What is the role of the Yoga teacher? Can I have more than one teacher? What if my teacher dies? What if I feel unstable in my practice when my teacher is no longer present?
One of the greatest things I stress to students a lot these days, is for students to realize the role of a genuine teacher is imparting teachings and practices that trains and prepares a student for liberation. Therefore anABSOLUTE consequence of this process is the student obtaining greater degrees self-sufficiency in one’s personal spiritual practice. SELF-SUFFICIENCY. You will grow up. You will mature in your practice. You will not need a babysitter. The other thing I stress is that devotion to a teacher is only effective if we see that we are devoting to our own innate, realized, potential as manifested in our teacher. Simply put: the teacher exists to lead the student back to themselves—beyond ego-based identification—to pure liberation. The teacher does not exist for a student to be devoted to them as an end result. That would be pointless and very much clinging to the phenomenal world as a result of practice. If you find a teacher arguing for this—then I would practice discernment and caution and make sure the teacher’s motivations are pure (as your own).
Here is a fabulous teaching by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche in regards to a teacher’s role in Bön and Tibetan Buddhism but is VERY USEFUL for Yoga students as well.
…..The ability to open to the teacher and to the warmth of this connection is the ground for receiving blessings and realizing the nature of mind. Once you have practiced and shared experiences with a teacher whom you can trust and learn from and finally achieve some confidence in your own practice, the physical presence of the teacher is no longer essential to your realization.
One of the most prominent lineage masters in the Bön Dzogchen tradition taught of the three masters. The first master, the guide master, is the actual living, breathing teacher from whom you receive teachings and who introduces you to the awakened nature primordially existing within you. The second master manifests when, through the power of your meditation, your own visions and experiences point you directly to this nature; therefore, all experiences become your teacher. The third master is your direct, naked awareness or self-realization.
“……For the student who has deep confidence within—confidence in the knowledge received from a teacher and from the experiences that arise as a result—the physical presence of the teacher does not matter. The same presence, the same depth of connection, the same transmission, and the same support are all there within the student. If the teacher dies, there is no need to seek further guidance but only to persevere in one’s practice. Even so, if you are inspired to join another sangha and feel supported by that and other practices, it is fine. You do not lose the connection to your master, which is the foundation through which you continue to grow and mature. You don’t change the relationship to the teacher or the practice, as they are within you, but you can find support from other teachers to deepen what was taught by your main teacher.
What if your confidence has not matured sufficiently to feel the depth of connection that leads to realization? The advice would be to follow the successor of your teacher or his or her principal students, or other lineage holders or masters within that tradition. If your motivation is pure and clean, everything you learn is built upon the previous foundation. You don’t replace the foundation but rather acknowledge the foundation you are building on. Do not just go with what is in fashion at the moment; that would be sad. Sometimes in the West we have a tendency to move away from our past, looking toward the next frontier or new opportunity when we could go deeper into what we already have received and discover who we truly are.
Experiencing the loss of a teacher— whether you haven’t seen your teacher for some time or your teacher has died—is an opportunity to open more deeply into loss or imagined lack, to look nakedly within to discover that the one who is lacking has no inherent solidity. If you remain there with unwavering faith and devotion, you will realize that the jewel of your teacher’s wisdom and compassion is right there within you. That is the true purpose of guru yoga practice—to recognize the inseparability of your mind and that of your teacher, of the Buddha, right here in this very moment. As your practice continues, you achieve stability in this realization for the benefit of others.”