Sunday, November 17, 2013

Not Zen 85: Graduation

A guru often said, "Graduation comes when you have learned to teach yourself."

In spite of hearing that many times, one of her advanced students was surprised when the guru announced it was time for that student to leave. It happened after the student had delivered a presentation outside a coffee house. The subject had been a small point on the history of philosophy. Due the breeze that day, she had trouble making herself heard. When she sat down, she felt her talk had gone badly. Her guru disagreed.

"You teach yourself all the time now," said her guru over a stoneware cup and saucer. She paused to sip her tea. "You're past done. You've learned everything important that I know. You're going beyond. It's time you started your own school."

"I can't do that," the young woman responded.

A few months later the young woman found herself in a strange city, sitting in a small studio surrounded by a group of students assigned to her by her guru. She had a new pupil in her class as well, a young man lured in by his friendship with others. He asked more questions than anyone and he wondered aloud about the lack of furnishings in most of the school rooms. The space had come cheaply but not the furniture. Everyone had to sit on mats on the floors.

"I will write to my guru for advice," the new teacher said.

"You will?"

"She knows how to get donations for such things. I started this school, after all, when I got her agreement that I could write to her for guidance."

In her first month, she asked for suggestions on how to raise money, on what gifts she might expect from which patrons, and on the best ways to settle disputes between students. In the next few months, she requested her guru's recommendations on diet and on religious debates. Later, she wrote to obtain counsel on dealing with another teacher, a peer.

Often she wrote her requests to her master on cards the older woman had provided. One day, in her guru's studio, another such card arrived.

"From my newest teacher," the guru said as she saw the address. She sighed as she opened it because she knew it would be a request for advice.

The card was blank. She turned it over twice to make sure. Then, to the perplexity of the students around her, she laughed. She held her belly.

"Did something go wrong?" one student asked. "Why would she send you a blank note?"

"This is a comment," she replied, "Because graduation also means having the confidence to acknowledge one's mastery."

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