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Becoming a Formal Student


Zen lore is filled with accounts of sincere men and women traveling far and wide in search of the one teacher that will best assist them in their spiritual aspirations.  Even a casual reader will soon note that there is something unique and profound about the student-teacher relationship in Zen practice. 

While all who come to the Center may avail themselves of dokusan, becoming a formal student of the teacher adds further depth and weight to one's work with the teacher both in and out of the dokusan room.  Becoming a formal student signals a new phase in one's practice life.  To begin with, it marks the end of the "shopping around" period of one's spiritual quest; from this point on, the teacher is one's primary, if not exclusive, guide on the path to awakening.  Moreover, it marks a further point in the process of ego-attrition as one learns to trust more and more completely the teacher's direction.  Finally, it offers the student the solace that from this point on one is never alone in one's quest; the teacher will always be there, ready to offer whatever aid is needed.

The move to become a formal student is initiated by the student.  Teachers do not solicit students, nor should anyone ever feel pressured to become a student.  When one is ready to take that step, one simply brings it up with the teacher, usually in the context of dokusan.  At that point, the teacher will arrange a short ceremony that marks the formal beginning of the student-teacher relationship. 

The student-teacher relationship is spiritually intimate, and over time one comes to see with the same eye which which the teacher sees.  The student-teacher relationship is never personally, sexually or otherwise intimate, and the Chicago Zen Center has developed a set of policies and has established an oversight structure to insure that the profoundly liberating space the student-teacher relationship opens up is cherished and protected as far as it can possibly be.