When I posted a picture of the puppies, a friend of mine commented that she liked the “calligraphy of the leashes.” Earlier that day in sangha, we had entertained questions about the necessity of having a formal teacher. I’m not sure I de-mystified any aspect of the questions yet somehow the elegance of my friend’s comment seems to be the perfect answer.
As the intense relationship of being a puppy parent unfolds, I’m learning that there is as deep a mystery about leashes as there is about calligraphy. Similar to “bone” which connotes a strong connection in a calligraphic line, the leash has a dynamic power that expresses the relationship between two endpoints.
The teacher-student relationship is no different. In practice, all dharmas are our teacher however we risk using that to justify meandering from this person to that, this sangha to the other. It’s easy to reject a flesh-and-blood teacher and claim that as an enlightened practice, not being caught in form or transcending the need for any Buddhas we meet on the road. I don’t doubt that there are some practitioners who are blessed with the capacity to live such a life free of the teacher-form. I do doubt that there are many who can. (In fact, when we reject the value of a teacher-student relationship from this fear base, we become more vulnerable to the tricksters and charlatans who feed our neediness and desire to be elevated.)
The question of whether it’s necessary to commit to a teacher in some formal way is a trick. It’s many tricks. It’s a way of asking for approval to continue an illusion of freedom. It’s a way of asking for validation to avoid a necessary mirror of practice. It’s a way of expressing our fear that we would be found unworthy, unwanted and undeveloped. While there are ways of being that are unworthy of our true nature and unwanted aspects of who we can be, it’s a good start into the koan of relationships to see that we are undeveloped. But not undevelop-able.
Hence the leash – that inexpressible mirror of the relationship between a steady solid point and an irrepressible desire for everything that passes by.
The real question then is not about the necessity of a teacher but the need for a commitment to a relationship that might flow in a variety of calligraphic lines. This is where our fears surge; entering relationship is in our ego-driven minds akin to being restricted, limited. And yet. What is there that is not relational? When are we not one end of a line? Sometimes those lines are taut and heavy, sometimes they flow with ease and elegance. At all times the line is an expression of the quality of mind, of a connection that can grow in disciplined progression to liberation from that fear of being held back.
True everything is relational. However In the line you draw you are speaking of relationships between egos. All ego is a lie.
I studied with a Korean Zen Master for a while. I did not see that as a relationship. It was a meeting of minds traveling the same path. In most of us, the mind feeds the ego, but the ego does not exist. The true relationship is that of your ego (the lie) to the world, and you to yourself. Or should I say to your Self. The Hindu believes in a Self whereas Buddha denies it. What does that denial mean? Does it mean there is no self or does it mean there is no self as we see it. What then is this self that it can have relationships? What is there to relate to?
Just keep “I don’t know,” as a hua t’ou, a questioning state that is looking for an answer but cannot accept any answer. Bowing, sitting or chanting are only expedient means. Tools not to be relied on. The questioning state is a steady looking. Being aware of all you see and do, still keep that state until you see that the question is the answer.
Hmmm, I would have at one time in my life soundly & loudly rejected the idea of any kind of “leash”!! Including, any kind of “teacher”. But now, I see that a relationship with a teacher is kind of like being at either/both ends of that leash — keeping me from wandering off in the wrong directions, helping me get “home”, being sure that I stay in the relationship. Your imagery of “leash” promotes some reflection………………
I was a solitary practitioner for many years before seeking out a sangha. It has not been easy but it has been enriching.
There it is: the balancing act between being alone & being in community:)
Nice one, Lynette – I recognize a little twinge meaning you are hitting a nail on the head. I was also a solo practitioner for many years before hooking up with a zen centre and the difference has been like night and day. I still get twinges of self-doubt, which I guess is a good thing, reminding me I’m still a beginner.
I always had the belief that I would travel faster if I traveled alone. True. And not true. I think when I traveled solo there was more of an anxious needy-greedy stance to things. In sangha, it’s just needy-greedy. 😉
Beautiful writing of a much discussed issue. It is said that the karma is quickened when relating with a teacher. The teacher manifests as the form and is also empty. The leash is form and yet empty at the same time. With my very limited understanding, I wrote a book on Devotion, Following Tibetan Masters which I hope benefits many in understanding the teacher/student relationship. Sometimes I think though that dogs also have alot to teach me. They live in the Now and have perfect dementia! cause they always forget we left them alone to go to work. They seem to be mainly happy, wagging tails and delighted to see us, forgive us everything and are devoted and loyal and give us unconditional love. And they don’t worry about words so much. Love your blog.
Thanks for visiting, Sherry! Dogs are amazing teachers and would probably put Joshu in his place easily. 😉