Teaching Dharma - Why?

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10 years 11 months ago #2433 by Chris Marti
Why do so many practitioners turn to the teaching of the dharma so quickly? I keep pondering this and it leads to an almost inevitable conclusion, at least as I see it. What's behind this urge? How is that some feel it's something they can and should do?

Even some of the more experienced dharma teachers aren't all that good at it. It's a nuanced and complicated endeavor that seems to require a very developed ability to separate what the "I" needs from what the student needs and what the student wants from what the student needs. My concern about this relates to the risk that people new to practice, curious people, can get turned off by the ill equipped and confused.

I don't know if there's a way to vet folks who want to do this teaching thing. And the easy availability of online communications appears to have facilitated a lot of experimentation in this arena, some very, very good, and some ill conceived, some in between. The hurdle to "jump in" is very low, as we say in business. Anyone with a blog and the desire can be off and running in a few hours.

How do you see this? Should I just shut the f*ck up and let it go? Maybe it's none of my business, after all.

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10 years 11 months ago #2434 by Jackson
Replied by Jackson on topic Teaching Dharma - Why?
The radical behaviorist side of me thinks that the only reason people decide to teach dharma so soon is due to reinforcement from others. The hardcore/pragmatic dharma movement has of late been a vehicle which provides great praise and encouragement for reporting diligent practice and for claiming attainments that can be backed up with posts to a message board. Every time someone claims a new attainment, people chime in and say, "Wow, congrats! I wish I were so enlightened!" or something to that effect.

And, when someone you believe is enlightened encourages you to teach, than teaching becomes a way of fulfilling what the great enlightened one has called you to do. VERY reinforcing.

Behaviors that are reinforced increase. Behaviors that are not reinforced (or even punished) decrease. And example of punishment is the way some of us were put down at KFDh for being dissenters of opinion. Many of us, after being punished for speaking up, quit posting at KFDh. It was not longer rewarding, and was actually quite hurtful, to interact with others at that forum.

I guess I'm saying that I think the context is to blame. The HCDh/pragDh scene has spun out of control. It now promotes a bunch of adolescent yogis to the level of grand master, all by cheering them on and letting them use funny titles for themselves. One need only to get outside the bubble to see that things are quite as they seem on the inside.

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10 years 11 months ago #2435 by Kate Gowen
Replied by Kate Gowen on topic Teaching Dharma - Why?
'Teaching dharma' in the way that is becoming possible with the internet is quite a new phenomenon-- shoot, so is the kind of 'virtual acquaintance' that is its basis. All the social, cultural, historical, physical contexts have faded, don't register, against the immediacy of instantaneous written or telephonic verbal exchange. I don't think it's possible to say what this means or what its effect will be-- yet.

I know my own process of becoming acquainted with new phenomena tends to run from initial excitement about possibility, to discovering unintended 'faults' and saying, 'Yikes! Bad idea!', to having to do the long slog of discriminating and articulating the whole picture and developing a more nuanced view.

-- and then, maybe your qualms have to do with the particulars that are most familiar to you, and not with anything more general...

I will confess, for myself, that I'm rather startled to discover my inner conservative old fart, with its strong approval of the patience, discretion, and modesty of the old masters-- especially the Zen madmen. Somewhere along the same lines is a growing appreciation of what a delicate art teaching is, and how easy it is, in the everybody his/her own validator online realm, to overestimate one's own development and skill.

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10 years 11 months ago #2436 by Dharma Comarade
Replied by Dharma Comarade on topic Teaching Dharma - Why?
Don't shut up about it.
I say because I have the same concerns.
It is your business.

The cynic in me thinks that the reason this happens is simple: some people desperately want to be dharma teachers because in this culture it can be a very heady, extremely ego satisfying existence. You get to sit at the head of the room of admiring, needy, devotees on a raised platform (sometimes figuretively sometimes literally). What a trip that must be.

If it is enlightenment that you are teaching, it's great because if all your students think that you are enlightened and they are not then there is no way to hold you accountable for your words, teachings, and, sometimes, your actions. What a luxury that must be!

