My Wisdom Teachers Assemble

by Bob Schwartz

I stood at the front of the room. I shouldn’t be standing there, I realized, as if I was the teacher, and they my students. It was upside down.

I had called them together, the wisdom teachers I had followed over the years. They had no choice but to come and sit in their chairs. This was my assembly.

Some had identifiable names and lives, most historical and actual, but a few apocryphal. Others were general, not a particular person, but a tradition or text.

Many traditions and sub-traditions were represented: Buddhism, Taoism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam and others. Within each tradition, no teacher could claim primacy, no superstars versus stars. There was Abraham Joshua Heschel and Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav. There was Jesus and Thomas Merton. There was Dogen and Shunryu Suzuki Roshi. Among themselves they might make distinctions. But as teachers who had all given me something significant, they were all at parity.

Were they talking with each other or to me? No. They sat silently, looking at me with calm intensity, waiting for me to answer the unasked question: why had I called them all together?

I did have a reason. But now I wondered if I should ask. The question was whether it was time to give up my practice of drawing wisdom from any and all of them, like a hummingbird feeding from an array of beautiful flowers. Instead, I wanted to know, should I focus on one to the exclusion of the others.

I couldn’t bring myself to ask, because I knew, or thought I knew, what they might say. What a stupid question. Or: You already know the answer. Or: There is no answer. Or: What a stupid question. Or, in the case of a Zen teacher who clung to the old ways, I might be beaten with a stick. And deserve it.

I dismissed the venerable assembly. With thanks.