tiltbillings wrote:However, teachers such as Joseph Goldstein, seem to teach in an accessible way that doesn't appear to compromise the message.
Western teachers still don't have a lot of role models for "Western Buddhist Teacher". There has needed to be a whole lot of invention and adaptation in order to reach Western students. When I travel to Europe I take a power adapter so that euro energy will power my devices. I see Western teachers as still being like power adapters that converts EBE (Eastern Buddhist Energy) so that it flows into Western bio-ports. The adapter's settings have to be correct or the bio-port's brain gets fried, but yet different enough so that the bio-port receives a flow of energy and powers up.
One of my Western Theravadan teachers has been teaching for 30 years. He's been training in Myanmar and Cambodia for longer than that with just 2 teachers. He does 1 or 2 three month retreats in Myanmar every year...to say he is traditionally trained is an understatement. He doesn't write books. He doesn't tour. He doesn't hold "events". You won't find him on Facebook. He doesn't have a web site or do podcasts. He doesn't look or dress like a "buddhist". There are no buddhist decorations or Buddha statues. No incense. Students find him through word of mouth. He has approx. 15-20 students at any given time. He teaches 3 nights a week in his livingroom. We all sit in a circle on the floor together. He teaches and then we sit. No prayer party here and no piosity.
In 10 years I've heard the word "rebirth" come out of his mouth maybe 5 times. When a new student goes off about rebirth as they tend to do, he says something like "why do you care about other lives when you can't even be still in this life"? He focuses beginners on practice, and there is a smaller group of long-term practitioners (5 or more years of practice) that meet with him separately for more "advanced" studies. Concepts are explained with a bare minimum of non-english words, even for advanced students. He uses whatever it takes to explain difficult concepts...science, technology, philosophy, math, art, current events, history, mundane aspects of life, songs, jokes.
I much prefer this model of teaching to one that is clogged with ritual, poor English, distain and ignorance of Western culture, the use of fear as a teaching strategy, and teachings that are over-ladened with complex non-English terms that are used to explain other complex non-English terms, etc...that many of us here in the West have encountered with traditional Eastern teachers. Who cares if the message isn't compromised if it doesn't even come through with a clear channel?
He has invented a non-traditional style of Western style of teaching that is rigorous, accessible, and very effective - but perhaps if it is viewed superficially from the outside it too would look like Buddhism lite (too much laughter, no doubt) and might appear to be compromising the message. It is anything but. To use a quaint american phrase, there is more than one way to skin a cat. Unfortunately, he is now nearly dead. A treasure lost.
Are there some under-informed Western teachers cherrypicking parts of the teachings? Yes. Are there ineffective Eastern teachers teaching Westerners who cherrypick the teachings? Yes. We need to choose carefully.