Everything that happens to us is an opportunity to learn from. Everything that happens is a gift from the universe – for us to learn from. So the whole universe is teacher!
There is perpetual motion, constant change, there is evolution, there is development and there is
the desire to understand and penetrate to further knowledge, this transformation could be called
learning – hence at the same time -------the whole universe is student.
Using the words teacher and student in such expanded way, we are making the two words into a
principal, that is not necessarily attached to specific roles.
Over the ages, many ways have been found to obtain knowledge: factual knowledge as well as
that kind of knowledge with goes beyond facts into a wider vision, something we call wisdom! The
roles of teachers have always had both forms: there are those who teach factual knowledge and
those that open the minds of people to some deeper/higher understanding of life, the universe and
The method of teaching, just as the method of learning change somewhat over the ages; but what
is taught – changes even more ; and this does not only vary with country, but in time, culture and
subculture. In the Western industrialized nations, the computer has become part of everyday
life and in schools the teacher is frequently replaced altogether by this ' intelligent machine'. The
teaching process can become de-humanized, although learning from and with these machines
is technically effective (as long as we primarily think of teaching as training of the left brain and
increasing of factual memory! Using the human mind ..as a computer… )
On the other end of the scale is the teacher who is so at one with/ so involved in what he teaches
that the teachings and the teacher become one. His/her life is the teaching, teaching by living
example. Such integrity is rare but has been found through all times and cultures, in the Wise.
In the East and increasingly in the West of today such teachers are called Gurus (unfortunately today
the meaning varies considerable; from One that teaches the highest wisdom known to humanity to
one that advises on fashion!(fashion Guru))
The role of the teacher also defines the role of the learner. A learner who is not only gathering
objective (ever changing, 'factual', 'scientific') knowledge, but is also looking for the answers to
the larger questions of live and existence, is called a seeker and in relationship with the one who
teaches, he becomes the disciple.
In the highest sense then the Guru disciple relationship is the most important way of obtaining
knowledge. It has, especially in the West been frequently misunderstood and therefore rejected.
Our “Western civilization” seems to be seriously ill in many aspects. Much is blamed on education,
which of course is essentially the result of the relationships between teachers – much less so of the
chosen factual material.
It is interesting to look at the roots of Western public education in ancient Greece, probably in
the fifth century B.CE. First wandering teachers called Sophists, taught oratory ability, so that
people could take part in politics, because the society was in dire straits and needed input to sort
out its conflicts by discussions, generating ideas. At the time what was 'good' and what was 'bad'
was decided by consensus and convention, which means by the whim or agreed whim of so many
influential 'others'. (This means Western education...in some way had its roots in politics! Nothing
changed there then…) Moreover, 'education' then had its roots less from humanitarian motives, but
was in order to solve political and economical business problems).
But soon language (grammar etc.) followed and mathematics, music and astronomy, and
metaphysics. With this widening - the discussion circles formed around the issue of whether God
existed and how; this was considered the root from which then conclusions could be drawn as how
to live in society; and with this moral and ethical values came to have a different base.
Enter Socrates and Plato, through who’s influence things changed. These believed as did individuals
before the wandering Sophist-teachers, (such as Pythagoras and Plotinus afterwards) that there
was an absolute God (or Good) who decided what was good and true, etc. Socrates questioned the
ability of the Sophists to teach virtue and contribute to betterment in society, as they did not believe
in universal Good themselves and had no understanding of universal knowledge and obviously did
not live according to these maxims either.
A split developed into those (like Socrates) that taught because they believed in universal 'human
rights', value standards and had integrity so that, whatever we do – “be it as a philosopher or a
shoemaker was done 'right" (with love, wisdom and moral wisdom)-
or on the other side - was done to succeed in whatever the person wanted to achieve (Sophists)
even if it meant exploitation, waste of resources, enslaving or even killing the weaker man for
gratification of ones own end etc.
How modern this sounds!
So there was one type of education, based on Teacher student relationship- which was based on the
inquiry into what man actually was and what his purpose was in this world (this is true evolution; the
human aspires to become a better man, a higher evolved species).
And a second, which was based on physical, almost 'Darwinian' theorems of survival of the fittest,
cleverest, most cunning. (This latter version is called evolution, even though it only concern is to be a
fitter stronger, animal, it reflects the lower nature of man).
This cursory glance suggests two different ways of looking at different ways of teaching - and
consequently, the relationships to the one who teaches.
Socrates main tenet was to teach love and the virtue off tending the Soul, and the need to
understand oneself. (Just like Swami Rama voiced in our time: How can you understand others, if
you don’t understand yourself!
Through knowledge, from understanding- comes love, through love comes respect and compassion.
This kind of Knowing oneself includes recognizing one’s owns and other’s divinity. Only those
that live this truth- can teach in truth, and they are even prepared to die for it. (Socrates
demonstrated that by drinking the Shirlings-cup as ordered by the judiciary of the time; Jesus Christ allowed himself to be crucified; the Sufi Mansur Al-Hallaj was executed by the orthodox Islamic establishment for his love of God - other examples reach into the present.)
On the other end of the spectrum, Sophists (and their descendants to our time) trained pupils to
play certain roles in society, jobs, companies and even universities. Knowledge was fractured and
isolated to be used, misused and traded like a commodity. Public Education consequently was in
order to have perfect cogs in the machine of society, functioning to the optimal benefit- for some.
