Respect Between Teacher and Student
by Orgyen Chowang Rinpoche
Without a good teacher-student relationship it is very hard for the teachings to unfold naturally. The teaching really depends on that connection. The teacher has to be inspired to teach that subject. The teacher can’t feel like, “Oh I don’t want to talk about this teaching,” or “No one will understand this teaching,” or “No one appreciates this teaching.”
Sometimes students request and recite long life prayers for their teachers. In one way, of course, those prayers are important. But the most important thing for a spiritual teacher’s longevity is that his or her students have respect and appreciation. That is much more important than any prayer for a teacher’s long life. Having respect and appreciation for the teacher is the most important long life prayer – it does more to help a teacher’s longevity than praying for it. You don’t need any other long life prayer than that. If you don’t have respect and appreciation, a long life prayer won’t help much. If the students don’t have respect and appreciation it is impossible to teach.
In order to teach, the teacher needs to be inspired. He or she needs to really want to teach that subject. They need to feel like they have a good container to pour that teaching into. Otherwise, if something is bothering a teacher, it damages their motivation to teach.
This good connection between student and teacher is a requirement especially for the Vajrayana teachings and for the Dzogchen teachings. The teacher and the student need to have certain qualities. It cannot be that the teacher is a disaster and the student is a disaster. Then nothing meaningful happens, in fact things get worse.
For example, as Guru Rinpoche says, “If you don’t examine the teacher’s qualities, it’s like drinking poison.” If you drink poison you may die. Guru Rinpoche also said, “If you don’t examine your students, it’s like jumping off a cliff.” If you jump off a cliff you may die or you may break your legs.
A teacher influences your life. If you meet the wrong kind of teacher then you are influenced to go the wrong way. It’s not a small danger. That’s why Guru Rinpoche says not examining the teacher is like drinking poison. This goes for any kind of teacher — religious teachers, spiritual teachers, or any other kind of teacher because the role of a teacher is to guide you. So the wrong teacher can misguide you, either intentionally or unintentionally.
Many students suffer because they met the wrong teacher. They take the wrong person as a teacher. They end up feeling betrayed and violated or very depressed and disappointed.
The other side is that sometimes the teacher gets the wrong kind of students. If a teacher has bad students it can also be dangerous. Those students end up undermining the teacher, or creating difficulties for the teacher. When the student is difficult and doesn’t have the proper respect for the teacher, then that disturbs the teacher’s mind. And that disturbs the teachings because when the teacher’s mind is disturbed then he or she doesn’t want to teach. Thus it prevents other people from receiving the teachings as well. Having the wrong students interferes with other people’s precious opportunity to connect with the teacher and the teachings.
Many teachers, even ones who are enlightened beings, don’t teach. Why is it that a being like this wouldn’t teach? Sometimes the reason is that the students are so complicated. The teacher would prefer to remain silent rather than share the precious teachings they have with the wrong people. They decide that silence is better than teaching complicated students. This is what happens when students disturb the teacher’s mind. These teachings are very precious, so a teacher of them needs to be in a good mood and have a good connection with the audience to feel like sharing them.
Therefore while a long life prayer is important in one way, the teacher and student must have this mutual respect. Both must make their relationship a priority all the time. For the teacher and the student to have a good connection they need to respect each other. That is the basis for any real relationship. Then wonderful and amazing things can happen on the basis of that connection.