Journal Entry October 19, 2010
“[Some people] find it hard to let themselves be taught by anyone. …Often this attitude stems from unfinished problems with authority figures…” Kornfield describes in Chapter 16, You Can’t Do it Alone: Finding and Working With a Teacher (page 232). He’s partially right, but also partially wrong, which is not surprising given that he is obviously not one of these people. His dedication to Achaan Chaa and other teachers over the years, his glowing illustrations of the miraculous powers of gurus, and his descriptions of interactions with his own students demonstrate his orientation towards the teacher-student relationship.
“In working with a guru, we undergo a process of surrender, a stripping away of our own self-centered ways, as a vehicle to develop an openness and selflessness infused with the guru’s spirit,” he explains on page 234. This kind of surrender may indeed be useful for the letting go of self, however it has always struck me as an inherently dangerous abdication of one’s own spiritual and moral responsibility as well as simply misleading. Kornfield even describes this danger earlier, on page 231, found in the attitude of students who believe “The master will enlighten me in due time.”
“…it is more important to realize one basic fact: No one can enlighten us; no one can mature for us; no one can ever do it for us,” Kornfield reminds us on page 241. This is always the way I have approached my practice and my life.
I am not a person motivated by external factors. From a very young age, neither bribery nor punishment was sufficient to get me to do anything unless I understood the reasons for it and agreed with them. Naturally, I was grounded a lot and in detention a lot, but that never really bothered me. Nor could anyone convince me my own judgment was insufficient to making decisions. Upon reflection, this was perhaps a bit ridiculous for an eight-year-old to believe, but there it was nonetheless.
This put me into conflict with “authority figures” quite often. That conflict was not characterized by any form of genuine exchange, but rather a “because I said so” attitude, which was NEVER a sufficient reason. Quickly, those who employed such tactics, who invested their own self-worth in the authority they could wield against a physically and mentally inferior opponent, who failed to even engage in a battle of wits (must be because they don’t have wits), immediately lost the argument and any respect I might have had for them. Therefore, whatever they had wanted from me was obviously without merit.
A few individuals were able to recognize that I was not an inherently unreasonable child (in fact, I was rather too obsessed with reasons). As a result, they treated me more or less as an adult capable of making my own decisions. If that decision was between a ridiculous homework assignment that would teach me nothing and half an hour in detention, I usually chose detention, but those adults respected that choice and so earned my respect. Which was the first step in making me start to believe they might actually have a point of their own.
I recognize this history has tainted any relationship I might now have with a spiritual teacher or guru. However, it is not for the reasons Kornfield cites. He believes those who cannot accept a teacher do so because they cannot respect anyone above themselves, cannot believe anyone else might be right, know more than us, or be trustworthy. We might also be insecure on how to act in the presence of a spiritual teacher. In some cases, he might be correct, but I tend to believe he is greatly oversimplifying the matter.
I have looked for a teacher for the last several years, but it’s really only led me to believe that perhaps my experience and personality (which came first?) are simply unsuitable to having a teacher. I can and do learn from many different sources, but I have never been able to make a connection with a single lineage, sangha, or teacher. In the meantime, I’ve built a custom path designed for one person, which will make it even more difficult to change if and when I do encounter my teacher, should he or she exist.
There are many, many people out there who are wiser than I am, know more, and deserve my respect. I recognize that, but it’s all moot if I myself am too screwed up to recognize it when I see it. It’s like telling a blind person to find the blue marble. Others will put faith in a true master to be able to make themselves seen by determining the best method to reach that student. Perhaps that’s so, but I haven’t met that person yet.
I’m hunting for my Yoda, but I don’t know the way to Dagobah.