For Westerners who are interested in awakening to Buddha Mind, not just using Zen Buddhism as a means of handling day to day problems, finding the right teacher can, over time, prove to be a daunting task. If we were in China visiting one of China’s great sacred places such as the Zhongnan Mountains, we might run into a number of old hermit monks or nuns. Are any of them capable teachers? How do we tell?
If we had good karma, let’s us imagine meeting an old Buddhist hermit in his eighties. When we come close to him, all of a sudden we begin to feel very blissful, for no apparent reason. This bliss is not weak but, in fact, very strong. This would tell us right off the bat that this old hermit had awakened to Buddha Mind and that we are of sufficient virtue to get in phase with it. It is by this experience, that this old hermit will teach us Buddhism and what the terms actually mean just from this experience.
Furthermore, we come to find out that when we depart from this hermit’s cottage, our blissful feeling only lasts for a couple of days. In other words, our bad habits are reasserting themselves which, like clouds, cover the sun of Buddha Mind. Once again we meet the old hermit, but this time decide to stay with him for a week. We pitch our tent only to experience this bliss again. Truth be told, it is the hermit who is sustaining us. He has the ability to push back are not so good habits helping us to see the presence, if not the power of Buddha Mind over us.
All of this means that we still have to remove the obstructions within us that make Buddha Mind seem unrealized. The greatest teacher in the world cannot remove our obstructions for us on a permanent basis. Being in his presence and sensing the light only means we have sufficient good karma to resonate with this person. Those who lack sufficient karma might see this hermit as just an old guy who smiles a lot. This was actually what happened when the Buddha was alive. Not all of his followers sensed this light. Those who were so fortunate to be able to, eventually realized nirvana.