Building an Inner Teacher

“You think too much,” I thought to myself.
“Yeah, you’re probably right,” I replied.
“Who are you ever even talking to?” I interjected.

Inner-dialogue has been the heart of my practice since the beginning.

If we study, practice, and experience insights, then we can use that to form a kind of internalized student-teacher relationship, an internal sanzen or satsang.

I do not recommend this method if you’re prone to delusions, hallucinations, or psychotic episodes.

But, even then, if you’re already having auditory hallucinations on a regular basis, we can maybe make one of them a Zen Master at least. One of my dads has schizophrenia, and I’d definitely rather have Mr. Miyagi talking to him than a gaggle of demons—his usual cohort.

When people hear voices, it’s an externalization of the inner monologue/dialogue so that one’s inner narrative seems to be coming from somewhere or someone else.

Anyway, ordinarily, what Freud called the “super-ego” is a negative voice in our minds. It’s what says, “You’re too fat because culture says you’re too fat,” or, “You’re too this or not enough of that.” It’s the internalization of our parents, peers, teachers, and others. It’s our “cultured self.” The super-ego is usually kind of a dick.

But, through study and practice, we can kind of hijack that inner critic and turn it into an inner guide.

We just have to change its diet so that it’s eating Dharma food instead of the shit our culture feeds it. This is especially vital if you’re practicing alone without a teacher or Sangha. It’s how to take the Buddha’s last advice of, “Be a light unto yourself, let the Dharma be your light,”

Even with a teacher, this inner-dialogue takes precedence, and the guidance a teacher offers can become part of this inner-dialogue—not in a rote, parrot-like kinda way. It has to be living and evolving, adapting to the situation.

Buddhism is a culture in itself. It changes depending on where it goes—picking up the qualities of the land it’s in—but there’s a heart to it that also changes the places it ventures. Pre-Buddhist China, Japan, etc. were extremely different before Buddhism came around.

Since the super-ego’s function seems to be picking up on cultural norms and urging us to follow them, it can do the same thing with Buddhism. But, since negative reinforcement isn’t an aspect of Buddhism, the super-ego plays a more positive role here.

Zen isn’t about reward and punishment. There are no pats on the back we’re meant to savor or scoldings we’re meant to fear. Disregarding reward is valued, and hitting your teacher back is encouraged. I only say, “Good job,” to mentees who are practicing secular mindfulness.

Study is the main tool for waking up the little Zen or meditation teacher in your mind. I’m only go to a, “Burn your books,” type of Buddhism after someone’s studied so much that the teachings have become a hindrance.

That’s the “goal” here. Mastering a method so much and studying so much that both of those things become obstacles in themselves. Once we break through those, we can break through anything because the method represents attachment to forms, and the teachings are attachment to thoughts. The inner teacher represents ignorance, so we eventually, “Kill the Buddha,” as the saying goes.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves; until we’re ready to take that leap, there are teachings, methods, and Buddhas. If you go around saying, “There are no Buddhas! There is no wisdom or ignorance!” without coming about it honestly, then you’re just asking to get a Zen slap from reality.

Be where you are, if you still see Buddhas and non-Buddhas, then see Buddhas and non-Buddhas. If you only see Buddhas, then only see Buddhas. Be genuine and straightforward with yourself and others. Everything we say is wrong anyway, so there’s no point in trying to be right, just express the truth of the moment.

Everything we’ve talked about here can become part of the inner dialogue. If we’re aware that we’re seeking a reward from practice or from a teacher, we can remember, “Practice isn’t about reward and punishment.” If we’re aware of getting attached to a teacher or teaching, we can reply to that, “This is the main obstacle.” If we find ourselves relying on someone or something too much for our happiness, we can recall, “This is the cause of suffering.”

Over time, the dialogue becomes more and more original and genuine.

This inner guide depends on knowledge but also intuition. We all instinctively know what’s so and what isn’t. As we practice, we intuit more than we can ever understand intellectually. This nurtures that inner Zen Master and allows us a healthy relationship with ourselves.

Occasionally, that little teacher’s voice will be indistinguishable from yours. The mind starts to harmonize as everything we are gets to the same page. This is a natural concentration, the mind collected.

The inner guide isn’t a means to belittle or criticize others – this is important. Your voice is your voice, we have no right to force it on someone else. It’s better to show people how they can unleash their own little Buddha, not make them bow to yours.

All decent teachers have the desire to not teach, to not be needed or obeyed. To be tossed aside like yesterday’s news. I would love to live in a world where I don’t have any reason to write, no reason to give advice. A world that didn’t need meditation or the Dharma. Because that’d mean there was no such thing as suffering.

But, as it stands, here we are. As you read me, don’t take anything I say as holy or absolute, that’s not the point. Make it your own, then tell me to go fuck myself.

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