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Interview: The Teacher-Student Relationship
This interview demonstrates the beautiful and independent relationship between Vedanta teacher and disciple.
The story of your relationship with your teacher.
I met James when I was 21. At that time had no real interest in spirituality or freedom. But for some reason I was fascinated with the topic (Vedanta) that he delivered. I guess I was drawn towards his grounded self-confidence – and by “self” I mean awareness. He was totally confident in owning his identity as free awareness.
Shortly after our first meeting (satsang), the Vedanta bug bit me and a seeking vasana had kicked in. I’d embarked on an intense venture of self-inquiry, and within a year of email exchanges with my teacher I’d broken the “code” (ignorance removed) and my true unborn nature was revealed.
My relationship today with James is totally fun, humorous and independent. His just a mirror of me, awareness. I enjoy contributing to his platform ShiningWorld with some writing and small duty when needed.
What does it mean (for you) to be a student?
I am a student of Vedanta. James just happened to be the vehicle/symbol that had so masterfully delivered the truth. Appreciation floods the heart, knowing that I am a student of the grandaddy of all teachings, and gratitude towards James of course knows no limits.
To be a student of Vedanta means responsibility, a duty to keep the teaching clean and in harmony with the tradition. We call it the sampradaya, preserving the teaching methodology. Appropriate action and righteous living is also displayed by a Vedantin. It’s not really an effort, because the mere application of Vedanta moulds one’s actions appropriately and in accordance with nature. I guess it would be more accurate to then say that one doesn’t have responsibilities but rather just IS effortlessly responsible.
What makes the/your relationship with your teacher unique? What distinguishes it from other types of relationships?
It’s an effortless relationship built on perfect understanding. There are no expectations and no dependence issues. There is no division/split between James and myself, because I recognise me, awareness, shining in him and he sees himself shining in me. Awareness sees awareness.
It’s the most personal yet most impersonal relationship you can have. It feels totally intimate because he is just a mirror of me, yet it’s totally non-personal because there IS only me!
What are the personal/emotional components of the/your relationship with the/your teacher?
Here are a few words to capture this: independence, appreciation, humour, rock-solid confidence, devotion, friendship, direct speech, easy.
What kind of mandate do you give your teacher?
I know what you’re asking, but this question is not valid for me, and this is why: I don’t need a teacher or a teaching, because I'd done my spiritual homework and had qualified myself for liberation/moksa, meaning I’m totally free from everything – including teachings, teachers and the once upon a time apparent student. ☺
But to answer your question with the response that you’d probably intended to receive, James will receive a “green light” from me in whatever he chooses to do, not because he is my teacher but because he is a stand-up guy, meaning he follows dharma (his actions are in harmony with the total).
(Actually, the “mandate giver” is Isvara.)
How should a student relate to doubts she/he has or mistrust she/he feels toward her/his teacher?
The student should take what the teacher says and hold it up in light of what scripture delivers. If it’s in line with scripture, then doubts should be dropped. The student can also objectively watch the teacher’s actions/attitude and lifestyle to see if it matches the character of an authentic, free-living person. He/she should use his/her own logical discrimination.
If this does not work, then the student is clearly a doubting/insecure personality and he/she will need to get over this before tackling a spiritual quest.
Another point to add is this: Don't trust the teacher, trust the teaching. Faith is a required qualification for self-inquiry. But Vedanta doesn’t ask for blind faith. The faith (shraddha) that is asked of you is the belief that you are pure and perfect, pending the result of your scripture-based inquiry.
What makes a “good disciple”?
A good disciple is one who is able to set aside his/her personal ideas. Or one who has suffered the wrath of samsara so intensely that he/she has totally surrendered. ☺
I’d also mention something called mumukshutva. This Sanskrit word translates to “the burning desire for freedom.” Without this qualification, no matter how “good” a disciple is, freedom will just remain an intellectual or experiential idea.
This is the beauty of Vedanta because as long as their is a desire for liberation the teachings will offer the inquirer a toolkit to qualify himself/herself. A good disciple is a qualified disciple. Here is a link that further explores this topic.
What obstacles and traps stand in the student’s way, specifically in the relationship with the teacher? Have you encountered them in your relationship with your teacher?
I’d say dependence and expectation can be two traps. Other obstacles obviously stem if the teacher has adharmic tendencies and the student is naive. Unfortunately, the spiritual market homes many spiritual villains.
No, I didn’t encounter any obstacles. This is probably because I was not exposed much to the spiritual circus before hopping onto the Vedanta bus and I’d met Ramji as a “spiritual virgin.” That book title Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind may be a good way of putting it.
When (if at all) would you no longer need or want to be in a relationship with a/your teacher?
Once all doubts (self-ignorance) have been removed by self-inquiry and your conviction of your true nature is firm in the mind, you are free of all relationships.
But you are also free to choose to be in a relationship. This is the beauty of freedom, you have freedom of choice but don’t depend on the choice/outcome for happiness. To have no relationship with my teacher is fine. And to have a relationship with my teacher is fine.
Vedanta makes you independent. It’s your ashram and makes you the guru of you.
But as it happens, Isvara has chosen that I remain in contact with my teacher, as we share the same love, Vedanta, the love for the truth. I also have a lot of fun with my ShiningWorld family: good conversation, quality satire and plenty of laughter is feasted upon. ☺