Tonight I went to my Zen center for sitting practice and discussion group. I’d taken a hiatus from the Zen center in mid-summer because I had a problem with the teacher. He’d suddenly given up private interviews, due to some problems of miscommunication with a female student. I had really grown to depend on those private sessions on a weekly basis. I felt like he abandoned me, left me out in the cold, didn’t care and wasn’t at all considerate of my feelings. I called a board meeting of the Zen center and grilled him in front of the board, who didn’t really see it my way either. I called his teacher, and several other teachers in the lineage, partly to find out their thoughts, but mostly to complain. It wasn’t pretty. I felt suddenly estranged from my sangha, and hadn’t a clue why all this had happened. So I stopped going altogether soon afterwards.
In desperation, I went to the Tibetan FPMT International Office and Maitripa Institute (Buddhist University and Dharma Center) and talked with a lady about the Discovering Buddhism course and what other things were going on there. She gave me a ‘module’ on the topic of Relating to the Spiritual Teacher. I studied the materials, did a personal retreat and started on a whole new journey. You can read the blog entries from the summer forward to follow the path I took.
While on the retreat with Robina I talked with her about the Zen teacher and she said, “was he your teacher?” and I said “yes”. She said, “Then let it go. It’s perfect. Leave it that way”, or something very similar. She’d told us this story of how the Buddha, in a previous incarnation, had been on a sailing ship, where the captain had gone crazy and was about to kill the crew. The Buddha, out of his boundless compassion, seeing that the captain was about to create real suffering for himself and others, chose to kill the captain. Even though the Buddha would suffer the karmic result of killing, he felt that it would be of greater benefit to make this sacrifice than to allow the captain to suffer in endless hells for his deeds, not to mention the suffering of the people who would have been killed.
She has a point to this story. It is this: Unless you are omniscient, which is to have the mind of a perfectly completed, fully enlightened Buddha, who is totally clairvoyant and able to see in the minds of all beings…then you have no business judging the act. This is quite radical, of course, as Venerable Robina puts is. From our view it would look like an unkind act. From the view of the Buddha it was an act of compassion and benefit. It is this view and this story that she brings up whenever I’ve heard students ask her, “what about the acts of this teacher, or that teacher, or George Bush, or whoever?” She says, “can you see his mind?” and then proceeds to shred the logic of the judgment. This is the Wisdom wing. The Hinayana path. And it was her advice to me.
I had stopped going to the Zen center altogether, and quit speaking of the situation. I figured it was done with, I’d moved on. Then a while later, in November, I went to another retreat on Dzogchen. I was telling the teacher about my history, the Zen, etc. and so on and so forth. He told me the same thing as Robina had said. Put your teacher in the mandala. In the group of teachers with whom you have had serious teachings. When you hear it from different sources like this, it’s time to listen up.
One other thing about the Dzogchen path is that in it, we can practice what we need to practice. We don’t have to worry about if it’s this path or that teacher or who or what ever. It doesn’t matter. If we find ourselves in some teachings, we take the teachings. We listen up. We get the essence of the teaching, and otherwise don’t cause trouble with our opinions or need to be ‘right’ or what have you. So I follow this path. I guess in a sense it’s a path of no path, but in a sense it’s a very clear path. Depends on how you look at it. I look at it like I wanted to go sit silently and fix my vision on the wall in front of me. I wanted to be quiet and still. I’d tried going to a Thicht Nhat Hahn retreat in October, but I had to leave early because I just wasn’t feeling it. I needed to sit zazen, so I went back to my Zen center. This part is kind of beside the point of this story, except that I’m trying to put it in context. Very much like I’m used to in Zen training, I take teachings in every moment of every day, every experience, every problem, every delusion. Especially in places that are supposed to be teachings, like AA meetings, therapy sessions, tantra practices with this lama, sutra practices with that lama, service to lamas, service to what is in this moment. Ok, you get it.
After years of struggle with the sangha and having not been there in months, I found myself back at the Zen center, on the cushion, quietly facing the wall. The teacher had gone into having group discussions after sitting on Wednesday nights. When he had the first few back at the beginning of summer I wasn’t happy. There was no topic, and it was kind of lame. In my humble opinion at the time. But when I went back a couple of months ago, after months and months of intensive study, learning a plethora of new practices and attending all these retreats in different linneages, I was there just to sit and meditate. But as fate would have it, after sitting I was about to sneak out before the discussion but found myself kind of stuck where if I’d have left it would have been obvious. I didn’t want to be a pain in the ass so I figured I’d sit there with my mouth shut until the discussion was over. But the strangest thing happed. Low and behold, the topic was the Eightfold Path. Buddhism at the Zen center?! Unbelievable. First time in 16+ years I’d heard a Buddhist topic from this, the Joko Beck lineage. It was great, and I had to stay. I’ve been going back for about 2 months, most Wednesdays.
