Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Unskillful rant on Teaching Zen

I think there is a lot of arrogance out there in the realm of so called “Zen” teachers.
I read words like “Doctrine” and “Transmission” and feel it could easily mislead others.
I grow more and more suspicious of some of the “Ideas” I hear on Zen.
While I do feel the responsibility of figuring things out ultimately rests with the seeker. There is allot of bad gouge out there. That makes the path a little trickier.

*side note* YES there are good “teachers” out there, I have even met a few, and conversed with a few more. And even the worst of teachers and scripture masters can be helpful! Do find a good “teacher” if you can! And DO NOT take what I am saying here as the gospel, YOU have to figure it out for yourself.

Anyone who has an inkling for teaching Buddhism or “Zen” might after a short or long amount of time practicing might feel compelled to “teach” “Zen” And I think there is a bit of helpful “Doctrine” out there that should be taught. For example: I like Master Dogen’s rules for meditation quite a bit for this I just think it is useful.

Actually I think there are a lot of devices that can be useful. But few recognize when they are beyond being useful. The problem with these “Doctrines” is that people do what people do. They get attached to them. Any scripture master can pull doctrine out of their backside but when it comes down to it, doctrine can become a hindrance to actual liberation. (Yes I accept that such a thing exists) Being a true person is what is important. Not knowledge of Koans or scripture.

The basics are OK. And they are important as training wheals. But the training wheals have to come off and the seeker has to be able to ride on their own. Otherwise there is no point and the seeker just gets hooked on another tether.

Personally, I don’t really have much faith in the so called zen teachers of today.
Most of the very best teachers I have found don’t sell zen at all. They actualize it in their daily lives both work and play (often it seems they are lucky enough to have them be the same thing). They may teach the flute (no, not me, I am not that good!) they may sell tea, they might even make skirts for men, who knows! The applications may be as limitless as the universe.

Me, yeah, I may seem pretty arrogant too, but I am not a “transmitted teacher” either. I just enjoy planting seeds and pulling weeds.

May you be free from suffering,

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At May 13, 2008, Blogger Jordan said...

In gassho to all teachers,

At May 14, 2008, Blogger Ted Biringer said...

Hi Jordan,

Thank you for your post.

You make some great points, and best of all, you say what you mean and mean what you say.

Jordan wrote:"I read words like “Doctrine” and “Transmission” and feel it could easily mislead others."

I totally agree with you. I would go even further and say that it does mislead others (probably more than it accurately-leads others). I also believe that a fair amount of it is actually designed to mislead others.

Jordan wrote: "Anyone who has an inkling for teaching Buddhism or “Zen” might after a short or long amount of time practicing might feel compelled to “teach” “Zen”"

I am assuming you mean "teach THE WAY TO Zen," because you know that Zen is not something which can be taught or learned. You bring up an interesting question. What is it that "motivates" authentic teachers?

Of course, there are a multitude of motivations for the phony ones, all of which, it seems to me, arise from either greed or fear, which in turn arise from delusion. But what about those authentic teachers, the ones you call "good teachers?"

In my experience it seems that truly "good teachers" are not "compelled" to teach or not teach. I think your point about "often it seems they [work and play] are lucky enough to have them be the same thing" hits it dead on.

(Though I don't think it has anything to do with "luck" and I don't think that is exactly what you meant either.)

To try to say what I think about it in terms Dogen might use, "Flowers fall, weeds spread, teachers teach."

Not just Zen or Buddhist teachers-all "authentic" (or good) teachers. I love reading or listening to "teachers" that obviously have their "heart" in the matter. Whether they are teaching marline spike seamanship, or Huayen philosophy, teachers that "love" what they teach are the ones I learn most from. And it is not just "teaching."

For instance, years ago I was invited to an AC/DC concert. Now, I always thought AC/DC were okay for what they did. I mean, who between the age of 20 and 50 hasn't caught themselves cruising down freeway singing along with "...Youuu shooook me aaallllllll niight looong!" Any way, after I saw how Angus Young poured his heart and soul into what he was doing, I earned a deep respect for the man! No matter what anyone thinks of the music-when he plays, that guy MEANS it!

As far as "spiritual" teachers with that kind of passion and energy, I don't say there are none, but I do say there are few.

As for "contemporary" teachers that do so, I think that [the late] mythologist Joseph Campbell demonstrated it in his teaching, James Hillman does, Robert Bly, Wendell Berry...

I also sense this kind of "energy" in the records of Dogen, Hakuin, Chinul, Tsung Mi, Hai Hui, Sozan, Ummon, Tozan, and a handful of others.

The two "living" teachers that I have been fortunate enough to have worked with for a number of years, both have demonstrated this kind of "energy" most of the time, in most of the areas that their teachings focus on.

Which means, that sometimes, and concerning some topics, their "teaching" is not, it seems to me, quite so inspired. Part of this I think is due to the fact that both of them are "full time" teachers with fairly large memberships, hence money is involved. Without money, even Zen masters starve; with "dependence" on money (via contributions), even Zen masters (who have days when they would rather not "go to the office") must sometimes struggle with "responsibilities" and "obligations."

At the same time, neither of them would "sell" their teaching (meaning they would not "teach" something they did not know or understand-nor would they teach simply for money.) It is just a fact that if a "community" wants or needs a full time "Zen teacher" (that can provide regular group and one on one teaching, lead a half dozen sesshin's a year, lead extended 'practice periods', fullfil ordinary "religious" rituals, ceremonies, services, and so on) they have to pay them -- unless the teachers are somehow financially independent.

I think the whole "teaching/money" situation is one of the most difficult issues facing the future of Zen/Buddhism in the West. It also seems to have played a major role in current condition of "Zen" in China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam.

Okay... I know, I know... blah, blah, blah...

I offer a quick bow, and depart.

Take care,

At May 14, 2008, Blogger Jordan said...

Ted, the word count of your response was larger than the original article.


At May 15, 2008, Blogger Ted Biringer said...



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