This is the second installment of our blog posts referencing Dr Alexander Berzin’s Wise Teacher, Wise Student: Tibetan Approaches to a Healthy Relationship. Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2010. Part one on historical and cultural factors affecting the student teacher relationship in Tibetan Buddhism can be found HERE.
The chapter on Dealing with Problematic Teachers includes a contemplation that could be used in centres to help students balance the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ and focus on the good for the purposes of their spiritual practice, while also acknowledging the ‘bad’. I think this could help a lot of students to heal.
Though he calls it ‘sutra-level’ guru meditation and it’s from the Gelupka school of Tibetan Buddhism, do not make the assumption that that means it’s not relevant for Rigpa students. It’s extremely relevant.
The contemplation is for all students of problematic teachers, not just those who felt emotionally, physically or sexually abused. This debacle has hurt us all in one way or another.
“For thorough healing, spiritually wounded disciples need eventually to be able to view their mentors’ faults and mistakes clearheadedly, free of naivety, anger, or recrimination. … Guru-meditation does not ask us to deny the accurate conventional appearances of what our mentors’ faults or mistakes may be. … Such an understanding allows us to see how our mentors’ faults and mistakes have arisen dependently on an enormous number of complex factors.”
The topic headings are:
The sections in bold can be used as a contemplation for general students. The last two sections are most relevant to those who have felt the full force of a teachers abusive behaviour and are having trouble seeing the positive aspects of the teacher.
- Applying Sutra-Level Guru-Meditation to a Faulty or Abusive Teacher
- Reviewing a Teacher’s Faults and mistakes
Creating a Protected Mental Space for Addressing Spiritual Wounds
Examining the Appearances That the Mind Creates
The Analogy with Contextual Therapy for Victims of Abuse
Teachers Involved in Controversy
Overcoming Emotional Blocks in Appreciating Kindness
Overcoming Emotional Blocks in Showing Respect
A surgical procedure
Berzin likens this proces of reviewing a teacher’s faults to a surgical procedure, and points out that this can’t be done until the student has recovered from the initial trauma – be it the trauma of being abused or the shock of discovering your teacher has behaved badly:
Before discerning and focusing on the good qualities and kindness of their mentors, disciples need to bring to conscious awareness the teachers’ shortcomings and work on their view of them. The process resembles a surgical procedure. Cleaning an infected wound requires cutting it open, even though lancing the abscess and exposing the infection temporarily increases the pain. In the case of a festering spiritual wound, the hidden infection may be denial or suppressed rage. To purge the infection requires reopening the wound and bringing to the surface what festers beneath, even though the procedure temporarily may bring more emotional pain. The operation must wait, of course, until the injured person has sufficiently recovered from the initial trauma and has regained the emotional strength to attack the problem.
The next post in this series will be looking at the queston, ‘Is the Guru a Buddha?’
Be sure to check out the What Now? Reference Material page for links to a wealth of articles in the topics related to abuse in Buddhist communities. For links to places to assist in healing from abuse see the sangha care resources page.
More personal and private support for current and previous students of Rigpa can be found in the What Now? Facebook group. Please contact us via the contact page and ask for an invite. Please use the email address you use on Facebook.