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Buddhadharma : Fall 2009
experience. Trainees who can manage a training period in a monastery or residential center are encouraged do so. Our intention is to supplement and support those traditional train- ing methods with new ones that embody Suzuki Roshi’s vision that we find our practice in our own Western culture. At our first SPOT meeting, one of the trainees, recently ordained, began to tell of his new life as a priest. “As soon as people found out I was a priest,” he recalled, “they began to share all their troubles with me. They began to ask me all sorts of questions. They poured their hearts out to me. I was over- whelmed. I didn’t know what to say.” And he began to cry. We were moved by his story and found it sobering to realize what we had taken on. Addressing Misunderstandings Early on in our curriculum planning, SPOT faculty homed in on three common distortions of Zen practice in America. The first we referred to as idealization of the exotic. Some practitioners work with a hidden assumption that In this way the training of a priest-to-be in Japan—particularly in the realm of feelings and emotions—begins at birth. In addi- tion, the monastic training of Japanese Zen priests is not the whole of it. Most of them do a long apprenticeship with their primary teacher, assisting in the care of the home temple and performing the myriad tasks of a temple priest. As well, most Japanese Zen priests attend a Buddhist university, and receive an academic degree. In light of all this, why should we have assumed that we had received the whole package? Suzuki Roshi only had time during his twelve years in America to give us the essentials of Zen practice. The rest, he exhorted, was up to us. Birth of the Program These discussions led to the start of our own peer-group teacher training, offering guidance and support to each other. At the same time, we recognized an immediate need to address the training of the next generation of priests and teachers, since not only were we training lay practitioners, but many of us were already preparing to ordain our own priest disciples. What were we going to teach them about keeping their vows to make Buddhist practice the center of their lives? How were we going to train them? Here was a chance to figure that out together. Until these discussions, we had not given a whole lot of thought to disciple training, except to assume that it would be much like our own. But in most cases that was not really practical. We had done our residential training while relatively young and unencumbered. In contrast, our own students were older, with partners, families, and professions or careers. Long residential training at a Buddhist monastery like Tassajara was impractical for them. In most cases, their aspiration was to be like us, out in the world as hospice workers and chaplains, meditation teachers and sangha leaders. They needed focused and comprehensive preparation aimed at helping them teach Buddhism without the enhancements of Zen centers, altars, priests’ robes, and residential schedules. In short, they needed to know how to do the work of a Buddhist priest without depending on the trappings of formal practice. From these peer group meetings, the SPOT program was born. SPOT stands for Shogaku Priest Ongoing Training (Shogaku is one of Suzuki Roshi’s Buddhist names). The six of us formed the faculty and invited our own priest trainees to join. As well, a few other teachers from lineages related to the San Francisco Zen Center sent some of their own disciples. When we started the program we had thirty trainees, includ- ing some still in residence at the San Francisco Zen Center. From the outset we made it clear that SPOT was not a substitute for the one-on-one relationship of teacher and dis- ciple. All participants must have their teacher’s permission to join and that relationship is honored, since the relationship between root teacher and disciple is an essential part of our Zen tradition. Nor is the program a substitute for monastic It’s unrealistic to think that our training, based on Asian models of practice and pedagogy, could have prepared us fully for the work we were now doing as American Zen teachers. Grace SchireSon is a clinical psy- chologist who specializes in group therapy. She believes that prospective dharma teachers and sangha leaders need to thoroughly examine any per- sonal trauma and personality tenden- cies. “While meditation helps to expose our underground mental struc- ture,” says Schireson, “for most of us, adding a Western psychological approach can expedite the process of self-awareness.” Schireson is the president of Shokagu Zen institute, the umbrella organization for SPoT. She is also the founder and head teacher of empty nest Zendo, a Zen group in north Fork, california. after many years of training and prac- tice at each of the San Francisco Zen center practice places, LeWiS richmond re-entered the workplace as a corporate executive and went on to establish his own software com- pany. he brings to the SPoT program a sense of real-world practicality and an understanding of livelihood and support issues. his own sangha, the Vimala Sangha, which he founded in 2003 in mill Valley, california, is named after and inspired by Vimalakirti, the “householder Buddha.” richmond serves as provost of Shokagu Zen institute. (lefT-righT):PeTerSchireSOn;giBrOBinSOn(lefT-righT):TOnyPaTchell;MarilynMcnaBB;unknOwn;renShinBunce buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly fall 2 0 09