The death of the teacher

Douwe Tiemersma

Douwe Tiemersma

From: InZicht. Paths of radical self-inquiry 2 No. 1 (February 2000), p. 23

The death of Alexander Smit was a hard blow to many of his students. A few people have asked me to say something about this situation. Now, the loss of the bodily present teacher is an excellent chance to gain clarity about the relationship with the teacher and to allow the transition towards openness to occur. Therefore, the following text (evening talk from Nov. 16, 1999 in Gouda) can also be useful for others.

Douwe: For someone who sees himself as student, the teacher always has two sides. He (or she) is an ambiguous figure. On the one hand you can look at him and then there are the forms of his body and clothes, his speech and actions. About these forms you can have an opinion, you speak with him, you can do things together. In this sense, you have to deal with the form. On the other hand, there is also the total openness and that is without form. You have at least a certain sense of that. Both form and openness-without-form go together. Necessarily they go together. If one of the two weren’t there, the teacher, as such, wouldn’t be able to function. Without the external form of the teacher, the student wouldn’t have a place on which to focus in the material world. The teacher is someone who the student sees here and now, and with whom he can speak. Without formless Openness there wouldn’t be any talk of a teacher. The perception of location and form is connected with an intuition that goes beyond this material form. There can be a precise effect of the teacher because he is present there, at this particular place, with a particular form and as the Openness.

What happens then? Light shines in the location and form of the teacher and thereby that light can be recognized and can manifest itself more clearly in the student. Ultimately, it appears to be one light. Sometimes it’s a quick process, sometimes it’s a slow process. The way I experienced it, it was a pretty quick process in which the form became increasingly subtle and transparent. When this occurs you will increasingly come to abide in the openness which initially you recognized in the teacher. You are also going to experience that openness in yourself. Then the two spheres which initially were so separate come together, the separation of form disappears. The light that you experience in the teacher and the light that you recognize in yourself come together at a given moment when the forms disappear.

The process is dependent upon the concrete situation. The teacher-student relationship is always unique, always different; it is constantly changing in the individual development. However, the disappearance of form is something that always plays a role one way or another. When with the death of the teacher the forms don’t disappear but become just slightly more transparent it means that you retain the same teacher-student situation, for example at the level of the emotional-energetic forms. Then the teacher is with you in an internalized way. His form continues to function on the energetic-emotional level, even if it is already less solid than that of the material body. The same can happen on the mental level of imagination and that of dreams. With this increase in the transparency of the external form an increasingly greater space becomes visible and this expansion steadily proceeds. But also when an incredibly huge space arises, certain experience-structures of the teacher can continue to function. Increasingly the forms and qualities that you experience by yourself in a particular situation also seem to be the characteristics of the teacher. Depending on your own situation or position the teacher appears in a certain form. That correspondence is always there. When you are strongly situated in the material body, then you see only a person in a material body. When you experience yourself on the mental level, you’ll also meet with your teacher there in that corresponding quality. When you are present in the cosmos as witness, the teacher will appear again there with the same witness-characteristics. At least that’s how I have experienced it. Depending upon your own situation, you will meet your teacher. In each situation the process of the disappearance of forms can continue anew until there are no more forms. Especially in the relationship with the teacher, the awareness that there is no separation can occur even when there are still forms in a certain sense.

It’s a unique opportunity for the student when the teacher dies before the real non-duality (advaita) has been realized. This disappearance offers a great opportunity especially if the personal form of the teacher was very important to the student. Imagine that for yourself, very clearly, very concretely. In the relationship with a teacher, form can be like a door through which you realize the openness. But this door can also be like a wall. The form can be so strong that you always encounter hiccups. The form is an obstacle to the further realization of Oneness. This external form which always plays more or less of a role in the relationship with the teacher holds you back. When the form of the physical body suddenly disappears some experience it as a great gift, as a grace, as the greatest gift that the teacher could give: by dying. The form disappears, openness arises. When the student experiences this directly, it’s realization. That is the great opportunity which the student has. Besides, even if the teacher doesn’t die, the student, as it is said in Zen, must at a certain point kill the (form of the) teacher. Now you know why: because this form too, will have to go.

Visitor: I don’t understand that very well. That physical form has nothing to do with your ego. I mean your ego, that’s what has to go. But the bodily form …
It was the ego that kept hiccupping against the form of the teacher, that always had judgments about it. The ‘I’ sees and judges and views the forms it perceives from a distant position. It loves some and disapproves of others. It’s about these forms, which are actually products of yourself. When your focus which has been clinging to a form suddenly disappears, suddenly that focus shoots off infinitely far – puff! It has no tether and flies into the open, you fly into that openness. That’s the great opportunity of your life that the teacher still offers: the ego completely disappears and there is Oneness.

