It’s good to learn about Buddhism. It is even better to discuss what you’ve learnt about Buddhism with other members of the Sangha. In that way the relationships grow and deepen. It’s best of all to hear the teachings - to have the teachings transmitted to you - from the teacher. Buddhism is transmitted through the generations from person to person; and the relationship with a teacher has, therefore, always been stressed as being of enormous importance. So, the teacher is one’s link with Shakyamuni Buddha. It is the relationship with the teacher that connects one to the living spirit of all the Buddhas, not merely the theory.
I recently saw some writings about a Sangha in which there is a deliberate intention to play down the distinction between teachers and other members of the Sangha. This is very democratic and modern and secular, but it’s all wrong from a Buddhist point of view. The relationship with the teacher is a very precious thing. One spends many years deepening the relationship and, in this way, one acquires the Dharma; and it doesn’t really matter whether you’ve read a thousand books or you’ve only read one or two. The relationship heart-to-heart is much more important.
The Buddha had direct disciples, Shariputra for instance. The names of the direct disciples of Shakyamuni appear again and again in lists at the beginning of the sutras. “Once the Buddha stayed in such and such a place… and there were with him the following…” and there is a list of names. This is because the relationship is so important. All sutras begin like this, with a listing of the people who were receiving the teachings directly from Shakyamuni.
Shariputra himself had disciples – many! – and those disciples had disciples. So, you can see, there is a branching structure here; and there would be people at one remove from Shakyamuni, two removes from Shakyamuni, and so on. Those people who were at a remove, did not necessarily know Shakyamuni directly. There are sutras in which people of this type met Shakyamuni and did not recognise him. Shariputra, of course, would always recognise the Buddha; they were intimate companions.
So, there is a difference here. If you are a disciple of a person, a direct disciple, then you spend as much time as you possibly can with that person. You support them. You give attention to them and they give attention to you and you do everything possible to make the Dharma life flow between the two of you.
If you are a disciple of a disciple, then you have that kind of relationship with the person who is your direct teacher, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have that relationship with the teacher of your teacher. My root guru: Kenneth Roshi; her teacher: Koho Zenji. I never knew Koho Zenji. So, there is a difference here. So, we can see that the relationship that one has with one’s teacher is something very special, like the Buddha and Shariputra, and then this flows out into the world. And it’s because there is that strong heart-to-heart connection at the root, that there is something that can flow out into the world. When this is not there, then Sangha just becomes a kind of social club or an interest group, which is all very well, but it’s not the Dharma.
So, just a few words about teacher and disciples
Thank you very much
Namo Amida Bud