'd like to be unpredictable!

    I would like to think that I respect everyone even if they don't respect me but the truth is I find myself denying the entirety of my feelings and there's a low-grade hostility going on. I can tell when this happens because when a colleague who's difficult tells me they're resigning, I do a mental jig and hooray and come out with a 'wish you all the best for the future' line (and know that it can't come quick enough!).

    Kerome
  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Moderator

    I think 'respect' is a difficult word, actually, and like 'dukkha', probably means slightly different things to different people. A diminishing of any level of respect I have for a person, doesn't necessarily mean I like them less - although I fully understand why this may be a given, or a logical conclusion for some.
    Respect to me, means assessing when someone is reliable. Can they be relied upon? Are they trustworthy?

    If my respect is diminished for someone, because of something negative they do, that doesn't mean I like them less. I still get on with them, have a laugh, a joke... it's just that they might not be the person I call upon if I hit a crisis...

  • @Kerome my teacher was a pratyekabuddha. Here is a similar Japanese zen term:
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mushi-dokugo

    The pratyekabuddhas are known as the malamatiyya in Sufi Islam, they often work in secret or indiscernible ways, like the original Father Christmas - St Nicholas. In other words they are not always overt teachers. This is out of respect and care for those who would be damaged by the hypocrisy of false reverence.

    Reverence is for our benefit - not the teachers.

    Keromekarasti
  • personperson Where is my mind? 'Merica! Veteran

    I don't have any problem with the bowing or high seats or other outward displays. Where I do get triggered is with some of the teachers who act high and important. Most are humble and friendly when approached and I don't feel looked down on.

    lobsterBunks
  • genkakugenkaku Northampton, Mass. U.S.A. Veteran

    I would even go so far as to say that it's a built-in human instinct, to like situations where all are equal.

    @kerome -- This is an interesting realm. My own sense is that the longer anyone practices, the more s/he is forced to admit that equality is less desirable than what is claimed. Aside from anything else, how could anyone learn anything from anyone else if, in fact, the two parties were equal?

    On the one hand, tripping over your shoelaces in an attempt to show "reverence" can be a terrific barrier. On the other, holding out for some sort of "equality" can be similarly formidable. The Dalai Lama was once quoted as saying, "I am just a simple monk." On the one hand, the heart rejoices to hear such apparent humility. On the other, take a look/listen to the ways in which the Dalai Lama is treated ... pretty high on the totem pole is my point of view. So ... is the Dalai Lama a liar or is he telling some truth that many of his followers are loath to credit?

    The Zen teacher Rinzai was once quoted as saying, "grasp and use, but never name." Circumstances come and circumstances go -- that is the nature of practice. Sometimes they present a simple monk; sometimes they present a great teacher or a snake-oil salesman. Either way, equality is not the point. Practice is the point.

    Just noodling.

    lobster
  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Veteran

    What @lobster says. It is a lot about learning humility as a student and not for bowing to the greatness of the teacher. Some of it is also practical, the same reason a school teacher stands to teach a classroom of sitting students. It's hard to teach a group when you cannot see them.

    With a teacher, and kind of going off what @federica mentioned, they have some respect due just for the position they are in and at having gotten there. But they still have to earn the respect that is given freely. It's like the office of the president. The office itself has a level of reverence or respect. But from there it varies based on whether the person holding that office has increased or decreased respect (and even that obviously varies based on the perception of the person observing).

    person
  • SpinyNormanSpinyNorman It's still all old bollocks Veteran
    edited November 2016

    @Kerome said:> Most of Western society is built on the notion of equality. I would even go so far as to say that it's a built-in human instinct, to like situations where all are equal.

    I think humans also have a need to be led, a need for hierarchy. In the UK we still have remnants of the feudal system.

    lobster
  • KeromeKerome Did I fall in the forest? Europe Veteran

    @SpinyNorman said:

    @Kerome said: Most of Western society is built on the notion of equality. I would even go so far as to say that it's a built-in human instinct, to like situations where all are equal.

    I think humans also have a need to be led, a need for hierarchy. In the UK we still have remnants of the feudal system.

    Really? I think there are advantages to hierarchy, it's obviously an efficient organisational structure, but there has been recent research showing that people are happier in more egalitarian societies. That implies to me that people's instinct is towards the egalitarian, and the hierarchical tendencies are more historical remnants driven by socio-economic evolution.

    Would be interesting to find a well-researched book on this

  • KeromeKerome Did I fall in the forest? Europe Veteran

    @genkaku said:

    I would even go so far as to say that it's a built-in human instinct, to like situations where all are equal.

    @kerome -- This is an interesting realm. My own sense is that the longer anyone practices, the more s/he is forced to admit that equality is less desirable than what is claimed. Aside from anything else, how could anyone learn anything from anyone else if, in fact, the two parties were equal?

