Saturday, 6 July 2013

Tradition and your teacher

A tradition begins only when someone does something that is not traditional. In other words, a tradition begins with an innovation. It is not a tradition at that point. It is just somebody doing something different. It becomes a tradition when others pick it up. The "first follower" plays a crucial but often unnoticed role. 

Sometimes the worth of the innovation is immediately apparent and people follow it readily. Sometimes it's not and it quickly dies out, only to be rediscovered again, and again, and...

A tradition is heavily influenced by what happens when the innovation first appears. If met with ridicule, it carries the energy of shame and rebellion. If met with violent opposition, it carries the energy of anger and violence. Thus, a tradition, from the beginning, carries the seeds that corrupt it.

When you talk about a tradition, it's usually a sign that its time has passed. When you talk about preserving a tradition, you have already conceded that it is dead.

What is a tradition?

angkor wat Is it a way of doing things, ritual, ceremonies, etc.? Is it a way of life? Is it a way of thinking? Is it a way of practice? Is it a body of teaching? Is it a mode of interpretation?

A way of doing things may look like a way of life, but be just a way of doing things. Don't go by appearances.

Tradition and lineage are not the same. Both pass something from one generation to the next, but they do so in different ways.

A lineage consists of specific individuals, each learning from the previous, a supposedly unbroken line back to the source. The hidden message is that what was once discovered cannot be discovered again and must be transmitted.

A tradition is more like a culture, an agreement about a certain set of behaviors and interactions.

Traditions are products of their circumstances. They arise when circumstances require a change. When circumstances change again, a tradition splits. One is based on one or more adaptations to the new circumstances. The other is based on one or  more ways of ignoring the new circumstances. Both claim to be preserving the tradition.

They are both wrong. The tradition is dead, and new ones have emerged, whatever they call themselves.

To follow a tradition is to participate in a culture. To study with someone who has been traditionally trained is a different matter.

A traditionally trained person usually has a well rounded training, and has learned, directly or indirectly, how different aspects of the training interact with each other and how to approach training and learning in a balanced way.

He or she may have that skill and understanding but still not be able to explain it to you.

On the other hand, people who are traditionally trained may only be able to mimic they were trained.

You can usually tell by the way they respond to unexpected or challenging questions. Do they become alive, awake, curious, thoughtful? Or do they just parrot what they have learned?

Do they have a sense of humor?

A person without traditional training, e.g., someone who has had a spontaneous experience of awakening, the training may be effective, but it is often incomplete and unbalanced. It has met only a limited range of contingencies. Yet it may be more vital and relevant to your life.

Traditional/not traditional -- this may not be the best way to look for a teacher.

The person with whom you study has to embody what you yourself are seeking.

At first you may not be able to tell that this is the case and you may have to rely on references, reputation, etc., i.e., tradition. But sooner or later you, yourself, have to see that he or she embodies those qualities. If you don't, or can't, then you must ask if this is the right person.

Is this person teaching you a tradition, or is he or she teaching you how to be awake? Again, this can be difficult to discern at first and you have to give it time.

How much time?

How much do you have?

This is not about progress in any linear sense. It's about creating new possibilities. It's not about following a tradition per se. It's about experiencing life in a different way. It's not about conforming to a set of behaviors or expectations. It's about discovering wakefulness and cultivating it in your life.  


If anyone spends almost the whole day in reading...he gradually loses the capacity for thinking... This is the case with many learned persons; they have read themselves stupid. -- Arthur Schopenhauer