teacher & disciple
teacher no more
not yet juniors
Having access to a good teacher
is of tremendous value in any sphere of personal development
and particularly so in the holy life. To have the general role model
and direct guidance of someone who has already investigated many 'directions'
can save not only pain and wasted time but provide a positive support
in times of uncertainty. In matters of the heart and mind what is
trying to see the truth is often the same thing that is confused -
like trying to read the map with muddy glasses.
Having someone on hand with clean glasses really helps.
teacher disciple relationship is a very special one in
a monastery and can be quite organic in the way it comes about. There
is an old axiom that says: 'When the student is ready the teacher
will appear' but perhaps, in this fast paced age, we need the cyber
guru or the TV god-channels? My feeling is that those who are seeking
will eventually find what they seek; even if it seems not to be what
they thought they wanted. There are tales of those who meet the Buddha
on the road and fail to recognise
him - and how easy it is to think that everyone must have the Buddha
as their teacher. What is important is that effort is being put forth
on the spiritual journey, with a sensitive openness and discerning
tolerance so, that as various situations arise, they can be clearly
recognised for what they are and reasonably assessed. The opposite
of this is having fixed or narrow views about what a teacher should
be or even what they should look like (none of the monks of our lineage
have long, flowing white beards
- nor even the nuns - disappointing perhaps - but true).
I am often asked why I
chose this tradition and usually reply that it chose me. There are
many parallels between monastic relationship and friendship. We meet
people and they seem OK. And then we arrange to meet again, and then
we get married. How do we meet the people we do? Why do I like this
one and not that one? How does all that work?
So, you arrive at the monastery - and
it feels OK. And so things progress [see: TRAINING].
very much governs monastic relationships and one always defers to
the elders. It is one of the first questions asked of a visiting monk
'How many rains have you Bhante?' and, as they
are often visiting around the meal, this directly affects several
things - notably seating arrangements and the order in which a
line is formed to collect the food. It may be that another
monk has the same number of years, so then one inquires: 'Which month?'
however, with one's peers, matters of courtesy can prevail. This cultivated
attitude of deference and respect defines and reinforces a very strong
relationship structure with the teacher.
are four groupings in terms of a monk's 'age': junior (0-5 years),
middle (5-10), senior (10-20), very senior (20+) - in Pali: navaka,
majjhima, thera, maha thera. For the first five years a monk lives
under the direct guidance of his
teacher, and any personal activities, like traveling or retreat time,
outside of the regular monastic routine, would be discussed with him.
For juniors in a contemplative order much of the work is learning
the vinaya and how to use the boundaries it creates for practice.
This challenges desire and the ongoing task is letting go. There are
not always structured 'classes' but a novice
master is sometimes appointed who meets regularly with
juniors to discuss vinaya and matters of monastic etiquette (often
refinements of vinaya). The role of 'teacher' is not so much
one who imparts specific information - with notes being taken, with
tests afterwards - but one of guide, mentor and role model.
It is quite common that
the senior monk is regarded as the teacher for everyone living in
the community, and he would make decisions and take general initiative
- often in consultation with other seniors. With travel so easy and
common these days the senior monk may not necessarily be one's preceptor
but his position is still acknowledged by
taking 'dependence' on him. There is a ceremony which takes
place at various times in the monastic calendar that formalises this
relationship is reinforced in many other ways - e.g. formally taking
leave when one is traveling away for a time. There are many minor ceremonies
like this that involve monastic 'business' and these are often prefaced
with a tray being offered (usually of flowers, candles and incense)
to the teacher. The individual or group would meet the teacher, by appointment
or at a suitable time - depending on the relative formality of the situation.
They would bow three times, and the senior person - in the case of a
group - would offer the tray. In more formal situations there is usually
a variety of Pali formula, as above, that fits the occasion. At the
end of morning and evening puja the community pay
their respects (by bowing three times) to the teacher.
||"Venerable sir, may you be my teacher.
I shall stay here dependent on the venerable one."
"It is good ... convenient ... suitable ... proper; you should
endevour to conduct yourself in a good manner."
"It is good, venerable sir. From this day onward the Thera
will be my burden and I shall be the burden of the Thera."
[NB - a monk has
to have at least ten rains - ie, be a Thera - before he can ordain
There is always the opportunity
to meet privately with one's teacher to discuss aspects of the teachings,
or personal matters - and often the answers to both are the same. Ideally
there is a healthy degree of trust
in one's teacher. This is not 'blind' or slavish but there is little
point in taking dependence without some faith. One can stay in the monastery
but the style of practice, the routine, and much more, is very much
influenced by the teacher and if it doesn't feel 'right' then best not
stay. Monastic life is very much about community and for juniors very
much about fitting in. It is a bit like getting shoes. Check out the
range of styles and colours, try on a few pairs. You like the look of
this pair - but - it feels a bit tight. Don't buy them.
The teacher will most likely
have a junior as his attendant to take care of his personal needs. Many
of the duties involved can be taken up spontaneously by others and the
following is a very general list of considerations in respect of the
teacher. [see: ART-REQUISITES for unfamiliar items].
more than five rains are generally considered to have developed a degree
of maturity in dhamma-vinaya and can freely choose to move to another
monastery or to wander. Out of respect for the teacher such matters
would usually be discussed. Even when not living with one's teacher
it is customary to make an effort to keep in touch - perhaps arranging
to visit on his birthday.
||In the early morning visit the teacher to ensure
he is attending morning puja; check that his robes are all in
order and take his sitting cloth to the Temple. In the Temple
make sure that his seat is prepared and that the clock and bell
are there - and matches, candles and incence are on the shrine.
Take his sitting cloth after puja. If he wishes to go on alms
round rinse his alms bowl and offer to accompany him. Do so walking
neither too close nor too far away. If he is speaking don't interrupt.
If his bowl becomes full then exchange bowls - offer to carry
it (as well as your own) on the return journey. For the meal,
ensure his bowl, bag and sitting cloth are there and that there
is water, a cup and spoon, a spittoon, tissues and any other personal
items. After the meal offer to rinse his hands, offer tea or coffee
if it is available, take the bowl and wash it. The teacher's residence
should be regularly cleaned and tidied. His laundry should be
well seen too and any repairs or general sewing can also be done.
Offer to make drinks, go for a walk, shave his head (on the moon
day), and any other services that might be well received. If the
teacher is ill he should be well attended and any medicines procured
and offered. One should not sit higher than the teacher and should
use anjali to address him in more formal situations.