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Thread: Is something wrong with wanting to be a Zen teacher?

  1. #1

    Is something wrong with wanting to be a Zen teacher?

    Hello everyone! I'm Joe Ryan, brand new to Treeleaf (in case you didn't catch my post on the new member section) and I had a question I was curious to get some opinions on.

    Is it wrong to aspire to be a Zen teacher?

    I'm not asking because I am necessarily interested in such a thing myself, but it seems that when you read a lot of books or listen to a lot of talks, you very often hear people saying things like "I never wanted/planned/expected to become a Zen teacher." I assume this is probably true, and maybe even makes their teaching seem somehow more 'legitimate' in that they didn't set out with this goal but the circumstances of life ended up leading them there.

    So, with all the people who seem to come by teaching naturally, would someone who set out from the beginning to become a Zen teacher seem somehow more dishonest, as though they had an agenda from the very beginning? Or perhaps would a teacher be able to sense when a student 'wanted it too badly' and not put them in a teaching position? Maybe people who set out to become Zen teachers don't even exist!

    Just curious. It's possible that I don't really understand how these things work (likely, even!) and I would love to be shown the light.

    Gassho
    Joe

  2. #2
    Hi Joe, and welcome to Treeleaf!

    One of the points of Zen, as I see it, is to let everything go. So why would someone practicing Zen aspire to be a teacher, especially before they even have anything to teach?

    Perhaps it is possible to want to understand enough to help other beings through sharing the dharma but, to be honest, wanting to be a Zen teacher mostly seems to arise out of ego.

    That said, our teachers, and would-be teachers, might say different.

    Gassho
    Andy

  3. #3
    Hi Joe,

    I think Zen teachers don't exist until we create them. No student, no Zen teacher. I think I have heard before "when a student is ready, a teacher appears." I could even create a Zen teacher out of me but I doubt anyone would listen to me for very long. 😄

    Gassho, Jishin
    治 Ji (Healing)
    心​ Shin (Heart-Mind)

  4. #4
    Greeting,

    Honestly, I don't see anything wrong with it. It is a g4eat aspiration. To become a Buddhist teacher is to become the servant of humanity. It is a great motivation to learn and practice in order to guide others. Just as one would aspired to be a Bodhisattva to help others. However we must do all the work. We cant be a teacher until we have something truly worthy of teaching.

    I think a lot of time when Zen or Buddhist teacher said they never thought of becoming one is just to appear humble. At one point they wanted to become a teacher thus now they call themselves teacher. Nothing is wrong with that. We aspire to teach the Dharma and practice Buddhism differently.

    Many Bows
    Victor

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by JTRyan View Post
    Hello everyone! I'm Joe Ryan, brand new to Treeleaf (in case you didn't catch my post on the new member section) and I had a question I was curious to get some opinions on.

    Is it wrong to aspire to be a Zen teacher?

    I'm not asking because I am necessarily interested in such a thing myself, but it seems that when you read a lot of books or listen to a lot of talks, you very often hear people saying things like "I never wanted/planned/expected to become a Zen teacher." I assume this is probably true, and maybe even makes their teaching seem somehow more 'legitimate' in that they didn't set out with this goal but the circumstances of life ended up leading them there.

    So, with all the people who seem to come by teaching naturally, would someone who set out from the beginning to become a Zen teacher seem somehow more dishonest, as though they had an agenda from the very beginning? Or perhaps would a teacher be able to sense when a student 'wanted it too badly' and not put them in a teaching position? Maybe people who set out to become Zen teachers don't even exist!

    Just curious. It's possible that I don't really understand how these things work (likely, even!) and I would love to be shown the light.

    Gassho
    Joe
    No, there is definitely not anything wrong with it; at the same time, wanting to be a teacher so that one can be a cool zen guy or seem to have some great wisdom, well, that's not so beneficial for others. The main thing though is this, I think: it's okay to want to be a teacher, or to have that feeling that maybe something's calling out to you, or whatever, but when you're a student, be a student. If being a teacher is the main driving thing and you rush being a student then you'll probably have a more difficult time becoming the teacher. So yeah, it's okay, just be aware of it, and then don't worry too much about it. When you're a student, just do that.

