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Buddhadharma : Fall 2009
47 fall 2 00 9 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly an Asian teacher is naturally spiritually superior to a West- ern teacher, and that their mere otherness makes them wiser. Suzuki Roshi did not encourage our idealized notions of Japa- nese culture, or even of him. Once, when asked what honorific title we should call him after his death, he responded force- fully, “No! It is not a question of what I should be called, but what you should be called. You are the ones! Give me five or ten more years and you will be strong teachers yourselves!” Sadly, he made this remark only a year before his death. In the last few decades we have learned—sometimes pain- fully—that Asian teachers come in all shapes, sizes, and levels of realization, just like human beings everywhere. Our ideal- ized sense of their superiority may be due in part to our own lack of confidence, as well as our need for an idealized parent or authority figure. The best Asian teachers, like Suzuki Roshi, avoided taking on our unrealistic projections. Another misconception in American Buddhism is that Asian forms and rituals are essential to practice. In many Buddhist practice centers, the robes and rituals are mistaken for the prac- tice itself, as are the special ways that people move and hold their bodies, and even the way they talk. We must remind ourselves that Buddhism and Zen are not just Japanese, Chinese, or Indian, but universally human pur- suits to relieve suffering. Of course, we need to honor the forms and rituals of our traditions, which have deep practice mean- ing, but we must realize that simply imitating these Asian ritu- als (which are imbued with meaning from their own cultures) will not result in deep understanding, nor will it transform our suffering. The essence of Buddhist practice involves finding our own way and our own rituals in our American culture. That is what Suzuki Roshi wanted us to do. A third common mistake is using meditation to repress our emotions. In the environment of the meditation hall, where there is no eye contact, no talking, and a constant effort to remain focused on our own inner state, meditation can some- times be used to create a sense of emotional distance or discon- nection. There should be a warning label attached to Buddhist practice: “Living and practicing in a Buddhist community can be harmful to your emotional health if improperly used. Avoid repression and mind numbing.” The actual process of Buddhist meditation is the opposite of repression; true meditation is totally exposed, completely in touch and connected. The danger is that Western psyches may use the meditation experience to override their own emotional perceptions and needs. In explaining all of this to our trainees, we found it helpful to speak of personal, interpersonal, and transpersonal levels of training. Meditation experience opens us to the transpersonal core of Buddhism—the realization of the empty nature of our ego-selves and all phenomena. But we cannot bypass or ignore the personal and interpersonal realm of relationships, and the afflictive emotions, group dynamics, and projections that arise around the authority role of priest or teacher, and from belonging to a spiritual community. (lefT-righT):PeTerSchireSOn;giBrOBinSOn darLene cohen says her greatest teacher for the past three decades has been chronic pain from crippling rheumatoid arthritis. “i had been practicing Zen for six years when i was diagnosed,” says cohen, “so i turned toward the disease and its impact on my body/mind as a mind- fulness practice.” She brings to SPoT a continual reference to “the basics of body-based life: birth, breathing, and dying.” cohen is a senior teacher at the russian river Zendo in Guerneville, california, and the author of several books about living with chronic pain. Gary mcnaBB is a clinical psycho- therapist who specializes in adult and pediatric rehabilitative medicine. For twenty-five years he has facili- tated Zen training in a community/ householder practice center in eugene, oregon. his goal is to help people “find and embrace the spiri- tual teaching within their unique habits of daily living, and also in life’s conflicts and contradictions.” aLan Senauke is a Zen teacher who is deeply involved in socially engaged Buddhism. “From the start,” says Senauke, “i was drawn to the way we, as teachers, could develop a shared and dynamic approach to Zen teaching as something that takes place in the context of community as-it-is. SPoT has confirmed for me the possibility of collaborative teaching (and learning) in american Buddhism.” Senauke is vice-abbot of the Berkeley Zen center and a senior adviser to the Buddhist Peace Fellowship. he is also the founder of the clear View Project, which offers Buddhist-based resources for relief efforts and social change. STeVe STucky is co-abbot of San Francisco Zen center and the found- ing teacher of dharma eye Zen center in rohnert Park and San rafael, california. he says, “Training less experienced priests and sangha lead- ers to meet a variety of circumstances in fledgling sanghas, schools, and prisons, and in family and work situa- tions, is essential dharma work.” Stucky has trained in internal Family Systems Therapy and is doing a doc- torate in pastoral counseling at the San Francisco Theological Seminary’s Lloyd center for Pastoral counseling. (lefT-righT):TOnyPaTchell;MarilynMcnaBB;unknOwn;renShinBunce