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Buddhadharma : Winter 2018
FORUM | IS THE GURU MODEL BROKEN? 55 LAMA RIGZIN DROLMA: Without that agency, we find a kind of blind trust in the kindness of the teacher. Trust is absolutely crucial, but sometimes the idealization gets so strong that the stu- dents aren’t even concerned with whether they’re actually being seen or whether there’s actual kindness. The teacher just becomes a super-idealized being. That being doesn’t exist. The teacher may in fact be a narcissist. He or she might order students around, or abuse them, and that may be accepted by the student because at least it’s some form of contact. So the student may have a certain psychologi- cal disposition, which the teacher then takes advantage of, consciously or uncon- sciously. But honestly, given the cases we’ve been reading about, it’s hard to see how it could be unconscious. LAMA ROD OWENS: In conversations with communities, what I find, over and over again, is a lack of willingness to confront power, to talk about power, or to have any education around power. That leads to some of the situations we find ourselves in, particularly when we’re talking about the most vulnerable folks in our sanghas. There is a way in which the sangha itself—not the teacher, but the sangha itself—conspires to force indi- vidual members to fall into line to sup- port teachers or support policies that are unhealthy. Some of what we’re seeing is the manifestation of cult cultures within our Buddhist communities. PEMA KHANDRO RINPOCHE: Another thing we’re seeing is a major lack of education for some of these traditionally trained teachers around sexuality and gender equality. One of the things that horrified me about these stories we’ve seen is teachers who not only damage people but also think it’s okay. They don’t know it’s not okay to treat women like this. These teachers need to under- stand that there isn’t consent when the power differential is so great, and also that marginalized people who are still developing their agency may not even be able to give consent yet. So it’s the teacher’s job and responsibility to look out for students and to be aware that the students are much more vulnerable in those relationships. I don’t know if a teacher can fully develop if they don’t have peers. One of the problems we see with Tibetan Bud- dhism in exile is that teachers don’t have other teachers around them. They are at the top of the pyramid, the top of a very steep hierarchy, and that’s dangerous. I can say for myself, as a teacher, that’s a very isolating place to be. I would not want to be in that situation, where there are no peers to dialogue with me. The steep hierarchy isn’t always the same. The teacher also has teachers, and in those relationships, the teacher isn’t the guru— the teacher is a student. So the teacher is not a state of being but a role one plays in a particular context. —PEMA KHAN DRO RINPOCHE