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Buddhadharma : Spring 2015
spring 2 0 1 5 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 19 sallie Jiko tisdale: This is a question that every student must answer. So the first thing to consider is your willingness to be a stu- dent. In Zen Master Dogen’s words, “Even a seven-year-old—were he or she to train in and practice Buddhism, and then say something that is buddhadharma—can be a teacher and guide for monks and laity, male and female.” Authentic teachers do not look like anything in particular, and the best teacher for you likely won’t be what you imagine. Drop your ideas about teachers. Drop your notions about a teacher’s age, gender, race, and appearance. Your true teacher, above all, will be an ordinary human being— because every teacher is that. If you are insecure about your own understanding, you may seek an authority who looks different from yourself. You may long for fancy vestments or be deceived by a charismatic personality or promises. Or you may avoid someone who looks different, hoping to find a teacher with whom you can identify, who “gets” you. You don’t have to find a formal teacher; you can still practice deeply without one. But when you sit in front of someone who is willing to teach you, listen carefully to what they have to say. Listen as well to your own reactions. If there is no spark, then bow and move on; if there is a spark, be willing to explore the relationship. Be patient. The best teacher for you will be both trust- worthy and challenging. You want some- one with whom there is a sympathetic understanding, but you need a little edge as well. Good teaching will not always be about affirmation. It won’t always tell you that everything is okay. Good teach- ing will include the invitation to question what you feel and think, to witness and explore your own experience. This isn’t always comfortable, so a good teacher both invites discomfort and supports you while you work with it. You ask about an “authentic” teacher, and that means someone with an authentic understanding, someone who can express their understanding of buddhadharma in their day-to-day lives. Such teachers are people who have done a fair amount of time as students and understand a student’s (lEFT–RIgHT):marylang,nicolasgounaropoulos,kimcampbell ask the teachers i’ve attended a few talks by Buddhist teachers and I’ve met a couple in person, but I always feel like I don’t know what I’m looking at. Some seem to be putting on a show, trying to look like teachers, and I feel cynical about that. But most just seem like ordinary people, and if I’m honest, I feel cynical about that too. How can I know if a teacher is authentic? what does the real thing look like? NarayaN HeleN lIebeNsoN is a guiding teacher at cambridge insight meditation center GesHe TeNzIN WaNGyal rINpocHe is a lineage holder of the Bön dzogchen tradition of tibet sallIe jIko TIsdale is a lay dharma teacher at dharma rain Zen center in Portland, oregon