How to follow the teachings, not the teacher
By Debi Buzil
I remember the burning incense, the candles on the altar, and the beautiful pictures of the deities in my teacher’s studio. I sat, I meditated, I did yoga. My experiences were exquisite. My heart felt open, and my mind was ecstatic and blissful with each meeting. I’ve always found it important to connect with a teacher, to deepen my practice, and have an observer check in on me. The other students and I sat with our teacher in this space, accessing wonderful states of peace, wisdom and equanimity.
Fast forward six months. My teacher, bound by word and marital contract, was “outed” for sleeping with a student. I’d heard of these scandals. I had been affected by them, albeit from a distance, and had found myself judging the alleged. Now the subject of such a scandal was someone near and dear to me. What to do?
I fell into a funk. The early morning breathing and chanting practices I learned from my teacher fell to the wayside, and I couldn’t get out of bed. People familiar with the situation were taking sides and talking. I learned from my mother that gossip is for the birds, so I set my intention not to get involved in the drama.
I understand we are spiritual beings given these very human bodies and challenges. I strive to live by my own truth, and I choose teachers that live what they teach. But Lord knows how many times we have slipped up. All of us.
Despite the knowledge that we are all human, I still couldn’t get up and do my morning practice. Was I equating my teachings with the teacher? Was I throwing the baby out with the bathwater? I needed help. I felt disillusioned, angry and bewildered. I had had a great relationship with my meditation and asana, resulting in a great relationship with myself. Now what?
After taking a little bit of downtime, I gave myself permission to grieve. Once again it seemed like I’d lost something precious and dear. I reached into my backpack of yoga, in search of practical tools to help guide me. And then I remembered Sutra 1:20: sraddha virya smrti samadhi prajna purvaka itaresam. T.K.V. Desikachar translates this sutra in The Heart of Yoga as, “Through faith, which will give sufficient energy to achieve success against all odds, direction will be maintained. The realization of the goal of yoga is a matter of time.”
We all need a positive feedback loop that is rooted in faith, and nourishes faith. Yoga is always experiential. We practice because we know the benefits are many, but we deeply feel these benefits. I want my morning practice back, with a clearer mind, energy, more willpower, insight and attention to right action. Cultivating faith gives me the courage to continue repeating what my teacher has taught me.
Do I still feel a sense of betrayal from my teacher? Yes. Have I been able give him the ownership of his actions, and not participate in his life drama? I can say that I am working on it. I am open and experiencing what you may call “teacherlessness.” Not attached to an outcome, I leave my path open for exploration. I plan on speaking to my teacher frankly and honestly, highlighting the positive qualities I saw in him, plus my disappointment and loss.
This morning I am off to fetch the incense and light the candles on my altar. I sit. I meditate. I do yoga.
Debi Buzil is the leader of Chicago-based Kirtan group Devi 2000. She is a longtime teacher and student, and a mother of two.