Tantra: The Unique Teacher-Student Relationship

©2008, RK Silipo. All rights reserved.

Lately I’ve been meditating on the uniqueness of the teacher-student relationship in the Tantric tradition, and in India in general. A while ago, I visited with a friend, Jane*, whose husband, Jim*, has been a student of Ravi Shankar for about ten years. Jim is with Ravi as much as six hours a day, and they work together almost daily. Jane and Jim travel together with Ravi and his family, and they have been enveloped by Ravi’s extended family. There is a palpable warmth and a reverent sweetness in the mutual respect and caring among them all. Ravi is teaching Jim far more than sitar and Indian musical notation, and he is learning from Jim as well.

When Jane talked about the way they work together and relate to each other, it struck me that this is the very nature of the teacher-student relationship in Indian tradition; and that the mutuality of learning is completely different from the pedagogical tradition of western teachers. That eastern tradition of the direct, close teacher-student relationship is completely different from the type of lecture-audience setup we experience in our schools.

The literal meaning of the word, avatara, is descent. It is no physical climb down however, but rather akin to the teacher, who, when instructing small children, has to come down to the “level” of the child, hold his hand and teach him how to write the alphabet. This is the teacher’s avatara in front of the child.

A good guru [teacher] is one who first gets down to the level of his disciple’s ability or understanding and grants him knowledge accordingly. [Source unknown]


True teachers, those for whom teaching is their life’s vocation, embark on a path of leading with wisdom, compassion and energy; to draw the best from students and to help them to realize their own powers to love, care for and help both themselves and others.

I’ve been very blessed in the teacher to whom I’ve been guided. When I say, “My Teacher,” I encompass an entire, unique, mutually loving and teaching<=>learning relationship. I feel boundless connection to my teacher that flows from our mutual acceptance and respect for each other, and I felt the depth of our mutual reverence through my Tantric initiation. Our relationship is unique in my life, and we will always maintain it.

To embark upon the spiritual path of Tantra, you need to find a teacher whom you trust absolutely and who will work with you in the tradition of the knowledge being given directly from teacher to student. Finding a teacher is a daunting project; it took me more than a year to find the right one; and then when I moved to England, the search had to begin again for a teacher to work with my husband and me together. Again, it took a year to find the right teacher – which turned out to be teachers, a couple.

How do you know the right teacher when you meet him or her? You’ll know. You may need one or two sessions to be certain, but you will know when the connection is there and when the mutual honoring, respect and compassion that are the keys to this relationship are present.

*not their real names; names changed for privacy’s sake

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