It’s about the independence of the student. The sooner that autonomy develops, the better.

Advaita Post, Volume 10 No. 10

Good paths dissolve by themselves into openness.


Interview with Douwe Tiemersma – by Pia de Blok. In: Inzicht 11 n.2 (May 2009), p. 24-26

The relationship between teacher and student

The September issue of Inzicht last year had the theme of sexuality and relationships, which included an interview with Douwe Tiemersma where that theme was extensively discussed. A section of that original interview revolved around the special relationship between teacher and pupil. That part was not placed into the article, but fits perfectly into the theme of this issue of Inzicht about Satsang.

InZicht: On the level of the ‘I’-person there is a general alignment towards the other. The authentic teacher is Openness. If people don’t understand the teacher, or even feel themselves attacked, they might sometimes say: “That teacher doesn’t speak to me.”
Douwe: From the openness, there is no teacher, no person who is in tune with someone else. In true openness there is a universal alignment, if you want to use that word. So the ‘teacher’ is open and does nothing. The student feels affected somehow; ‘the teacher’ does nothing. Another student also feels affected, but in a totally different way; ‘the teacher’ does nothing. This comes from being open with a universal alignment. Through this, people end up learning what they need from the teacher.  With everyone that something is different.

People can say, “That’s not a good teacher because he doesn’t understand me.”
That can be. Then that is a situation in which the student no longer finds the relationship liberating. Let’s assume that the teacher is authentic, that he is totally open. When the student says: “That teacher doesn’t speak to me”, then you must look to the student for the cause. Apparently he did not open himself up to that great space in which the things can happen that are necessary for him. That was very evident with Nisargadatta Maharaj. All sorts of people came to him and said: “Oh, this is not a real teacher, he doesn’t understand me” and went their way. But if they had been more open, they would have noticed that they had to give up their own defenses, and that then the realization could proceed.

Liberating insight and surrender

A teacher who isn’t completely open can also say this.
That’s true. So seekers thus need to be very clear and must stay within their own highest sense of openness. Then an understanding will arise that that particular teacher is not the teacher.  Then they will need to face the implications of this understanding.  Everything appears to go by itself as long as there is clarity.

Also in a positive case that highest sense is crucial, even though the seeker’s understanding is not yet completely correct. That insight goes in the right direction. He can recognize something in the teacher through which it becomes confirmed.  He can discover in the teacher an even wider realm which makes his own highest aspirations completely clear. That is the basis upon which the seeker’s resistance and self defense mechanisms can be released.

So then remaining alert is the most important thing.
Absolutely. Through it comes the surrender to this lucidity.

Is a teacher-student relationship always necessary?
For most people getting stuck on the level of the individual ‘I’-person is a very persistent condition. The problem of the desire for unity and the maintenance of separation coexist. Then it’s a question of whether the liberating insight and surrender can breakthrough very easily. This is where you can see the importance of the role of the teacher. When the student experiences something of the unlimited nature of the teacher, then it becomes the basis on which he can surrender his old position. Then there is a trust in and a surrender to the open realm of the teacher, which also becomes his own open realm. In practice you see retrospectively that this relationship is almost always necessary for the ultimate surrender.

Are there names that can be mentioned of earlier teachers who didn’t need a teacher?
Ramana Maharshi to be sure had no clear teacher, but he was in an atmosphere of living spirituality.  There are very few examples in which you don’t see a clear teacher-student relationship.

Some people think: “I get it now” and don’t go to a teacher any more, yet they haven’t really experienced the final realization.
Apparently the time isn’t ripe for a real breakthrough. The limited and problematic situation continues to persist. Hopefully for them, not for very long. You can see it nowadays even in people who are giving satsang, that they are lacking the radicality of surrender that they could have learned with an authentic teacher.

