Tuesday, 27 May 2008

a little clarification...

I wrote the following post late last night and it wasn't really a "well thought out" statement at all. This morning, re-reading it, I've made a few minor word changes but it remains a reasonable expression of part of what I feel.

I should say at this point, that the opinion I hold here relates only to the tradition I personally have experience of. The other thing to keep in mind that this notion of "tradition" is not at all a static thing. A tradition is a living thing, it continues to evolve, and be enlivened by those who work from within it's influence. One of the points I try to make in the post that follows is the need to first absorb that influence and to understand the guiding spirit of the tradition, only then is it really possible to do your work and for it to be seen as adding to that continuum.

It might seem that this, rather strict, approach denies the student the opportunity to express their own creative urges and may even crush their emerging sense of originality. I think this is an illusion, if that urge is so easily snuffed out then I wonder how fiercely it burned in the first place. I believe the modern tendency to treat the student like some delicate and precious "new born" is far too self indulgent. It invariably results in work that is utterly self-referential and shallow. How could it possibly be any other way?

The masters of the past, who have been my inspiration and guide, didn't treat this work as fun, it wasn't a hobby. Of course, people today, particularly in the wealthier parts of the world, are able to dabble with whatever they like, and to their hearts content. And that is not a bad thing, nor would I deny them their fun. But let's not deceive ourselves, a 1000 years of tradition has a lot more value than merely being the source of some part-time amusement. That incredibly rich vein is available to anyone who is prepared to truly become part of it, and that takes a lifetimes commitment.

Monday, 26 May 2008

some thoughts on being a good student

It has been a while now...since I last had the urge to get all philosophical late at night. In fact it's been a while since I last had anything really heartfelt to say at all.

I'm learning that this type of intimate journal entry, sort of dialogue, and what would be the point if it weren't intimate and honest, is not quite as easy in the, apparently, impersonal atmosphere of the internet compared to my preferred format...having a decent meal followed by a good drink together.

In those convivial circumstances I have no difficulties opening my heart and revealing all my frailties, I know...you can't imagine I have any...but I do... I'm all too human, or expounding on my "grand theories". The written word is so final, there is almost no going back, it seems so absolute. I'm a particularly opinionated sort of chap, in the most reasonable sort of way...in person, honestly! And there's the rub. We're not getting getting it together, "in person". I actually really enjoy provoking an original response from those I'm engaging with...as much as I would love the same to be stimulated in me.

Naturally enough, this isn't always the preferred form of engagement on the net. If the use of the word "engagement" sounds a bit combative I make no apologies...nothing will get hurt other than ego's...so what's the big deal. Why do we take ourselves so seriously? and surely, we can separate who we are, from a bunch of vaguely constructed opinions.

I happen to be quite good at defending my opinions, but I suspect that this says more about my abilities to "box clever", than the truth of them. Similarly, I find that many opinions I encounter, and challenge, are in fact very poorly conceived. Never-the-less, we seem to be prepared to go to war for our opinions!

Recently, I was prompted by a rather unfortunately expressed thought, on my forum, to respond in a deliberately provocative way. I hope the author of that post will forgive me drawing attention to this brief exchange but he in fact did me a great service.

I don't need to elaborate on the stimulus but my response was summed up thus; "the master serves the tradition...most useful students are merely a means to that end".

I hadn't previously thought of it in this way before, my response was an almost instinctual reaction. I won't go into a messy analysis of how it is I feel this way, or even if I am "right" in this assumption. No-one told me this, as some universal, traditional truth...so where did it come from? The answer to that is obviously bound up with who I am...and that will take a long night to begin to reveal.

What immediately caught my attention with this statement, and it is sort of cheeky to quote oneself, was the ambiguity contained therein.

At first glance it seems incredibly arrogant and unfeeling. Particularly in a world where the student, who is inevitably paying for their instruction, feels that the instructor owes them something. That's the first mistake the teacher makes...he ( or she ) hands control to the student. How absurd is that? I've never charged anyone for anything I've been able to impart, perhaps I'm a fool to give away so freely what has cost me so much. Perhaps this is also why I often get the impression what I have to offer is taken so lightly. That aside, as I've not taken the kings coin...I need not bow to his whims. ( here I'm rather obscurely referring to the consumer idea that the customer is king ).

In my view, if someone seeks your teaching then they must empty their cup and be prepared to learn. There is no discussion involved. This is not a two way sort of deal...the opinions and feelings of the student are irrelevant. In time...on the odd occasion, the student may actually, eventually have something original or significant to say. But, it is a profound arrogance and display of self indulgence, for a student to think, at the very start of their journey, that they may have anything of real consequence to express, in the face of hundreds of years of the accumulated understanding of previous masters.

It's very fashionable to pay lip service to traditions of late, and we hear people humbly expressing their respect for past masters and their respective traditions. I really don't see much more that words though, it's as though it's all about association, to make us feel a sense of importance...or significance, and that demeans the past.

We really aren't that important, if we amount to anything at all in our all to brief lives it is due to so much of what has gone before us. The contemporary tendency to place the highest value, in fact the only thing worth anything, on the individual, loses sight of our tiny place in the continuity of humankind.

I am well aware that my, rather idiosyncratic, view is something of an anachronism in this age, but the way I see it, that's all the more reason to stand by it.

So,..to return to my provocative quote ( of myself...what a sneaky trick? ).

There is always a master somewhere up ahead...you'll recognise them when you aren't able to understand where he ( or she ) is coming from. That is as it should be, if you understood it all then you'd be at least as masterful. There are people out there who are pursuing excellence, they are rarely the most lovely people you'll meet, but if you recognise some small spark that draws you to them, then you must approach like a child in the face of a new and wondrous world...and maybe, just maybe...if you're very lucky, you'll get invited on a unique journey. A journey not without cost...or peril. One where you will learn all about the things you set out to explore, but most importantly...you'll learn about yourself... and it's a bloody good ride.

While on that ride you'll discover at some point that in fact the person you thought was the master is also a student, and that your objectives are not so far apart as you may have once imagined. The true reverence is when this is understood and you understand your part in the continuum.

Good night and Namaste