Today on Facebook I wrote the following. Part of this comes from my recent focus on trying to write up an ethics statement. Part of it comes from the recent disclosures of yet another abusive teacher, supported by institutional misconduct. Iin recognition of the “not newness” of such a thing, I am feeling the need to say something. As long as there are teachers, and institutions there will probably be abuses. Especially as we perpetuate the idea that we “own the Dharma” and are in competition with each other. The other difficulty comes from our own human tendancy towards picking, choosing, and maintaining a fixed view.
Anyway… first the words I wrote this AM, and then a bit of further exploration of them.
“Liberation is a practice that no one can “give” to us, or even “share” with us. Only we can practice. In this way, what really matters is finding that place we can “stay” that challenges and supports us to be uncomfortable, challenged and guided towards a deeper relationship with the paradoxical, impermanent and interdependent nature of reality. Picking and choosing hither and yon that which “works for me” only leads to more dissatisfaction.
We have to be willing to be uncomfortable, challenged, and turned back to the loss of “self-centeredness” (putting ourselves in the center). This is different than being abused, or hurt. Leaving abusive and/or unsupportive teachers and institutions is vital. The practice will continue if you let it, and if you realize that the practice is outside all of that. The Dharma is always the Dharma. It is not created, destroyed, not taught nor given. The Dharma is discovered as we practice.”
The idea that we own the Dharma, or even are able to “teach” it creates a problem. As a “teacher” or “senior practitioner” or “whatever name you want to give me”, what I continue to experience is that I am not able to give you or anyone anything you don’t already have. It is said that we are already enlightened, we already have all we need. If I really believe this, how is it possible for me to “teach” you anything? I have to continually remind myself that all I do is point you to how it is I practice, and what I see when I look into the nature of my own skin bag’s experience. I can encourage you to do the same, I can be present with you in the experience of it and tell you what I notice in my experience. I am not “teaching” as much as I am reflecting and refracting your own insight.
When I first began practice, I heard a teacher named Howie Cohen say, “Nothing is broken”. (Sidenote: I don’t know that he actually said that, but it is what I heard and this hearing set in motion all that has come after it) My own history was such that I was terrified of forms, ceremonies and what I judged as “religious”. I held this view for a very long time, thinking I could learn all I needed from books, sutras and meditation.
8 years later I was looking for sangha to deepen my relationship to the three treasures, and as I read about what that meant, I came across these words from Sogyal Rinpoche (Tibetan Book of Living and Dying) “So when you have explored the mystical traditions, choose one master and follow him or her. It’s one thing to set out on a spiritual journey; it is quite another to find the patience and endurance, the wisdom, courage and humility to follow it to the end.” Rinpoche spends a lot of time on this topic. But in a nutshell, I hear it as an admonition to find a spot that you can “stay” and face whatever happens. With the usual admonitions about not putting up with abuse, and knowing when you have exhausted what the teacher/institution/tradition has to teach you, I encourage the same thing. I don’t think it matters what practice you pick, as much as it does that you keep practicing it.
We are by nature dissatisfied. We want to pick and choose. “Take what you want and leave the rest” seems to be the mantra of large patches of our spiritual practitioners. I know I certainly did that for a long while. When I first arrived at Zen I did not want the forms, and ceremonies. I thought it was all ridiculous, abusive and unnecessary. Until I started to practice it. When I decided to “stay” and work on my shit, I had to face my own fear, loneliness, disappointments and doubts. I had to realize that I had been abused and traumatized by religions in the past, and deal with that. I had to stay as my own life came forth to be examined and integrated into the nature of my experience.
This is what I found when I stayed. It is why I continue to practice Zen, even after leaving an institutional setting. My practice is still here. It is possible to let go of the things which might stand in our way of practice. Just be careful it’s not some delusion of mind cooked up to knock you off your seat. How are we careful? By staying. Breath after breath after breath after breath.