Sometimes when we begin on the Zen path, a teacher will describe the relationship between a Zen student and a Zen teacher in deceptively simple terms. We may be told that the Zen student is a hatchling and the Zen teacher is a mother hen. It’s an interesting metaphor that suggests that the Zen student push and peck from the inside with an egg tooth while the teacher pecks from the outside. Unfortunately for the student, such a pecking relationship does not lead to freedom. For the hatchling, it means death. The mother hen pecking from the outside causes the chick to suffer hemorrhaging.
It’s not to say that pecking is insignificant, it may be significant but it is not the Way to liberation. A newly developing Zen student would most likely take this to heart. It may be useful and feel true on some level. But, the real Truth is that no one, not even a teacher, can free another person.
Pecking is pecking and it may be such an irritant to encourage or push the student forward but it will not bring about liberation. Like the chick in the egg, the chick must peck his or her way out of the shell. If a mother hen pecked from the outside, it would be more likely that she would kill the chick inside.
Zen teachers, in fact all spiritual teachers, come in an endless variety of shapes and sizes and awareness. When we start on the path, we are encouraged to take our time to find a suitable teacher who would do us the honor of taking us on as a student. But we may find that we have to encounter several teachers before we bump into one that will take us on as a student. The teacher is to give us guidance on the path and to clarify the hindrances that we may drift into again and again.
We may find many teachers who are unclear on what their particular role is as a teacher. Many times, we find teachers who are disinterested, self-interested and indifferent. This type of situation leads to confusion for the new Zen student. Credentials does not mean the teacher is qualified.
We, however, are encouraged to continue on seeking someone who is actually able to point us in the right direction when we fall into a ditch of the ego’s making.
Furthermore, we as students may be deluded about what a teacher is able to offer. Some teachers have programs to follow or sign-up sheets to enlist in their particular brand of spiritual work. Others are surrounded by devotees making it impossible for a new student to contact them.
As a student, we need to be willing to go slowly in asking a teacher to take us on as a student. Both student and teacher need to be willing and available. And finally, we need to know that not all teachers are willing to help someone who seeks assistance.
Working with a teacher is an arduous and beneficial relationship that helps a student peck out of their delusions, their hindrances and their tendencies. We must each face the reality that the work is ours to do; it is not the teachers work. It requires sincerity and honesty and a readiness to do the work.
Reality is our best tutor.
It may be painful to give up delusion, desire and ignorance, but it is required.
It may take years to find a teacher who has no “agenda” whatsoever and who offers teachings free of charge. Both the teacher and the Zen student need to be honest, sincere and willing to look within again and again and again. Making our best effort to transcend the realms.
In the most clear-eyed way, a teacher’s main work is to point out that you have fallen into a ditch and to suggest ways to get out of the ditch on your own. The teacher may also offer verification when the student has reached different telltale signs of the work at hand.
Encouragement comes from within the student and it may be fanned by the teacher’s continuous reinforcement to keep going and don’t give into the vagaries of the ego-self that so often goes after the things of the world.
May we with all beings realize
the emptiness of the three wheels,
giver, receiver and gift.
Don’t give up. Keep going.
Fashi Lao Yue
Photo credit: Hatchling