Editorial: It Takes Two

Featured in Mountain Record 27.3, Spring 2009

I can’t do it. I know that full well, yet I see others moving with that ineffable balance. Wishing and dreaming has created no magic, so here I am. Determined. The driveway offers a gentle downward slope, so I allow it to cradle me as I release the bicycle wheels to gravity. Stop. Go. Stop. Go. I tenuously lift my feet higher and longer each time. The street up ahead, with its demand for a sharp right turn, no longer blocks me. Suddenly I discover that incredible place in motion—without control or lack of control. And I’m off.

What is that spark within us? Longing for something beyond our grasp, we’re brought to the edge of giving up, to the edge of discovery. What is it to meet a true teacher at such a time? Daido Roshi often says, “You and I are the same thing, but I’m not you and you’re not me.” Again and again, he points to the teaching of nonduality. We two are not separate.

The theme of this issue of Mountain Record—“Two Arrows Meeting in Mid-Air”—takes up the mystery of this not-two, particularly with regard to the teacher-student relationship. In his discourse, Daido Roshi describes the teacher’s vow to give all there is to give within the reality that there is nothing the student needs. He asks, what kind of giving is that?

Shugen Sensei adds that all things teach, all things heal. Life does not obstruct us, rather it is “our delusion that precipitates our illumination, our attachments that allow for our release.” Zen teachers see that in fact there is nothing to heal and they dedicate their lives to healing. Further, in his talk, Ryushin Osho describes that in our moments of self-centeredness, the teacher reminds us, encourages us, demands us to open more fully, to live more generously.

Our other contributors raise pragmatic questions regarding the teacher-student relationship. Do we need a teacher, or can this path be accomplished alone? How can we recognize an authentic teacher? What is the difference between a Zen teacher and a guru? Is it enough to trust a teacher’s clarity when his or her actions are not in accord with the teachings of Buddhism?

Teachers appear—and disappear—as needed. They inspire us to immeasurable heights, and skillfully trip us up on our own feet. They remind us of our own humanity, through their vulnerability and courage, wisdom and fallibility.

Ultimately, the Buddha taught us to be a light unto ourselves, that there is no higher authority. It’s up to each one of us. So how do we enter? We can read about it in a book. But to meet a teacher—as a student—requires a willingness to fall, trusting that our inherent balance has been there all along

Karin Jinfu Connelly, MRO
Mountain Record, Editor