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Buddhadharma : Winter 2014
winter 2014 buddhadharma: the Practitioner’s quarterly 51 BUDDhADhARMA: Lama Palden, what are your thoughts on this? You know the structure of the Tibetan Buddhist world where rinpoches are held in high regard. LAMA PALDEN: When I first came to the dharma, I stayed with Kalu Rinpoche and the Sixteenth Karmapa. Early on in the course of informal conversation, the Sixteenth Karmapa mentioned some concerns about various lamas and tulkus, saying he was having trouble with this one or that one. Kalu Rinpoche had also expressed concerns. So I knew there were problems of misconduct and that not everything was completely above board. I think it’s important to look at what leads to these things happening in the first place. One cause is emotional isolation. Teachers may be coming from afar, but even if they’re not from a different culture, there’s a tendency for spiritual teachers to become isolated; they don’t have friends and colleagues with whom they can share trials and tribulations. Another problem is that sometimes teachers feel they can’t reach out for help, or that they’re not sup- posed to need help. And of course, in the Asian model, such resources weren’t available, although perhaps they could have gone to their own teachers and in some cases may have. But for the most part, teachers aren’t getting their own psychological needs met. As teachers, we need to be very conscious of what our own emotional and psychological needs are, and we need to try and meet those in healthy ways rather than pretend they’re not there. And we need community. I’m in a Bud- dhist teachers’ group in the Bay Area that has been meet- ing for over twenty years to talk openly and frankly about whatever issues arise for us. DAVID WhITEhORN: I think the question of how the student- teacher relationship is presented plays a big part in issues of misconduct. The old admonition of the Buddha is “Don’t just believe what I tell you; see if it actually makes sense to you.” To the extent that that’s part of a communi- ty’s culture, it can be very helpful in validating the respon- sibility students hold for their own path and awakening. On the other hand, Buddhist practice undermines con- ventional, conceptual ways of dealing with the world and morality, which can be confusing, especially to those first encountering the path. Other people can take advantage of that. A classic sort of pickup line you might hear longtime practitioners use on newer students is “Oh, honey, this is advanced Buddhism. If you want to know what this tantric stuff is really about, let’s go to my place.” ALAN SENAUKE: My experience has been quite different. At Berkeley Zen Center, from very early on, the precepts were communicated to us in both a relative and absolute manner, so conventional morality was never set aside. But I think the more important element—and this is a real concern of mine—is the degree to which the practice is focused on a single so-called “enlightened being” rather than a relationship of mutual accountability between teacher and student. Secrecy flows from a delusion about power and authority. The more the sangha upholds precept practice, the more protected people are. Certainly there is a patriarchal model in Asia, and we tend to idealize it here. But translating that model into our cultural terms without real adaptation is a huge mistake. In the West, we have a shared ethical dimension that should not be discarded when we enter the practice but should instead harmonize with it. I feel the antidote to misconduct has been ethical training. I’m not talking about guidelines and procedures—I’m talking about actually studying the pre- cepts from early on. BUDDhADhARMA: What else can help change the course of ethical misconduct? David, knowing what you know now, is there something the Shambhala community could have done differently when Osel Tendzin was head of the organization? Buddhist practice undermines conventional ways of dealing with the world, which can be confusing, especially to those first encountering the path. Other people can take advantage of that. — David Whitehorn