inkwell.vue.444 : Buddhism on (and off) the WELL
permalink #201 of 214: Mitsu Hadeishi (mitsu) Thu 21 Jun 12 22:57
    
Renshin slipped. Yes, exactly! That's what I mean! I think perhaps you were
better served without having a teacher at the outset. I was quite serious in
suggesting that having no teacher is probably better than having a bad
teacher, i.e., someone who ends up exacerbating those early tendencies we
all have, but amplifying them via their position of authority. I mean, we
all commit those mistakes and never really stop committing them; but if
you end up latching on and running with the mistakes because you are
encouraged to do so by pronouncements from a teacher, that's where it can
get pretty awful for everyone (I'm sorry to be speaking rather obliquely here
but as you might have guessed I've seen this happen and it can have a
really terrible effect on the person as well as the people around them.)

And now, back to the upbeat message. :)
  
inkwell.vue.444 : Buddhism on (and off) the WELL
permalink #202 of 214: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Fri 22 Jun 12 04:04
    
I have thoroughly enjoyed listening to you all. Great insights and
perspectives on the heart of Buddhism here in the US. A lot to take
away and chew on. This conversation will be a reference point for me,
for a long time. Thanks to all for sharing.
  
inkwell.vue.444 : Buddhism on (and off) the WELL
permalink #203 of 214: Gail Williams (gail) Fri 22 Jun 12 07:53
    
Thank you for all the time, attention and insight.  Kudos to all
participants, readers and the phenomenal Inkwell production team. 

For those who have not yet noticed, there is an ongoing conference
with multiple discussions about Buddhism, inside The WELL, that is open
to all members.  

Years ago when I arrived at this place I chuckled to see that the
conference had a nickname of wonderland, and that you could get there
by typing "g wonder."   May the conference continue, and continue to be
wonderful in all senses.
  
inkwell.vue.444 : Buddhism on (and off) the WELL
permalink #204 of 214: Chris Marti (cmarti) Fri 22 Jun 12 08:59
    
Just for clarity's sake, I was referring to the difference between
realized and not realized in regard to teachers being helpful at
certain points in practice. There are clueless and very unhelpful
teachers out there who pretend to be something they are not and they
are to be avoided. What is really at issue, I think, is how do
beginning practitioners figure out which is which?
  
inkwell.vue.444 : Buddhism on (and off) the WELL
permalink #205 of 214: Mitsu Hadeishi (mitsu) Fri 22 Jun 12 09:51
    
Not easy! I suppose what both Jane and Renshin were pointing out is that
relying on lineage authorization isn't enough as we all know there have been
spectacular cases of very bad behavior among authorized teachers within
established lineages. My guess is, though, that for the most part in those
cases, at least there was something helpful in their teachings --- it's just
that these teachings weren't enough to prevent them from doing some
bad stuff, also. That is to say, lineage authorization at least provides
a modicum of quality control on some aspect of what they're doing, even if
it isn't a guarantee of entirely ethical or upright behavior in general.
  
inkwell.vue.444 : Buddhism on (and off) the WELL
permalink #206 of 214: Jane Hirshfield (jh) Fri 22 Jun 12 10:04
    
(mitsu slipped in with the above while I was typing what follows)

We are in an interesting condition right now of both winding up
comments and ongoing conversation.

Because of what I do, I not infrequently talk to people who are
interested in starting practice and want to know what to do, where to
go. I pass on to them the "beginner's transmission" that was given to
me when I first arrived at one of SFZC's practice places. The place I
happened to first land was Jamesburg, the tiny outpost of Tassajara
(the monastery) which is on the civilization side of the 14 mile
mountain road into the wilderness canyon where Tassajara is. I ended up
staying the night there with Lou Hartman (husband of future abbott
Blanche, who was at that time a mid-level senior student in Tassajara).
Both had been there in Suzuki-roshi's time, and seen the transition to
Baker-roshi. They also came into Zen practice as sophisticated people,
who had gone through the McCarthy era--Lou was blackballed from his
work as a radio announcer, Blanche became the family's breadwinner,
working as a chemist; they raised three daughters, one of whom was then
practicing with Lou at Jamesburg).

They'd seen the world. They were in the habit of weighing things for
themselves. They had strong sense of social justice and strong sense of
realism.

Lou told me what he thought of Suzuki-roshi's teachings, and of the
splendid Japanese elder nun who came to teach the sewing of robes and
rakusus (a lovely example, I can see in retrospect, of respecting a
traditional woman's practice and a non-charismatic position as
nonetheless a true field of true dharma). He told me his own
hesitations about Richard Baker (this was LONG before any of the
scandals) and the situation of how he became the abbot, that many
senior students had left, but some had stayed, and why.

In brief, the "beginners transmission" I was given by Lou was
something along the lines of "Zen practice is something a person might
want to devote their entire life to, but you don't stop thinking and
seeing for yourself just because someone's a Teacher with a capital T.
You are responsible for your own practice." That one evening
conversation and example made it possible for me to practice at Zen
Center without being surprised (anyone with open eyes could see Baker
Roshi for just who he was, strengths and weaknesses both) or damaged,
because I-- and many of my closest sangha friends-- wasn't idealizing
or blindfolding myself. The only surprise for me when the scandal time
finally broke was that some of the really senior students seemed not to
know what I and all my friends knew. Some things were not so visible,
but enough was that you knew his life was not the life he was asking
his own priests and senior students to lead. (I will add that many,
many other communities had similar events, including many of the
original senior Asian teachers who came to America.)