I could go on an on.

I have more to say and will add later when I get back from some stuff.

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10 years 11 months ago #2437 by Chris Marti
Replied by Chris Marti on topic Teaching Dharma - Why?
"... a growing appreciation of what a delicate art teaching is, and how easy it is, in the everybody his/her own validator online realm, to overestimate one's own development and skill."

That's my qualm, Kate.

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10 years 11 months ago #2438 by Chris Marti
Replied by Chris Marti on topic Teaching Dharma - Why?
I was talking to a friend the other day and he made a cogent comment. He'd a dharma teacher and he refuses to become "teacher" to anyone he cannot meet with face to face at least once in a while. I would, in the past, have discounted that idea. Now, however, I think it might be the wisest way to approach the student/teacher relationship. Online in text, via Skype, over the phone, it's just not the same as the higher bandwidth of a face to face encounter, IMHO.

Now, I know people can have relevant, even very effective relationships online with teachers and coaches of the dharma. I've done that myself. But, at some point, I think the relationship between student and teacher probably requires face to face or subtle misreads, small misunderstandings and non-nuanced issues can arise that are just not effective to manage online.

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10 years 11 months ago #2439 by Chris Marti
Replied by Chris Marti on topic Teaching Dharma - Why?
"The hardcore/pragmatic dharma movement has of late been a vehicle which provides great praise and encouragement for reporting diligent practice and for claiming attainments that can be backed up with posts to a message board. Every time someone claims a new attainment, people chime in and say, "Wow, congrats! I wish I were so enlightened!" or something to that effect."

I was guilty of that behavior, Jackson. I've reconsidered a lot of things I used to do, to believe, to practice.

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10 years 11 months ago #2440 by Jackson
Replied by Jackson on topic Teaching Dharma - Why?
Chris, me too! I probably should have mentioned that in my post, so as to not appears as saying that I'm not so fallible as to succumb to this unfortunate set of behaviors. I was completely, 100% immersed in the DhO, and then KFDh, for quite some time, as you know. It's humbling to remember that.

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10 years 11 months ago #2441 by Shargrol
Replied by Shargrol on topic Teaching Dharma - Why?
It seems like teaching can be a way to "have" enlightenment. Creating a method of teaching (and throwing in a trademark or copyright or two) might do the same thing. Having students and students that teach what you have taught them might be twice and three times so. The dharma is empty so the only way you can have it is by "having" the methods. It seems to me that folks that have realizations can still pursue immortality projects like anyone else. Just constructed out of dhama-ish stuff.

I've heard of good teachers that keep their students from falling into these kinds of traps, but some days it seems like there are reported scandles to go with every report of a good reputation.

The problem with attainments as the center of the teaching is that the other psychological stuff can get ignored, but without any focus on attainments it becomes no different than psychology. And if every potential teacher waits until they have perfect attainments and perfect psychology, there might not ever be a teacher.

And so it's other day typing in words into the dharma refugee camp forum.

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10 years 11 months ago #2442 by Dharma Comarade
Replied by Dharma Comarade on topic Teaching Dharma - Why?
I've had the same thought shargrol just mentioned about teaching as a way to "have" enlightenment.
I think a lot of students (who have been around teachers and dharma communities) have a hard time seeing the point of working hard at practice and becoming enlightened without then being able to be recognized for their accomplishment and get some of the resultant social/ego perks. (if a person becomes enlightened all by themselves in a forest, does it make a sound?)

If a person has really apprehended emptiness and then sincerely lives from that place from then on -- will they necessarily become a dharma teacher? Why couldn't they continue or take up any number of occuapations and/or vocations or pursue certain "skillful" hobbies? Sometimes I feel like becoming a teacher in some kind of hierarchical setting might be the least likely thing such a person might do.

However, the teachings and techniques of dharma are valuable and I'd hate for them to die out, so people and insitutions, I guess, need to exist to keep the thing alive. (Yes, I'm confused)

Still, I really like the idea of the Kates, the Jacksons, the Chris Martis, etc. of the world who get some value from their practice and then, when the moment purely presents itself, share what they know with someone else out of a place of compassion and just plain enthusiasm.

