27. Thursday, August 23, 1973
Teacher and Disciple, Ego

STUDENT: Sensei? In the Sufi wisdom book, I came across this statement, “It doesn't matter if you are a good teacher or that I am a bad disciple. What matters is to understand what discipleship is.”

KOBUN: What does “ship” mean in linguistic meaning?

STUDENT: It means “way.”

KOBUN: That's a very good statement. By appearance of learning, teaching can be seen. The difficulty is to be ready as the disciple. What makes a disciple is faith and respect. If there is faith and acceptance there is learning, even if people do not say, “You are a disciple. I am your teacher.” It's a little hard to believe, to have a feeling of respect for another being, for your own being. An interest, desire for knowledge, “I want to be like that,” or “I do not want to be like that,” or “I want to change and I don't know how to change myself.” This kind of interest doesn't lead to right discipleship. These can be an indirect encouragement of your practice, but they cannot measure quality, energy, or life of the discipleship.

STUDENT: Would you say that, in Buddhism, a bad disciple, bad student, would make a difference?

KOBUN: A bad student doesn't know how bad he is. A good student knows how bad he is! A bad teacher would say, “I am the best. The others are crazy!” The more the quality becomes pure, the more the recognition becomes (How do you say it?) darker. It does not involve comparison, rather a very conflicted recognition appears. That is a very natural thing in religious mind.

What relates teacher and disciple? What doesn't relate them, also? This point is very important. Our bowing is what it is. When you do gassho, it is the very content of the teaching. Teacher and disciple is not just the relation of big and small, better and best, or good and bad. You can say, “With the guidance of the teacher you enter into it.” Or you can say, “Without the self you enter into it.” This is how the relation of teacher and disciple can be seen.... To be enlightened by all beings doesn't mean you don't have a teacher, or you don't have a body.

When you see the relation of disciple and teacher as a phenomenon, that isn't enough. What you experience is important. The teacher is not always teacher and the disciple is not always disciple. There are no two persons, just one thing is going on and teacher and disciple are part of this one thing. You see the physical activity of teaching and learning or listening and replying.... You know Martin Buber's word, “I-thou.” It cannot be just the compound, “I-thou” relationship. It is engaged. The “I” cannot be just I, and “thou” cannot be just thou. They are independent but they cannot be merely independent. That is the relation of God and man: I and thou. Kirkegaard speaks about this. In the engagement, in the engaging, everything appears. Knowing appears, trusting appears, meeting appears, and departure appears.

STUDENT: In the I-thou, it seems that it is two: The disciple and the teacher. In the case of a man and God there are two, but the disciple and teacher and God, are three...

KOBUN: Oh, that is important point. For the disciple, the practicer, the teacher is not merely “thou” as a teacher. For the practicer there is the one who can really say, “I-thou,” without the disciple. The teacher and “thou” is God and himself, one, when the disciple appears. Do you say, “Godman”?

STUDENT: God is in the teacher?

KOBUN: Um hmm. The teacher is in the God. The Buddhist term is Busso . Your teacher is Busso . Busso is Buddha-Patriarch. You don't say, “Buddhas and Patriarchs.” You say “Buddha-Patriarch,” like “father-son,” “mother-daughter.” You are daughter and mother, mother and daughter. For a child, there is no doubt mother exists, but mother is not just mother. Mother is daughter, too. When you separate two beings as visible figures, there is teacher and disciple, but the relation, teacher and disciple, is one. Without disciple, there is no teacher. Without teacher, there is no disciple. If we think of this in terms of various activities, tea, music, painting, you can see the interrelationship of the teacher and disciple function. In the religious sphere, whether the teacher and disciple can be exactly the same or not is very important.

When the relation of disciple and teacher appears, there is no ignorance. When I say, “Let's become disciple, let's become teacher,” or “That's no good... that's fantastic,” ignorance must exist, but ignorance cannot be just ignorance. That is what this relationship is. There are many ways to express ordinary mind, ordinariness. You can say, “I'm an ordinary man,” and at the same time, “I'm not an ordinary man.” Both can be said. It is a paradox, but both tell a truth about you. You don't avoid either truth. This is the source of the relationship of teacher and disciple, disciple and teacher.

STUDENT: Could the roles reverse?