What is the value of the advaita tradition now?
To the extent that you experience the value of the teacher, you experience the value of the tradition in which he stands. The advaita tradition goes back to the earliest times. There continue to be apparent breakthroughs in students who then become teachers and who then receive students themselves. There is a continuous line from the oldest times up to the present. Someone who knows himself to be received within it is unbelievably grateful.

Liberating realizations

Shouldn’t you be careful with ‘the tradition’?
You needn’t make the tradition that important. It’s only through the perspective of time that there is a tradition. The beauty of the advaita approach is that it transcends every culture and every tradition. The cultural separations of men and women, and of the castes in India for example, are rejected by the real advaita teachers. There is no institute of an advaita-‘church ‘, of a priest or monk class and of a “lineage” that must be continued. There are only the four Shankarâchârya’s with their monks, which were established in the past under the influence of Buddhism. They have only a limited meaning within the advaita tradition. Somewhere in space and time, advaita teachers just arise, without a clear cause. They offer an ageless teaching, because there are people who come asking for it. After their death there is nothing left of them where they taught, but once again in a different location another teacher arises. Thus, the liberating realizations continue.

The ability of the teacher to see through the student seems very important to me. Previously you had the master’s favorite in the class who was actually a smartass, but the master didn’t see it. The master saw only the beautiful side. Do you see the other side too?
The limitations of people are so clear, even in people who put their best foot forward. Then there’s still something artificial. Usually very little happens from the teacher’s side, because that’s how the situation is, except for that moment when it makes sense to pierce the bubble.  Frequently it’s more useful to encourage the positive that’s already present in the experience of others in order to strengthen it. Look there’s a person there with different aspects. You can attack the less attractive aspects, so that the other might possibly see what he is not. It’s simply more obvious to strengthen the positive, the insight into what he really is. From there, the other can look back at their less beautiful aspects. Then you can hear them say to themselves: “That was really ridiculous.”

Sometimes that can take a long time.
Yes, that’s true. But the other must also be ripe for a hard confrontation. Still, the hard confrontation comes by itself anyway, even when the teacher doesn’t specifically focus on it. Because the other feels the penetrating awareness of the teacher and it creates a discomfort wherever anything is still tightly held. A teacher does nothing, even when speaking. The effect is automatic.

Love and dependence

As a teacher you are open. When, in the relationship with the teacher, the pupil enters into that openness, not only Light and Silence but also being in love can emerge. For the student who then shoots back into duality that can cause dependency and suffering. How do you handle that?
I don’t do anything. The love is understandable. As the student comes closer to the openness of the teacher, and so experiences more unity with the teacher, there is a great intimacy. This is easily translated to the level of romantic love and eroticism by the ego. If the insight doesn’t go any further the duality that it contains will lead to suffering. The non-dual openness of the teacher goes beyond romantic love and other dualistic situations. The idea is for the student to realize this also.  Being in love is dependency and this dependency should enter into the light and resolve in the clear openness.

Apart from being in love there certainly exists dependency if the student continues to think: “I don’t know it but he does.” This dependence can last for a long time. At some point if the child is to achieve independence, a father and mother have to let the child go. I saw that in our garden recently when a titmouse wouldn’t give any food to her young any more. Then they had to exit the nest.
It happens as it happens. A ‘teacher’ is not dependent on ‘students’. From the side of the teacher at the appropriate moment there will be something that breaks through the dependency. It’s about the independence of the student. The sooner that autonomy develops the better. A period in which someone thinks he needs someone else can be useful, but it should be as short as possible.

Do you think the teacher-student relationship can be changed by the Internet? Will there ever be a virtual Douwe?
An internet-satsang?  This nonsense of advaita-chatting?  Of course, images and texts can have an effect. They can be effective, in the sensitive world of imagination. How far does that go? Yes, we can only wait and see. If you see the effect of the image of Jesus on Christian mystics, you see that ‘belief’ can have a great effect.  For the time being it seems that direct contact with a living teacher contains the greatest possibilities. There is not much more to say. Questions about a possible future make little sense. It’s about your own situation – now.

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