I know that without even really knowing it probably Jackson has given me the best and most worthwhile meditation instruction I've gotten so far -- just because I knew he had a skill I wanted and I just kept asking him questions -- which he always found time to answer.

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10 years 11 months ago #2443 by Dharma Comarade
Replied by Dharma Comarade on topic Teaching Dharma - Why?
And, I think I've mentioned this here or somewhere else before recently -- I'm really curious about the actual methods/standards used by the IMS/Spirit Rock people to train and then vet teachers in their lineages.
I guess I've assumed that it is a very worked out, rational process full of checks and balances that prevent individual personalities from dominating the process. But am I right? I don't know.

Same with the various large and small zen groups out there, as well as other theravada-oriented organizations and groups, Tibetan, etc.

I mean, is there a place a student could go to be taught and be able to feel confident their teacher is well trained and has some kind of seal of approval from other well trained reputable people?

I hate to admit that part of my doubs about Ingram, Folk, Adyashanti, Wilbur (I guess he isn't really a 'teacher," is he?), Kapleau, Packer, various "non-dual" teachers, Tolle, and on and on and on is that their "approval to teach" seems either vague or slightly unoffical (and often admitedly so) or is non existent. And, the reason I hate to admit is that I also have doubts about teachers who are considered high quality just because they have the seal of approval of some insitution (Like I said, I'm very confused)

I've been around a handful of people lately whose teacher is Grace Shireson. I was at the "zen and recovery" group yesterday put on by her sangha and her name come up quite often from the two priests, the group leader, etc. It was clear that she was an "authority" to them. At one point a new person said "who is this Grace you keep talking about?" In answering, one of the priests gave a short bio of her that was clearly a way to kind of qualify her and give her some legitimacy, which, in her case is pretty easy to do -- her credentials in the official soto zen world are pretty impressive is one cares about such things (began as a student of Suzuki Roshi in the 60s, dharma transmission from Mel Weitzman, many long term stays at the important soto-zen temples in Japan, completion of koan study with a Japanese master, Ph.D. in clinical psych, etc)

Sorry, I have no point here, I guess. I try again later.

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10 years 11 months ago #2444 by Shargrol
Replied by Shargrol on topic Teaching Dharma - Why?
Mike, I know the feeling of having no point. I don't know what else I can say or think about this stuff.

Just fyi, here's an IMS announcement of recent teachers:

http://www.dharma.org/ims/ai_news_training_of_ims_teachers.html

I admire what IMS is doing. These are some serious practioners already and they seem to be getting a pretty thorough training. The only downside to what I've seen at IMS is there tends to be a pretty big gap between the teachers and students -- almost a rockstar-audience kind of relationship. But it has always struck me as a "safe" place to practice and I don't mind recommending it to others who want to go on their first retreat.

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10 years 11 months ago #2445 by Ona Kiser
Replied by Ona Kiser on topic Teaching Dharma - Why?
i will be tempted to rant on this. but for better or worse limited to typing on cell phone for now. so short response is: @cmarti, i assume this is in response to a specific thread/incident/something that rrecently happened elsewhere?
and second, teaching in many subjects is not just about technique. teaching itself is a skill, but can come in many forms. a teacher who speaks to my needs might sound like an idiot to you.

per example just spent day at teaching by loch kelly (studied with/told to teach by adyashanti). found it fascinating and very useful. no method. no meditation. how could that style of teaching even be compared to what a zen priest should teach? completely different systems.

more later when i have a real keyboard.

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10 years 11 months ago #2446 by Chris Marti
Replied by Chris Marti on topic Teaching Dharma - Why?
"And if every potential teacher waits until they have perfect attainments and perfect psychology, there might not ever be a teacher."

There is such a thing as experience, too. I don't think it's unreasonable to expect a certain level of maturity in the practice of a teacher.

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10 years 11 months ago #2448 by Chris Marti
Replied by Chris Marti on topic Teaching Dharma - Why?
"I assume this is in response to a specific thread/incident/something that rrecently happened elsewhere?"