    Yes it is an interesting area. Of course on a primitive level equality is simply a pact of mutual respect and non-aggression, a promise that you won't try to exploit greater strength, won't disregard what the other says.

    The reality is there is no such thing as perfect equality. There are physical and mental differences, variations in education and skill. These can lead to differences 10%, 20% or even 50% one way or the other. But two equals approaching eachother in peace can learn from eachother's skills and knowledge.

    However positions of religious reverence are different. Positions of reverence or hierarchy have clear upsides and downsides, depending on who occupies them, and the system in which they occupy them. With the right person in charge, they can leverage the added respect for their opinion into increased learning and wisdom amongst their community, with the wrong person in charge it can become awful.

    Take the idea of an Imam in the Islamic faith. On the one hand he can preach devotion and service. On the other hand he can preach extremist hate or jihad. The people in his community will be significantly influenced either way, and you don't know which type of preacher he is when you first meet him.

    I think that in part underlies my reluctance to accord a great deal of reverence based on titles or positions. There is a good reason to be wary of people who the community appears to respect, because our fellow humans very often just follow uncritically.

  • CinorjerCinorjer Veteran
    edited November 2016

    @federica said:
    I think 'respect' is a difficult word, actually, and like 'dukkha', probably means slightly different things to different people. A diminishing of any level of respect I have for a person, doesn't necessarily mean I like them less - although I fully understand why this may be a given, or a logical conclusion for some.
    Respect to me, means assessing when someone is reliable. Can they be relied upon? Are they trustworthy?

    If my respect is diminished for someone, because of something negative they do, that doesn't mean I like them less. I still get on with them, have a laugh, a joke... it's just that they might not be the person I call upon if I hit a crisis...

    Here I have to agree. When one person says "We must respect the Master" it means we must honor their dedication and position. To another, it means we must show unquestioned obedience to the Master's every whim.

    If "reverence" is the benchmark, I'm not the person to have an unbiased opinion. I find it impossible to take myself seriously, leave alone the Master who mistakes position for wisdom. But, it's human nature to worship and put people on pedestals. Some of us are better at it than others. I'm lousy at worship, always have been. If you want worship, get a dog. They're good at it.

    Some Teachers have earned every bit of our respect a hundred times over, but rules saying we have to respect (obey and not criticize, they mean) someone because of their position and put them on a figurative or literal pedestal is an invitation to abuse. First of all, it's not needed. Since when did people have to be ordered to admire and honor the people that bring joy and enlightenment into our lives? When the rules start being trotted out that you must bow before authority, you can be sure it's to protect the unworthy, not the worthy.

    And that's just my stubborn old man shaking his cane at the world this morning. Everyone here is my Teacher, and I honor each and every one.

    lobsterKerome
  • The closest word I could use for my teacher is maybe 'awe' but that is not quite right. Maybe mutual reverence, friendliness and respect is closer. Probably the only person I would trust with my life even more than myself (who I can not trust).

    We are never equal to an enlightened teacher who is more realised than us. In a sense they serve us BUT we may strive for equality (usually through arrogance).

    Most teachers are transmitters of teachings, knowledge of means and not necessarily realised. I find it more common for Zen teachers to be awake. Reputation is no indication. Some realised teachers are not reputed or even known as practitioners of any external spirituality.

    ... anyway time for me to build a conduit to other dimensions ... :glasses:
    http://qgate.soup.io

    Cinorjer
  • @lobster said:
    The closest word I could use for my teacher is maybe 'awe' but that is not quite right. Maybe mutual reverence, friendliness and respect is closer. Probably the only person I would trust with my life even more than myself (who I can not trust).

    We are never equal to an enlightened teacher who is more realised than us. In a sense they serve us BUT we may strive for equality (usually through arrogance).

    Most teachers are transmitters of teachings, knowledge of means and not necessarily realised. I find it more common for Zen teachers to be awake. Reputation is no indication. Some realised teachers are not reputed or even known as practitioners of any external spirituality.

    I've been looking for a teacher for a good while but it's hard to find someone who comes to town, is accessible, is genuine, is familiar with Westerners etc. I could go to London but I don't know where to look! The place is enormous.

  • lobsterlobster Veteran
    edited November 2016

    @Tiddlywinds said:
    I could go to London but I don't know where to look.

    So maybe start somewhere ... The Buddhist Society is the oldest Buddhist group in London. They provide advice. <3
    http://www.thebuddhistsociety.org/page/web-links

    Tel: 020 7834 5858
    Email: info@thebuddhistsociety.org


    Some of you might be surrounded by teachers like Chris de O. who made this honest thank you to his teachers this morning on one of the insightimer groups ...

