(The failure to) Go West

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Re: (The failure to) Go West

Postby pink_trike » Tue May 12, 2009 4:44 am

Dan74 wrote:
Are people really helped by discovering the Dharma? I heard Joshu Sasaki Roshi, a 102-year-old Rinzai Zen teacher in the US, quoted as saying that a typical Westerner really needs years of therapy before they are ready for Zen.

Around the fora especially one sees so often that the Dharma becomes just another tool in the ego's neurotic arsenal.

The Buddha was a healer, we say, and his medicine is still effective. And yet, many are made more sick by (mis)application of it.

I agree...(with the understanding that when we refer to "the Dharma" - it always begs the question "who's Dharma?")

Many people are helped by discovering the 4NT/8FP, cause and effect, interdependence, meditation, and metta practice (much beyond that, I'm less certain how many) but for vast many people the modern mind is very entrenched and very fragile - and these same discoveries that can benefit some people are so unconsciously threatening to many modern people's sense of structured reality that to encounter them results in irrational defense mechanisms arising in an attempt to compensate for the loss of ego primacy - to somewhere find solid ground again at any intra-psychic cost.

As more Westerners encounter Buddhism, especially via the internet or Amazon.com, without benefit of Sangha or supervision - not everyone's mind is going to move gracefully from a relied upon "solid" sense of "self" through the systematic unraveling of that delusion of solidity via the Dharma. Imo, add in a splash of virgin birth, invisible beings, "not-self", literal rebirth, heavens and hells, filth and evil, miracles, etc... - and there we've got a very potent stew that results in a bad trip for many folks, and for many others - just more to get sticky with and hang onto as if it were a life jacket. Many people are going to encounter their hidden (or not so hidden) demons and hells in their own mind the further they proceed into "Buddhism". Many others are going to use Buddhism to further concretize the patterns of their mind. Teachers who underestimate the raw state of the modern mind are putting some people at risk for experiencing mind-states that neither student or teacher know how to deal with. Buddhism is not "one size fits all", especially in this time.

I've noticed over the years that some teachers are very sensitive to this - usually in small centers where the contact between teacher and student is more regular and intimate. Care is taken to introduce all students to very basic instruction and meditation. When they encounter their many students who have a highly-abstractified, tightly-strucrtured view of reality or who's mind moves easily with the winds, they would give these types of students very simple instructions and practice - and repeatedly steer them away from the abstractions and supernatural aspects of the Dharma. I've also heard several teachers recommend therapy generally, and also specifically to some students.

In larger centers and in urban areas, this is often not the case - it takes a lot of money to pay for those big, beautiful centers so they have to play to a packed house (that's not cynicism - I've manned the phones and did the advertising for events/teachings/ceremonies that I now believe should have been closed to the general public). And for the hundreds of thousands who's only encounter with the Dharma is electronic or printed, there's no teacher to observe the quality of change and to set limits or change strategy.
Vision is Mind
Mind is Empty
Emptiness is Clear Light
Clear Light is Union
Union is Great Bliss

- Dawa Gyaltsen

---

Disclaimer: I'm a non-religious practitioner of Theravada, Mahayana/Vajrayana, and Tibetan Bon Dzogchen mind-training.
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Re: (The failure to) Go West

Postby Dan74 » Tue May 12, 2009 5:23 am

pink trike wrote:I've noticed over the years that some teachers are very sensitive to this - usually in small centers where the contact between teacher and student is more regular and intimate. Care is taken to introduce all students to very basic instruction and meditation. When they encounter their many students who have a highly-abstractified, tightly-strucrtured view of reality or who's mind moves easily with the winds, they would give these types of students very simple instructions and practice - and repeatedly steer them away from the abstractions and supernatural aspects of the Dharma. I've also heard several teachers recommend therapy generally, and also specifically to some students.

In larger centers and in urban areas, this is often not the case - it takes a lot of money to pay for those big, beautiful centers so they have to play to a packed house (that's not cynicism - I've manned the phones and did the advertising for events/teachings/ceremonies that I now believe should have been closed to the general public). And for the hundreds of thousands who's only encounter with the Dharma is electronic or printed, there's no teacher to observe the quality of change and to set limits or change strategy.


