Teaching Dharma - Why?

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10 years 11 months ago #2458 by Dharma Comarade
Replied by Dharma Comarade on topic Teaching Dharma - Why?
In the Spirit Rock system it doesn't look like a student could become a teacher in a big hurry. It's interesting that to even have an interview with a teacher one needs to have taken an intro course or gone on a five day or longer retreat. I guess that is to make sure the person is serious.

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10 years 11 months ago #2459 by Ona Kiser
Replied by Ona Kiser on topic Teaching Dharma - Why?
One also needs to distinguish a bit two kinds of teaching. In one case, such as at a Zen center, the teacher is not only teaching about meditation and/or awakening etc., but is more specifically teaching a very particular tradition from a specific culture, so he/she needs to know all sorts of rituals, prayers, texts, languages, methods, koans, etc - whatever is relevant to that tradition. Then in addition, in that context, he/she should have a personal understanding/experience with meditation, experiences of awakening, difficulties a meditator can face, good suggestions for helping a person who feels stuck, and so on. The former in particular can be graded - either they know it or they don't. The second part can be fairly well graded, as it relies on them being able to use a specific vocabulary and set of pointers that are part of the way dharma is taught in that lineage.

In the case of teachers who are not teaching from within a specific tradition, then who is to say? Their effectiveness and wisdom has no relation to any memorized texts, rituals, mantras, or even teaching methods. It is a matter of their personal charisma, clarity, articulate speech, creativity, and so on, whether they happen to be good at pointing out things in a useful way to students. And that's pretty subjective. I might really get something out of it, another person may think it's stupid.

In the latter case (teacher is not in a specific tradition), the best way to get some kind of evaluation in there is to rely on references from others. If the teacher comes recommended by a bunch of people (other teachers in particular, but students too), that's worth something, no? Unless you want to form a government licensing office that certifies people to teach? I'd vote no on that.

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10 years 11 months ago #2460 by Jake St. Onge


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.

-cmarti


Sorry, I hadn't even thought of it that way. I seemed to perceive a few oblique references and didn't distinguish between explicit and implicit referencing of said non-members of this forum. I apologize for the confusion!


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.

-cmarti


Again, the oblique references confused me. If I had read your original post before any of the others, I may have made a similar connection yesterday; but I see that your posting this yesterday is pure coincidence and appreciate you had something else in mind. If there's a way for you to redact my post to eliminate the direct naming of those who may want to respond but be unable to, feel free to do so. I would happily offer a re-wording of that sentence via PM if that were possible. It wasn't my intention to bleed anything over, I thought I was responding to your post about the sanctioning of teachers and the motivations for teaching with a post about how I see such things evolving, and the content of my post is specifically directed at that topic (albeit in my usual somewhat tangential way).
--Jake

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10 years 11 months ago #2461 by Jake St. Onge



In the latter case (teacher is not in a specific tradition), the best way to get some kind of evaluation in there is to rely on references from others. If the teacher comes recommended by a bunch of people (other teachers in particular, but students too), that's worth something, no? Unless you want to form a government licensing office that certifies people to teach? I'd vote no on that.




-ona


Yes, Ona! Key distinction. And I think that the underlying issues here are collective, and are rooted in broad socio-cultural patterns. When our civilization's developmental center of gravity is post-conventional, the average individual will be better equipped psychologically and emotionally to teach and/or receive and practice teachings.

Until this socio-psychological shift occurs, then by definition the average person (whether teaching or not) will be enmeshed in socio-emotional dynamics which are counter-productive in the context of liberative practice and teaching.

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10 years 11 months ago #2462 by tommy
Replied by tommy on topic Teaching Dharma - Why?
This is an interesting discussion, definitely one worth having.

I've recently set up a blog/youtube page to help people who are new to the pragmatic dharma movement with basic meditation tips, and video interviews with everyday yogis in an attempt to help people avoid some of the basic errors I ended up making in my own practice. I've made it clear from the outset that I am not a teacher and have no desire to be one, I want this project to operate as a collaborative effort between yogis practicing within pragmatic/hardcore dharma to discuss technique and potential problems which can come up with these practices.

