Khalil Bodhi wrote:For several years now I have been attending courses and retreats on a regular basis with a lay teacher who is a follower mainly of Thanissaro Bhikkhu. For some time I have been bothered by some of his interpretations of the Dhamma (such as describing metta as an unconditioned heart quality and an insistence on anapanasati to the detriment of all other meditative techniques just to name a few). There are several other things about his teachings/lifestyle that make me believe that I will not benefit much more from further serious involvement but I do owe an immeasurable debt to this teacher.
...Anyway, has anyone else dealt with these issues before? If so, how did it turn out? Did you find your practice strengthened?
I've been through the same thing, twenty years ago, so I can sympathize with your plight. Without going into great detail, the spiritual teacher I left was hampered with ego and control problems. Not that he wasn't a very gifted and inspiring teacher. But, I had seen this going in, yet there was little I could do about it as what he had to teach me was miles better than anything else I could have gotten at the time in those same circumstances. He helped bring me out of a depression, so I became quite devoted to him for a period of time (nine years). My goal at the time was to reach some kind of realization (I wasn't really sure what that meant at the time, but something better than the place I was in back then), and my devotion to the practice he taught me (meditation combined with the Latin Mass — he was an old Catholic priest) was dedicated and sincere. My only goal at that time was to be able to get to a better place mentally and be able to stay there, to be free of constraints and to be happy.
Suffice it to say there came a time (a specific incident) wherein I could no longer tolerate being around his dysfunctional "family." It also happened to coincide with my re-acquaintance with Buddhism and a couple of quotations that I happened to come upon during that time which had a stirring effect on me. Both quotations were telling me that the path I was currently on at the time was fraught with problems should I decide to continue along it, and that I should make a change. The first quotation was one I read in a magazine by Jiddu Krishnamurti:
"I maintain that Truth is a pathless land and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect....I do not want followers, and I mean this. The moment you follow someone you cease to follow Truth....I am concerning myself with only one essential thing: to set man free. I desire to free him from all cages, from all fears, and not to found religions, new sects, nor to establish new theories and new philosophies."
The second was from the famous Kalama Sutta
from a book I had picked up at the library, Three Ways of Asian Wisdom
, with regard to the section that starts out: "Believe nothing," the Buddha said to his followers, "just because you have been told it, or it is commonly believed, or because it is traditional or because you yourselves have imagined it. Do not believe what your Teacher tells you merely out of respect for the Teacher. But whatsoever, after due examination and analysis, you find to be conducive to the good, the benefit, the welfare of all beings — that doctrine believe and cling to, and take as your guide."
Both quotations just set me back in my place, and I soon knew what I had to do: I had to pick up my things and leave the situation I was then in. It was hard, but not as hard as staying
in a dysfunctional situation. I knew that when I stepped foot off the property, that I would never be able to look back and probably would never talk with these people again. That this was not a happy parting of the ways. But so be it.
It wasn't for another ten or so years that I finally was able to obtain translations of the discourses of the Buddha and begin reading, first hand, what he had to teach. That, combined with what I had learned as a monastic and about the path of meditation in general, held me in good stead. By the time I left the religious order, I didn't trust anyone to ever get that close to me again, so I began my path alone. Yet, as luck would have it, the Internet was developing and became a source for information and answers to questions I had about the practice. I trusted only other monastics, meaning that I read everything I could get my hands on by reputable Buddhist monastics (Bht. Gunaratana, Nyanaponika Thera, Bhikku Bodhi, Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Mahasi Sayadaw, Soma Thera and others) as I trusted their knowledge of the practice and the path.
After two years of private retreat wherein I did nothing but read, contemplate the suttas, and practice meditation, I began to see real progress in my level of understanding and maturity in the path. I was finally getting the kind of instruction I had been wanting to pursue while in the religious order. But this time, it was coming directly from the horse's mouth, with a little help from my friends: other scholarly monastics experienced in the subtleties of the practice. So, yes, it is possible to move on and not only that, to prosper in your practice and to thrive.
It has been nine years since I began this re-dedication to the practice, and I can truly say that I am in a place of true confidence and contentment with regard to what I have learned.
"The gift of truth exceeds all other gifts" — Dhammapada, v. 354 Craving XXIV