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Buddhadharma : Spring 2014
42 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY SPRING 2014 who I can’t get to return my calls. He drives me crazy sometimes. We’ve both got quirks and I love him. As with any long-term rela- tionship, there are times when you’re closer and times when you’re farther apart. It’s not always easy for a teacher to know if a student who begins to orbit a little more distantly for a time does so out of a healthy need for separation or whether that distance is about running away from something. Divining these intentions is a very intuitive process, and largely a matter of seeing the student clearly. Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche once said that you shouldn’t go see the teacher in your Sun- day best because they can see right through it. You’re naked to the teacher. That has always stayed with me. I will often ask myself, is my student dressed up? Are they sitting there dressed up in front of me or are they letting me see them naked? Often you see students come in dressed up, trying to look good and impress you because they’re trying to avoid something. SYLVIA BOORSTEIN: Since my relationships with students are more like a mentoring relation- ship, we tend to think of each other as friends. When I first begin mentoring a student, I make a point of emphasizing that we should always feel free to check in about whether the relationship is working for both of us, whether we’re making any progress or there’s any point to it. I also did that with my clients when I was a psychotherapist, evaluating how the relationship was going every six months or so. I think this open invitation to address concerns helps alleviate potential problems. BUDDHADHARMA: Some versions of the teacher- student relationship can seem a bit out of place in Western culture. Do we sometimes find ourselves imitating a relationship that culturally we don’t really understand? SALLIE JIKO TISDALE: Well, it depends what you mean by culture, of course, but what first comes to mind with Zen in the West is the pattern of older Asian male teachers being inappropriate with their younger female stu- dents. Of course there are issues of sexual impropriety and abuse that aren’t specific to the cultural or age divide, but it has been a significant factor. There have been two major admissions of abuse in American Zen com- munities this past year. Both have been very long-term situations, so what’s coming to light is historical abuse for the most part, but I doubt that we’ve seen the end of new problems. Some aspects of Japanese Zen lend them- selves to transparency in the teacher-student relationship; there isn’t a lot of secrecy behind rice-paper walls, and there are forms where the teacher is questioned in front of the com- munity and students present their under- standing in front of others. But particularly in the West, there has often been great secrecy around the teacher-student relationship. I think one of the most dangerous influences that we’ve overlaid on practice from Western psychology and therapy is this idea of com- plete confidentiality. SYLVIA BOORSTEIN: At Spirit Rock, we have long had an ethics council. We make a point of let- ting practitioners know about it and encour- age them to bring forth any grievances. We take complaints about the teacher-student relationship very seriously and have zero tol- erance for inappropriate behavior. My genera- tion has been heavily influenced by Western psychology and has experienced the difficul- ties that arise when people take advantage of others over whom they have power. Speaking to Jiko’s point about confidenti- ality, teachers at Spirit Rock understand the dangers of holding that too tightly. Because we are so shaped by psychology, if we have serious worries about a student’s mental state, particularly in the case of long retreats, we will consult a psychologist or psychiatrist if necessary and help the student make other plans if being on retreat is not in their best interest. So we’re very aware of the need If the teacher doesn’t challenge us, there’s a problem, because the fundamental nature of what we’re working against is clinging. —Mark Power ➤ (FROMTOP):UNKNOWN,PATRICIASALAZAR,UNKNOWN,GAYNELLCOLLIERMAGAR,LAMAPEMATENZIN