This is how I feel too, except that my experience has been very limited.

It seems that real gems are found off the main road, often in obscurity. Some genuine teachers become big and carry this task out of necessity of spreading the dharma. But I suspect that for practice purposes it is better to be with someone less high-profile and more committed to practice than to propagation of dharma.

Our Theravada friends don't seem to be big on student-teacher contact though, so this may be a conversation for a very small audience...

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Re: (The failure to) Go West

Postby retrofuturist » Tue May 12, 2009 5:47 am

Greetings Dan,

Dan74 wrote:Our Theravada friends don't seem to be big on student-teacher contact though, so this may be a conversation for a very small audience...

I think the main difference is that in Theravada it's less hierarchial... you can learn things from any number of people, and they may even happen to learn things from you too. Those who are skilled in samatha should help those who are skilled in vipassana, and vice versa. There's less inclination to classify one as the "teacher" and one as the "student". To that extent there's more self-reliance in terms of framing your path, which thankfully isn't as daunting as it seems, as there is a lot of guidance in the Pali Canon for practitioners at all stages of the path.

In fact, most of the perspectives that seem "distorted" in my opinion, tend to arise because someone has exclusively taken their wisdom from a single teacher, without cross referencing other teachers or the Pali Canon.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: (The failure to) Go West

Postby Cittasanto » Tue May 12, 2009 10:09 am

Hi Retro, Dan & All

I started a thread a while ago that this line of thought reminds me of
viewtopic.php?f=16&t=111&p=701&hilit=teachers#p701

This thread started when a teacher I have some contact with talked about his teacher, and mentioned that he was sent by his teacher to different monks to learn from them.

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Dan,

Dan74 wrote:Our Theravada friends don't seem to be big on student-teacher contact though, so this may be a conversation for a very small audience...

I think the main difference is that in Theravada it's less hierarchial... you can learn things from any number of people, and they may even happen to learn things from you too. Those who are skilled in samatha should help those who are skilled in vipassana, and vice versa. There's less inclination to classify one as the "teacher" and one as the "student". To that extent there's more self-reliance in terms of framing your path, which thankfully isn't as daunting as it seems, as there is a lot of guidance in the Pali Canon for practitioners at all stages of the path.

In fact, most of the perspectives that seem "distorted" in my opinion, tend to arise because someone has exclusively taken their wisdom from a single teacher, without cross referencing other teachers or the Pali Canon.

Metta,
Retro. :)
This offering maybe right, or wrong, but it is one, the other, both, or neither!
Blog, - Some Suttas Translated, Ajahn Chah.
"Others will misconstrue reality due to their personal perspectives, doggedly holding onto and not easily discarding them; We shall not misconstrue reality due to our own personal perspectives, nor doggedly holding onto them, but will discard them easily. This effacement shall be done."
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Re: (The failure to) Go West

Postby mikenz66 » Tue May 12, 2009 11:26 am

Dan74 wrote:Our Theravada friends don't seem to be big on student-teacher contact though, so this may be a conversation for a very small audience...

I'm big on student-teacher contact...

However, as others indicate, there's not a guru relationship. I have learned from several teachers, partly for practical reasons (living in different places, monks coming and going...). I would disagree a little with Retro about the relationship, however. It's clear to me who the student is. I'm not going to be teaching much to someone who's been a monk for ten, twenty, thirty years... [Of course, I can sometimes be somewhat helpful to my fellow students, but that's a different issue.]

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Re: (The failure to) Go West

Postby Cittasanto » Tue May 12, 2009 11:56 am

Hi Mike
you remind me of a 'story' which I have shared here before, I believe Ajahn Chah was inspecting his monks (sort of like a military line up) and a young Novice pointed out he looked a mess, Ajahn agreed and called him Ajahn from that day onward (although no other monk was expected too).
how true and if it was Ajahn Chah I don't know but it is a story I have heard at least two forest monks share in talks or in writing and this is the sort of think I think Retro is on about, it isn't so much the student teaching the Teacher a lesson but rather the student is on an equal footing to help the teacher at different times.

