“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.