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Why does a Guru need Shishye?

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  • delruethomas
    This is a hauntingly interesting question, of which the answer might be very crucial to a better understanding of ethical learning, I think. Which to me is the
    Message 1 of 37 , Mar 23, 2006
      This is a hauntingly interesting question, of which the answer might
      be very crucial to a better understanding of ethical learning, I
      think. Which to me is the reason why Balu has raised it in the first
      place and which would be a shame to not consider it further at this
      stage. So I'll have a go; if I say stupid things, then that's quite
      ok, as long if some people would only pick the thread up again and
      get the discussion alive once more. (esp. now that I finished my
      months-old backlog of forum posts and now haven't any more to
      read ;)!)

      We can readily see why someone would seek out a teacher to learn
      from; and surely why someone would seek out a Guru (I'll use
      'Guru' strictly in the sense of someone who teaches you
      enlightenment/happiness, not anything else), considering how
      desirable and yet difficult to get hold of happiness is. Now, why an
      enlightened person would want students and become a Guru is not that
      obvious. One cannot refer to any kind of desire he has, since he
      is 'free from it' (desires don't dictate what he does), since his
      actions are selfless. One then doesn't get beyond the point of just
      noting *that's just the kind of being that he is*. Note that this is
      the same kind of answer one would give for justifying any kind of
      actions this person would do. I think there's something very true to
      the answer, although it must be clear that it doesn't function as a
      helpful explanation for our main question here: if *being the way he
      is* functions as a justification for any of the actions he does,
      then any of these actions are as good as any alternative to this
      person's action of accepting shishye; it doesn't explain why he
      becomes a Guru; he could have easily done any other kind of those
      actions instead. One then only adds that it's out of his
      compassionate nature why he becomes Guru, but this is still very
      mysterious; it doesn't add much to our understanding.

      Now, so far in the argument a Guru was identified with an
      enlightened person. But as far as I understand, a Guru does not have
      to be enlightened to be a Guru. So, what makes someone into a Guru,
      is not what makes him enlightened. So my hunch is that the answer to
      why a Guru needs shishye is not immediately related to the
      phenomenon of enlightenment itself, as it is to the
      teaching/learning process involved.
      A (rational) person will recognize someone else as his Guru not by
      his being enlightened, but by his quality by which one might learn
      from him to become this. One recognizes his capacity to impart you
      this (which does not preclude the guru from not being enlightened
      himself; in which case for some reason or the other he could not
      (yet) obtain it for himself, but he does know how to get it...). Of
      course, him being enlightened might be some kind of quality
      assurance to the student. But any enlightened person for a Guru
      wouldn't do, because it's altogether not clear why someone who
      achieved enlightenment for himself might therefore know
      automatically how to help someone other than himself achieve
      enlightenment; so it's not enlightenment itself that makes one into
      a Guru.

      In proceeding I think it's best to take the case of an enlightened
      Guru for finding an answer. Why? So as to already naturally select
      out possible tries at explanation which would not specificly fit our
      question... I might not be putting my thoughts very clearly in
      words... What I mean, is something like the following: why a Guru
      need Shishye might be something else (or something 'more') than (the
      more general question) why a Teacher in general would need Students,
      or maybe not... Now, a possible explanation to the teacher/student
      question might be, that the joy of teaching is a proxy to the joy of
      learning, and that someone becomes a teacher, because he likes to
      teach for this reason. Now, this explanation might maybe also
      account (partly) for the Guru who is not (yet) enlightened, but it
      could not account as a total explanation for Gurus in general,
      which also include enlightened ones... So, taking an enlightened
      Guru as the case for which we look for an explanation, can give us
      an explanation which will be the most specific and best-tailored. It
      will appeal to why Gurus *as Gurus* need shishye, and not why Gurus
      *as teachers* need them, which tells us less about what Gurus are...

