In our Spring 2000 issue, the scholar Alexander Berzin examined the guru-disciple relationship in the West. He wrote:
With a new millennium at hand, many Westerners called for a purely Western Buddhism, free of irrelevant religious and cultural trappings of the East. Differentiating the essence from the trappings, however, is never simple. People sometimes discard important factors in haste, without deeply examining the possible effects. Consequently, furious debate flared up between “traditionalists” and “modernists” within the Western Buddhist community. Debates included the language to use for performing ritual practices and the place of belief in rebirth in following the Buddhist path.
Today, the student-teacher relationship as understood and developed in the West needs reexamination. However, any approach at restructuring needs to avoid two extremes. The first is justifying the deification of the teacher to the point that it encourages a cult mentality and whitewashes abuse. The second is justifying the demonization of the teacher to the point that paranoia and distrust prevent the benefits to be gained from a healthy disciple-mentor relationship. In trying to prevent the first extreme, we need great care not to fall to the second.
Read the rest, from Tricycle‘s archives, which go back to our first issue in 1991.
Sign up for Tricycle’s newsletters
Thank you for subscribing to Tricycle! As a nonprofit, we depend on readers like you to keep Buddhist teachings and practices widely available.