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Buddhadharma : Spring 2014
40 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY SPRING 2014 (LEFT—RIGHT):JENNIFERBRINKMAN,MARIONYAKOUSHKIN,MARGOTDUANE SALLIE JIKO TISDALE is a lay dharma teacher at Dharma Rain Zen Center in Portland, Oregon, and the author of Women of the Way. MARK POWER is a senior teacher in the Nalandabodhi sangha under the direction of Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche and serves as a chaplain at the Seattle Children’s Hospital. SYLVIA BOORSTEIN is a psychologist and founding teacher of Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California. She is the author of Happiness Is an Inside Job. periodic basis and try to keep up with what’s going on with them and offer suggestions about their practice. BUDDHADHARMA: Whether we’re calling them a mentor or teacher, how key is our relationship with that person to making progress on the spiritual path? MARK POWER: In the Vajrayana tradition, the teacher-student relationship is considered essential to making progress on the spiritual path. I’ve certainly found that to be true in my experience with teachers. While on one hand the relationship has a formal teacher-student hierarchy, unpredictability is a huge compo- nent of the teaching style in the Vajrayana tradition. Teachers seem to take great delight in making their students a little bit uncomfort- able by turning the dynamics upside down and sideways from time to time, so the ground of that relationship is always changing. SALLIE JIKO TISDALE: I’m a little hesitant to say it’s crucial to have a teacher, and I do tell peo- ple it’s not. The Buddha talked about sravakas and pratyekabuddhas as examples of the soli- tary path. What’s crucial is the willingness to surrender. That doesn’t have to be through a teacher, but it needs to happen somehow in the context of human relationships. There’s a saying, “It’s easy to be enlightened in a cave.” When our karmic triggers are not get- ting pushed, we can feel pretty enlightened a lot of the time, but as soon as we encounter another human being, we start running into our issues. So one of the most useful things about being in a formal relationship with a teacher is that they can call us on those trig- gers; they point out the patterns and agendas we carry and invite us to look at the ways we meet the world. We give a teacher permission to see us clearly and tell us what they see. But 90 percent of what happens in that relationship, I think, comes from the student. My teacher was certainly there to support and encourage me, but the crucial thing was what I brought to the relationship. It only worked because I was willing to take the scary path. I wasn’t always willing to hear what my teacher had to say to me; sometimes I left or had to hear it several times, but eventually I would listen. BUDDHADHARMA: Can you say more about what this relationship has been for you, whether as a teacher or student? SYLVIA BOORSTEIN: I try to be an engaged and completely supportive sounding board for my students—a holder of their journey. I will offer suggestions if I feel they might be help- ful, but mostly I find that warm support is a very good petri dish for people’s own devel- opment. Teachers have different personalities and styles with their students. Some teachers in my tradition have a more confrontational style than I do. But I tend to have a great belief in people’s ability to let their unfolding happen in a supportive environment. SALLIE JIKO TISDALE: I have several students who have committed to a formal, lifelong teacher-student relationship with me. Having