*Photo by Rossi Dimitrova
…of Teacher and Student.
Relationship, of any kind, can so easily become a game of ego positioning —where one party uses knowledge or insight to “power” against or dominate the other. This is especially possible in any teacher/student relationship.
So is there such a thing as a teacher? If so, what is the role of a teacher?
In Living Realization, we say that nothing exists inherently (separately). All things exist only conventionally, which means they exist only because we designate them conceptually (i.e., through thought). Ultimately, there are no teachers and students. Rest for one moment in non-conceptual awareness and see that the concepts of teacher and student do not arise. You can see that the notion of teacher and student arises only when language —conceptuality —is present. These things are not there when there is no conceptualization. No separate things arise in non-conceptuality —no friends, trees, people, planets, plumbers, chefs, or anything else. Teacher and student designations are conceptual only.
Do these designations provide any benefit?
Yes, they can provide benefit. In Living Realization, we want to point out the potential for benefit in these conventional relationships, while avoiding extreme views and ego positioning.
Someone who has experienced freedom can help another person to experience that same freedom. It’s that simple! We never have to make it any more complicated than that. You might call a plumber to help with a water leak or a chef to show you how to bake a cake. Similarly, if you are suffering, seeking, or finding a lot of conflict in your life, you might look to someone who has experience seeing through those things. If the word teacher is problematic, we can use guide, coach, or even friend (or some other conventional label that feels “right”).
The teacher/student relationship comes with a big warning: it should not be used as a way to solidify the identity of teacher v. student or to treat these as truly separately existing ego-based identities. When we treat these identities as truly existing, the relationship can become a game of ego positioning involving power, control, and attachment. It’s a subtle act of violence when humans really believe they are “above” or “beyond” others. Most good spiritual teachers know that they are not truly teachers. They embody humility, even if they are sometimes stern and ruthless in their approaches.
In ego positioning, the dominated student must stay in that role for the relationship to work. The student is relegated to “the one who doesn’t know or see.” The teacher is treated as “the one who knows and sees.” Conventionally, there may be some accuracy to these designations, as those who play the teacher role may have some insight and tools to provide others. But ultimately, these are conceptual facades. They are empty identities. The roles of teacher v. student, when treated as truly existing, solidify separation, keeping ego (i.e., self center) in place on both sides of the coin. This is ultimately not healthy for either party.
These ego relationships are not built to truly free the student, who is being told, either explicitly or implicitly, from the beginning, that she is subordinate. The only way the student can rise up and “be free” is if she agrees with everything (or most everything) the teacher says. There is often no room for challenges against the teacher’s position or the words of the teaching itself. It’s either take it and “be awakened” or leave. And so the student, if she follows through, experiences some degree of freedom but then takes on all the mental-speak and positions of the teacher or teaching. It is so easy to become hypnotized into just repeating what a teaching says. Our memories are like sponges, absorbing everything. So the potential for using a teaching as a belief system is always there. The student becomes a teacher and parrots the words of her teacher or the teaching, repeating the same stuff, creating the same roles, using power in relationships over others. It’s a cycle that perpetuates itself, solidifying separation.
This can happen in a strict, devotional guru/student relationship or even in a lighter, less structured atmosphere. For example, even a teaching that claims not to solidify this power struggle continues to do it in subtle ways. One way this happens is when the teaching itself leaves the student with the belief that the teaching is the right and only way or method for realizing freedom. In that case, the student is not ultimately free in the end, having been hypnotized into a new, subtle belief system, where the student repeats the words of the teaching as bedrock, solid “truth.”
In our contemporary atmosphere, many people desire to move away from this old paradigm.
In Living Realization, we speak of the Middle Way, which is freedom from dualistic extremes. This is freedom from the extreme view that everything exists separately and the extreme view that nothing exists. If we believe that there really are separately existing teachers and students, the ego positioning tends to arise. Yet if we believe that there are no teachers and students and that ultimately nothing exists, we might fall into nihilism or fundamentalism or lose the benefit of a message of freedom or the guidance from someone who has experienced freedom. In the Middle Way, we are free of both the ego positioning of the rigid teacher/student paradigm but also of the potential for nihilism in the extreme views that “there are no teachers and students” and therefore no one can benefit from anyone else.
This places us in a new way of looking at any teaching or set of tools designed to help us realize freedom.
In the Middle Way, we are aware, from the very beginning of these relationships, of the tendency towards ego positioning. These are “aware relationships” where each side is respectful of the other but also feels free to criticize and shine a light on ego positioning. Each side is free to leave the relationship at any time. Being respectful includes not interfering with others’ ability to listen and participate in meetings.
We remain aware of the dangers of treating the identities of teacher and student as ultimately real and existing. Yet we retain the benefit of being with someone who can help. We know that the roles are conventional only. So therefore we avoid the violence and power struggle. The goal of Living Realization is freedom at all costs, including at the cost of these rigid roles of teacher v. student.
The Living Realization teaching itself is designed to self-destruct. In Living Realization, you are encouraged to use the text and meetings to the fullest benefit and to participate fully in the offering, coming back as often as you prefer. Yet you are free to leave at any time. The goal of Living Realization, as a message, is to ultimately have no one return. This means that, once freedom is realized and we begin looking into our own experience, we find less need to rely on the language of Living Realization and on any teacher, teaching, or message. Instead of being completely ensnared into teacher/student roles or into the language of Living Realization, we experience a natural capacity to be and act in the world free of fixed conceptions of reality and extreme views. We experience the ability to discriminate between what is healthy and unhealthy in our lives without a need to impose that upon others. And we experience compassion and wisdom in all of our relationships and a respect for the diversity of views, including those that are different from our own.
This is about freedom, above all else…your everyday freedom!