“When my own mind is so clouded as it presently is, how can I choose
a teacher to whom I can genuinely give my trust and obedience?”
I want to write today for two reasons. Well, perhaps more, but two overt reasons. The first is to seek feedback from others on my current situation. The second is to give others who might be in a similar situation pause for reflection on the state of their learning environment.
The issue I wish to write on today is about the limits of obedience. For the past year I have struggled with the idea of obedience and loyalty to a teacher. I have always sought to show respect and sincerity to those who teach, and the times when my own life and ego have gotten in the way of doing so even for a moment have left a bitter taste which only gets worse with time.
My understanding of most things is still very limited. I would estimate that about 10-15% of what I talk about when trying to express understanding is made up of actual experience-understanding and the rest is taken from words and actions of others. In time I hope this will improve but I am still young and “madda chotto yabanjin”, so please excuse my ignorance if I speak of things which I do not understand fully. I have read articles in many publications on the concepts of shu-ha-ri. I understand it to be a process of achieving freedom of movement, thought, etc., by way of initially mimicking another as closely as possible to overcome one’s natural ingrained tendencies and limitations, moving towards complete freedom. This idea has a parallel in the ideas of monastic obedience represented in the early monastic text The Ladder of Divine Ascent. It seems that in both cases obedience and mimicry, which in a crude way eliminate parts of a person’s accumulated personality, are counter-intuitive means of achieving freedom of action and thought. Freedom in this case is the freedom of responding seamlessly and thoughtlessly to the environmental stimuli, not the idea of an impossible “atomic” freedom so prevalent in Western culture today.
It seems to me that the necessity of obedience and the process of shu-ha-ri is reflected in the words of the song “you’re going to have to serve somebody/it may be the Devil and it may be the Lord but you’re going to have to serve somebody.” By placing the teacher at the head of our decisionmaking structure, we dethrone our hidden master, which I have simply come to refer to as the “Enemy.” Implicit in this relationship is absolute trust in the teacher. We must believe that like a national leader who is granted extraordinary powers in wartime, he or she will use our obedience only for the end of our eventual liberation and will relinquish their authority at the earliest possible opportunity.
In the past year I have struggled with this idea in relating to my current teacher. I have known him for nearly four years and I owe him a great deal as his training has illuminated my world significantly. I am deeply in his debt as my accomplishments of the past few years have been largely due to increases in my capabilities obtained through training with him. I try to keep this constantly in my mind. However, as I have learned from him and become increasingly close to him, I have found that his actions and spirit part significantly from both the word and spirit of the art he teaches. Furthermore, as I have felt myself possessed of increasing awareness, I find his spirit produces increasingly uncomfortable feelings of fear and alarm when I am in his presence. In the past year, the most intense I have experienced in terms of my training regime, I have tried to suppress such thoughts, to give my teacher unquestioned obedience, believing that any fault was my own, that my judgments were egotistical and harmful to my development. I continued to place trust in my teacher. Things have reached a point now where I cannot proceed as I have so far. The chasm between the teachings I have received and the actions of my teacher is too wide to ignore. The only thing that has kept me coming back in the past few months has been love for my teacher and a desire to help him overcome some very deep-seated personal obstacles. However, to judge my teacher in such a manner seems to me incredibly presumptuous of a student of my age and relative inexperience. This love is wearing thin though, which is alarming to me. To feel the limits of one’s capacity for love is not comfortable. It has come to a point where I do not want to go to class because when I practice my own training I feel good but when I go to class I feel bad. I must emphasize that this is not the “bad” but beneficial feeling that comes with honest criticism and force awareness of one’s shortcomings, it is a bad of deep-seated spiritual unrest, a kind of blanketing depression and fear which borders on paranoia.
To return to the point, this raises a very difficult question for me. I believe, perhaps wrongly, that obedience remains the essential means of attaining discernment and associated freedom of action. However, when my own mind is so clouded as it presently is, how can I choose a teacher to whom I can genuinely give my trust and obedience? I cannot shake the feeling that whatever course of action I take will be the wrong one, that to leave my teacher will create a bad atmosphere for me and given his prominence in certain circles, possibly reduce my learning opportunities in the future. As with all people, there is great good mixed in with what I perceive as the bad. He has many excellent personal qualities and is by far the most capable and hardworking martial artist I have ever encountered. On the other hand, I am alarmed at the prospect of allowing my teacher to exert greater influence on me as I am absorbing character traits which I do not believe are ethical or helpful to my long-term development. The idea of staying put makes me feel sad and trapped; when I consider leaving my town to pursue further training abroad, I feel a great deal of openness and excitement to be back on the road again. I am naturally inclined to leave, but I mistrust my intuition as I fear taking the easy route out of anything. Staying seems to be the less appealing, less exciting route. As a rule I try to do those things which I feel an instinct to avoid, but at some point I must trust this intuition. This is a very difficult problem for me and has plagued my mind for months now. It is consuming a great deal of my energy and I am very ambivalent about the situation. I think this is a common phenomenon in martial arts and I would very much appreciate if some of the more experienced people who read this blog might offer me some guidance in terms of achieving a perspective which might allow me to make the right decision. I think it would be beneficial not only for me but for guiding many young practitioners who wish to sincerely commit themselves to their study but find personal difficulties in their learning environment. Thank you.