No. It's been on my mind for a log time, Ona.

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10 years 11 months ago #2449 by Ona Kiser
Replied by Ona Kiser on topic Teaching Dharma - Why?
but why?
to save people from themselves? or preserve the reputation of dharma teaching?
i don't necessarily disagree entirely, just find the question more interesting than the "answer".

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10 years 11 months ago #2450 by Shargrol
Replied by Shargrol on topic Teaching Dharma - Why?
Chris, what do you think the certain level of maturity in the practice of a teacher is?

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10 years 11 months ago #2451 by Chris Marti
Replied by Chris Marti on topic Teaching Dharma - Why?
I think I've answered the "why" question already from my perspective, but let's try this formulation: to teach dharma effectively you kind of sort of have to have a reasonably solid base of knowledge about the topic. Otherwise you're taking advantage, or potentially doing harm, even if inadvertently. I'm fully aware that there's a fine line here when it come to the teaching of the dharma and a beginning student can learn from a journeyman without much problem or risk. Of course, that begs the question of how beginning students choose a teacher...

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10 years 11 months ago #2452 by Chris Marti
Replied by Chris Marti on topic Teaching Dharma - Why?
"... what do you think the certain level of maturity in the practice of a teacher is?"

I said this, too, and the example I used is not mistaking one's own needs as a teacher for those of the student and also not mistaking the wants of the student for what they really need from the teacher. It's nuanced, of course, but not impossible to make these determinations.

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10 years 11 months ago #2453 by Chris Marti
Replied by Chris Marti on topic Teaching Dharma - Why?
This is quoited from Mike's links to Spirit Rock and it makes a lot of sense to me in regard to this topic - common sense, as that's really the only way to do this:

"Spirit Rock retreats are taught by the twenty one members of the Spirit Rock Teachers Council and by visiting teachers from other vipassana centers such as Insight Meditation Society (IMS) and Gaia House. Spirit Rock's teachers have generally practiced insight meditation for over twenty years. Many have trained in the monasteries of Asia. Over the years, they have each been invited into a formal teacher training group by the most senior teachers based on their depth of practice, maturity of understanding and compassionate heart.

The four- to six-year teacher training they received incorporates systematic study of Buddhist texts, extensive training in meditation practices and techniques, study of our Buddhist lineage and history, and teacher role studies. It also includes hundreds of hours of practice interviews and assisting at many retreats and classes as preparation for assuming full teacher status. Spirit Rock teachers lead classes and retreats both locally and nationwide."

They also continue as students themselves, dedicated to ongoing study and dharma practice and to deepening their understanding and embodiment of the Buddha's teachings. The Spirit Rock Teachers Council has the responsibility for the spiritual direction and vision holding of the center and its meditation programs.

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10 years 11 months ago #2454 by Kate Gowen
Replied by Kate Gowen on topic Teaching Dharma - Why?
There are confounded and confounding paradoxes involved in the learning process: at first the teacher can seem like some kind of magical, other order of being-- or at least like a great authority. Once we've become more practiced and insightful ourselves, teachers are revealed as perfectly ordinary human beings, like ourselves; we may even find our own insights more profound than the teacher's. This may be because those insights are more native to us, or that the teacher is not so skillful at articulating anything beyond the introductory script; or this development may be just another turn in the spiral process of revisiting and re-evaluating this human existence. And I gotta say [from personal experience], that distressing as it is to be disillusioned by the teacher, becoming disillusioned with myself, my righteousness and strongly worded, authoritative expressions of it, my judgement and lapses thereof: "the shame of motives late revealed, and the awareness of things ill done and done to others' harm which once took for exercise of virtue"-- that burns in a way that the worst, most ill-informed or stupidest and most egotistical actions of ANY of my teachers never has. [the quote is from TS Eliot's profoundly useful poem "Four Quartets"]

I remember reading somewhere-- back when these issues were more 'live' for me-- that the mark of a real master is that he would be surpassed by at least some of the students he taught; and would recognize this... Seems a promising idea.

