Zen Road
Zen Road
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How to Teach

by Reiryu Philippe Coupey


We teach when the demand arises. If you are not ready to teach it doesn’t matter because, when you teach, even if you claim to the contrary, you imitate, especially during the first few years. You imitate the masters, and above all, your master. In the beginning it is not good to be creative.


For 30 years I’ve always spoken about the same things, the posture, the breathing, the mind, nothing new… You begin by imitating your master and then, little by little, unconsciously you speak from your own self; but whether it comes from yourself or not, it is still the same thing.


Of course, to be able to teach you have to practise continually, the same goes for being creative, you always have to practise to be creative, and when it concerns Zen, you must practise zazen and spend a long time imitating before you manage to speak from ku (and not from a personal perspective). This is true of all genuine artists. That means you must avoid, at all costs, constructions of the mind. True creativity, if that’s the right word, comes out of ku and hishiryo, beyond thinking.


In the beginning, having disciples is not a good idea at all; it is better to teach without disciples. Up until now our structure has allowed us to work like that. We were quite lucky to be able to live like that, but I’m not sure it will last.


In Master Deshimaru’s time we were propelled forward; we would find ourselves in a role like Shusso, responsible for the dojo, or Godo, responsible for the teaching. This role would last for a few days, ten days, a month, then it would be over. We were not even at the top table any more. This was excellent; one day head of dojo, next day head of washing up.


With time things have become more rigid. We find our place and then guard it as if it were our own, which is not the case at all: everything is temporary, even the position you are in. All those who can adopt a position (responsible for zazen or responsible for the dojo, or even as Godo) should do so without adopting a hierarchical structure, but rather with an unconscious and naturally horizontal structure, just as it was for us after Deshimaru’s death.


Also, whether you have disciples or not (it is better to have disciples later on in life[1]), you always act as an example. If you are Godo and you want to get canned, do it at home, not in front of others… but above all, if you teach, do it in such a way that you never slide backwards. Whether you are teaching or not, I always say: always do a little more. Since things never remain static, if you don’t do a little more, then you’re going to be doing a little less, and in that case you shouldn’t teach any more.


The things I am talking about are just elementary. Your practice is not anonymous, it is not hidden, it is done amongst other people.


Be careful not to create a sangha too early in your life, not before you have been practising for a long time. Otherwise you might give an excellent teaching and everyone is happy, but what happens? Your practice, your own practice, suffers, and that is the beginning of the end. Don’t fall into the traps of grandeur or importance, that’s really bad.


If you think “I teach the Dharma, I am bringing it to others…” you are bringing nothing at all. Rather, if you are correct in your practice of the Way, you should provide the conditions for samadhi, that’s all. You provide the conditions and you keep watch over the people who are practising with you, whether they are your disciples or not. You keep watch to see that they do not go off in the wrong direction, and that they are not harming themselves, something which can often happen when you are not paying attention.


As you continue in the practice, you go through what one would call, necessary stages: working (samu), doing the cooking. It is necessary to go through all that just as it is equally necessary to lose your work for the sangha- you must not become attached to it. Whether it is in terms of your understanding of the Way or of having lots of disciples of your own, you must not become attached.


To be attached is to steal. “My disciples”, that is theft. We are all disciples and we are all masters. A master teaches nothing. Obviously a master does not teach anything that you can find in books, in texts or in the sutras, but can only teach the actualisation of the present moment, the here and now.



[1]“ The true master” Keizan said, “should not want to have too many disciples, he should choose them…”



See also the Godo’s commentary on Master Daichi’s poem no. 48 “The To Hermitage”, about the three methods of Zen education.