Zen Master Dogen put great emphasis on trusting a teacher. Trusting a teacher, he said, was like when having climbed to the top of a hundred-foot pole and told by the teacher to let go and advance one step further, doing so without regard for one's own life. "You should believe your teacher and throw your former ideas away," he said, "even if he says that buddha is nothing but a toad or an earthworm."
"Many people in the world say that although they listen to the words of the teacher," Dogen explained, "the teachings do not accord with their own thinking. This attitude is a mistake. I don’t understand how they can say such things. Do they say it because the principles in the teachings do not agree with what they think, and believe the teachings to be wrong? If so, they are utterly foolish. Or is it that what the teacher said did not agree with their own preference? If so, why did they ask the teacher in the first place? Or do they say it on the basis of their ordinary discriminating thoughts? If so, this is illusory thought from the beginningless beginning."
To be clear, I did not break off my relationship with my own Zen teacher because I no longer agreed with his teachings. Far from it. Nor was I in any way abused, mistreated, or harmed, as has been the case in so many other sanghas across the country.
I have greatly benefited from the past dozen years spent with the teacher. Thirteen years ago, I had never even heard of Dogen, and thought that everything to know about Zen was embodied in the books of Alan Watts and somehow in the writings of Robert Pirsig, if only one could figure out that "somehow" (was that what a koan was?).
Through the teacher, I was introduced to Dogen and to the Buddhists patriarchs and most importantly to practice. The teacher encouraged practice, and held frequent zazenkais (all-day sits) and longer meditation retreats to encourage practice. I was on one of those week-long meditation retreats on 9/11.
My problem is that after more than a decade of practice and dharma study, I see the teacher differently than I did before. I see attachment to reputation and fame, and I see attachment to comfort and wealth. I see attachment to ego. And then I wondered to what degree the teacher has applied his own teachings of non-attachment to himself, how well he's manifested the teachings in his own life, and then I doubted if he could ever teach that which he couldn't seem to grasp himself.
I have written quite a lot here over the last year or so about samskara, the mental maps or perceptual filters through which we perceive reality. I recognize that the samskara through which I saw the teacher in the past was different than it is now, and I have every confidence that the samskara through which I will view him in the future will be different yet again. But in the here-and-now moment, the samskara of the past is only memory, which is unreliable and also subject to perceptual filters, and the samskara of the future is nothing but pure imagination. Right now, I can only see the teacher as I see him right now.
To be honest, my view has been colored by these schema for several years now, and I've been merely going through the motions of following the teacher. But I knew in my heart, if and when told to let go of whatever 100-foot pole to which I was clinging, I would not trust the teacher to do so.
So how sincere was I in my relationship then, really? It was time to stop clinging to the illusion of trust and faith, and let go of the relation to the teacher.
To be sure, some bitterness and resentment was manifested as I considered what I needed to do, but these kinds of reactions are inevitable and probably psychologically helpful in ending a partnership, be it romantic or tutorial.
If any of his other students happen to read this, don't feel like I'm encouraging you to see things in the same way that I do, or at least as I do now. Look clearly, see things for yourself, and come to your own conclusions.
I haven't yet thought about what's next on the road ahead of me, but for the time I intend to float, unattached, like a cloud in the sky and see where the myriad things take me.