Who is your teacher, your guru, your master?

I get asked a lot who my teacher is. Sometimes it triggers a sense of inadequacy, such that I wonder what I’m missing. It’s like those car ads that make you feel like you’re driving around in a pile of junk, or the beer ads that show all those people looking like they’re having fun. Then, I realize those ads are simply trying to program you into a certain way.

That doesn’t mean I don’t honor teachers. Quite the contrary. I believe there is room for many teachers and many lessons. I guess right now I’d call myself a life-ist, in that my lessons are coming from life, from interacting with others, with events, with challenges, with whatever presents itself.

It seems to me that was the counsel of one widely-respected teacher:

Be a lamp unto Yourself

As the Buddha was dying,
Ananda asked
who would be their teacher after death.
He replied to his disciple –

“Be lamps unto yourselves.
Be refuges unto yourselves.
Take yourself no external refuge.
Hold fast to the truth as a lamp.
Hold fast to the truth as a refuge.
Look not for a refuge in anyone besides yourselves.
And those, Ananda, who either now or after I am dead,
Shall be a lamp unto themselves,
Shall betake themselves as no external refuge,
But holding fast to the truth as their lamp,
Holding fast to the truth as their refuge,
Shall not look for refuge to anyone else besides themselves,
It is they who shall reach to the very topmost height;
But they must be anxious to learn.”

Quoted in Joseph Goldstein, The Experience of Insight

I’d like to hear what you feel about this idea.

One thought on “Who is your teacher, your guru, your master?

  1. As a Buddhist, I find nothing conflicting with these statements and with taking refuge in a sangha or under a teacher.

    Regardless of who you study with, and what community you associate with, the work must be done within yourself. The Buddha is not asking for refuge in the Christian sense. The translation of “refuge” is from the Pali “gacchami” which also means “to journey with” when we say “take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.

    We draw wisdom from the example of the Buddha. We draw truth of Dhamma (which means teachings and truth). We draw support from the Sangha who create a conducive and supportive atmosphere for our practice.

    But nowhere in the three gems does anyone do the work for us. We enlighten ourselves by changing our views of conditioned to unconditioned reality. We must unclasp ourselves from our attachments and liberate our minds. We must do the work to become arahant.

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