Working with a Teacher

Working with a teacher

A central feature of zen training is working with a teacher.  This model of training arises from the earliest days of Buddhism when Shakyamuni founded and led a community of hundreds of monks and lay people, who came to hear his teaching and to meet and talk with him face to face.  The role of the teacher in zen was further developed in the monastic communities of China and Japan from the sixth century.  Here, the relationships between the teachers and students were individual and personal, and often developed over many years.

In zen there is a lineage tradition that arises from the history of ‘mind to mind transmission’ between teacher and student.  In the 6th century Bodhidharma, the first zen patriarch, defined the core of zen training as:

“a special transmission outside the scriptures;
without dependence on words and letters;
directly pointing to the mind;
seeing one’s true nature and attaining Buddhahood”
.

In other words zen training is more than an intellectual process; there are no courses, no exams.  By working and training together over many years, the teacher recognises when the student is ready and the transmission affirms this.

Even today zen teachers within an authentic, traditional lineage like Stonewater are trained in this way, and commonly twenty or more years of work with one or more teachers is required before the title of ‘Sensei’ (teacher) is granted.

There are only a handful of zen teachers in the UK who have followed this traditional route so, under Keizan Sensei, Stonewater sangha offers a special opportunity for zen training.

Working with a teacher at Stonewater Zen Sangha

At Stonewater working with a teacher means seeing a teacher for private interviews (called daisan) which take place during the weekly sitting periods at a zen centre or during residential retreats.  Keizan Sensei teaches at the Liverpool centre and at our residential retreats, and he offers sangha members support by email.  Under his guidance, interviews are also provided by assistant teachers at Liverpool, and the London and Northampton local groups.

Interviews are open to practitioners who attend regularly and who support the the sangha; they are optional not compulsory.  Interviews are brief, face to face encounters which provide an opportunity to discuss your zen practice as this relates to the day to day issues in your life, to engage in koan study, and to seek guidance from an experienced practitioner.

Interviews are like anything else in life: the more effort you put in, the more you get out.  Their intent is always supportive but, since the core of zen is self-knowledge, they can also be questioning or challenging.

Details on Stonewater teachers can be found here.