Posts Tagged ‘Teacher’

something amazing in the space

June 2nd, 2011    -    13 Comments

Reprinted from the Summer 2011 issue of Buddhadharma magazine.

I’m sitting in what I call the “mommy pit” at the gymnastics studio, the fenced sideline from which I’ve watched my daughter explore the potential of her human form over the last five years. She does a triple back handspring, vaulting backward in three blind spirals until she plants her feet in the unmistakable thwack of a solid landing, raising her arms in a completion salute.

Her teacher stands with arms crossed, her response inscrutable. Is that a slight smile? A frown? A nod? Is that encouragement? Criticism? Recognition? Who can tell?

“Again,” she instructs, and my daughter flips across the floor.

I’m thinking about teachers and what they empower in us, and how different that is from a teaching itself. I’m thinking about this because of the choice it presents to us in our own lives, and because of the crossroads we face in the propagation of American Buddhism.

What do teachers do? And given how difficult Buddhist teachers can be to locate, trust, understand, accept, admire, and follow, are they even necessary? It’s my guess that most Buddhists don’t think so, since by their own admission, so many are “unaffiliated,” unable, unwilling, or unconvinced they need to seek a teacher.

The justifications to dismiss the role of teachers and sanghas are compelling. Justifications always are. It’s inconvenient, for one. You might have to travel. Teachers are few and far between. It takes time. You have to meet other people. You might not like them. It’s frightening. Looks cultlike. And what if you get the wrong one? Besides, we live in the virtual age, when Buddhist information, discussion, and so-called communities proliferate on the web. Shouldn’t we advance the dharma into modernity? Who needs to meet face-to-face when you have Skype?

Once again I glance at the gym teacher standing among her charges. A handspring isn’t something I do, or can teach my daughter to do. What was it that turned her timidity into trust, her fear into freeform flight? A firm touch to her knees? A hand on her back? The sheer persistence of practice? A grin? A shout? The company of her teammates, who amplify her effort with the energy of their own? Perhaps all of that, plus the teacher’s steadfast reassurance that my daughter could do what she didn’t believe she could: go beyond her limits. read more

to the teachers

May 18th, 2011    -    79 Comments

Perhaps you’ve noticed I don’t write much about motherhood any more. Our children do an excellent job of being consistently, rather stubbornly, exactly who they are, and once we acknowledge that, our only job as mothers is to keep acknowledging it over and over. Or not. The not is what causes the difficulty.

Perhaps you’ve noticed I don’t write much about marriage any more. Our partners do an excellent job of being consistently, rather stubbornly, who we aren’t, and once we accept that, our job is to keep accepting it over and over. Or not. The not is what causes the difficulty.

At one time in my life, motherhood brought to me my most urgent and incomprehensible lessons. At other times, my marriage did. But by itself, over time, sure as day to night to day, in a continuous and miraculous transformation, a daughter becomes a mother and a woman becomes a wife. When that transition is complete, there’s not much to say about it, not much I can tell you, since you will have to make that passage on your own. Or not.

What is most interesting to me now is another transition, perhaps the last for me, and the greatest of all. It is the transition from the student to the teacher. In whatever form it takes, whatever time it travels, this is the longest lesson we undertake, because it is the lesson in how we live, how we give, how we grow, and how we know. read more

my eyes are brown

April 3rd, 2011    -    11 Comments

My mother had brown eyes. My father had blue eyes. My eyes are brown. I hope you appreciate this fact, because it is a way to appreciate your life.

I’m always honored when someone contacts me through this site, or any other of our so-called social media, and asks how to take up the study of Zen Buddhism with me. I also realize that they will be slightly dismayed by my response, since we can seem to get so far these days by going nowhere at all, just flicking our fingers and thumbs across a pad.

I happen to belong to a Zen lineage that spans 81 generations of ancestors each of whom transmitted the teaching one-on-one, in person, to his or her successors. What kind of teacher would I be if I didn’t believe in the teaching I’ve been shown or the lineage to which I belong?

There are many who don’t experience the truth as I do, and so there are those who offer long-distance study. That is fine, up to a point. But the point of departure is the fundamental point of the practice: to penetrate the illusion of duality – separation – and experience the one mind. To do that, you have to meet the teacher eye-to-eye. When the student comes together with the teacher, as conditions are right, wisdom arises by itself: the way grass grows with rain and flowers bloom to face the sun. You may have already experienced what I’m talking about, although none of us can quite express it in words. read more

buddha tuesday

March 8th, 2011    -    142 Comments

I’m giving away this Buddha.

The more you sense the rareness and value of your own life, the more you realize that how you use it, how you manifest it, is all your responsibility. We face such a big task, so naturally we sit down for a while.Kobun Chino Otogawa

I ran into this quote the other day and it was like, Well, hello! Nice to meet ya! Because sometimes in my dinky little corner of the Buddhist world I feel like I’m the only one with any amount of faith. Faith in what, you ask? Well, faith in life. Faith in practice. Faith in teachers. And faith in the way that has saved my life. So I thought it was about time to share something more than my syrupy sentiments, something more than preachy how-tos and why-dontchas. It’s time for me to pull out the big guns and give away Buddha. The Buddha you see right here as a matter of fact. Free, free, free!

I’ve got Buddhas galore around here, and more on their way, I’m sure. But this little one is special because I bought it for myself to put on my home altar. It’s a teeny thing, just 5 inches of carved wood, from China, and whether it’s antique or not it’s definitely distressed, which is itself a commentary on so-called Western Buddhism and our long-suffering world. You have to bring it into the light to see the rich gold and vivid red beneath the patina. You have to see it in person to sense the rareness and value. It’s the perfect reminder to do the only thing the Buddha instructed us to do – naturally sit down for a while.

Leave a comment here by next Monday, March 14, and give yourself a shot at a Buddha you can see, feel, hold, and bring to life in your own home. I’ll announce the winner next Tuesday.

The winner is commenter number 106 – Jessy.

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more dalai in your lama

September 29th, 2010    -    15 Comments

Warning: Falling rocks ahead.

A few months ago, a young newspaper reporter asked me a very good question, the kind of question that comes from the mouths of keenly observant babes:

“Do you encounter resistance because you don’t fit the stereotype of a Buddhist teacher?”

Honestly, I had never presumed as much, but it makes sense given the human proclivity to idealize and worship images.

Some people might like a little more Dalai in their Lama, I laughed.

I know I did, at least when I was starting out. And I know that most of us still do, taking a measure of comfort and even confidence when a teacher appears to be so altogether other, so unattainably spiritual, so removedly saintly. It must have drawn me closer, then, when Maezumi Roshi fit the bill of a short, smiling, impish Asian. He was nothing that I thought him to be, but his appearance upheld my standard of the real thing.

Being Maezumi, being a man, being an American, I once heard him say to describe his life, to no one in the room who believed him. We had a stake in him being a holy man.

Why this comes up I’m not so sure, although it may have something to do with an email I received yesterday telling me about a public talk by a revered Buddhist author. The talks are rare, I was told, and routinely sold out. There might not ever be another one, the message urged. I could get on the bandwagon and even make a little profit from the books I sold through my website.

All those things may be true, but this line of thinking does not sit with me, and so I sit with it. read more

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