A long story. Sorry. But it means that when someone asks me, "I'd like
to start practicing Buddhism, what should I do next?" I both ask them
some questions to help figure out which types of practice I think they
might find most congenial/helpful, and then which teachers and places I
know of, and I also tell them, as they enter practice, to see with
their own eyes, taste with their own tongue, be their own authority,
even while receiving the teaching with both hands, heart, and mind
open. That is the teaching Lou Hartman gave me. For Americans, it seems
to me very useful. We live in a culture of bamboozlement from every
side--advertising, politics, the hypnotic chantings of ego and
achievement.  "Don't be bamboozled" seems to me a pretty good reminder
about being alert to our own propensities toward greed, hate, and
delusion. There's a lot of other advice, of course, equally needed,
equally useful--it has to be balanced by some deep counterweight sense
of why a person might want to do this at all.

To go back to winding up mode, I have hugely enjoyed the chance to
speak here with people who are practicing in different lineages and
traditions and feel how much one intention and path are shared. I
rarely speak about practice directly in my day to day life, only when I
do something like go teach a summer workshop at Tassajara, where
that's part of what I am supposed to do. I wonder if even the old
teahouse lady ever sat down with the abbot up the road for a nice cup
of sake and a laugh. I bet they did.
  
inkwell.vue.444 : Buddhism on (and off) the WELL
permalink #207 of 214: Chris Marti (cmarti) Fri 22 Jun 12 10:19
    
I think that's a great winding up comment.
  
inkwell.vue.444 : Buddhism on (and off) the WELL
permalink #208 of 214: Mitsu Hadeishi (mitsu) Fri 22 Jun 12 10:20
    
One of the first things my teacher told us when we first started studying
with him was, "I'm going to tell you one thing which you should never
forget: no matter how right a teacher might be about many things, they can
still be wrong about some things."
  
inkwell.vue.444 : Buddhism on (and off) the WELL
permalink #209 of 214: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 22 Jun 12 12:55
    
I didn't have a teacher but I had many teachers, through writings or
talks or face to face exposure. I've always thought that not committing
to a sangha or teacher meant that the path was much longer, but
somehow I still resisted. One great thing about the current state of
the digital world is that I can hear many dharma talks by wise and
thoughtful practitioners via podcasts and other recordings, and I can
participate in online groups like the one we have on the WELL. I've
been exposed to Theravada and Mahayana practices, and mostly Japanese
and Tibetan influences. I've spent a lot of time studying the heart
sutra and the genjo koan. Things shifted when I stopped thinking I knew
what I was doing, and again when I got more serious about doing it.
I've found a sangha and teacher that I might spent some time with, but
on the question of the value of a teacher, I can only say that teachers
are everywhere but it takes more than lessons to learn. Renshin talked
about an early practice of "just sitting on a meditation bench and
thinking about
myself," and I've been thinking how you can assume the right posture
and do the time on your cushion without actually practicing, because
the practice is not a posture. I too spent some time "just sitting ...
and thinking about myself," and it was a long long road to a point
where my "self" was questionable in a deeper than intellectual sense. I
don't have any idea where I'm going with my practice. But I keep doing
it.

Thanks again to all. (Bows.)
  
inkwell.vue.444 : Buddhism on (and off) the WELL
permalink #210 of 214: Renshin Bunce (renshin-b) Fri 22 Jun 12 13:24
    
I've enjoyed this conversation a great deal.

Jane, thank you for mentioning Lou Hartman.  He was a role model for
us all.  When he could no longer walk downstairs to the zendo, and no
longer sit on that tiny little zafu he used, he sat for hours a day in
the Buddha Hall.  Once I was walking out of the building and glimpsed
him sitting and caught this picture
http://www.flickr.com/photos/renshin/5364990906/  I think it's one of
my best.  He was always encouraging to me, and he never wavered in his
belief in zazen practice.

Something I haven't mentioned, and would like to before the
conversation ends, is the importance of sangha. At San Francisco Zen
Center, I have found the family I was always looking for.  This is not
what I expected when I went to City Center for my first non-residential
practice period in 1999, and while I was in residence there I would
never have imagined that my relationship to the institution would take
such a twist.  But through one thing and another, including that I'm
still a sewing teacher at City Center and that my teacher became one of
the Abbots of the place, I'm tightly woven into its fabric and closely
related to many people there, both residents and non-residents.  I
never take it lightly when I walk into one of the three practice
centers and encounter people who I love and who I know love me.  This
is just about everything one could hope for.  How hilarious that I
found it exactly in the cold austere "zen" that I tried so hard to
avoid.
  
inkwell.vue.444 : Buddhism on (and off) the WELL
permalink #211 of 214: Chris Marti (cmarti) Fri 22 Jun 12 13:32
    
Sangha is important for a whole much of reasons, including having
people around you who know you well and who can call you on your stuff.
There is a tendency, especially in the practical dharma world I know,
to try to go it alone, using the Internet, message boards and Skype, to
get by without the face to face interaction of a sangha. While
maintaining a practice that way is certainly possible I don't think
it's optimal.
  
inkwell.vue.444 : Buddhism on (and off) the WELL
permalink #212 of 214: Patrick Madden (padlemad) Fri 22 Jun 12 13:57
    
Thanks very much, everyone. This has been an excellent conversation
and I've enjoyed it greatly.
  
inkwell.vue.444 : Buddhism on (and off) the WELL
permalink #213 of 214: Chris Marti (cmarti) Sat 23 Jun 12 06:05
    
Yes, huge thank you to all.
  
inkwell.vue.444 : Buddhism on (and off) the WELL
permalink #214 of 214: Roland Legrand (roland) Sun 24 Jun 12 14:10
    
Thank you all, and I hope to continue meeting at least some of you at
the Buddhism conference here at the WELL, or maybe at other venues...
  



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