Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Learning, Teaching, and Beginner's Mind

"It is impossible to study ourselves without some teaching.  If you want to know what water is you need science, and the scientist needs a laboratory.  In the laboratory there are various ways in which to study what water is.  Thus it is possible to know what kind of elements water has, the various forms it takes, and its nature.  But it is impossible thereby to know water in itself.  It is the same thing with us.  We need some teaching, but just by studying the teaching alone, it is impossible to know what "I" am myself am. Through the teaching we may understand our human nature.  But the teaching is not we ourselves; it is some explanation of ourselves.  So if you are attached to the teaching, or to the teacher, that is a big mistake.  The moment you meet a teacher, you should leave the teacher, and you should be independent.  You need a teacher so that you can become independent.  If you are not attached to him, the teacher will show you the way to yourself.  You have a  teacher for yourself, not for the teacher.

Rinzai, and early Chinese Zen master, analyzed how to teach his disciples in four ways.  Sometimes he talked about the disciple himself; sometimes he talked about the teaching itself; sometimes he gave an interpretation of the disciple or the teaching; and finally, sometimes he did not give any instruction at all to his disciples.  He knew that even without being given any instruction, a student is a student.  Strictly speaking, there is no need to teach the student, because the student himself is Buddha, even though he may not be aware of it.  And even though he is aware of his true nature, if he is attached to this awareness, that is already wrong.  When he is not aware of it, he has everything, but when he becomes aware of it he thinks that he is aware of himself, which is a big mistake.

When you do not hear anything from a teacher, but just sit, this is called teaching without teaching.  But sometimes this is not sufficient, so we listen to lectures and have discussions.  But we should remember that the purpose of practice in a particular place is to study ourselves.  To be independent, we study.  Like the scientist, we have to have some means by which to study.  We need a teacher because it is impossible to study ourselves by ourselves.  But you should not make a mistake.  You should not take what you have learned with a teacher for you yourself.  The study you make with your teacher is a part of your everyday life, a part of your incessant activity.  In this sense there is no difference between the practice and the activity you have in everyday life.  So to find the meaning of your life in the zendo is to find the meaning of your everyday activity.  To be aware of the meaning of your life, you practice zazen."

pp. 85-87
"Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind"
by Shunryu Suzuki
ISBN 13: 978-1-59030-267-5