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10 years 11 months ago #2455 by Jake St. Onge
First of all, I agree with you Ona--- very interesting and important question. So many different ways to approach it-- probably many ways for each individual!

Second, I appreciate the insight, confusions and mixed feelings of many posting in this thread, and thanks guys for sharing it all. What makes this place so different from DhO and KFD, for example, IMO at least, is that as a rule there is much more open mindedness and a lot less of the struggles which inevitably come from attempts at keeping everyone "on the same page" with a particular formulation of truth and/or method.

This last point is important to all this I think. The issue of teachers, students and communities has come up here before a few times. Hell, this place emerged out of community dysfunction issues as you point out Jackson. Like most if not all humans I've interacted with -- and yes, I'm definitely willing to admit that I'm open to the possibility that some no longer have these particular issues-- i.e., Tarin et al for all you elephant in the room watchers :-) -- I think we here would all agree that, indeed, issues of approval and disapproval matter to us (to whatever extent). At least to the extent that it matters to us to come to a place where dynamics of inclusion and exclusion, ridicule and glowing approval, and other such socio-political power dynamics don't run the show.

And individually, we all seem to do a pretty damn good job of taking responsibility for our own behavior here in that regard. If there's a common page we're all on here, it seems to be that: we're not here (unconsciously and thus covertly) seeking approval, external validation, or to use these things and their opposites on others to jockey for status in a social hierarchy.

And because of this, we can share info and insight and method and critique too by god in a loose, self-organizing way. For instance, one of the most important pointers in terms of shifting my practice into a different dimension in the past eight months came from you, Chris, just sharing about your own practice-- rather than condescending to "teach" me or anyone else something. And the rest of you know (I hope) how important your various pointers and indeed rebukes, critiques and questions have been to me.

I experience this sort of friendly help from one practitioner to another with other folks who participate at DhO and KFD as well, no doubt. What I said above about those forums pertains to the social dynamics there and not to the participants. For all that I stand back and scratch my head with a mixture of amusement, vague dismay and mild exasperation at Kenneth's behavior as moderator at KFD, his one on one coaching was very helpful, even instrumental in helping me to SE.

So, long rambling post finishing up by saying: perhaps the future of this stuff comes in the form of such loose knit, post-conventional self-organizing anarchistic/panarchistic groups as we have here. Because the more centralized groups will always enact schisms whenever the pressure of cognitive dissonance builds to a breaking point within the in-group members, as the rewards of approval and validation begin to be overshadowed by the fear of losing that or even finding themselves on the wrong side of those dynamics suddenly, as perhaps some of you experienced at KFD.

At any rate, the latter is a valuable learning experience, and assuming one takes it as such, it can go a long way to show one what one was unconsciously perhaps seeking and finding in such a situation, only to lose it; which knowledge empowers one to examine one's own mind to see if what one sought (even in terms of approval, belongingness and validation) may lie there, and not outside; and may even be superfluous or irrelevant to one's well-being anyway.

Perhaps the pragDharma scene IS out of control--- but maybe that's a good thing. Maybe what emerges on the other side of this phase is a bunch of folks with the maturity and emotional autonomy to participate in collaborative learning and teaching, rather than close-knit forums focused on preserving a socio-political power structure.

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10 years 11 months ago #2456 by Chris Marti
Replied by Chris Marti on topic Teaching Dharma - Why?
Jake, it would be really helpful if we could refrain from mentioning the names of people who are not members here and thus cannot respond. And there's no need for disagreements from other message boards bleed over onto this one. We'd like to keep this place as non-confrontational as possible and that kind of thing has caused us some problems in the past.

Thanks.

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10 years 11 months ago #2457 by Chris Marti
Replied by Chris Marti on topic Teaching Dharma - Why?
"I remember reading somewhere-- back when these issues were more 'live' for me-- that the mark of a real master is that he would be surpassed by at least some of the students he taught; and would recognize this... Seems a promising idea."

That's beautiful, Kate. And I think the part that says, "and would recognize this" is the key, requiring something I mentioned - maturity in the form of putting a student's needs above one's own.

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