The Master Teacher
Updated: Jul 3
Life is a Master Teacher. The curriculum for each is personalized. COVID is a pop quiz few of us studied for. Most of what you learned in school- the facts and formulas, the theories and models- will not avail you. You will be tested on what truly matters. COVID tests your understanding of self.
For this test, you will not be asked your name. It doesn't matter who you think you are. Neither does your race, gender, ethnicity, nationality, education, rank, or class matter. None of the concepts, beliefs, attachments, or externalities you imagine speak for the self speak for the self.
When you open up the test booklet, you will notice that each one is different. No two tests are alike. Can't cheat off of someone else's experience. You will be tested on your willingness to accept what is. Love or fear, or some variation of love and fear, will be the only options to choose from for most problem sets. Variations of love include- but are not limited to- patience, compassion, kindness, tolerance, and forgiveness. Variations of fear include- but are not limited to- hatred, selfishness, greed, blame, and envy. Note: each response is embodied.
Some problems will be easy, some challenging. There is no fail, only feedback, learning. Experiences come to teach, to instruct, to point out where the attachments are.
Like a hibernating bear exiting a cave in spring, I emerged from a 5 day fast in complete darkness as the nation went on lockdown. The mind, calm and clear-eyed, perceived it as an event. There was no story, no judgment, no preference, no evaluation (neither good nor bad), just acceptance and complete surrender to What Is.
The following day, I plunged deep into the darker recesses of mind with the light of awareness. I was searching for fear. The "i" consciousness (the apparent self), was ready for the lesson. The little self trembled as what I sought emerged from its hiding place. With courage, we could see (the "we" being the composite of the minds that make up the apparent self) how we co-created hellish realms with fear. Grotesque and monstrous forms of fear I had created crawled out of their holes- envy, hatred, worry, sadness, doubt, illusion, separation. These disfigured and hideous projections simply stood to be seen, neither judging nor condemning nor glowering. I speak metaphorically for there were no creatures standing before me, just a room with a window and a pine tree swaying in the breeze.
Yet I could see with clarity, how the material world is but a reflection of the collective mind- how the wars and conflicts, the prisons and torture chambers, the diseases and destruction are not God's creation, but ours. I will not speak for you. You may not be complicit in this.
I see how I acquiesced to fear, how I affirmed and invested in it. I do not reproach myself for this, but rather, assume responsibility for my contributions, for choosing to play little so that others could feel safe in a world of knowns and predictability, for ignoring my own voice, for denying my own power and light. In meditation practice, we call this radical responsibility. There is strength in it. To face truth squarely takes courage and ruthless honesty- no running, no blaming, no shame, no excuses. It is a profound act of love, of catharsis, of purging. It is a realignment with our Higher Self.
Not turning away, I could see the broken parts, the exiled parts, the weary parts, the frightened parts hiding in the shadows. The beloved entity I call the little self was embraced and comforted with compassion and understanding.
Next, by acknowledging the power to create, we assume responsibility as creative beings, fashioned in the image of our Creator. Now, what could I create with love? What kind of world could we reimagine in this light? We reaffirm our potential and reclaim our creative power.
Thich Nhat Hanh, whom I consider a guide, an assistant sent by the Master Teacher, composed a poem that speaks to both this notion of radical responsibility and to the greater I Am. There is no prettifying pain, no spiritual gobbledygook, only unadorned truth that sets souls free. He wrote:
After the Vietnam War, many people wrote to us in Plum Village. We received hundreds of letters each week from the refugee camps in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines, hundreds each week. It was very painful to read them, but we had to be in contact. We tried our best to help, but the suffering was enormous, and sometimes we were discouraged. It is said that half the boat people fleeing Vietnam died in the ocean; only half arrived at the shores of Southeast Asia.
There are many young girls, boat people, who were raped by sea pirates. Even though the United Nations and many countries tried to help the government of Thailand prevent that kind of piracy, sea pirates continued to inflict much suffering on the refugees. One day, we received a letter telling us about a young girl on a small boat who was raped by a Thai pirate. She was only twelve, and she jumped into the ocean and drowned herself.
When you first learn of something like that, you get angry at the pirate. You naturally take the side of the girl. As you look more deeply you will see it differently. If you take the side of the little girl, then it is easy. You only have to take a gun and shoot the pirate. But we can't do that. In my meditation, I saw that if I had been born in the village of the pirate and raised in the same conditions as he was, I would now be the pirate. There is a great likelihood that I would become a pirate. I can't condemn myself so easily. In my meditation, I saw that many babies are born along the Gulf of Siam, hundreds every day, and if we educators, social workers, politicians, and others do not do something about the situation, in twenty-five years a number of them will become sea pirates. That is certain. If you or I were born today in those fishing villages, we might become sea pirates in twenty-five years. If you take a gun and shoot the pirate, you shoot all of us, because all of us are to some extent responsible for this state of affairs.
After a long meditation, I wrote this poem. In it, there are three people: the twelve-year-old girl, the pirate, and me. Can we look at each other and recognize ourselves in each other? The title of the poem is "Please Call Me by My True Names," because I have so many names. When I hear one of the of these names, I have to say, "Yes."
Do not say that I'll depart tomorrow— even today I am still arriving.
Look deeply: every second I am arriving to be a bud on a Spring branch, to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings, learning to sing in my new nest, to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower, to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.
I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry, to fear and to hope, the rhythm of my heart is the birth and death of all that are alive.
I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river, and I am the bird which, when Spring comes, arrives in time to eat the mayfly.
I am the frog swimming happily in the clear water of a pond, and I am the grass-snake that silently feeds itself on the frog.
I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones, my legs as thin as bamboo sticks. And I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda.
I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat, who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate. And I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.
I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my hands. And I am the man who has to pay his "debt of blood" to my people dying slowly in a forced labor camp.
My joy is like Spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth. My pain is like a river of tears, so vast it fills the four oceans.
Please call me by my true names, so I can hear all my cries and laughter at once, so I can see that my joy and pain are one.
Please call me by my true names, so I can wake up and so the door of my heart can be left open, the door of compassion.
The Master Teacher saw it fit to test one generation with war, another with a pandemic. Whatever challenges we face, we will approach them as best we may, according to our level of consciousness and awareness. There is no fail, only learning.