      This is about ethics. What is involved, is ethical learning. Ethical
      learning, which is learning how to go about in life, is lifelong
      learning. It doesn't stop, nor does life stop, when you become
      enlightened and find happiness. I'm not sure whether there couldn't
      be any route descriptions for enlightened people anymore, but surely
      they are going beyond their former route descriptions which were
      there only to get them to reach that particular point of destination
      of reaching happiness. The territory doesn't disappear for them
      after having exhausted those former route descriptions; more so,
      they can move about into lands where they haven't gone to before,
      where they have to proceed thoughtfully, where they have to learn
      still. The learning does not stop...

      Now, this is my guess. The Guru *needs* Shishye, *because of what
      Shishye are*. In a way, one can understand Shishye as different
      learning processes (people learn differentially); to have Shishye
      enables the Guru to develop various cognitive strategies,
      heuristics, rules of thumb, teaching methods, *new actions*... since
      the people learning differentially force him to teach
      differentially. This allows him to restructure his experiential
      knowledge in various new ways... It does not make the Guru who is
      enlightened any more enlightened for that matter. (or maybe it does?
      some traditions speak of several stages of enlightenment, no?)

      The Guru needs to become flexible in teaching. What worked for him
      in the past, might not work for one of his shishye; what worked for
      one of them, might not work for others of them. He has to come up
      with new ways, variations in the route descriptions, maybe new
      routes altogether.

      So, teaching must do something different (something 'more'?) than
      learning does, I think.
      If the student is for example now on the exact same spot on the
      route according to the route description that the Guru himself was
      once on in the past, then quite 'simply', the Guru's teaching and
      his learning 'collapse' as it were: he doesn't have to do anything
      extra with regard to teaching than instruct the student to do what
      he himself has done in the past. The Guru in this case can
      immediately access his own learning for guiding the student here.
      But beings being different as they are, many if not most will find
      themselves in different situations the Guru was himself in in the
      past, so that teaching in these cases will involve something
      more; the Guru here will have to learn how to teach them what he
      himself did not have to learn in the past. Maybe in a way
      one can say, that the Guru will learn the exact same thing (since it
      is as new to him as to the student) the student will learn from him
      in these instances where he, learning how to teach them,
      restructures his experiential knowledge accordingly. In this way one
      can understand how the Guru is at the same time the guide, walking
      along you on the path (learning when you're learning), as he is also
      the destination, having the quality that you're trying to obtain)

      There exists a way of describing what I'm trying to talk about
      regarding the particular way of teaching of the Guru in Buddhist
      traditions: there, Buddha's and Bodhisattva's, fully enlightened
      beings *and* Gurus in one, are beings who attained their state by
      acquiring wisdom(-cum-compassion). This wisdom is one side of the
      coin, where the other is that which has been translated in English
      as 'skilful means'. As soon as one possesses wisdom, how to go about
      in life, one automatically also comes to have 'skilful means', the
      knowledge of how to teach how to go about in life (which comprises
      the insight that one teaches differently to different persons). One
      way of looking at this might be that as soon as you attain wisdom,
      you have this whole body of teaching knowledge in a flash, just
      sitting there in your head, ready at hand even before you ever
      taught someone, and which makes you teach persons perfectly
      according to their needs, their psychologies, their specific
      problems taken into account... Which is a bit absurd. A more
      reasonable way of looking at this description, I think, is that the
      skilful means, which is the alter ego of wisdom (skilful means is
      itself wisdom, deepened, enlarged, complexified), comes about
      precisely in the teaching itself. It's teaching the Shishye,
      which develops the skilful means and which adds to the wisdom, the
      experiential knowledge the Guru has.

      The kind of restructuring, reinventing (i.e. skilful means) of the
      current resources of experiential knowledge is what the vibrancy of
      such traditions, where experience itself is the central research
      topic, consists of. In this sense, the Guru shishya parampara is at
      the heart of this kind of tradition; it is immediately generating
      the social security net, where all people (those who are not Guru's,
      nor shishya's) can benefit from.

      I think, it is how the Guru progresses partly on his path (I don't
      think it's a necessary way per se for the Guru (he could also do
      other stuff to advance further in ethical learning), but rather a
      sure way. It's by having to restructure his experiential knowledge,
      that he learns how to tap into that experiential knowledge in a more
      profound, flexible way; it's by teaching, that he becomes wiser, and
      that the resources of the traditions grow. Maybe it's also by this
      teaching, that the traditions rejuvenate and regenerate...

