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mentoring

Teacher Student Relationships

This article came across my email recently and I think it deserves a deeper dive. Although in our tradition we don’t have student-teacher relationships like what you might see in other traditions. Nonetheless, we definitely do mentoring and a dharma teacher is always involved for new aspirants. Even as we progress on the path, we may have a spiritual friend that we turn toward for guidance and support.

Andy Goldsworthy image
Andy Goldsworthy

I have been under a guidance of a Zen teacher for over 10 years. However, when I began to experience challenges in the process of meditation, I was misguided or misunderstood. In the end I felt more confused and discouraged. Please respond to this letter if you can, because your advice could help to shed a light on some aspects I cannot see. 

The question is posed by a student to Elizabeth Mattis Namgyel who has studied and practiced the Buddhadharma for 35 years under the guidance of her teacher and husband Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche.

Read the article.

Dharma Teacher Lyn Fine poses a few follow up questions to consider. What resonates with your experience and thinking? What’s missing that you might want to add? What’s relevant/less relevant to the Plum Village form of practice? 

Feel free to respond below in the comments or respond to the OI email list (where this is also posted). And perhaps this could lead to a webinar or a sharing group on these topics.

5 replies on “Teacher Student Relationships”

The questions are in the second to last paragraph above. I can repeat them here: What resonates with your experience and thinking? What’s missing that you might want to add? What’s relevant/less relevant to the Plum Village form of practice?

This is a very tricky and important topic. I don’t have answers to suggest at the moment. But, I do feel that the question cannot be considered separately from the painful facts and history of immense harm done by some spiritual teachers in recent decades, including some in the Buddhist and yoga traditions. Issues such as power dynamics, trauma and trauma-informed care, transparency, and accountability, are central. I do believe that Thay was very involved in helping repair harm done by a teacher in a large US sangha in the 1980’s. Right mindfulness and ethics is crucial. The Five Mindfulness Trainings are really helpful here, and I appreciate the Plum Village sangha’s emphasis on these trainings.

As a newer member of the extended Plum Village community and a longtime student of Buddhism I found this article very interesting. The Plum Village community’s lack of a guru tradition has helped it avoid the scandals and suffering found so often in other traditions, and it makes the community seem much healthier to me in many ways.

On the other hand it can be difficult to find guidance from a teacher when one wants that. I have had to be very proactive and almost pushy to seek out Dharma teachers and ask for help when I have needed it.

Perhaps the OI teacher community could think about ways they might make themselves more available somehow. For instance: Other Zen schools have dokusan – regular opportunities, at retreats or otherwise, for focused spiritual consultation with a teacher. There might be many other models to teach like this that are short of a guru-disciple relationship.

This is such an important question Dylan. Thank you. As a member of the Dharma Teachers Sangha CTC, I plan to bring this forward as a discussion item. Let’s see what we can do.

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