Given recent allegations of abuse in Rigpa and other Buddhist communities, are you feeling confused about the teacher-student relationship?
Each of the following articles, written by long-term practitioners, approach the student-teacher relationship from a different angle. The authors explore how the teacher-student relationship can go wrong, how it can go right, and how we as students need to stay awake and trust our true intelligence.
The Teacher-Student Relationship: Liberating or a Trap?
Susan Pivar is a best-selling author, Buddhist teacher, and a 20+ year practitioner in the Shambhala Buddhist lineage.
My advice is don’t scare easily, but do scare appropriately. The student-teacher relationship is intimate. It takes place on the most hidden and vulnerable level of one’s being. It is ripe for manipulation, confusion, and aggression on both parts. For us students, we could try not to mistake feeling intimidated for sacred awe or confuse brutishness with true power. We could discover the difference between neurotic doubt and intelligent doubt. We could allow our hearts to be broken open, not crushed. Though it is antithetical to the Western gestalt, we could examine devotion as something other than mute slavishness. (These are all very fine lines. obviously.) Stay awake, let go, and be willing to trust yourself. Rely on your true intelligence. It’s terrifying.
What Went Wrong
An interview with Tibetan psychologist Lobsang Rapgay about student-teacher relationships that turn abusive.
Lobsang Rapgay is a practicing clinical psychologist and adjunct assistant professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. Previously, Rapgay was a Tibetan Buddhist monk for 18 years and served as the Dalai Lama’s deputy secretary and English-language interpreter.
And when a teacher personalizes and interprets the teachings to suit the needs of the Western students in a particular way, he or she then establishes ownership over those teachings, and they become very exclusive and elite. That leads to a differentiation of himself and his teaching from the others’ teachings and even the tradition itself, as being very unique and special. The focus becomes one of perpetuating that teaching at the cost of neglecting the fundamental ethical guidelines between teacher and student. Even if those are referred to, no real attempt is made to create institutionalized clear boundaries between the teacher and the student. Nor is an attempt made to create ethics committees with the power and the authority to carry out its missions, including enforcing consequences when violations occur.
Read: What Went Wrong
Why I Quit Guru Yoga
Does elevating the guru to the same status as the teachings themselves set the stage for teacher-student abuse?
Stephen Batchelor is a Buddhist author, teacher, and scholar and noted proponent of secular Buddhism.
How are we to understand such accounts of guru devotion? Am I to believe that the story of Tilopa and Naropa actually took place? Can I imagine Buddhist societies in India or Tibet that did not object to religious teachers behaving in this way? Or should it be read as an inspiring fable to strengthen one’s faith? Is it any different from the biblical account of Abraham being told by God to sacrifice his son Isaac? Like Naropa, Abraham obeys the command. Yet just as he is about to cut his son’s throat, Isaac too is spared by magic, in this case the intervention of an angel and the appearance of an unlucky ram. Did this event happen in a historical time and place? Or is it too just an allegory?
Read: Why I Quit Guru Yoga
I hope you find these articles helpful, especially if you feel confused or unclear about the teacher-student relationship. After reading them, be sure to come back and let us know:
What stood out for you in these articles? Did you learn something new or see something in a different way? We would love to hear in the comments.