KOBUN: Um hmm. But there are no “two.”

STUDENT: Um, but there are two.

KOBUN: Ya, there are two. If I say, “I am a woman,” it's not true. But when I say, “I am the one who is the same as you and me,” you cannot deny it. Knowing, understanding, not as a process but as a total knowing, total understanding, is realized in this relation. The teacher does not grow out of the discipleship. When the disciple appears, the teacher will be seen as a teacher. That is what respect is.

STUDENT: What did you say?

KOBUN: When the disciple appears, he will be seen as a disciple by the teacher and he will also be seen as a teacher by the teacher. That is how teacher and disciple have the same respect for each other. They see each other as the same awakening being....

Ego is constantly dropping off. The ego is in the past. It doesn't exist in the present. Do you have an ego?

STUDENT: Not this morning!

KOBUN: Do you see the ego of others? Not this morning! My feeling is, ego is okay. It's like God without being – the ego is like an unplanted seed, still living, alive but unplanted.... What ego can be seen in reality? When I completely close myself, including everything within myself, that is maybe the biggest ego. It's like the whole world stops. No life in the next moment. So ego is past. It doesn't exist in the present. Even when you refer to, “My ego is very big,” that is just your individual recognition about your past. Individuality, independence, are the positive sense of ego. Western thinking has been very finely trained to be independent and to free others by independence. To be freed from everything by independence is the finest point of Western life. “I do not believe anything but me.” That is what the ego says.... We cannot imagine what egolessness, selflessness, is.

An ice cube has some self-recognition: Square, hard, cold. Egolessness is like an ice cube recognizing itself losing all character as an ice cube, in the process of becoming water. And yet the ego doesn't disappear even when it disappears. Ego is merely an idea, and yet we see an individual person. What you name it is a very important point. When you see ego in yourself, when you see ego in others, it is the same thing. You are seeing ego within you. Maybe water is recognizing, “There are ice cubes within me.” Some feeling you feel, “Oh, there is anger there, sorrow there, in my mind.”

STUDENT: The ego contains the emotions?

KOBUN: Oh. Not only emotion, but egoism can be philosophy, too.

STUDENT: So, in having an emotion I only would recognize that I have had it?

KOBUN: Um hmm. Like, when you get angry with someone, you are expressing your ego. It's not a bad thing or a good thing. It's like, when you speak of emotion, relating it with independent beings, that's like talking about the temperature of ice and water. Ice can be very, very cold, not just below zero, like maybe Alaska ice is colder than ice in the refrigerator. Maybe that is how loneliness exists, various lonelinesses, exist. And aloneness, too. Aloneness does not just end with the Buddha's appearance, the appearance of awakening. Aloneness also deepens, develops. And to feel your anger is like the temperature of hot water. It has no end. It becomes vapor and evaporates by itself. When you get angry, it is also the solution. It solves the problem.

Emotion is a very unclear word for me. When I say, “She is very emotional,” it just tells me that she is very sensitive and quickly expresses how she feels. Everyone is very emotional, basically, but whether they express it or not is another matter.... How you feel doesn't always promise that is how you are. You saw yourself like that, felt yourself like that.

A dewdrop, running on the leaf, moves in the sunlight. It changes color. And when the dewdrop doesn't move on the leaf, but the watcher moves, it changes color. And when the dewdrop doesn't move and the watcher doesn't move, but the sun moves, the color changes.

This is how the problem of ego is very delicate. It is the problem of independence in sameness. You do not need to hate ego or desire it. You do not need to develop it or not develop it. When you do something with ego, it becomes something. As you know, ego doesn't just mean emotion. It is the beginning of recognition. “I” is like zero. From here I start, and do things. A zero point is always what “I” is. If you go from a very cool place to Mexico, a hot place, you may say, “I feel hot.” The “I,” the zero, nothingness, is recognizing, “This place is hot for me.” This expresses what ego is, what “I” is, what I am.

STUDENT: Is ego a sentient being, in the sense of “saving all sentient beings.”? So we don't kill it or do anything with it. We just let it be, like other sentient beings.

KOBUN: Let it be, let it be, or let it not be, if it is not being. It means you won't need to carry it.

STUDENT: If it dies, it dies.

KOBUN: Um hmm. Okay. Do we stop?

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