    "To my root teacher, chronic physical pain: for the past 16 years, you have ruined my life, teaching me patience, grit, strength and determination. You have shown me how the smallest discomfort makes the mind contract in on itself, so that I might learn not to contract. You showed me how illness upsets people, provoking all kinds of fearful, stupid reactions. And much more. Thank you for these teachings. I pray you bugger off now.

    To my root teacher, depression: for over 20 years, you have ruined my life, sharpening my analytical faculty by shredding my self-esteem, confidence, and ability to take pleasure in anything. As a result, when I came to use this tool for insight I was armed with a blade to rival Excalibur. With it I have given justice and freedom to those in need. I thank you for this gift, and much more. Now get bent.

    To my root teacher, addiction: for 20 years, you have ruined my life, poisoning my relationships, wasting my hard-earned resources, dictating thought and action with your insistent demand to be sated. From you I learned I am not my mind, I do not control my mind. I learned how everything that seems like a "me" is simply a pattern of repeated behaviors, conditioned by circumstance - and therefore, freedom is possible by conditioning the repeated behavior of letting go. And much more. I thank you, now go suck a lemon.

    To my root teacher, loneliness: as long as I can remember you have ruined my life, haunting my every waking moment, a corrosive thread in the fabric of my experience. From you I learned heartache, the root of compassion. Without you I could not have learned how to be a true companion, or the exhilaration of solitude. And much more. I thank you, and wish you a quick, ignominious death.

    To my adjunct professor, rage: you occasionally drop in to teach courses in wrecking relationships, or destroying valuable property for no apparent reason. From you I have learned the humiliation of my childishness, and its opposite, the silent lion's roar of the joyful warrior. I thank you, and kindly request you restrict your visits to when I'm playing ultra-violent video games and need a little bloodlust to wipe out a horde of digital zombies or the like.

    To my long-term mentor, fear: what can I say? You've been my rock, my touchstone, my reason for not wanting to get up in the morning! Without you, life would be SOOO much easier; but I also know that without you, it would also be dreadfully boring, because you are, of course, just excitement I try to contain and control. I thank you for being the salt and pepper of my existence; just not quite so much seasoning for my fare in the future, OK?

    To all my hated teachers, my gratitude and thanks for cultivating the goodness in me, fertilising the ground of my being with copious, horrifying amounts of shit, so that tiny shoots of wisdom and love may grow, eventually, into mighty oaks of Awakening.

    Now, seriously, take a break, you work so hard you deserve a good long vacation."

    KeromeCinorjersilver
  • Thanks - great help!

  • smarinosmarino florida Explorer
    edited November 2016

    I think that's more of a Tibetan thing, and don't recall seeing that in a Zen center, although I'm sure it happens. The Tibetans have more of a guru/disciple thing going on w/ their student/teacher relationship, as do many other Buddhist lineages. I always tell people that a Zen teacher's main job is just to show up. Simply point the way. It's important in Zen not to form too close of a relationship w/ the teacher, lest we become just another version of them. As Shunryu Suzuki said, when we find a teacher, we should leave the teacher. I leave that interpretation up to others, He also said that sometimes we might bow to trees or mountains, or to cats and dogs. In my mind, we should have reverence for all things, as all things are Buddha, and all things are our teachers. not any one person or thing.

    The whole teacher picture on an altar disturbs me. I would find it more appropriate to have a picture of our parents, as w/o them we would not be here.

  • KeromeKerome Did I fall in the forest? Europe Veteran

    Thanks @lobster for that repost.

    From you I learned I am not my mind, I do not control my mind. I learned how everything that seems like a "me" is simply a pattern of repeated behaviors, conditioned by circumstance - and therefore, freedom is possible by conditioning the repeated behavior of letting go.

    This struck me as particularly interesting - I spent some time contemplating it. It is true for much of life, not just addictions, although they are the most insistent manifestation of it. You could say eating is a conditioned behaviour, or smiling, or tv, or World of Warcraft (in a previous, less enlightened time o:) ).

    But I have found the process of letting go of these behaviours to be not as simple as recognising the behaviour and just letting go. Some of these patterns are deeply ingrained and have to be dismantled in stages - stopped by determined application of willpower, given rest, insight to their causes and roots, and only then do they finally let go. It takes conscious guidance and effort to unseat the more deely rooted patterns.

    As stated it does point to nonself. It's like our basic loving human self gets distorted by life's pressures and desires, that they introduce aversion patterns and low-level addictions which prevent you from being what you were.

    lobster
  • Indeed @Kerome <3

    Who we gonna change? The dharma practitioners, mystics, new agers and semi-buddhist-sympathisers all have options.

    Change the world one person at a time. Start with self.
    A simple plan.

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