Thursday, October 22, 2009

Gratitude to the Teacher

In Buddhism one thing that we can always be grateful for is the teacher. Ajahn Sumedho has frequently referred to his teacher, Ajahn Chah, with great fondness and gratitude, acknowledging the debt that he owes him. A great teacher like Ajahn Chah (or Ajahn Sumedho for that matter) is easy for a sincere Buddhist to recognize, having received his wisdom, compassion and practical advice on walking the Path. I too feel much gratitude towards Ajahn Chah, as well as Ajahn Sumedho, Douglas Harding, Daisetz Suzuki, and many, many others. But these are not the only teachers that I have had in my life: not by a long way.

I myself am a teacher here in Thailand, and know only too well some of the misbehavior and disrespect that those in this profession must tolerate at times. And, casting my mind back to my own school days, I can recall some of the naughty stuff that I got up to. I also remember the teachers and the advice and care I received from (most) of them. I am thankful for their guidance. Yet, teachers are not only those formerly given the title like school educators and monks (‘ajahn’ means ‘teacher’ in Thai); there are many other people in life who deserve the title, one way or another.

What about our parents, or whoever played those roles during one’s childhood? The years of time, effort, work, and love spent trying to make a good future for their offspring, often not appreciated by the latter at the time. It’s no wonder that Buddhism encourages gratitude towards one’s parents. Friends too can play an important part in teaching us the safer route through life, or at least the more joyful, with their support and companionship. I have learnt much from my wife also over the years of our marriage. Thank you, darling!

It’s not only those we know well who can be our teachers, however. What of the stranger who says something that has a profound effect, perhaps encouraging a radical rethink of the way one is living? (I recall such an event many moons ago when a drunken woman told me that if I was really a Buddhist, I wouldn’t be sat inebriated puffing away on a cigarette and chatting to her! It took a few years for that to really sink in, but as a teetotal, non-smoking Buddhist these days I can look back with thanks for her opinion.)

Our dogs Leo & Lion have been a genuine source of Dharma too, despite being unaware of the fact – at least they look unaware of it, anyhow. It’s hard to tell, really! The attachment and suffering experienced due to their various misadventures have been opportunities for reflection that have shown the reality of the Noble Truth of Suffering and its origin. Mosquitoes, snakes, flies, stray dogs, early morning cockerels waking one up – they can all be teachers of the way things are (the Dharma), if we stay alert.

And let’s not forget the weather. As I write this it’s pouring down outside, which is a bit premature for this time of year in Northeast Thailand. The rain is teaching me about impermanence and imperfection, on how unsure everything really is, something Ajahn Chah constantly emphasized. A couple of years ago I bumped my head and had stitches in it, and then returned to the scene of the accident and thanked the low ceiling for a lesson in mindfulness! Even an awful tragedy like the aftermath of the recent storm in the Philippines that’s apparently killed many human beings – not to mention other beings – can be a teacher to humanity. Not that this reduces the compassion and sympathy that we might feel towards the poor people involved, of course.

What does all this boil down to really? Spiritual teachers, educators, family, friends, lovers, associates, strangers, animals, inanimate objects, and events can all contribute the cultivation of wisdom and the development of compassion. In a nutshell, life is the teacher, with each moment a potential moment for awakening to the Dharma, and realizing the Truth for ourselves. With this in mind, let’s express our gratitude to the teacher, to life itself, in all its wonderful, terrible, inspiring and frustrating forms. Let us bow to this life that gives us the opportunity to learn.

The above post first appeared on the blog 'Forest Wisdom,' which was reborn as this one.


Buddha said...

That was quite a gud Lesson by itself.

G said...

Gud, eh? :)

Thanks, Buddha.

CheaHSan said...

Not good, but "gooderest" haha. Thanks for the reminder on awareness. I believe how many would "thank" any mishaps. They sure to go back the same place of accident fuming mad, cursing and say "its all your fault" that caused the stitches on his head. Even more they may kick the object as a revenge to get even.
With metta

G said...

Difficult to kick the ceiling, though, CheaHS@n!
But your point is a valid one, in that if we closely examine the mishaps that we experience, it's illuminating to realize that most of them are self-created...