On Idealizing and Being Disappointed in a Teacher

(Genpo Roshi recorded during the “Masters & Mensches II” Retreat, August 4, 2020)

     Let me say something about what you brought up, about idealizing, because I do feel it is something we work through. We do do that, we project on our teachers a certain greatness and a certain way of being, and when they don’t live up to that of course we’re disappointed. Now how we take, or how we receive the disappointment is everything.

     That’s the key to the practice. Because we’re going to project greatness on our teachers. Why would we study with someone who we don’t feel is great? I’m not going to study with some loser, I’m going to study with someone I think is the greatest. We all pick what we feel is the best for us and the greatest kind of teacher.

     So we’re going to project that on the teacher. And we’re going to be disappointed. And we must be disappointed. Otherwise we live with our projections, and we can’t accept ourself for who we are.

     That’s my point. When we can be disappointed and see, oh my God, this teacher is a real person, with all kinds of human faults and human foibles, and this doesn’t seem very enlightened and that doesn’t seem very great — when we see that in ourself, that’s when we can accept ourself.

     Roshi always used to say ‘I could challenge any teacher, I could find fault with any teacher.’ And you can. That’s the easiest thing, to find fault. But when we can see those qualities that maybe are not what we would like, they’re this or that, they do this too much, not enough of that, that’s when we start to accept ourself for our own humanness, rather than having an ideal that we’re trying to find, or to be.

     I think you said that beautifully. You had this ideal which you were trying to live up to. And that’s the problem, because when we have an ideal we’re trying to live up to, we can never live up to it. We have to bring the ideal down, or out, drop it, and then be who we are, live up to who we are. And when we see those faults in the teacher and we’re disappointed, that’s when we can really do it. To me that is a huge thing.

4 thoughts on “Blog”

  1. The real koans present themselves in very real ways and the truth of the non-rational approach makes them seem absurd to start the practice in the first place. A waste of time until you are ready to test your nondual Western mind and find out that Siddhartha is also Steppenwolf.

  2. Projection. The question seems to be not whether I am projecting, but what I am projecting. If I can accept it is all projection, I have to soften my judgments of my teacher, and myself. Thank you for this, Roshi.

  3. The shoe fits, as you know! As for me the expectations, the ‘glamour’ of my own inflation and others projections, ‘not good enough’ and ‘better than…’ the comparing, it’s a full life’s work.

  4. Thank you Roshi for your comment on this topic.
    Drilling down a bit more, I would say, there is nothing wrong with seeing the weak points and appreciating the good qualities of a teacher. I believe the point is to have a clear view and work all one’s life with this clarity.
    Trying to copy our teacher blindly brings problems, as problematic as trying to live up to our projections and the unrealistic expectations we impose on our teacher. Through these 37 years I saw many moments you were involved in I considered to be mistakes, but that never broke my trust in you in a deeper sense, and with time many appeared as my mistakes much more than yours.
    This doesn`t mean every point of view of our teacher has to be exactly the same as ours, or ours exactly the same as our teacher’s. In regard to the absolute, yes, but not the relative. Respect is crucial, as I learn all the time, rather than imposing my expectations. (So if my students make a choice I’m not enthusiastic about, I do my best to respect it, which doesn’t mean I fully support it).
    My respect for you, Roshi, deepens through time, replacing my unrealistic expectations. I am always glad that thanks to your brave approach I can learn from your mistakes. Sometimes I had to do my own falls to really get it, but many times your honest sharing about your falls has been a great help and support to me. I am very, very grateful for everything I have received from you… and hopefully will receive, no matter what life brings.
    Thank you.
    PS. You said: “You had this ideal which you were trying to live up to. And that’s the problem, because when we have an ideal we’re trying to live up to, we can never live up to it.” Maybe the biggest problem is trying to fix others so they live up to our ideals of them? I would say it is great to have ideals, but as guidelines, accepting we may never live up to them? Maybe acting from the Apex? Owned ideals, and the opposite (having no)?


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