That opportunity isn’t always realized. The student can also remain on the emotional and mental level. So you hold on to that emotional or mental form of the teacher when the material form disappears. The teacher can continue working in this internal form and perhaps the process may continue in this way. The relationship will, now that the physical form is gone, be more intimate than ever. The emotional-mental form is now more pronouncedly present, because it’s no longer held back by or mixed with the physical form.

That always happens when forms disappear with which you were more or less emotionally connected or identified. If an arm or leg is amputated, people almost always have the experience of a so-called phantom limb. When the physical form of the body disappears suddenly the energetic body seems to be very clearly present. Why? Because it’s no longer obscured by materiality. That has disappeared and suddenly the energetic body is very present. When someone dies who was dear to your heart, the same thing happens. The disappearance of the beloved creates a much closer and more intimate relationship, and he or she is more present on the subtle plane than ever before. The forms that are still there are no longer so hard and therefore there is a greater unity. With the individual physical death there is also such a chance for unity when you just let the forms fall away.

It’s important for everyone to get to know these processes, to clearly see what’s taking place in yourself and to see in which direction it’s going. The clearer you see how everything works, the more quickly the constraints dissolve. Understand the artificial separations. Everyone has a unique situation but these things always play a role one way or another. See for yourself how it is. If just once you see through everything, the breakthrough can come very quickly.

You can also recognize the situation more clearly in others and in the classical texts. You find the same things in all traditions. Jesus too, was seen as someone who sacrificed himself for the benefit of his students. Why? A whole theology has come about, describing this experience as the reconciliation of original sin, etc., but if that mythology is set to one side, you recognize the following. The disciples experienced his death as a sacrifice for them, because he let his materiality go and in that way could perform his function as teacher even better. His death was a mercy and a chance for his students to realize total unity. That’s the salvaging of what some have traditionally call ‘sin’. That is, the sin of sticking to separation. Forty days after the death of Jesus the Holy Spirit broke through, which is to say, there was unity with Jesus. Suddenly. Of course that is a special situation, but the moral of it in all examples still remains: focus on your highest notion, see beyond the outward forms of both yourself and others, experience the disappearance of these forms and confirm that there is absolutely no separation any more, even though forms may still remain.

Is the speed of the process towards realization determined by the teacher or by the capacity of the student?
You can’t say that it depends on only one of the two poles. It is something that happens in a relationship. A relationship has two poles and what happens within it can’t ever be ascribed to just one. The teacher functions dependent upon the student and the student orients themselves according to the teacher. But the teacher is as the student sees him and he functions according to how the student experiences that. I have referred to this correlation. It is the situation of the student which determines the teacher as he experiences him. Ultimately the teacher doesn’t do anything. In openness, there is no teacher and no student.

When does the relationship between teacher and student begin? Is it an appointment that you make?
When something begins to resonate in you, there is already a sense of such a relationship.

How much can I count on you?
That depends entirely on you and will be seen. It’s not something that you can determine in advance, 50%, 60%? These are things that arise at a given moment and so you should let it go. Don’t think about it.

I certainly do at the start.
Something emerges that can blossom only if you don’t do it.

I thought I’d get some kind of toehold.
Just go back to yourself and experience very clearly what’s actually going on with you. When you are clear and open, the certainty you need appears to be present. Most people have a desire for certainty. They look outside and expect that a hand will give them a toehold. When it’s a particular external movement, it’s still just an external thing in time, without a definitive support. With every idea of a toehold there is a lack of independence, there is dependence on a form. I have suggested something different: go back to your own core. Go and experience what’s going on with yourself. The guidance that you will need will be there. That is a general rule, whatever else happens in the world. When you are sincere with yourself, when you are open, everything is guaranteed to go well. When you return to your basic sphere, everything unfolds by itself, however it continues in the relationship, or without a relationship, with a teacher.

Yet I long for a toehold. I’m afraid of fears that arise; that’s the core.
The teacher isn’t there to give you stability so that you are less bothered by your fears, but to show you the proper orientation, the possibility of realization. Take a look at the nature of your desire and your fear. Then you’ll find all sorts of things that have to do with limitations, with limited forms. Leave these alone and look towards the core of desire and fear which you yourself are. Go into them, then everything dissolves.

The last time, you said that if you take the final leap, the teacher is there.
You can count on that. But that is very different than having a toehold , because that Teacher isn’t something you can hold on to: it dissolves all forms of stability.

It’s still not clear to me what happens with the death of the teacher. When you follow the path towards self-realization, does that mean that this relationship must ultimately disappear?
We have spoken only about the disappearance of the forms which separate, forms that you look at and which are a restriction towards the total unification. Whatever happens, whether the teacher continues to live or not, at a given point it doesn’t matter, when the separations have just disappeared. You’ve had enough of that, so you’ll just have to forget about all the rest of it. That other part of the story, that was for others.


One Response

  1. Mooi Ellen;)))

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