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The Mentor

Jul 12, 2020

In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, the mentor or teacher is seen as being the living embodiment of the Buddha. In this clip from Return with Elixir, Dr. Miles Neale discusses the reason behind this and when finding a guru may or may not be appropriate.

I thought that we should talk about the mentor in the Tibetan tradition. The Tibetans are very unique in their approach to the Buddhadharma. For thousands of years the Buddhadharma was discussed in terms of taking refuge in the three jewels, the Buddha himself as the historical figure, his teachings, the Dharma and those aspirants committed to the path, the Sangha.

In the Tibetan tradition, as the Vajrayana teachings, the diamond teachings or the tantric teachings become more prevalent or prominent, all three jewels are embodied in the principle of the guru, the mentor. You can think about the development of Buddhism in terms of several centuries. After the Buddha's death there emerges the emptiness teachings and with them at the very same time apparently the tantric teachings.

You can think about people thinking the Buddha was a human being several centuries ago, so there's a sense of it in a temporal domain. With that, there's a kind of nostalgia because as the centuries unfold and there's more and more time between oneself and the possibility of enlightenment that happened to this one person way back when. Don't we feel like that now? What would it have been like twenty five hundred years ago with the Buddha? But now we're modern types and no one's getting enlightened now. It becomes like a myth or a tale.

But the Tibetans have a very incredible imagination and for whatever reason they're very well suited to the tantric path or approach. It was important for them to coalesce all three jewels in the living embodiment of the mentor. The teacher is the Buddha. The teacher is a portal that separates time and space so that you have direct access through your teacher to the teachings of the Buddha and the embodiment, the lived experience of the Buddha. The way that this is made reasonable is that through a succession of teacher and student, the actual awakening of the Buddha is transmitted.

A teacher who is qualified can impart or pass the knowledge and a student who is equally responsible for their evolution can put into practice those teachings so that they themselves become awakened and the transmission through history, mind to mind, continues so that when you meet your guru, you become next in line in the totem. That is a very unique aspect, the lived experience. Not just the theoretical, the lived embodiment of the teacher.

Then I often get this question, how do I find a teacher? Once there is the interest, what do you do? How does one find a qualified teacher? It's a little elusive. They don't give you a manual where they tell you exactly how to find one. They say that first you have to understand the importance of a teacher. I'm sure you appreciate that we live in an age of so much skepticism, the product of the scientific reductionism where we've become so hell bent on exposing the hypocrisy of hierarchies and authorities, which is completely understandable. The pendulum has swing swung so far to the other extreme that most of us no longer appreciate or have a deep, deep resentment or aversion to the Guru principle.

Maybe this path is not for you, if that's so entrenched. On the other hand, it could be a very interesting exercise to start to consider what is it, inside of us, that's so averse and rather than just give it permission to be averse by saying there's no need for a teacher, one then goes in to really reclaim the traumatic imprints, either from your own history with authority figures or from the legacy of the indoctrination or the institutions that have been corrupt and actually rehabilitate them which is a useful way to look at it.

From our studies of trauma, if you you have a plane phobia and you avoid getting on a plane, what happens to the phobia? It just lingers there. If you have a phobia or an aversion to authority and you have a skepticism that no one could possibly have that level of realization, it's all a myth, and look at all the scandals that are happening, that skepticism and doubt goes dormant but it doesn't get transformed. You can't avail yourself of anybody who might have anything to teach you because your heart has been closed due to broken trust.

On the other hand if you're a survivor of a cult like situation maybe you don't rush right into this process. Maybe you take a very appropriate distance where you begin to rehabilitate yourself. But even there, how would you rehabilitate yourself without having a relationship with someone whom you'd have to get to the place where you get vulnerable again with?


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