“If you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha!” taught 9th Century Cha’an master Lin-chi I-hsüan.
This teaching can be (and has been) interpreted in many ways, but the essential tenet seems to be that objectification and reverence of anything external, even the Buddha, is a mistake. As a student of yoga, this teaching has shown me that I can revere my teachers only to the degree that I recognize how little I know about them. As a yoga teacher, I remind my students that the degree to which they idealize me is exactly the degree to which I will disappoint them.
The yoga sutras hail yoga as a science of religions, suggesting that yoga can support any spiritual practice. Yet Buddhism, and especially the Mahayana teachings on emptiness can offer a unique kind of support to the practice and modern culture of yoga. Master Lin-chi’s famous iconoclasm evokes the emptiness even of the Buddha, as a concept that has no reality outside of thought. Icons exist only as we set them up. Teachers can be royal f*ck ups in many aspects of their lives, and still carry a life-changing message to students. If we allow our teachers—and ourselves—to be human, we can kill our delusions and spare the messenger.
So if you meet the ideal yoga teacher as you walk through your own expectation and illusions—kill the yoga teacher!
Caviat: not literally, please. All nice yogic ideas of immortality aside, some of us are still afraid to die.
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