Norman’s sixth and last talk at the Mar de Jade December sesshin is on Family.
The following is a transcription of just the last 10 minutes of a much longer talk; this section concerns the teacher-student relationship.
By Zoketsu Norman Fischer | December 9, 2009
Location: Mar de Jade
[ . . . ] So I was deeply impressed by those words about Maurine (Stuart). And it's true. She did not express emotion so much. I don't think she buried emotion or covered it, but she was always very contained and dignified. I think this was partly her Canadian upbringing and the style of her generation; but I think it was also her deep sense as a Zen teacher that there should be some restraint, to make it clear that the student is independent and should not be emotionally dependent on the teacher. And over and over in the Zen teachings, this point is emphasized – that the teaching is in you. The teaching is to be found in your life. That you are the boss, and that in the end, we come to trust ourselves completely.
In our dharma family we emphasize warm sangha relations and warm relations with our teachers. But the point of this is not to admire the teacher's wisdom and eloquence, but to be willing to share our life fully. With full trust in the teacher, we find a full expression and full trust for ourselves. That's the point. And the tradition also says that we must always go beyond our teacher to find our own way. To become independent. In Zen practice "independent" means to become "interdependent." That is, when we find our own completion, without needing something or someone else to complete us, we find that the many others are already present within ourselves, and there really is no "me" to be separate and independent. There is only life. All of life – right here in our life. That's true independence.
I say this all the time, and I am sure that many of you have heard me say this: The last thing I ever wanted was to become a Zen priest or a Zen teacher, and I never tried to be one, and sometimes I'm not so sure I like it. All I ever did was to be willing to take the next step in my practice, whatever that turned out to be. And even now, despite what you may think, I don't feel like a Zen teacher, and I certainly don't feel like I have any students. I do feel like I have a family. I do feel that I have really close friends in the dharma. I love everyone I practice with, and I really care about everyone, and that means all of you – especially those of you I have practiced with for awhile. And I hope this doesn't mess you up. Perhaps I care too much, and, therefore, not enough.
So when I think about Maurine's teaching and her life – and I respected her so much – I get a little worried that I am not helping you enough to be independent. When I give a talk, my purpose is not to get you to pay attention to my words. My purpose is to point you back to yourself. To your own life. Sometimes when we're having such a good time and telling jokes and stories, I wonder whether I am failing in my purpose.
So, please, you should all think about this. And continue your practice. Continue to take care of yourselves, and to take care of one another. And the world.