In the last post we explored how our relationship with the Spiritual Guide generally has two phases. The first is we go from our life being a total mess when we first come into the Dharma to reaching the point where we know how to be happy most of the time in this life, regardless of what curve balls life throws at us. While good, that is not good enough. Once we reach the stage where we are more or less happy all of the time in this life, we quickly become complacent, lazy or full of pride. So how does our relationship with the Spiritual Guide change when we enter into this second phase?
Phase 1 is easy – we feel terrible, we call up the teacher, receive some Dharma and go away laughing and feeling better. Phase 2 is very difficult. We feel really good, we call up the teacher get the bubble of our pride or complacency popped, we feel attacked and then go away feeling unhappy and deluded. Then we get all upset at the teacher and lose our faith in them. Then we lose everything, because when we think the teacher is bad, we question everything the teacher has to say. Even when we receive pure instructions all we think about is how the teacher is not following their own advice.
So what is the teacher to do when we respond in this way? There are two extremes. The first is the extreme of controlling. Here the teacher guilt-trips the students or manipulates or controls them into doing the right thing. The fundamental assumption of this method is people are lazy and just need to be cajoled into doing what they want to do anyway but their delusions are getting in the way. The main strategy here is – Marpa-style – to to do things which provoke delusions in the students to give the students things to work on and overcome. The problem with this method is the students do virtue for all the wrong reasons, namely driven by guilt or wishing to make the teacher like them (and so the karma created is worldly, even when doing spiritual things) and gradually they build up all sorts of resentment and go away.
The other extreme is doing nothing. Here the teacher just leaves people to do as they wish and as they feel motivated to do, and works with that motivation helping in the way the students want the teacher to help. The fundamental assumption of this method is people are only going to do what they want anyway, so if you push them it will yield short term results but at a long term cost. The long term is more important. The main strategy here is it is better to keep people connected to the Dharma than push it and lose them, so just work with motivated people and keep everybody else happy. Take people as far as they want to go. The problem with this method is without the system being jolted, people easily fall into low level equilibriums. They have a happy relationship with their teacher, but that’s all they have got. At some point our compassion doesn’t let us do this anymore.
The middle way here is to not be afraid to ruffle feathers, but do so in a laughing and transparent way. Here the teacher points out the faults and mistakes of the student, but does so in a laughing way. The teacher points out our delusions at the point of absurdity and so puts them on the table but in a humorous, rather than an accusatory way. So we all have a good laugh about ourselves. It is totally transparent with respect to what they are doing and why they are doing it. For example, the teacher warns the student in advance, “I am going to destabilize you because I want you to work through it so that you can overcome X problem.”
The fundamental assumption of this strategy is people are ignorant and take themselves too seriously. We are not aware of what mistakes we are making, and so we don’t know. We take ourselves too seriously and so get guilty or defensive when we find out about our mistakes as opposed to laugh at ourselves and learn. The main strategy here is to believe in the student that once they become aware of a problem without the baggage of guilt and defensiveness they will eventually come around to wanting to get rid of it.