      A whole range of questions opens up.
      I know that I have been very vague with talking about 'restructuring
      experiential knowledge', and I don't have any deeper understanding
      of this. I have no clue how this 'deepening of experiential
      knowledge' might operate, but I think an analogy can be drawn to how
      one performs new actions by the use of the models of actions from
      stories... The new actions the Guru performs are themselves
      experiential knowledge I think (how I understand skilful means and
      wisdom to be joined together)

      But I have a feeling that something more is captured with describing
      Guru shishya parampara in this tentative and, granted, bungling and
      messy way. For example, I think it captures something of the
      relation, and of the complexity of relationships; that the relation
      *feeds* the Guru as well as the shishya, if one sees relations as
      food for growth of the persons involved in the relation. The Guru
      himself also must get something out of the relationship for entering
      the relationship as a Guru, otherwise it would not be a relationship
      (the fees for the Guru, let's say ;))
      What if a person recognizes someone else as being his Guru, and
      himself as his Shishya; but the other person doesn't recognize
      himself as his Guru, and him as his Shishya? I think this is quite
      possible; since there are many different kind of relationships
      possible; it's possible to have someone as your Guru, who himself
      doesn't accept you as his Shishya... (Maybe, *probably*, the inverse
      also exists; someone being your Guru, although you do not recognize
      him as such).
      Best scenario though, is that when you recognize someone as your
      Guru, that you can force that person in accepting himself to be your
      Guru, and therefore you as his Shishya. When that doesn't happen,
      you're still better off with having a Guru who doesn't consider
      himself to be your Guru than having no Guru at all. Recognizing
      someone as your Guru, is having recognized that you can learn some
      things. But then all the work a Guru would do, the 'teaching', the
      restructuring of experiential wisdom, now falls on the shoulders of
      the shishya himself; having recognized that you can learn from
      someone is the same as recognizing that you can be taught some
      things; this at least means that you have a foothold from where to
      begin, having recognized the possibity of some things being taught.
      This means you have seen some possibility in trying to restructure
      some experiential knowledge. And this might be where I dig my grave,
      if it hasn't been dug already, as it seems now that I'm saying that
      the shishya restructuring experiential wisdom does this *for
      learning*; it seems the difference between teaching and learning is
      getting blurred here, and yet again, this is precisely because I
      think that in this they are both the same... teaching and learning
      is restructuring experience, *both*; and how learning is a
      prerequisite for teaching, this being continuous to learning... and
      how teaching itself can be a learning process.

      So, in short, why does a Guru need Shishye? Because of Shishye a
      Guru comes in learning situations he himself otherwise never would
      get in, and so gets to expand his understanding of experience.

      Let's discuss.

    • ss
      ... Dear Raf, Let me pick up on this point in a different tack. The Kanchi Sankaracharya explains his status of Jagadguru thus: He is a Jagadguru because the
      Message 37 of 37 , Apr 4, 2006
        --- In TheHeathenInHisBlindness@yahoogroups.com, Sandeepak
        <sandeepak_k@...> wrote:
        > Dear Raf,
        > you say "After all, a guru has students by definition"

        Dear Raf, Let me pick up on this point in a different tack.

        The Kanchi Sankaracharya explains his status of "Jagadguru" thus:

        He is a Jagadguru because the entire World (Jag) is his Guru.

        At least in the experience of one contemporary acknowledged guru,
        there seems to be no "need" for shishyas (other than the guru
        himself in this case) in order to be defined as a Guru.


        One other unconnected thing I want to say: this notion of gurus
        needing shishyas is a bit puzzling to me in that all this time, in
        all my seeking, I have never had a guru knock on my door and say -
        listen, I need to teach you something!! As for the speculations on
        what the guru needs or doesn't need: my gut-level response is (I'll
        say it in Hindi): Pehle yeh guruji ko aane to do! Baad mein puch
        thach karenge!! (First let this Guru show up! Then, we'll make our
        inquiries of him!!):)

        Honestly, I don't know where all this speculation is supposed to be
        leading us.
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