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. :)
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
Chris Marti (cmarti) Fri 22 Jun 12 10:19
I think that's a great winding up comment.
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."
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.)
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.
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.
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.
Chris Marti (cmarti) Sat 23 Jun 12 06:05
Yes, huge thank you to all.
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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