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what moon?

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previous post touched on the role of teachers in our psycho-spiritual unfolding. Being human, they deal with the same stuff as anyone else. Most keep personal thoughts and feelings to themselves so as not to cloud the relationship, while we all brush up against boundaries of intimacy and confidentiality. 

I’ve done my share of placing teachers on pedestals: a difficult thing to avoid amid the ritual, titles, and robes. Inevitably it creates distance and separation, with me at the lower (lesser) level. Occasionally, as a meditation teacher, I find myself wishing for that very distance to protect my privacy. A tricky dance. It helps to see the teacher’s role as the hand pointing to the moon and not to confuse the hand for the moon.

image: moon-pointing Hotei at


11 responses »

  1. You speak the truth so well. Being both teacher and student I realize the wisdom of your words.

    Too often, even in this later part of my life, I forget that my teachers are simply ‘pointing to the moon’. Thanks for the reminder!

    • I think that’s super powerful Brenda, for a teacher to consider herself a student. Too many of my teachers thought they were all knowing. The best knew they still had more to learn.

      • Brandon, my long-standing motto, freely borrowed from that genius Michelangelo is Ancora imparo — “and still I am learning.’

  2. Do not mistake the finger for the moon. That’s definitely going to stick with me.

  3. to my mind, one of the signs in myself of the fabled “non-attachment” is to treat all as equals–not to let oneself fall into positions of inferiority or superiority. whenever I see either happening in my thinking/feeling state I know there’s trouble somewhere. call it MY constant koan.

  4. it took me a while to decide what I think a “teacher” is and how to describe him or her. I don’t think of a spiritual teacher as someone who has a “message” and promotes it didactically, or even verbally. I think of a teacher as someone who provides a model of how to live for me to think about or consider. And I don’t mean a model to emulate or “follow” or pretend to be (a cult), but a model of how I might come to be, in my own way.

    Suzuki-roshi in his book, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, offers an example.

    Another example is the lama I lived with for a while when I was younger. This man was always happy. He was infuriatingly happy. He didn’t seem to have any other mood–if you can call it a mood. He offered me the opportunity to think about how I might become so resolutely happy. At the time, I didn’t think I could get there, and I certainly wasn’t going to “adopt” it. I had my own miseries to work through and see how insignificant they were. Now, I think I can approach it, in my own way.

    yes, he had a “message” and he taught it in special classes and initiations, but this was definitely “extra” for me.

  5. this has been interesting for me to muse on for a while – i am a teacher and know that there is a place of power and influence in that role… i watch myself as i teach – and am humbled by what i learn about myself as i teach others! as i learn from the person and people who i consider my teachers, i often am surprised at what i do learn. i am not sure it is always what they might be ‘teaching’ – and as steve mentions the gift of learning is often in the opportunity given us which might be the true gift of our teachers!

  6. an after thought, stimulated by nancy. As Alfred Adler says, if you really want to know what a person believes, watch what his feet do, not what his mouth does: Watch what a person does, not what he says. this is what I mean by a model: what a person does is what he teaches.

  7. sorry, nancy (and others). Replace “he” by “she or he” in the above, and “his” with “his or her”….

  8. steve, when quoting ancient sources, it seems appropriate (to me) to use the vernacular of the day. Alfred Adler lived from 1870 to 1937 (

    But when paraphrasing, as you did ….

  9. Looking at the comments (thank you all) reminds me to that everything I do and say (and feel and think and intend) consitutes my teaching. “The medium is the message,” to quote Marshall McLuhan,


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