burma-1.jpg (3086 bytes) L I F E S T Y L E  ии  M O N A S T I C

R  E  S  O  U   R  C  E  S




teacher & disciple


teacher no more


clean glasses



not yet juniors


taking care
[2 pics]



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.

The 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].

Seniority 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.
There 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:
"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 monks]
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.
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].
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.
Monks of 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.