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Teachers and their habits

KeromeKerome Love, love is mysteryThe Continent Veteran

I was researching a potential teacher, and I was watching an interview with him in which he was shown rolling a cigarette... the interviewer asked him, isn’t that an addiction, a sign of attachment? His answer was “well, it has to be possible”, and when asked what his students would think of it, he replied, “it’s up to them”.

I’m not quite sure what to think of this, because I do feel that dealing with ones addictions is quite high up there as a sign of competency in the spiritual path. The fact that he hasn’t addressed this sign of clinging makes me wonder about him... also I find his answers somewhat easy. It’s about living the path, not just talking about it.

That said, he was sympathetic and likeable.

Comments

  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator

    I don't know. On the one hand, it can seem like maybe they aren't serious about the practice, or else aren't any further along it than we are. It seems to us like a weakness, a flaw, a sign that they're just like anybody else and nothing special spiritually speaking.

    On the other, many great teachers had habits such as smoking. Ajahn and Ajahn Mun are two of them. And it makes me wonder if someone who's spiritually advanced couldn't or wouldn't do things that involve enjoyment, like drinking coffee or smoking a cigarette or eating junk food. Does that in and of itself mean they're not good teachers? That they're not spiritually advanced? I don't know, but I suspect not. I don't think being spiritually advanced means you become some sort of perfect being that only eats perfectly healthy foods and just meditates all day when not teaching. I think one can get to the root of suffering and still live like a normal person and enjoy normal things.

    That said, I do think smoking is unhealthy and that people should strive to give up habits like it that are bad and kind of annoying, and it might give me pause if a Buddhist teacher has a very obviously addictive habit like that. But I don't think a person who smokes is necessarily a bad teacher and think they should be judged by their words and actions as a whole. No sense in missing out on something valuable just because they don't match up to our ideal of what a teacher should be.

    Ajahn Chah, for example, smoked. He also eventually gave it up and was one of the greatest teachers in recent memory. So I think that if I were in your shoes, and I found something about this person that seemed valuable to my practice, I'd give them a shot.

    adamcrossley
  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator

    Might I asked what teacher?

  • KundoKundo Sydney, Australia Veteran

    @Kerome said:
    I’m not quite sure what to think of this, because I do feel that dealing with ones addictions is quite high up there as a sign of competency in the spiritual path. The fact that he hasn’t addressed this sign of clinging makes me wonder about him... also I find his answers somewhat easy. It’s about living the path, not just talking about it.

    That said, he was sympathetic and likeable.

    Maybe he just liked smoking? I know when I smoked, I really enjoyed it. When time came to quit, I quit. Admittedly I needed to find something to do with my hands instead of hold a cigarette. Even though the smell of cigarettes repulses me now, if it were proven that it wasn't hazardous to one's health, I'd probably indulge now and then because I really enjoyed it. Just my 0.02

  • That said, he was sympathetic and likeable.

    LOL

    Ah the perfect teacher 👌🏽
    Related to the perfect parent, perfect child, perfect partner, perfect life and ... perfect student, perfect rainbow-unicorn etc? Tsk, tsk [said in perfect admonishment ... ] ;)

    @Jason said:
    ... No sense in missing out on something valuable just because they don't match up to our ideal of what a teacher should be.

    Karma is reflective. We find what we are looking for ... wonder what that might be ... something luvvly perhaps ... o:)

  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran
    edited February 19

    @Jason said:
    Might I asked what teacher?

    His name is Niko Tydeman Roshi, he lives in Amsterdam where he leads the Zen centre.

    Here is the interview (it’s in Dutch):

  • I think one can get to the root of suffering and still live like a normal person and enjoy normal things.

    Professional and full time spiritual types are not always the ideal.

    Normality is the height of my aspiration. Normality (being in the world but not of it, as the Gnostics say) is even more profound in zenniths. To be in the world and of it. Much higher understanding ...