I'd be interested to know what you guys think of the approach, all I want to do is create a resource
for beginners by real-life yogis with no interest in playing the role of teacher. I'll be pointing out places like this, KFD and blogs by others in the pragmatic scene so that people can then go on to find out more, find teachers or whatever.

My reason for doing it is that I know how easy it is to end up confused when you first come across these techniques and terminology, so I want to take the basics and make them more understandable to those who aren't familiar with them. Seeing this thread made me feel kinda daft in case this project had been noticed and was being viewed as "here's another amateur who thinks he can teach". I want to make it very very clear that I'm just a guy who meditates, but I hope that I can help others out with some of the basic stuff and that is all.

I absolutely agree with the points raised so far on this thread, it's far too easy for someone to just call themselves a teacher and go for it, even if they're not actually particularly skilled with these techniques. This is precisely what I want to avoid doing.

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10 years 11 months ago #2463 by Chris Marti
Replied by Chris Marti on topic Teaching Dharma - Why?
For clarity -- I wasn't referring here to anything like a Zen teacher teaching Zen ritual or folklore. I was referring specifically to the teaching of meditation with the objective of awakening, whether inside or outside a tradition.

"When our civilization's developmental center of gravity is post-conventional, the average individual will be better equipped psychologically and emotionally to teach and/or receive and practice teachings."

I have no idea what this means, Jake. Can you elaborate? It sounds interesting.

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10 years 11 months ago #2464 by Jake St. Onge


This is an interesting discussion, definitely one worth having.
I've recently set up a blog/youtube page
[...]
I'd be interested to know what you guys think of the approach, all I want to do is create a resource
for beginners by real-life yogis with no interest in playing the role of teacher. I'll be pointing out places like this, KFD and blogs by others in the pragmatic scene so that people can then go on to find out more, find teachers or whatever.
My reason for doing it is that I know how easy it is to end up confused when you first come across these techniques and terminology, so I want to take the basics and make them more understandable to those who aren't familiar with them. Seeing this thread made me feel kinda daft in case this project had been noticed and was being viewed as "here's another amateur who thinks he can teach". I want to make it very very clear that I'm just a guy who meditates, but I hope that I can help others out with some of the basic stuff and that is all.


-tommy

Hey Tommy! I haven't had a chance to check your site out yet but I really enjoy your posts at Dho and KFD (although your perhaps magick inspired creativity when it comes to personas had me fooled at first-- thought you were two different guys! hahaha). What you're talking about seems like just what is needed IMO, or at least an important part of the puzzle, for sure. Welcome to this forum btw and good luck in your endeavors!

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10 years 11 months ago #2465 by Shargrol
Replied by Shargrol 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.

-cmarti


Hard not to agree. My only critique is that the way your reply is worded, it's hard not to agree! :)

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10 years 11 months ago #2466 by Jake St. Onge


For clarity -- I wasn't referring here to anything like a Zen teacher teaching Zen ritual or folklore. I was referring specifically to the teaching of meditation with the objective of awakening, whether inside or outside a tradition.
"When our civilization's developmental center of gravity is post-conventional, the average individual will be better equipped psychologically and emotionally to teach and/or receive and practice teachings."

I have no idea what this means, Jake. Can you elaborate? It sounds interesting.


-cmarti


Hi Chris-- sure, I'd love to. Basically my statement is informed by developmental psychology and sociology. On another thread the link was posted to an essay by Susan Cook-Greuter detailing her presentation of human development, which synthesizes research of many scientists. Additionally, although she is presenting development in a way relatively consistent with Ken Wilbur, she avoids his elaborate metaphysics and sticks to empirical descriptions based on data. Additionally and crucially unlike Wilbur, her professional experience and academic training are actually in this area (human development). Later when I have more time I will find the link and offer a better synopsis, but for now, suffice it to say, I see the issues we're addressing here in the context of this developmental psych and sociological/anthropological science. I think these disciplines have just as much to contribute to dharma transmission as neurophysiology.

Briefly and superfically, a pre-conventional personality has not yet internalized a given culture/society's rules and roles. A conventional personality has done so, and these rules and roles have eclipsed the individual's own internal intelligence and autonomy to some greater or lesser extent, meaning the conventional individual feels personally threatened when their role is threatened or when membership in their group is threatened for example. Post-conventional individuals have become aware of their social conditioning and stand apart from it to some greater or lesser extent, reconnected with their endogenous desires/intelligence, and are largely outgrowing the tendency for social engagement to be driven by fears of rejection and hopes for approval, as well as becoming able to critique their own biases whether originating in pre-conventional desires/preferences or in socialization. This process isn't completely linear, and each successive stage incorporates elements of the previous ones, in some cases subconsciously, so for example conventional individuals when push comes to shove often fall back on pre-conventional motivations and behaviors which their society explicitly forbids or discourages.

Our society still aims for a solidly conventional version of adulthood, like every other society in history of which I'm aware; thus 99.9% of existing modern and pre-modern institutions have arisen to perpetuate some or another conventional mode of being human (Zen conventions, Calvinist conventions, capitalist-democratic conventions, and so on). The difference is that we are now beginning to experiment with forms of social organization and the raising of young which explicitly intends to support post-conventional adulthood as the norm, rather than conventional adulthood.

This will obviously have huge implications for all modern and pre-modern institutions and traditions, including dharma. I submit that liberative contemplative traditions have been hampered by the fact that in some ways they are intrinsically in conflict with unconscious conventional and pre-conventional modes of life, and have been in some sense waiting for the techno-economic conditions to arise which demand a shift to post-conventional, which by definition is conscious of and responsible for conventional and pre-conventional conditioning. Contemplative traditions have often isolated themselves from mainstream society, I think, because they explicitly aim to deconstruct (make conscious) biological and social conditioning, and the history of various movements in contemplative traditions could be read in part as a result of the competing interests of the contemplatives themselves to become conscious of these and even deeper layers of conditioning and their broader societies to preserve themselves.

What's this got to do with the topic of the thread? Well, the more post-conventional one is (on the socio-emotional level in particular) the more one is inoculated, so to speak, from being misled by conventional and preconventional teachers and communities. Why? Because one cannot be misled if one is not following in the first place!!!!

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10 years 11 months ago #2467 by tommy
Replied by tommy on topic Teaching Dharma - Why?
Thanks Jake, for your welcome and your support!

Aye, I know I can come across quite differently on DhO compared to my posts on KFD. I think it's been more out of respect for Kenneth that I've kept relatively quiet on there, wheras on the DhO I tend to be a bit more outspoken. Ha!

I'm really glad you like the idea, hopefully something positive will come out of it and help people with their practice!

Thanks again, and I look forward to posting on here.

- Tommy

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10 years 11 months ago #2468 by Chris Marti
Replied by Chris Marti on topic Teaching Dharma - Why?
Jake, thanks, I've read Susan Cook-Greuter's material. I was just unclear about what you were saying and didn't know that was the kind of thing you were referring to. I do think it's easy to overshoot the ability of entire societies to make wholesale changes, but we can always hope.

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10 years 11 months ago #2469 by Jake St. Onge
@Chris hahaha, yes, we'll see what happens I suppose :-) My thought is that it IS happening, and not because people are suddenly great and wonderful and have their own best interests at heart, but rather because the changing nature of technology and economic realities is having two effects: making it inevitable that many cultures come in contact, thus meaning people seem to increasingly resort to fundementalism (which is reactionary conventionalism, and didn't seem to exist in pre-modern cultures) and to post-conventional styles of engagement which can actually resolve the cognitive dissonance. Basically, I think we're wired to resolve cognitive dissonance and that this is the engine of development, psychologically and spiritually. As fundamentalism doesn't resolve the dissonance but merely suppresses it, I predict that it's pretty naturally going to be phased out in favor of post-conventional if we survive long enough as a species.

and two: the nature of our techno-economic system as it is evolving intrinsically demands the kind of systems thinking that is the cognitive line correlate of post-conventional personality development. While it is possible to be cognitively adept at systems thinking and socio-emotionally identified with say homophobic, sexist reactionary conventionalism, it is in the long term a losing proposition vis a vis cognitive dissonance.

The other side of my point is that, short of this global social shift and doing what we can to facilitate it (humbly, in our own corners of the world), the other option which might seem viable is creating institutions-- rules and roles-- for dharma transmission the purpose of which is to select and promote whatever we define as "good" teachers. Problem there is that such institutions, no matter how well their rules and roles are conceived and executed, will be just more conventional institutions, and will thus be prey to all the problems therein. After all, that's what they all are already right? Thus I don't see that as being particularly effective option-- but again, we'll see.

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10 years 11 months ago #2470 by Florian Weps
Replied by Florian Weps on topic Teaching Dharma - Why?
Here, this sounds familiar... There's an old thread on the DhO, called "Formal Teacher Designations".

This was an important thread to me because a) I realized that many people read my posts and took my opinions into consideration just because I posted a lot, and b) I realized that I wasn't at all sure how to deal with it or even why it had happened.

That was before the Great DhO Divide. Then, on the new DhO, the pattern repeated - I'd post, and by doing that I became something of a teaching figure there. The second time around I was paying more attention to how this came about, it turned out that by answering newbie questions the assumption somehow arose that I was knowledgeable or authoritative or something in other areas as well.

So much for the "Why" - there's a vacuum, someone steps in. Demand and supply. For some reason, people expect a teacher, and anyone appearing authoritative will gravitate to fill it.

Now I'm not a fan of teacher figures at all, and have not "worked with" teachers to any great extent myself. I more of a "spiritual friendship" practitioner - I'm interested in people giving clear accounts of what they do and experience, rather than in doing well at mastering some curriculum imposed by a (presumably) benevolent teacher.

This ties in nicely with the work of Stuart Lachs, I think. If I swallow a teacher's every word because he's wearing the traditional robes awarded in the traditional way, is not that far away from me doing so on account of them having message board credibility.

I may be a bit naive, but I always felt that the whole idea of waking up, gaining freedom etc was all about a self-reliant attitude rather than one of having other people take care of it on my behalf. Kind of a no-brainer to me, but again, I'm probably being a bit naive here, with different degrees of self-reliance and so on painting a more realistic picture.

Cheers,
Florian

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10 years 11 months ago #2471 by Chris Marti
Replied by Chris Marti on topic Teaching Dharma - Why?
"Now I'm not a fan of teacher figures at all, and have not "worked with" teachers to any great extent myself. I more of a "spiritual friendship" practitioner - I'm interested in people giving clear accounts of what they do and experience, rather than in doing well at mastering some curriculum imposed by a (presumably) benevolent teacher."

That's more or less the space from which I asked the original set of questions, Florian. I agree, self-reliance is a necessary part of this path, if for no other reason than this -- no one, not even a great teacher, can cause you to do or get anywhere, realize anything. It's entirely up to you. However, this teaching thing still matters, I think, as there are a lot of people, the vast majority I believe, who need or can/should have a teacher for various reasons. In my mind the relationship one has to a teacher should not be one that is based on any kind of dependency. That's just not healthy. Nope. It should be more like one's relationship to a good coach.

And as you all well know, this path is most definitely not about having or using a curriculum. You won't be able to memorize your way through it ;-)

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10 years 11 months ago #2472 by Chris Marti
Replied by Chris Marti on topic Teaching Dharma - Why?
Jake, that is one hell of an ambitious agenda you outlined!

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10 years 11 months ago #2473 by Jake St. Onge
Not so much an agenda as an emerging trend. My point is I see it happening. It'll probably take a few hundred years, but it will only happen at all to the extent that individuals become informed of the dynamics and participate to the best of their ability. Ultimately it's as simple as new sorts of learning environments at the k-12 level, as this is the window of opportunity for setting a society's developmental center of gravity. There's allready lots of stuff in this direction, and what's next is emprical research on the relative outcomes, developmentally, of different k-12 formats which already exist. Then comes the marketing, which with research to back it up, should be fairly straightforward. Still gonna take time. it's a pasradigm shift, and folks don't do this easily. Usually it requires a few generations.

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10 years 11 months ago #2474 by Ona Kiser
Replied by Ona Kiser on topic Teaching Dharma - Why?
I'm not convinced there's anything new under the sun (re: Jake's comments). Contemplative practices attract people with an introspective, curious attitude, who wander off to navel gaze in caves, forests, monasteries etc. In a book I can't recall there was a mention of how appalled parents were when their kids got into the teachings of various strange philosophers in the marketplace (eta: in ancient Greece), throwing away potential careers in politics or the military to dress in rags and meditate. There were strange mystics wandering around in early America, eating communally, having deep religious experiences, and following teachers who seemed to have a special access to divine consciousness. Ascetics, shamans, mystics, and so on in all cultures do not participate in the mainstream of their culture. If they grew up in a merchant family, or their father was going to teach them a trade and pass on the family business, that is left behind in favor of inner exploration and an isolated or communal life of prayer.

I just think that's the range of human inclination and experience. Even in the same family, three brothers might happily remain at home, following the standards of their conservative upbringing, while a fourth runs off to join the circus, become a monk, or hop on a sailing ship to the New World.

There's nothing wrong with either way of living. It's just a bit evangelical, I think, to think that because you (or I) have enjoyed the benefits of one way of experiencing life, everyone should be re-educated to learn to like the same things. Would my conservative college roommate be a better, happier person if only she would abandon her life of a housewife, mall-shopper, church-goer, and instead put on some Birkenstocks and learn to meditate? Maybe. Maybe not. I think it would be arrogant of me to insist.

Thoughts?

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10 years 11 months ago #2475 by Dharma Comarade
Replied by Dharma Comarade on topic Teaching Dharma - Why?
Why can't she be a housewife, mall shopper, church goer who wears Nikes and meditates? I know people like this.

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10 years 11 months ago #2476 by Ona Kiser
Replied by Ona Kiser on topic Teaching Dharma - Why?
She could be. But she's a Lutheran who doesn't meditate, and this was more than 20 years ago, when Birkenstocks were the sign of alternativeness. :D

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10 years 11 months ago #2477 by cruxdestruct
Replied by cruxdestruct on topic Teaching Dharma - Why?
I think a lot of these questions also lead, at some point, to some of the reasons that formalized traditions, and questions of Right View, get established in the first place. The desire for an individualized, free-flowing, creative, multi-dimensional practice is necessarily balanced out by a greater risk of unskillful, misdirecting influence by potentially underqualified participants. I mean, that's democracy right there, right? The less structure there is, the less authority placed on some canonical text established before any individual teacher or leader, the greater the freedom and individuality—and the greater the potential for aggrandizing individuals to influence others out of arrogance or desire, and for the many to control the few or the uncertain through the threat of groupthink. This is a tendency that has often in cultural history resulted in an emphasis on textual primacy—and further resulted, further down the exact same direction, in fundamentalism.

Of course, an emphasis on textual authority and orthodoxy doesn't eliminate the ability for individuals to unduly wield their own power. A cursory glance at any of the world's most conservative religious institutions demonstrates this fact ably. Nevertheless, I often find myself very happily tending more deeply to orthodoxy and practical conservatism whenever I find myself looking into the roiling, hugely personal sort-of free for all that a lot of the DhO et al. sites can be.

That said, I really don't think that any student teacher relationship can exist outside of a personal connection. For a thousand reasons. One of which is that the relationship demands an enormous commitment from both individuals; no good teacher has ever actually lived out that image of just dispassionately dispensing advice from their perch. Many of the greatest dharma teachers were aloof, sure, but I think every one of them very deliberately and truly understood the burden and obligation that they were taking on. They were taking responsibility for the spiritual development of another being. And I don't think you can get that sense if your only interaction with that being is on a message board, or even on a Skype conference call. Furthermore, the wisdom of teaching the dharma relies so much on seeing beyond words, to whether a student truly understands or just knows what to say. That's a problem that I have a lot, the sense of how easy it is for people who know what stream entry is, know what that entails, to talk to the talk. To teach someone like that you need to be in the room with them, you need to look very hard at them, and really see if they understand what they're saying, on a bodily level. That need is reversed. Nearly every serious practitioner can relate the feeling that they got when they were in the physical presence of an advanced teacher of the dharma. I know, for instance, that I will never understand Ajahn Chah in the way that his students understood him, because I will never be in his presence. I can't imagine how unsatisfying it would be for me, if all my dharma interactions happened through a medium that filtered out everything that's communicated by physical presence. So to be honest, the very concept of 'teaching the dharma' over the internet seems kind of ludicrous to me. Like deciding to teach heart surgery through a correspondence course.

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10 years 11 months ago #2478 by Dharma Comarade
Replied by Dharma Comarade on topic Teaching Dharma - Why?


She could be. But she's a Lutheran who doesn't meditate, and this was more than 20 years ago, when Birkenstocks were the sign of alternativeness. :D

-ona


I guess what I'm trying to say is that there are a lot of people who are not "alternative" at all who still meditate in some form or another. Many, if not all of the three or four Protestant Christian churches I've been involved with over the past 20 years or so had intermittent or permanent meditation courses, programs, groups, etc. in place. And, often, a period of meditation will be a part of each service.

Most of the people who participate in these meditations are just average mainstream humans.

I guess I'm respectfully disagreeing with you that an interest in contemplative practices is all that divergent in society as a whole. If you include prayer and the resultant comuning with God that takes place there that would include a huge amount of people.

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10 years 11 months ago #2479 by Dharma Comarade
Replied by Dharma Comarade on topic Teaching Dharma - Why?
Zach, I used to do "skype" sessions with a teacher that I knew only through the internet and, while the relationship was mostly unsatisfying for a lot of the reasons you expressed, the skype connection, still, provided me with a certain connection with the guy that was pretty amazing and intimate.

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10 years 11 months ago #2480 by Chris Marti
Replied by Chris Marti on topic Teaching Dharma - Why?
This sociological conversation begs for a separate topic all its own ;-)

So... I just created one by moving the latest Ona - Jake conversation to the new topic. See you there.

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10 years 11 months ago #2481 by Dharma Comarade
Replied by Dharma Comarade on topic Teaching Dharma - Why?
So, anyway, why do so many pracitioners turn to teaching so soon?

I can't get away from the idea that it is just too tempting to the ego to take on such a lofty role.

However, am I wrong? Could it just be from some well-intentioned sense of compassion?

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10 years 11 months ago #2482 by Ona Kiser
Replied by Ona Kiser on topic Teaching Dharma - Why?
"So, anyway, why do so many pracitioners turn to teaching so soon?

I can't get away from the idea that it is just too tempting to the ego to take on such a lofty role.

However, am I wrong? Could it just be from some well-intentioned sense of compassion?"

Why not? Haven't you ever figure out how to do something (fix the brakes on your car, cook a great quiche) and next day you just can't wait to recount how you did it, and help your brother/neighbor/friend do it next weekend?

I don't think everyone who reaches out to teach is some kind of manipulative self-deluded bastard with a massive ego. I tend to think people generally have very good intentions, and act from a decent heart. Even when their acts harm others, I still think they tend to have good intentions, even if self-deluded. So it's hard to get angry about.

Re; skype, I've had "transmission" type effects talking to several people on skype, and developed some very close friendships and mentorships that way. I've later met those same people in person. The effect was similar and they were as delightful in person as on video. So I wouldn't chuck it out the window as useless.

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