Xangsamhua 316 Posted September 19, 2010 Share Posted September 19, 2010 (edited) I've been mulling over the purpose and appropriateness of the guru-shishya relationship in contemporary Buddhism. Guru-shishya is the term used in Wikipedia; in Thai I expect it would be ครู-(ลูก)ศิษย์ - khru-(luk)sit. As I am interested in getting an outline of what might be distinguishing features of 21st century Buddhism, or perhaps Western Buddhism, I was thinking about the role of the guru in a post-oral society. Essentially I was thinking that there really isn't any need in a digital age to seek out a teacher and enter into the kind of guru-shishya commitment that people did and perhaps still do. I did a little research and found that a number of Western writers have questioned the role of the guru and, indeed, have pointed to the danger of the guru-shishya relationship, as evidenced by the unsavoury behaviour of some from both India and Tibet in the past 40 years or so since they started coming to teach in the West. Criteria have subsequently been developed and published on the web to help potential students assess a guru's bona fides. On a more innocent, but nevertheless dangerous level, Rob Preece, in The Noble Imperfection, has put forward the notion of transference, explained in Wikipedia as follows: "In its simplest sense transference occurs when unconsciously a person endows another with an attribute that actually is projected from within themselves." In developing this concept, Preece writes that, when we transfer an inner quality onto another person, we may be giving that person a power over us as a consequence of the projection, carrying the potential for great insight and inspiration, but also the potential for great danger: "In giving this power over to someone else they have a certain hold and influence over us it is hard to resist, while we become enthralled or spellbound by the power of the archetype". Now this sounds to me like 'lionization' or hero-worship, and is something I'm quite familiar with in non-Buddhist contexts (e.g. especially among women colleagues who have formed a particular admiration for, say, a university "star", who has captured the imagination of the professional field for the moment), so I'm not surprised. However, even if a prospective guru is indeed admirable, is it really necessary to enter into the narrow and somewhat servile contract that is expected? It seems that this kind of relationship is not so much a feature of Theravada, or possibly the Theravadin tradition has not formalized the relationship to the extent it has been in the Mahayana tradition. in the latter, a commitment is entered into and marked by an initiation ceremony. Especially in the Vajrayana tradition, a guru is seen as essential to progress in the Path. To quote Wikipedia again: In the Tibetan tradition, however, the teacher is viewed as the very root of spiritual realization and the basis of the entire path. Without the teacher, it is asserted, there can be no experience or insight. The guru is seen as Buddha. To go back to my original question then: Is a guru necessary in a post-oral society? In an information-communication environment such as we live in, should we be seeking "a teacher" - someone to be our guru in the path of Buddhadhamma? Or should we be calling on all resources available, and,hopefully, with the help of a sangha, making our own decisions and finding our own paths? My second question is: Does Theravada have the same kind of elevated role for teachers (e.g. Ajarn Chah; Phra Buddhadasa; Luangpor Jaran) as Mahayana has? Edited September 19, 2010 by Xangsamhua Link to post Share on other sites More sharing options...
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