I have been thinking about the relationship between a female student and a male teacher. Are we peers or not?
Clearly there is a hierarchy within Zen, as with any other religion, and any hierarchy implies levels of power. The hierarchy is important in Zen in terms of the role of priests: giving lay and priest ordination, choosing a shuso, authorization to teach, etc. This is necessary. The issue of gender, of course, comes into play in the historically disproportionate role of men in positions of power. But we all know this!
What really interests me is the heart-to-heart meeting between teacher and student. Buddha meeting Buddha. The attitude I bring to a male teacher - Norman in this case - has the most profound effect on my psyche and spiritual growth than any other practice.
Every spiritual tradition assumes that the teacher has more wisdom, and, of course, many assume that the true master is enlightened. I find it interesting that Zen seems to disclaim enlightenment as any state a person could possess, and Dogen’s “practice-enlightenment” seems pretty Equal Opportunity to me. And yet, all the koans and the roles of the priest imply that the teacher has some advanced knowledge that the student hopes to attain.
After a lifetime of practice, I don’t think a teacher has a special state of knowledge that – if I tried hard enough – I could possess. And yet I am deeply and sincerely seeking.
I actually don’t know what goes on between teacher and student. It seems to be immensely important, but I am not sure why. Maybe the teacher is just a really good mirror, or as Socrates says, “A midwife to the Truth.” Maybe a student allows an open vulnerability, a defenselessness, that somehow allows the truth within herself to emerge.
I have learned, however, that the gender attitudes I bring to a male teacher are detrimental to me and my spiritual growth. All those conditioned attitudes: subservience, handing oneself over, sexual dynamics, and the subconscious, pathetic assumption that men actually “know best.”
All this stuff gets in the way of true spiritual maturation. So, this is what I need to examine.