Big Rowan Ackison (greensh) wrote,
Big Rowan Ackison
greensh

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Teaching, Paths and Maps

I recently posed a question about the juxtaposition of human teachers and their teachings. I’ve considered my own response. The result has been a line of thought that sees a combination of separateness and togetherness between the teacher, the teaching, and the student. The bond of these elements determines the outcome of infusion of human frailty into the mix.

The answer to these questions starts with the definition and delineation of its parts. I believe that the teaching, teacher and student each can have tremendous truth in themselves. The human frailty of the teacher is assumed. The feedback to my original question showed a belief that people are people, with the result being the amazing variety of human expressions – good, bad and ugly. (IMO) This condition, a state that Christians may call Sin, is not inherently evil. It is just a state of imperfection, requiring growth in ourselves. A perfect world would require no teachers and no teaching. There would be no students in a perfect world. We do not live in that world, so hence we have the dynamics of teaching, teacher and student.

As my thoughts expanded, it became clear that the teaching, the teacher, and the student were to be examined separately and then together. This article explores teaching, with the path as an analogy.


The path is an analogy to a teaching. A path leads a person to a destination. The path is not the destination. The path does not magically transport the person to the destination. The path instead acts as a convenient route for transport to a destination as the journeyer applies effort towards their geographical goal. There are classic extensions of the path analogy. These include the high and low roads, the narrow and wide roads, and the multiple roads that eventually lead to the same destination. The understanding of teachings easily falls within these path analogies. A teaching can be quick and difficult. A teaching can be long and easy. A teaching can allow many to share knowledge, or be difficult so only a few sample the wisdom.

Another analogy for a teaching is that of the map. The map shows the possible paths a seeker can take. The difference between the path and the map is that the map can suggest that it shows the destination, the end goal of the seeker/student. Good teachings offer very large maps for the student to gauge their progress. While this is a comfort, the map of a teaching has its own pitfalls that a student should be aware of. The reality of the moment is experienced on the path that the student currently walks. The map could be misread or outdated. The map could be a fanciful creation, bearing little resemblance to the reality of the path. Structured and dogmatic teachings are merely proposed maps for the seeker. No such map is the destination, nor is it the practical means to attaining that which the student seeks.

How does a person determine if a teaching is a map with no correct path? Draw out the analogy. Look for the landmarks. A good map will correspond with the terrain. A bad map will not agree. A map of Atlanta GA and Birmingham AL may both share a Main Street, but the intersecting streets will be very different. The journey will only start when the adventurer moves from Main Street onto a smaller path. The proper map will reflect the paths that a person moves through their teaching journey.

What is if a student has the correct map, was on the right path, but has become lost? The landmarks will not match because the student is no longer on the map provided by the teaching. How does the student know when they are merely lost? This is probably the difficult time for the student. No map can show all possible detours and side-streets. Even the best maps can become outdated as changes in the teaching landscape are made. The answer to this dilemma is the faith of the student that the path is still right. The past correctness of the teaching path provides the foundation for faith in a teaching. If the path is good, but the map has no longer correct, there is a need too find a new map showing the updated terrain.

What about those who don’t want a map? What about those who don’t even know their destination? There are two sides to this coin. The negative side is the person who is on a weary path. The landmarks are familiar. Though burden may be light or heavy, the path has no heart. The path with heart is an important concept I will talk more of later. For now, consider a path with heart to be one that speaks joy to a person. The contrasting path to a weary path is a journey along a path that is filled with anticipation, joyful acceptance, and adventure. Is such an unmapped path pain free? It is probably not. In fact, the path with heart maybe more painful than a path without heart. The pain is temporary as the journey continues.


Does any teaching’s path truly have a map? I believe that at some point every teaching has a person off the mapped route. This is the paradox of a teaching’s journey. We can never truly arrive if we stick to the designated route. At some point we must create our own path. Anticipated landmarks discarded, it is the destination that is the heart of the teaching journey. This is not entirely true. I don’t believe that we ever truly reach a teaching’s destination. We instead reach mile markers along a teaching’s path. There we judge our state, tend to our wounds, rejoice in our victories, affirm our companions, and ready ourselves for the continued journey.

(x-posted on personal log)
Tags: map, path, spiritual, teacher
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