Do you need a master?

- through Henry Oudin

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The question of the teacher is sensitive. Especially in France, a secular country, steeped in the philosophy of the Enlightenment, which, to put it briefly, saw reason prevail over faith, science over belief during the XNUMXth century. When the anarchists and Léo Ferré sing "Neither God nor master" and when, seeming to agree with them, certain Buddhist masters fall from their pedestal for having exploited the confidence of their disciples for their personal ends, how can we conceive of the role of the master in the transmitting the Dharma?

For the translator of Tibetan texts Elio Guarisco, who has devoted many years to practicing different types of Buddhist meditation, the master is (in particular) a bulwark against pride. “When one embarks on a path of self-discovery, one can face many perils due to a misunderstanding of what one is doing. Sometimes we take a wrong path. Instead of becoming better people, we reinforce our selfishness, the sense of our own importance, the pride of our status as spiritual practitioners. This, as well as other attitudes, can block our evolution for a long time and even destroy it. It is therefore useful to rely on a quality teacher who can help us stay on the right track and save us time. Some think they can figure it all out on their own, perhaps by reading instruction manuals, but their attitude only increases their arrogance and pride. »

In Buddhism, the function of the master varies according to the path taken. “In Theravada, the only master is the Buddha, the monks are spiritual advisers. In Zen, the master is necessary to progress in this way. In the Vajrayana, the master is indispensable and occupies a very important place. One cannot approach Vajrayana without a master. In Dzogchen, the bond with the master is realized through the discovery of our true nature. It is a direct way, less dependent on the external form”, explains Philippe Cornu, university specialist in Buddhism.

“The master is each of us. »

Let's start with the Theravada (also called vehicle of the elders), where the teacher is above all a spiritual friend giving instructions to the disciple. Ajahn Chah, one of the most renowned sages of the Forest Monk tradition (1918-1992), said, "You are your own master. Looking for a master is not what will allow you to get to the end of your doubts. It is within you that you will find the truth – within you, not without. Knowing yourself is the most important thing. ". The Venerable Nyanadharo, monk from the Forest of Laotian origin, had the chance to follow his teachings. For him too, “the master is each one of us. Why then does he allow himself to be called master by his students? “Because I am their mirror, but the mirror is transparent: they see their image, not me. And why does he consider Ajahn Chah as his master? “When I became attached to him, he sent me to France (where the Venerable Nyanadharo created the monastery Bodhinyanarama in 1977). He is a master, because he dared to cut me off from this bond. This is the lesson: don't get attached to the master,” he notes.

On the Mahayana or "great vehicle" side, Zen offers other examples to shed light on the link to the master. The latter's main function is to transmit the correct way of practicing. "To receive and transmit the Dharma of Buddha, it is absolutely necessary to take a master who is marked (imbued) by the realization of the Way", said Master Dôgen (thirteenth century), founder of the Soto school of Zen Buddhism in Japan. Roland Rech, French monk and teacher of this tradition, analyzes the quote in his book Zen meditation manual. " Master Dogen strongly emphasizes the need to practice with such a master. Not a scholar who comments on sutras, but someone who transmits the right way of practicing and the experience of the practice, so that the practice remains a practice of enlightenment, liberation and does not become a kind of exercise in to get something. “Although the essence of Zen is entirely contained in our practice of zazen, the example and teaching of the old masters help us to reveal the true meaning of our practice. And even if we borrow their lanterns for a while, if we go back to the experience they passed on, then we don't need to borrow anything anymore,” admits Roland Rech in The field of emptiness, a work dedicated to Wanshi, a XNUMXth century Chinese Zen master.

“The master is the absolute wisdom that we seek together. » Patrick Carre

Gilles, who follows the teachings of the Vietnamese Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh, speaks of him in these terms: “He is a master, but I could have others. A teacher is someone who helps me to connect with my deep nature as a human being. Thay (“master” in Vietnamese, designation addressed to all monks, editor’s note), he is a master in that sense: in the refectory, when he was there, there was a quality of silence… even in his wheelchair, he brought us back, with his extremely lively gaze, to life, to my nature, mine; suddenly I burst into tears; everyone was crying, not out of sadness, but because we were deeply touched. »

Finally for those who engage in the path of Vajrayana (diamond vehicle), the link with the master is not only necessary, but unbreakable. “In the tantras, you consider your master as the Buddha. There is no discussion possible. This discussion must be done before, not after having chosen it”, warns Patrick square, sinologist, Tibetologist, translator and practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism. Thus the master Vajrayana becomes the door allowing to approach the deep meaning of the tantric symbols (1), such as the mandalas (2), the deities with multiple arms or with a fierce face. “You will never be told about it if you have not received the corresponding initiation from the master, the authorization to read the books that go with it and the explanation of the practices to be performed. You have to have great confidence in him, because you have to tell your master everything. It is absolute wisdom that we seek together”, continues Patrick Carré.

In Buddhism, the master is ultimately the one who teaches his students the different methods transmitted by the Buddha. Whatever the school of this tradition, he is supposed to embody the teaching he delivers, to set an example and to encourage with benevolence those who follow him to reflect and experience for themselves the way of the Buddha.

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Henry Oudin

Henry Oudin is a Buddhist scholar, spiritual adventurer and journalist. He is a passionate seeker of the depths of Buddhist wisdom, and travels regularly to learn more about Buddhism and spiritual cultures. By sharing his knowledge and life experiences on Buddhist News, Henry hopes to inspire others to embrace more spiritual and mindful ways of living.

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