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Buddhadharma : Summer 2009
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly summer 20 0 9 24 began to sit zazen. Then Suzuki Roshi began to speak, growling, “You are all foxes and badgers sleeping in your zazen caves. When the bell rings, GET UP AND GO TO THE ZENDO! Tell me, Who is priest and who is layman?” As he was speaking he jumped up and began hitting each student with his kyo- saku (encouragement stick) really hard. “Whack, whack, whack, whack” could be heard all over the zendo. The zendo was very full, and as he went around he began running out of steam. I think we all learned from this how important it is in Zen training to follow the schedule completely. Do whatever is next. Don’t pick and choose. Just do it! But more important I think is my appreciation of how completely Roshi threw himself into showing us the spirit of wholehearted practice. He exhausted himself for us to be sure we got it, that this practice was not some exotic trip or a passing fad, but a matter of life and death which required an equal commit- ment from us to meet him completely with our whole heart. geshe tenZin Wangyal: A loving mother is not always peaceful in relation to her child. Whenever it is necessary to create a clear boundary or to show there is a limit, a mother may display a wrathful demeanor. So it may be with the teacher who sees a need to be wrathful in rela- tion to the student. It is healthy to be able to display wrath when there is a true and loving relationship between the teacher and the student. Perhaps this is a cultural difference, but if a teacher is straightforward and expresses something directly, and even wrathfully, a Tibetan will think it is a sign of being close like family. If a teacher isn’t comfortable doing so, it is a sign of distance, like saying, “Do what you want; I don’t care.” In the West, people are not as tolerant of direct communi- cation, let alone wrathfulness. Forget about being wrathful! Sometimes just being clear and direct can be interpreted as being mean. How can wrathfulness be used to effectively teach and when is it harmful? With any human being, when something happens gradually, it is harder to grasp its significance. When it is stated in a stronger way, there can be a greater chance to understand consequences. Many are familiar with the example of the frog. When a frog is placed in a pan of water the same temperature as its ordinary environment, and the tempera- ture of the water is gradually increased, the frog will remain in the water until it dies from overexposure to the heat. The frog simply does not register danger. However, if the frog is placed directly from its ordinary environment into the hot water, it perceives the danger and jumps out immediately. In everyday life when things are going well, a person is not as moti- vated to practice meditation and is not so observant. When that same person experiences personal pain, sickness, or tragedy, he or she is more likely to shift their view and examine their priorities or outlook. If the teacher is aware of a student’s tendency to become overly comfortable in a situation, and uses enlightened wrathfulness to guide the student, it clearly can be beneficial. A student should be able to discern whether a teacher’s actions have clar- ity. With enlightened wrathfulness, the teacher does not lose connection to the ground of compassion. If the teacher has lost that connection and is simply angry, that is not a guided action. If that is the case, harm can result. The stu- dent should examine whether to follow the teacher, and always has the option not to follow. Check your experience. Hopefully you can clearly check your own mind. If there is a degree to which you feel the teacher’s action is unhealthy, do not follow the teacher. One of my teachers, Lopon Sangye Tenzin, could be characterized as a wrathful teacher. Whenever he gave advice regarding teaching and practice, there was not much space for negotia- tion! His students were those who could tolerate that, and continue to follow him. People who could not handle his teaching style had a more distant rela- tionship with him.