Obviously this is simplistic, nothing is ever as clear cut as this. Mixed forms appeared and properly
were the most appropriate in a given situation. The ideas of 'Socrates' have surfaced again and
again throughout history right to our days. And He is not alone in this; many educators from many
traditions in the ancient past- down to the Celtic Druids and the Shamans across the world have
similar tenets. Many movements to more 'humanistic education', (or a more holistic person) bear
ample testament, as well as continuing calls for guidance towards true wisdom.
In centuries gone by, many such voices could be heard, in Europe and of course elsewhere! It is
interesting to know that in most European countries, later in time, the two modes mixed. Such
as originally schools were tied to churches, to religious groups, but as the knowledge got more
and more dogmatic the role of the teacher also changed… simply to one who passes on factual
However there were always those who kept to education or teaching as a way to guide people to
St. Theresa of Avila stressed in her Autobiography the need to educate the whole being, inclusive of the soul and for that "a spiritual master is necessary" . Since the end of the last century voices like that of Rudolf Steiner and Maria Montessori stand out, as does Ivan Illich/Paolo Frerere etc. (South America) and others closer to our times.
In Europe of the last century students themselves demanded a more rounded education. The Second World War and the Vietnam war changed the awareness towards outmoded, inappropriate teaching and nowadays the uncertainty caused by economic crisis and worry about the planet as a whole left in their wake – again raises questions about appropriate education, of individuals as well as in schools.
In 1972 a book by Richard Bach (1972) Jonathan Livingston Seagull, became most popular. Here a
Seagull wants to learn to fly beyond its limitations into other dimensions. Through his own skill and effort he evolved a flight technique, that made him worthy of being taught by Chiang, who then taught him to become a perfected Being, an unlimited gull.
This rekindled and fed the awareness of the need for different kind of teachers. To go beyond ones
limitations one needs the love and help of a wise and enlightened teacher. So many young people
moved to the east in the last century to find such teachers.
Such a teacher (as we know from the times of Socrates) is one who has recognized the divine in
himself, and has the ability to help others to see their potential. Realizing the Divine provides
an obvious link to the role devotion plays.
This wisdom was cultivated over thousands of years ago, in India. (Hence it is easily understood, that the awakened Youth of those decades, flogged to India to look for a different kind of teacher. There, from the most ancient times of the Vedas learning was understood to happen through surrender to – and identification with, the Wise one. By association with him, by total trust, by sharing his faith knowledge was gained. Faith was built on discrimination not on blind belief and so teaching happened through transmission (love) and interaction (discourses), much like with Socrates. The element of love/faith prevented, that the discussions became just empty word plays, for the presence of such respected teacher demanded that what was said and done was done with integrity, with truth and honesty to one’s higher, divine SELF. Such a highly evolved and integer teacher was called: Guru.
One prime example of such a Guru, was the Buddha (Pali for: the 'Awakened One'). The original
prince of Sakya, a northern Indian kingdom, was called Gautama Siddhartha, after realizing
the "Truth", he became a teacher for the remaining forty-five years. He embodied his realization
of the nature of suffering, the interdependent-rising of all phenomena, of impermanence and
mindfulness so totally, that as he wandered through the country with just a begging bowl,
thousands joint him to listen to his teachings and became bikkhus and bikkhunis (monks and nuns).
Monasteries were established throughout, Kings became devotees; wars were prevented and many miracles attained without changing the integrity between teacher and taught. He remained a perfect Guru for his seekers until his last breath, practicing the same as he taught.
This integrity between teacher and taught, between knowledge and living, brings Guru and disciple
together; In Japan, in the Shingo tradition there is a phrase: Two Pilgrims (Guru and pilgrim/
student…”walking” together (related to Kobo Daishi Tradition: Namo Daishi Henjo Kongo ). And that includes Guru in the body – and beyond the body)
One more point: within the Divinity there is no difference between Guru and disciple; there is
an important scripture, that deals with this relationship: the Guru Gita; in it the Guru says to the
disciple: "O beloved, you are My very Self forever" (Verse 180).
The Master is the one whose own awareness of the Self includes the true understanding of Guru
and disciple relationship. From his own Divine Self, the Guru has the awareness, the knowledge
and the purity to lead the student to the same knowledge as he has, in a suitable manner for that
student (although knowing they are One and the same). In exchange for such total commitment of the Guru - the disciple has to surrender his/hers own ideas of how ' to get there'. He surrenders his own ego- driven-self. With discipline, through attentive learning and by sticking to the path of truth and finally through transmission of the Guru’s energy - the disciple can gain the Guru's knowledge;
which ultimately is the gate to merging with the Absolute.
Which is of course, (and here the Vedas, the teaching of the Buddha, the love of the Sufis, the talks of Socrates and many wise people until today, agree) - is the goal of human existence.
There are many examples in history of such devoted, trusting disciples and the relationship of love
with their Guru. Many songs have been written in praise of such true Guru. But it is in the nature
of GURU to transcend the ideas of what or who we think we are. To understand Guru is to reach
Guru, remember the beginning - the whole universe and beyond is GURU; is That which illuminates, That which is God. In this way Jesus of Nazareth too was such teacher who totally embodied his teachings and who sets out to illuminate his disciples; in tune with this universal concept, he was an enlightened Guru. How?
Gu-Ru is the mystery that remains (somehow un-explained) until Guru himself illumines – who or
what Guru is.