I’m doing pretty well there. Not making a fuss, not having expectations, not getting upset or disappointed like I used to, contributing what I can to the conversation but trying not to let my ego get in the way of the group process, whatever that may look like. Well, there’s a long story about how Joko fired her two Dharma Successors, Elizabeth and Ezra, by rescinding their Transmission. They are no longer her students, and are not allowed to use her name on anything. This happened in the summer, right about the time I left the zendo. I spoke with Joko several times but didn’t want to press the issue with her because frankly, time is limited on the phone and I didn’t want to waste it talking about those problems. But at first, many of us thought she’d lost her mind. She is pushing 90 and well, we didn’t know what to think.
So I was a little curious and had inquired with another long time practitioner as to the status of the situation. It was unchanged. The Zen Center of San Diego was no longer affiliated with it’s founder. So after sitting practice, my teacher sat down next to me and I asked him, quietly about it. He was saying yeah, that’s how it is and he didn’t really understand it all but it’s her business. I’d said how I felt it was her Transmission, and if they were indeed teaching practices that are untrue to the integrity of her Transmission, then she has the right to say, “take my name off of this, you’re on your own”. He agreed. See, he and I don’t talk one on one at all any more. Small talk if we’re alone together. I always acknowledge his role as teacher and don’t try to push my opinion on him or the group like I used to. I made a mala for him. I blessed it, gave it to him as an offering, and have been trying to follow the advice from the above mentioned teachers on keeping it in the perspective of proper respect. That said, we’re kind of getting to know each other again, in the group context, so I was talking with him, quietly, out of earshot of the group.
Then the weirdest thing happened. There was this kind of, I don’t know, drunk lady. She might have been sober, or on pain pills, but whatever it was she was a little loopy, yet seemed to know some things. Although she seemed kooky, I could tell that she’d put some time into practice. I could have been pissed off and left early, but, per my above aforementioned policy, I decided, “ok, THIS is the teaching for tonight”. However it turned out. Weird how it turned out though.
One of the other students, who never says a word, suddenly grew balls. She actually said to the teacher, “so, what about JOKO? how is SHE practicing compassion by doing that?”, meaning the firing of her former students from the lineage. The teacher gave his answer, the kooky lady kept interrupting with interesting questions. Then I told the story cited above that Robina taught me. Then another cycle of students, the teacher, back and forth and this is the weird part…when I was at that board meeting in the summer, trying to convince everyone of the teacher’s wrong doing, two of these ladies were there. One of them gave me a pretty skeptical time, as she had been doing for years. This lady had even stopped me on the street in her nice neighborhood several years ago and said, “what are YOU doing here?”. She’s never been a fan, and she saw me at my worst at that board meeting. But tonight, she was dumbstruck. She says, “well by your explanation, anything the teacher does is RIGHT then?”. Like that. To which I replied, but the kind of drunk lady kept pressing, and asked me, “what do you MEAN by judgment?”. So in the best way I knew how, I tried to summarize what I’d been taught and said “unless I have the omniscient mind of the Buddha, and can see clairvoyantly into the mind of the teacher, I have NO BUSINESS judging their actions”. BAM! Jaws dropped. No one said anything, so I added, “it’s a hard one for us to hear , but I find the story useful, and applicable.” Because you see, last summer I had judged hard and publicly. Very publicly. And now, here we were, practicing Buddhism.
Why this is such a mindblower to me is that I wasn’t even ever going to bring it up. I’d made peace with the situation, like I said. I wasn’t even TRYING to bring it up, or talk about my situation with this teacher that I was sitting next to, in his home, his zendo. But, in trying to share the teachings of Crazy Wisdom , as Trungpa Rinpoche called it, I was inadvertently telling the story of my coming to terms with the relationship right there in that room. The students were looking at the teacher, then looking at me, then at him, kind of in disbelief. Obviously, I was THERE, so I must have done some work on my mind. The evidence was undeniable. If I was still a raving lunatic about it all, I wouldn’t be able to sit there calmly, week after week. The explanation of why, however, came kind of under the layer of talking about another situation. Although really, it was the same situation. At one point I’d figured the whole damn school of Zen was out to lunch and I got out just in time. ‘All the teachers are acting in questionable manners, and I’m sticking with the lamas from now on’. And that was how it went until I got clear on at least this one aspect of how to relate to the spiritual teacher.
We have a saying in AA. “Work the steps, or the steps will work you”. I think the Dharma is working in my life in the same way. So strange, that in trying to apply the healing principles of relating properly to the spiritual teacher to what looked like a different scenario, I was able to participate in what I feel is a healing process for this group. I know I caused some damage there, and I hope I’m now being of benefit. That’s what the Dharma is for. Benefit to all beings.
May we all be free of suffering, and the root of suffering.
Homage to all my teachers.
As always, your comments are welcome and encouraged.