WM
Manapa


mikenz66 wrote:
Dan74 wrote:Our Theravada friends don't seem to be big on student-teacher contact though, so this may be a conversation for a very small audience...

I'm big on student-teacher contact...

However, as others indicate, there's not a guru relationship. I have learned from several teachers, partly for practical reasons (living in different places, monks coming and going...). I would disagree a little with Retro about the relationship, however. It's clear to me who the student is. I'm not going to be teaching much to someone who's been a monk for ten, twenty, thirty years... [Of course, I can sometimes be somewhat helpful to my fellow students, but that's a different issue.]

Metta
Mike
This offering maybe right, or wrong, but it is one, the other, both, or neither!
Blog, - Some Suttas Translated, Ajahn Chah.
"Others will misconstrue reality due to their personal perspectives, doggedly holding onto and not easily discarding them; We shall not misconstrue reality due to our own personal perspectives, nor doggedly holding onto them, but will discard them easily. This effacement shall be done."
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Re: (The failure to) Go West

Postby MMK23 » Tue May 12, 2009 12:12 pm

I think the common understanding of the teacher-student relationship, or our modern orthodoxy, has probably been shaped a lot by the Protestant Buddhist trends in Sri Lanka and the lay-meditation movement of Burma, not to mention, particularly in the west, humanism, rationalism and capitalism. The confluence of these influences are the protestant themes of distrust in hierarchy, clergy, teacher-student relationships, scholarly erudition, etc. My personal view is - I think - actually that the Pali Canon places a lot of emphasis on hierarchy within the sangha, and the commentarial texts seem to operate on an assumption that our meditative practice is going to be quite constrained without the wisdom of the good friend.

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Re: (The failure to) Go West

Postby Dan74 » Tue May 12, 2009 12:45 pm

From what I understand, in China during the Golden Age of the Tang dynasty, the various Buddhist schools (Chan, Tien-Tai, Hwa-Yen, Pure Land, Vinaya, etc) had not yet become sectarian and it was common for monks (and serious lay-people) to spend extended time in various temples and schools.

And in the Zen (Seon) tradition in Korea of today, monastics too would sometimes wonder and visit teachers other than their principle Dharma teacher. Probably after getting some solid grounding with him or her, first.

So, it is not an exclusive guru-disciple relationship. Nor is it with Tibetan Buddhists, I believe. They too often have more than one teacher. But there does seem to be a lot more formal ties and vows cementing the relationship than in Zen, which may be as deep, but a lot more informal.

As for being hierarchical, I guess this is more of a cultural/style thing than a Mahayana thing. Some teachers are very informal, others draw a clear line. Both have their pros and cons. And then there is a point when a student becomes an equal or even a master to his former teacher. There are many records of that in Zen lore and it is based purely on the level of insight. So it is not a fixed relationship by any means.

As for the point about meditation and Right View in general, I think a teacher can be extremely helpful and save an enormous amount of time (lifetimes?). I recall my first retreat when a whole bunch of clever nonsense was knocked out of me. :namaste:

Always more where that came from unfortunately! :meditate:

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Re: (The failure to) Go West

Postby mikenz66 » Tue May 12, 2009 1:05 pm

Dan74 wrote:As for the point about meditation and Right View in general, I think a teacher can be extremely helpful and save an enormous amount of time (lifetimes?). I recall my first retreat when a whole bunch of clever nonsense was knocked out of me.

Indeed, it's those sort of experiences that made me realise that I don't have anything to teach my teachers about Dhamma. Whatever I report, they've seen it all...

Of course I can help them with other stuff --- but not Dhamma.

The Ajahn Chah story is about worldly assistance and demystifying the relationship. It is not the teacher "learning" from the student.

