Which do you follow: the teacher or the teachings? We all have a quick answer and I’m sure one popped up for you as you read the question. I’m beginning to understand that the question is premature rendering as misdirected any answer we give. Long before we consider the question in its either/or form, we need to ask ourselves if there is anything standing between our heart and our vision. Years of longing and striving can do that, dust gathers on the window panes and obscures the real question. And sometimes, there is nothing for it but to take out the whole structure and insert one that better serves the purpose.
In the field of teaching/facilitating mindfulness-based courses debates rage on (yes, rage on) about many issues. Is it secularized Buddhism? Is it a misappropriation of religious concepts, a convenient excision of techniques from the heart of spiritual practice? Is it simply a fancy name for what your grandmother told you but you forgot in the swirl of scrambling to adulthood? I don’t tend to agitate over these questions because, in my experience, the truth, like the dharma, will out. In other words, it doesn’t much matter what you call it; just practice. (There is a caveat to this I will get to later this week. Or not.)
Last week we spent time at the mecca of mindfulness, what Saki Santorelli once called the Mother Ship, the Center for Mindfulness. It was the 10th Annual conference. I wasn’t looking forward to it, being averse to the typical strutting and bellowing that signals territorial marking in close spaces. But I figured this being a gathering of mindfulness teachers and practitioners (scientific and practical), surely… well surely…
Besides, I had a sweet deal in being part of a superhero trio presenting a pre-conference all-day workshop on Holding the Heart of MBSR. Now that was a delight! And a practice. In its essence, it was a foray into seeing clearly, opening to what motivates us as teachers of MBSR to shift away from prescribed form and content, being transparent about our intentions and the likely impact on the integrity of what we claim to practice. In a nutshell, how do we honour the teachings and not let the teacher or her unexamined intentions become an obstacle? Fascinating questions, the answers to which will likely unfold over the years.
Done with the workshop, I was free to wander the rest of the week, connecting with old friends and greeting new ones. And in various encounters, the rumble of territorial markings became audible. Well surely I couldn’t have filtered out the human tendency to want, to crave, to feel unsafe and therefore to bare fangs, set boundaries, and draw lines. Apparently, I did. I do. This is where the practice of simply noting is a good one; it helps negotiate through the conversations that circle the marketing of the self and poorly masked rhetorical questions. I mean noting that in myself as well because certainly there were many, many times when I caught myself falling into being the product rather than the person.
And that brings us back to the question: The teacher or the teachings? My practice in the moment is to choose neither because they are inseparable. Teachings manifest through the teacher and the true teacher is an emergent property of the teachings. But like the windows in my house, before any of that is put in motion, we have to take down the desire-caked, delusion-riddled old panes and stand exposed to the elements which we have kept at bay.