Buddhism’s development in the West has sometimes been rocky, particularly with regard to teacher-student relationships. With decades of experience under his belt, Ken McLeod offers some sound advice in a 2002 interview:
In the Vajrayana tradition it appears that you have to do whatever your guru says. But that’s absurd in this country. It just isn’t going to happen. America and most Western cultures are post-modern societies. They did away with the external structures that used to define role and position. Not so long ago, if your father was a shoemaker you would become one, and that sort of thing still prevails in a lot of places in the world. With modern education you have to figure out what you want to do — you have to develop the internal ability to define your own path. The same thing is true of marriage, economic position, education, political persuasion, and moral attitudes. By the latter part of the twentieth century, Western society had completely trashed any all-embracing moral structure, so now moral codes and ethics have to be developed internally. So, we don’t depend on external structures the way people do in other societies.
What, then, is a teacher for? What does it mean when you leave a teacher? What’s it like when the teacher-student relationship works—and when it doesn’t? Ken has some good answers and a few things to say about. Read the rest here.
Thank you for subscribing to Tricycle! As a nonprofit, we depend on readers like you to keep Buddhist teachings and practices widely available.