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Buddhadharma : Spring 2014
SPRING 2014 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 45 like a rumor. You hear rumors that if you do a certain practice, you’ll see certain results. So what you’re really doing with your practice is investigating a rumor. That idea resonated with me. We don’t know if something’s true until we throw ourselves into the investiga- tion and find out. I always encourage students to realize that this means they’ll go down some blind alleys, find some clues that don’t pan out; some things won’t be what they had expected. Per- severance is key to this practice. The Buddha’s last advice was: believe in yourself and in your experience. The teacher is there to help guide you, to see things you’re not seeing, to point you in new directions. I think it was Jack Kornfield who said that being a teacher is like watching someone try to climb a cliff and yelling at them, Go left, go left! But they can’t always hear you. All we can really do is say, Watch out for that rock right in front of you; I tripped over it myself. My advice to students is to show up as authentically and completely as you can, pay attention, and stick with the practice, and eventually you can find out if those rumors are true or not. MARK POWER: I would add that it’s important to be very kind to yourself in the process of getting to know your teacher and tradition. Looking back at my own path, I would say that fear motivated me to go blindly forward. It felt like this fear was an indication that something was wrong with me. If I were to do anything differently, it would be to slow down and spend time getting to know and make friends with my fear. BUDDHADHARMA: Based on your experience, what would you say a strong teacher-student relationship offers? SYLVIA BOORSTEIN: There are many teachers to whom I’m deeply indebted, principally Jack Kornfield, Joseph Goldstein, and Sharon Sal- zberg, all of whom were key teachers in my own progression. Jack knows me; he SYLVIA BOORSTEIN: As the dharma becomes secure and more fully manifested in the West, I think it’s crucial to educate practitioners about what is and isn’t reasonable for a teacher to ask of a student. A certain level of maturity and understanding about what’s expected— and what’s not—is so important for students entering into relationships with teachers. MARK POWER: It’s interesting that we’re focus- ing on the potentially problematic nature of the student-teacher relationship. As soon as we enter the spiritual path, we’re on unsafe ground. From a certain point of view, we’ve gotten into a boat that has holes in it. Our path is really the process of learning to lean into uncertainty, to let go, and the teacher’s job is to make sure that there is abundant uncertainty. I think we can become overly concerned about how the teacher challenges us. If the teacher doesn’t challenge us, there’s a problem, because the fundamental nature of what we’re working against is clinging; a deep and abiding clinging requires a lot of skillful provocation to allow us to release. So I think the power of the teacher is some- thing to celebrate as much as it is for us to be careful about. Our culture is so invested in individualism that it is very hard for us to unconditionally release. BUDDHADHARMA: What can students do on their side to make the most of a relationship with a spiritual teacher? SYLVIA BOORSTEIN: My advice for students would be to ask their teacher, “What’s dif- ferent about you since you’ve been practic- ing? What can I hope for in myself? What’s a reasonable thing to happen?” It can seem mysterious, how the mind changes over the course of practice, but it’s not. It is miracu- lous, but it’s not mysterious. Certain causes lead to certain kinds of results. SALLIE JIKO TISDALE: Francis Dojun Cook, a Zen student and translator, once said that at the beginning of practice, Buddhist faith is As the dharma becomes secure and more fully manifested in the West, it’s crucial to educate practitioners about what is and isn’t reasonable for a teacher to ask of a student. —Sylvia Boorstein ➤ (FROMTOP):TIMHENDERSON,KELLYUPTONJAMESON,AITAKAHASHI,VEN.SANTIPALO,TOGANTIMOTHYKOHLBRENNER