    Gassho
    Shōmon

  6. #6
    Senior Member Clark's Avatar
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    I am glad at some point that someone wanted to be a Zen teacher. I sure find one helpful.
    Gassho
    C

  7. #7
    Hi,

    Some wise response here.

    I believe that one should not want or "aspire" to be a Zen Teacher, so much as feel a heartfelt "calling". I have seen Christian, Jewish and Muslim clergy speak of a calling (or "vocation") in their way, and I would say it is so for us too (whether one considers Buddhism a religion or philosophy or something else all together ... the call is much the same). Here is a great documentary that I recommend to anyone who might feel such ...

    The Calling follows seven emerging religious leaders as they embark on their journeys as pastors, preachers, priests, chaplains, imams and rabbis.

    The Calling does not limit its exploration of "calling" to explicitly religious endeavors. In 220 minutes, the filmmakers paint beautifully articulate and intimately nuanced portraits of what a modern life of faith looks like, inside and out of the pulpit.

    Last week, I had the honor of getting to know the five men and two women profiled in The Calling when they all gathered for the first time in person for an event in Chicago.

    They are: Bilal, an African-American convert from Pentecostalism who serves as a Muslim prison chaplain in Connecticut; Shmuly, a charismatic young man raised in a secular Jewish/Christian home who embraced Orthodox Judaism in his early 20s and subsequently entered an Orthodox yeshivah; Steven, a Mexican-American born and bred in San Antonio who is now a Roman Catholic priest; Yerachmiel, a cradle Orthodox Jew and recently ordained rabbi serving his first congregation; Jeneen, an African-American single mother and freshly ordained minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church searching for her first "call" to the
    pastorate; Tahera, a young Muslim woman studying at Hartford Seminary to become a university chaplain as she plans her wedding; and Rob, a new father who struggles to balance his work as a Protestant minister in Los Angeles with his passion for rap music and his obligations as chieftain in his native Samoa.

    After spending a day with the subjects of the film, I was most struck by how much they had in common, despite their vast cultural and theological differences: Each has an abiding love for God and a desire to help others encounter the Divine in a meaningful way.

    While their paths to religious vocation are as varied as their personalities and personal histories, their spiritual orientation is the same. They crane their necks and cup their ears to discern their call -- whatever turns it may take.

    Each of the seven faces obstacles -- cultural, institutional, familial and of their own hearts and minds -- in heeding their calls. Time and again they confront questions and doubts, both external and internal.

    Their journeys take surprising turns (as, sometimes, the call changes and evolves over time.) To a person, their soul explorations are fascinating -- never taking turns into the trite or what we've come to expect in typical one-dimensional depictions of "religious" folks.

    The filmmakers have a wonderfully fresh and tender eye for stories (and people) of faith. The subjects of The Calling are portrayed as honest, vulnerable, funny, compelling, sometimes maddening and unfailingly authentic.

    Whether you are a person of faith, a skeptic or a seeker -- of religion, the Divine or your purpose in life -- The Calling will have something profound and perhaps transformational to say.
    The filmmakers took it further ... and have a web page pointing out that one can have a "calling" to spread Atheism, or to preserve Mardi Gras traditions in the face of all the troubles in New Orleans ...

    http://www.whatsyourcalling.org/

    In any event, it must primarily be a desire to serve others, to sacrifice one's own benefits for the service of others. Being a Buddhist priest or teacher is not a “raising up” of one's position, it is not an honor or “promotion” into some exalted status, not by any meaning. Far from it, it is a lowering of oneself in offering to the community, much as all of us sometimes deeply bow upon the ground in humility, raising up others and the whole world above our humbled heads. In overly simple terms, one goes from being a welcome passenger on the boat or honored guest in the house to being a member of the working crew in the engine room and wait staff in the dining hall to serve the guests.

    I feel that there is not anything wrong in enjoying one's calling ... far from it! There is nothing wrong in having one's own heart dance in helping others. But it cannot be primarily about one's own joy. In this way, it is very very very much like the feeling of parenthood, in which one gives up one's own time and money for the "joy" of constant diaper changes, need to spend time playing and nursing, going through all the ups and downs. It is terrible and wonderful at the same time.

    It should be a lifetime pursuit, not something one can play with for a little while because it is fun or interesting ... then put down. It is also like parenthood in that way.

