The student is the teacher

Shunryu Suzuki with text

I remember reading Shunryu Suzuki saying that his presence as a teacher is a reminder to the student that she (the student) is the Buddha. The teacher can act as a guide, a prompter, an agent of wakefulness – but it is the student’s own experience that is the real teacher. Suzuki points out that many of the emotional crises in our daily lives involve a desire for something external – be it words of praise or a material object – and the only way to begin to resolve the crisis is first to experience the crisis, to observe it without commentary or clinging. It is within the arena of our own experience that the strength and freedom to resolve such crises is to be found, not in someone else’s experience. This is obvious, but Suzuki is wise to remind us that resolution and freedom are not to be found in the teacher’s acts or words but in our own experience. We already have all the resources and material we need with which to realise our Buddha-nature. Suzuki’s advice echoes that of an old Zen saying: “I owe everything to my teacher, because he taught me nothing.”

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