Reblogs,  Teaching Ashtanga,  Uncategorized

Words on the Teacher/Student Relationship

I just listened to magnificent podcast by spiritual teacher, Shambhavi, on how to relate to a spiritual teacher and I wanted to share her words with you.  In my opinion, one of the biggest obstacles to the teacher/student relationship, arises from concepts we have inadvertently picked up from religion. This idea that, a teacher is a perfect being, is not a part of the culture that yoga was birthed from. Even a cursory reading of any of the great epic stories, from that culture, reveals that the yogis,teachers, gods and goddesses were not perfect. Yet, they were still considered to be masters.  They are still being revered. Why? They possess qualities and accomplishments that inspire awakening.  My car has over 200,000 miles on it and is pretty beat up. However, I still drive it because it is getting me where I need to go. Is your teacher taking you where you need to go?

Anyone, that is on this earth right now, is here because they still had karma to burn out. They came back because they still had stuff. Though it is possible that your teacher is no longer making new karmas, their old ones are still playing out or they wouldn’t be here. Pattabhi Jois said, “all is coming” and you might just be around when the all, that is coming for your teacher, gets there and it may not be pretty.  What to do? I paraphrased the podcast below and included a link. Enjoy

You and the teacher arise together as one phenomenon. This reality is expressing itself by creating experiences of limitation and then having the experience of releasing itself from limitations aka waking up.  And the natural spiritual technology for that process is often a teacher and a student working together.

In our culture, there is skepticism around working with teachers.  We have this pattern of independence where we think the best way to do things, is on our own.  That is not true because it is not reality. We don’t do anything on our own. We don’t even pick our nose on our own. In order to pick your nose, infinite amounts of plants and animals are working to keep you alive ( the earth’s ecosystem).

Ground rule for dealing with a teacher.  There is only one purpose to the relationship, for you to wake up.  The teacher is a gateway, a function or tool. You should treat the teacher that way.  The teacher is not there to fulfill your ordinary needs, to be your ordinary friend, to be someone who treats you like everyone else in your life and tip toes around you hoping that you won’t be mad at them.  They are their for one reason, that is to wake you you up. When you understand that, you can than begin to use the teacher student relationship properly.

Treat everything that happens with the teacher as part of your spiritual practice.

The teacher is an ordinary person. They are just a little bit more awake then you are. The idea that anybody is totally enlightened is not a wise one.  Those people are extremely rare.  Great masters are still on the path just like you are.  Any teacher that is honest, will tell you that.

Treat everything that happens as part of your practice.  Whether your teacher is being your idea of a good teacher or your idea of an accomplished spiritual practitioner or whether the teacher is being your idea of ordinary or have their own fixations, no matter what, you are there for one reason, which is to wake up. You should treat all your reactivity and activity around the teacher as something for you to work with and examine.

 The teacher is training wheels. The idea is not to have a guru for all eternity. The idea is to be in relationship with the whole world and to recognize God in everything.  We are not trying to hole up with one teacher for the rest of our lifetimes. We are trying to learn how to relate with everybody and the teacher is an opportunity to learn that. You can have a trial run with the teacher. The teacher is the one who calls out those virtues within us and challenges and inspires us to relax our fixations and karmas and to set free our enlightened selves that are already there.

If we can treat everything that happens with the teacher as part of our waking up, we can begin to treat everyone else that way too.  If we get angry with someone, we can treat our own reactions as part of our path. When teachers create scandal,  you work with your reactions to the scandal.  It is part of the package.

Some people feel that those who, didn’t know the teacher when they are alive, have a better relationship with the guru.  They don’t have to deal with the Guru’s personality.  That is a wrong headed view. Those people only have an idealized version; a relationship with an idealized guru who probably they have filled in the blanks to suit the needs of their fixations and maintaining them.  It is better to have a teacher that annoys you at least part of the time so that you have to deal with that.

You are there for one reason. You are not there to impress the teacher. You are not there to seduce the teacher. You are not there to fight with the teacher. You are not there to compete with the teacher. You are not there for the teacher to save you.  You are not there for the teacher to explain reality to you.  You are not there to have the teacher take responsibility for any aspect of your life. In fact, the teacher is there to get you to take responsibility for every aspect of your life.

The teacher will do anything it takes to get you to wake up.  You have to take anything that the teacher does and turn it into your path.  Learn from it. Even if it is scandalous in some conventional way.

A deep relationship between a teacher is rare. Usually people come and go or stay in the shallow end.

In this country (she is in the U.S.), we have issues because we don’t have a lot of experience with working with spiritual teachers. We tend to get overheated and act more devoted than we really feel. You have people bowing down to your average yoga teacher and trying to perform spirituality.  You don’t need to fake spirituality. The more awake you get, the more devoted you become. All you have to do is bring everything on the path, open your heart and see what happens.

Until the student overtakes the teacher in knowledge, it is more of a call and response relationship. Like kirtan. Sometimes people want to spend a lot of time with the teacher, or do a lot of phone calls, or write a lot of e-mails but they don’t want to do a lot of practice. A demand is being made to have a very ordinary relationship.

However, if the student is doing a lot of practice, the teacher cannot say no. What you put in is what you get out. They get a response from the teacher as a natural response of the co arising of teacher and student. If you want to be closer to a teacher, the greatest gift you can give, and the only thing the teacher wants, is for you to practice and realize. The teacher will give you everything they have to offer.


How to Relate to a Spiritual Teacher



Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail