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Buddhadharma : Spring 2014
44 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY SPRING 2014 to balance confidentiality with our ethi- cal responsibility and the needs of the sangha. BUDDHADHARMA: Mark, in the Vajrayana, is there a certain amount of cultural imitation that happens for Western students in their relationship with their teachers, and if so, is that a problem? MARK POWER: It does seem inevitable that a certain amount of imitation takes place in bringing Eastern traditions to the West. I can’t speak for all of the Vajrayana traditions taking root in the West, but within Nalan- dabodhi, under the guidance of Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, there’s been a great effort to shed light on the genuine, skillful ways a student can interact with a teacher and with the practices that are culturally appropriate. It requires a lot of thought and education to dissolve presumptions about these forms, or imitative responses to them. However, there is an initial mimicry that is based in genuine awakening. When we first recognize something genuine in ourselves reflected by a teacher, we begin to follow and emulate that teacher. The path is a process of opening up and developing a greater understanding of who we are. If we view the path this way rather than as something prescriptive, a more mature adult relationship develops between student and teacher. The real risk is if self-development doesn’t happen. Then one is always in sub- mission, falling into a pattern of dependency rather than coming into the sense of freedom that a genuine teacher reflects. SYLVIA BOORSTEIN: You know, thirty years ago the discussion in pan-Buddhist teacher meet- ings was largely focused on how to translate the dharma to the West, how much of the cultural forms we should adhere to. Ten years later, the discussion was largely around sexual indiscretions and the various ways that teach- ers were taking advantage of students. The idea that your teacher had to be surrendered to no matter what was prevalent for some time, and there was a terrible phase when this kind of thinking enabled a great abuse of power. It was very discouraging, but for me it under- scored that teachers, like me, weren’t finished individuals, that leaders of spiritual communi- ties needed to better educate their sanghas, and that more vigilance was required on the part of practitioners. SALLIE JIKO TISDALE: I think that risk will always be with us, because a new student will bring that vulnerable mind-set to prac- tice, and a twisted teacher will use it. We’ll never be cured of delusion, either. We need to strive to keep the relationship above board and not forget to confront abuses of power when we see them. Earlier I said that about 90 percent of the work that happens between a teacher and student is the student’s work. But about 90 percent of the protective nature of that rela- tionship is the teacher’s responsibility. Eventu- ally I reached a point with my teacher where I experienced surrender so deeply that I real- ized I would do anything for him. It was his integrity that took care of me. On the other side as a teacher now, I’m very conscious that boundaries have to be defined largely by me, because I’m inviting students to explore a vulnerable position they’re not familiar with. (Left to right) Nomon Tim Burnett, Zoketsu Norman Fischer, and Anka Rick Spencer PHOTO | KATHIE FISCHER ➤ (FROMTOP):TIMHENDERSON,KELLYUPTONJAMESON,AITAKAHASHI,VEN.SANTIPALO,TOGANTIMOTHYKOHLBRENNER