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.