Should we have a sincere wish to teach meditation to others, we must take a great deal of care on our path. If we choose to strive toward teaching then our path must be two paths in one. One path is the way of personal practice and the other is the way of teaching.
To go the route of teaching it is imperative that we are humble. In fact, we need to be so humble that the conventional ways embedded in the dominant U.S. culture are likely to reject us. This dominant culture current values fame, fortune, notoriety, and the collection of trophies. Humbleness rejects each of these and at its core, does not care whether or not they occur. Should they occur, then they occur. Should they not occur, then they do not occur. It does not matter either way and it does not change our course.
To become a teacher of meditation at any level, even that of basic physical posture, we must only teach from our experience. Therefore, it is necessary for us to have a strong foundation of awareness and insight into our own practice and its limitations. We must also retain a great deal of courage because we must be ready, in any given moment, to say to another, “I don’t know.” To overstep this boundary is to introduce corrupt views into the traditions of meditation and the lineage of teachers. This can result in harm to others and oneself. The teacher’s heart and deepest intention needs to be singled-minded and solely focused upon being of service to others. This is to be ever present, even at the expense of personal gain.
Should someone work with an instructor and encounter to the honored claim, “I don’t know,” they may reject the instructor. The path of the instructor, regardless of their modest beginnings, is to completely accept, without hesitation, this rejection and without recoil. The one who is worthy of instructing or guiding lives in the way, always. And when she does not do this and recognizes the error, she is reminded of the ever present truth, that she will always remain a student. Her practice is to return to the person and to own her error and ignorance. This is her path, all of our paths.
When one who assumes the role of instructor embodies these truths, humbleness is ever present and manifests itself continuously. If one has not realized this truth, beyond mere intellect and academic study, then they are not quite ready to teach. More time is needed to practice and to reflect upon one’s motivations to instruct. This is particularly important for those in helping professions to realize because their path is often based in intellect and academic study.
The path of Buddhism, especially Zen, has little bearing on intellect. Reading books and retaining information is a part of the establishing the ground of practice but when we embody practice, the intellect is of little to no consequence. Therefore, practice, realization through practice, and embodying practice (not the idea of practice) is absolutely necessary. We can all teach but only to the level of embodiment but we must remain focused upon the two-fold path of the instructor. This is the Mahayana path. Personal practice is one aspect and the path of the instructor is the other aspect. The worthy instructor is one who takes on both aspects without hesitation and with a sense of deep commitment. And all instructors need an instructor. This is the humbleness inherent in honoring the lineage of the Buddha, of the many Buddhas who have lived, and the many Bodhisattvas among us.
All of this is required. All of this is vital to the way of the instructor. There is no other way.