Teacher Meets Teacher

Dharma Discourse by John Daido Loori, Roshi
Teachings of Mountains and Rivers, Part IV

Featured in Mountain Record 25.1, Fall 2006

The Prologue

The universe is not obscure. All of its activity and function lie open and exposed. In the ten directions there are no obstructions. When right and wrong are intermingled, even the great sages cannot distinguish them. When heaven and earth are interwoven, you are free to ride the clouds and follow the wind. Responding to the imperative freely, one time wielding the sword that kills, and another time manifesting the sword that gives life. The lotus blooms in the raging fire.


The Main Case

Master Dogen said, “Again, since ancient times, wise ones and sages have lived by the river. When they live by the river they catch fish, or they catch humans, or they catch the Way. These are all traditional water styles. Going further, there must be catching the self, catching the hook, being caught by the hook, and being caught by the Way. In ancient times when Chuanzi suddenly left Yaoshan and went to live on the river, he got the sage of the Flowering River. Is this not catching fish? Is this not catching humans? Catching water? Is this not catching himself? That someone could see Chuanzi is because he is Chuanzi; and Chuanzi’s teaching someone is his meeting himself.”


The Capping Verse

Evening zazen hours advance, sleep hasn't come yet.
More and more I realize
Mountains and rivers are good for the efforts in the Way.
The sounds in the river valley enter my ears.
The light of the moon fills my eyes.
Outside of this, there's not a single thing.

Because it is so different from any other relationship we are familiar with, the teacher-student relationship in Zen is probably the most difficult aspect of formal training for Westerners to enter, appreciate and navigate well. Our contact with teachers during our years of education does not prepare us for the encounter with a Zen teacher. Meeting a Zen master is not about receiving information or corrections.The teacher-student realtionship in Zen does not fit the moral and ethical framework of most other religions because it is not based on belief or faith. Mind-to-mind transmission, the central pillar of that relationship, has nothing to do with understanding the teachings or believing a set of dogmas. Probably the closest model we have in the West for this kind of teacher-student relationship is the bond between a master artist and apprentice. Closer still might be this kind of apprenticeship within the Zen arts—martial arts or fine arts—particularly as they are taught in Japan. Yet the mind-to-mind transmission predates the existence of most of these disciplines. It’s a style of teaching that holds not knowing and trusting oneself in very high esteem. It requires that there be an ultimate merging of the teacher’s and the student’s way of perceiving the universe. Going even further, the teacher must disappear so that the student can take his or her place.