    For that reason, I would not even begin to talk about priesthood or being a teacher or the like until someone has practiced for some years. It is much the same as I would not advise a teenager to have children until they have matured and seen life a bit. I have written this about Ordination in our Sangha (the words are based on some things written by the SZBA that a lot of Sangha are adopting in America) ... It is a fine line to walk, between getting all caught up in ritual and red tape, and turning people loose on the world with insufficient basis, little knowledge of history and teachings, little strength in their own practice. So, we try to take the Middle Way.

    The purpose of priest training is to prepare individuals for a life dedicated to exemplifying the Dharma with integrity via empowering them to extend Buddhist teachings and Soto Zen practice out in the world, all in keeping with the traditional teachings of Soto Zen Buddhism and the philosophy of our Lineage.

    Priest training encourages the continuing unfolding of the Bodhisattva ideal characterized by the Six Paramitas of giving, ethical conduct, patience, energy, meditation, and wisdom. Yet the heart and flowering of our way is always Shikantaza, sitting and moving in stillness without grasping or rejecting any of the constantly arising and changing phenomena of life as-they-are, the life practice of the Buddhas and Ancestors manifesting and realizing the Genj-kan, the fundamental point actualized through this life-practice ...

    The period of formation that follows upon novice ordination (shukke tokudo) may continue for any number of years prior to possible (although never inevitable) Dharma Transmission, but truly continues as a lifelong endeavor that will sustain individuals dedicated to exemplifying the Dharma and the the Bodhisattva ideal. Completing formal priest training will mean that an individual has internalized the tradition, is capable of transmitting it, and vows to devote her or himself to a life of continuous practice and service.The individual’s dedication to the elements of priest training must enable him or her to maintain a regular, disciplined zazen practice, to instruct and guide others in their practice, to present and discuss the history and teachings of Buddhism and Soto Zen, to perform services and ceremonies in the Soto style as appropriate and required in the circumstance, and to actively nurture and serve both Sangha and the larger community and society.

    In addition, priest training must make the individual aware of the highest ethical standards which must always be maintained by a member of the clergy, thereby assisting him or her in maintaining such standards in his or her personal life at all times. Training will also enable the individual to demonstrate personal qualities that inspire trust and confidence and encourage others to practice. Finally, training will enable the individual to clearly understand – and communicate to others – the relationship of Zen teaching and practice to everyday life.

    We hope that, in the coming years, other people will feel this same calling. It must be by mutual decision. It is not something that should be rushed into, nor rushed through. Although people are all different, maybe a good time to first consider such a thing would be only after practicing for 5 years or longer, and then it should be deeply thought about (and non-thought about) for longer still before first taking on the responsibilities of being an apprentice student-priest.
    Gassho, J
    Last edited by Jundo; 03-10-2014 at 03:59 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  8. #8
    Treeleaf Unsui/Engineer Kyonin's Avatar
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    Hi Joe,

    First, I guess there is no point in wanting to be a zen student. Drop that.

    Then, you have to drop the idea of becoming a teacher.

    You just sit. Read dharma. Practice and incorporate what you read to life. Then sit some more.

    And when you are tired of sitting, go and sit again.

    Inside you there is this calling, an inner voice that tells you this feels right. I'm home. It will go stronger the more you practice.

    But you have to walk slowly, one step at a time. Living and being present every single inch you move.

    And see what happens from there. One never knows.

    Gassho,

    Kyonin
    Please remember I am only a priest in training. I could be wrong in everything I say. Slap me if needed.

    The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one. Mr. Spock

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Kyonin View Post
    Hi Joe,

    First, I guess there is no point in wanting to be a zen student. Drop that.

    Then, you have to drop the idea of becoming a teacher.

    You just sit. Read dharma. Practice and incorporate what you read to life. Then sit some more.

    And when you are tired of sitting, go and sit again.

    Inside you there is this calling, an inner voice that tells you this feels right. I'm home. It will go stronger the more you practice.

    But you have to walk slowly, one step at a time. Living and being present every single inch you move.

    And see what happens from there. One never knows.

    Gassho,

    Kyonin
    Oh, he said it! That's it!
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  10. #10
    Blue Mountain White Clouds Hermitage Priest Taigu's Avatar
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    Yeap, Kyonin said it all.