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Re: (The failure to) Go West

Postby Cittasanto » Tue May 12, 2009 2:04 pm

Hi Mike,
The Ajahn Chah How to wear the robes is quite clear in the vinaya and Ajahn Chahs Monestaries have clear instructions on how to wear them, Etiquite is part of the vinaya and the story should be looked at in that light, Worldly assistance is not part of the monastic dress code which the story is about.

on one of my retreats the monk of ten years was asked something he did not know the answer of and another retreat participant did and asked if they could answer.

monks and teachers are people just like everyone else and wont know everything or be able to explain everything to do with Dhamma.

WM
Manapa

mikenz66 wrote:
Dan74 wrote:As for the point about meditation and Right View in general, I think a teacher can be extremely helpful and save an enormous amount of time (lifetimes?). I recall my first retreat when a whole bunch of clever nonsense was knocked out of me.

Indeed, it's those sort of experiences that made me realise that I don't have anything to teach my teachers about Dhamma. Whatever I report, they've seen it all...

Of course I can help them with other stuff --- but not Dhamma.

The Ajahn Chah story is about worldly assistance and demystifying the relationship. It is not the teacher "learning" from the student.

Mike
This offering maybe right, or wrong, but it is one, the other, both, or neither!
Blog, - Some Suttas Translated, Ajahn Chah.
"Others will misconstrue reality due to their personal perspectives, doggedly holding onto and not easily discarding them; We shall not misconstrue reality due to our own personal perspectives, nor doggedly holding onto them, but will discard them easily. This effacement shall be done."
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Re: (The failure to) Go West

Postby mikenz66 » Tue May 12, 2009 8:49 pm

Hi Manapa,

Of course I don't mean that my teachers know every little detail, and I could certainly tell them if their robes were falling off, or remind them of teachings that they had overlooked, forgotten, or explain things to others that they are having trouble finding the words for.

My point is that such incidents don't necessarily indicate that there is a dialog among equals going on. In situations that I am familiar with they just indicate that there is some class participation, just like in any healthy teaching environment.

Metta
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Re: (The failure to) Go West

Postby Cittasanto » Wed May 13, 2009 9:58 am

hi Mike,
I think it is mainly the conventions we both accept which are the biggest issue in this dialogue between us, not in a bad way just our own experiences have led to differing conclusions to a degree.
I would agree that it isn't a dialogue among equals but rather the relationship has an ebb and flow the role changes and is on a more equal footing than many other traditions. there can be back chat (to an extent) without it being seen as disrespect, but this does depend on the teacher, no so much which school of Buddhism, although in my experience I have only come across this once in Theravada.



mikenz66 wrote:Hi Manapa,

Of course I don't mean that my teachers know every little detail, and I could certainly tell them if their robes were falling off, or remind them of teachings that they had overlooked, forgotten, or explain things to others that they are having trouble finding the words for.

My point is that such incidents don't necessarily indicate that there is a dialog among equals going on. In situations that I am familiar with they just indicate that there is some class participation, just like in any healthy teaching environment.

Metta
Mike
This offering maybe right, or wrong, but it is one, the other, both, or neither!
Blog, - Some Suttas Translated, Ajahn Chah.
"Others will misconstrue reality due to their personal perspectives, doggedly holding onto and not easily discarding them; We shall not misconstrue reality due to our own personal perspectives, nor doggedly holding onto them, but will discard them easily. This effacement shall be done."
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Re: (The failure to) Go West

Postby Ngawang Drolma. » Wed May 13, 2009 3:31 pm

Dan74 wrote:So, it is not an exclusive guru-disciple relationship. Nor is it with Tibetan Buddhists, I believe. They too often have more than one teacher.


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Re: (The failure to) Go West

Postby Aloka » Wed May 13, 2009 9:16 pm

Dan74 wrote:So, it is not an exclusive guru-disciple relationship. Nor is it with Tibetan Buddhists, I believe. They too often have more than one teacher.
_/|\_


Yes, I'm a practitoner of Tibetan Buddhism and have 3 teachers from whom I receive one-to-one instruction.


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