    Gassho

    T.
    Taigu, teacher at Treeleaf Sangha, was born in 1964, started Zazen early and received Shukke Tokudo in 1983 at age 18 from Rev. Mokusho Zeisler of the Deshimaru Lineage. Received Dharma Transmission from Chodo Cross in 2002. Now resides in Osaka, Japan.

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by Kyonin View Post
    Hi Joe,

    First, I guess there is no point in wanting to be a zen student. Drop that.

    Then, you have to drop the idea of becoming a teacher.

    You just sit. Read dharma. Practice and incorporate what you read to life. Then sit some more.

    And when you are tired of sitting, go and sit again.

    Inside you there is this calling, an inner voice that tells you this feels right. I'm home. It will go stronger the more you practice.

    But you have to walk slowly, one step at a time. Living and being present every single inch you move.

    And see what happens from there. One never knows.

    Gassho,

    Kyonin
    Not to follow suit, but this is beautifully said, thank you Kyonin. =)

    Gasshp
    Shingen
    倫道 真現

    As a trainee priest, please take any commentary by me on matters of the Dharma with a pinch of salt.

  12. #12
    Treeleaf Unsui Yugen's Avatar
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    Is something wrong with wanting to be a Zen teacher?

    Joe,
    To separate oneself from the idea of practice and teaching as one and set the latter as some ideal or status to be reached - distracts us from the fact that we are teachers all of us - and we are students all of us - we teach by the examples we set, by our actions and presence.. Both positive and negative .... The line between living and teaching, living and learning, is seamless. To set the notion of "becoming a teacher" is to remove us from what we can do today.... And how we can be of service to others today.....

    Just my two cents as a novice priest- who feels that I have nothing to offer or teach except my openness to all the wisdom and experience shared here, including yours.

    Jundo is right in that becoming a priest is not some form of recognition or elevation of status.... On the contrary it is a lowering of oneself to be open and humble, to listen and offer oneself to the world and to others, much as you have done here. In asking your question and being open you have offered a teaching.

    Deep bows
    Yugen
    Last edited by Yugen; 03-10-2014 at 03:56 PM.
    Treeleaf Sangha Shuso Ango Head October 2014
    -----------------------------------------------------------
    Please take all my comments with a grain of salt - I am a novice priest and anything I say is to be taken with a good dose of skepticism - Shodo Yugen

  13. #13
    Everything in this Life is teaching us.
    We ourselves teach the best when we do not know we are doing such things.
    There is only to aspire to help others learn.
    As backwards as it sounds, we are always learning. Teaching through learning.
    My daughter learns her best when I am not teaching her something, but we are learning how to use our different capabilities to help one another.
    A teacher is always learning from a student, and a student is always learning from a teacher.. but who is who?
    To aspire to inspire, support and learn is the greatest teaching.

    Deepest bows,
    Chelsea

  14. #14
    Senior Member Troy's Avatar
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    Is something wrong with wanting to be a Zen teacher?

    To someone starting out I would say just enjoy the experience. It is rewarding enough in and of itself. Student and teacher are only labels and we will find ourselves playing both roles at different times in our walk. In fact from the day we start the practice, we are both student and teacher.

    I remember the first day I meditated, I was so excited when I told my wife about the experience. I also told her about the book I was reading that talked about how important staying in the present moment was and that was truly the best way for us to be there for each other. I was both student and teacher.
    Last edited by Troy; 03-10-2014 at 06:33 PM.

  15. #15
    Such lovely and wise folks in this thread.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  16. #16
    Senior Member Joyo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kyonin View Post
    Hi Joe,

    First, I guess there is no point in wanting to be a zen student. Drop that.

    Then, you have to drop the idea of becoming a teacher.

    You just sit. Read dharma. Practice and incorporate what you read to life. Then sit some more.

    And when you are tired of sitting, go and sit again.

    Inside you there is this calling, an inner voice that tells you this feels right. I'm home. It will go stronger the more you practice.

    But you have to walk slowly, one step at a time. Living and being present every single inch you move.

    And see what happens from there. One never knows.

    Gassho,

    Kyonin
    This is great, Kyonin. Thanks for your response.

    Gassho,
    Joyo

  17. #17
    I'm floored by the depth of responses. Beautifully written, each and every one. Thanks to everyone for taking the time to really consider my question and respond!

    Gassho
    Joe

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