    I liked the video, even though it sounded like double dutch to me. O.o

    @Kerome Roshi Nico and his students all seem fine. Smoking incense is lit to the Buddha in the Zendo. Tobacco incense is attributed to Mars the God of War but that is incidental. B)

  • seeker242seeker242 Zen Florida, USA Veteran

    @Kerome said:
    Niko Tydeman Roshi

    With zen teachers, it's sometimes helpful to look at their lineage.

    His teacher was Genpo Merzel Roshi.

    His teachers teacher was Taizan Maezumi

    I'm personally not fond of that lineage but lineage isn't always everything.

    lobster
  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    I have to say, I sometimes get a littler frustrated and irritated by this situation.
    You know what's missing from teachers such as this?
    Sacrifice.
    No, I'm not talking a fatted lamb on a pyre or altar.
    I'm talking about the self-discipline that involves sacrificing something which is harmful, addictive, an impediment, a hang-up, a clinging...
    What good is a teacher who advocates the Buddhist way of Life, but who doesn't adhere to the inner principles of releasing that which they cling to or grasp...?
    Following a particular discipline - any discipline - requires a certain amount of sacrifice; making changes to our habits, and conforming to certain 'strictures'.
    Whether it's going to the gym, tidying the house, taking an extra shift at work - all these things require we take something away from ourselves, in order to dedicate ourselves to the task.
    We have to alter our usual MO, in order to benefit from doing something else.

    So this -

    ...an interview with him in which he was shown rolling a cigarette... the interviewer asked him, isn’t that an addiction, a sign of attachment? His answer was “well, it has to be possible”, and when asked what his students would think of it, he replied, “it’s up to them”.

    Sticks in my craw.

    So it's up to the students, is it, to evaluate and decide, discern and evaluate? Well thanks a bunch for the heads up..!

    No, in my opinion, it's up to him to OWN IT. Admit it. Concede the point.
    Make the effort.

    Holy crap, he knows, just as much as any smoker - or non-smoker - that smoking is harmful.
    Er...Hello...? First Precept, much?

    So instead of projecting the entire problem - and solution - onto the shoulders of others, how about taking responsibility, admitting it's a bit of a hurdle and do the work?

    Sacrifice may well mean giving up something we find pleasurable, fun, enjoyable.
    But it means giving it up for our ultimate benefit, and the benefit of others.

    Why is that so hard to admit?
    Because he knows it's a sacrifice, but he can't be arsed.

    Nope.
    I wouldn't be comfortable with the likes of him as my teacher.
    Although truth be told, I have certainly learnt something from him.

    Vastmind
  • Is the issue that the cigarette is a sense pleasure? So the thinking is if someone enjoys a sense pleasure then that is clinging which means that they should abandon the sense pleasure?

    Or is the issue that a cigarette is dangerous to health? So then the thinking is that indulging in something dangerous is unwise?

  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator

    @federica said:
    So it's up to the students, is it, to evaluate and decide, discern and evaluate? Well thanks a bunch for the heads up..!

    While you make a good point, the Buddha did advise care in selecting a teacher (AN 4.192, MN 95), and I think it's a good practice in general. I'd be more wary of a teacher who didn't advise evaluating them and instead made some high-minded excuse or resented being questioned.

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    My point wasn't necessarily focusing on either the sense pleasure, or the dangers of smoking.
    My issue was with his attitude.
    In a nutshell, he admits he might have a problem, but it's everyone else's responsibility to deal with it, not his. ~ shrug ~

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    @Jason said:

    @federica said:
    So it's up to the students, is it, to evaluate and decide, discern and evaluate? Well thanks a bunch for the heads up..!

    While you make a good point, the Buddha did advise care in selecting a teacher (AN 4.192, MN 95),

    Yes, you're right of course. HHDL commends the same.
    I just feel a bit uncomfortable about someone who admits the possibility that he may be hypocritical, but not so much that he feels the need to do anything about it...
    There again, most hypocrites don't admit or see the hypocrisy...

    and I think it's a good practice in general. I'd be more wary of a teacher who didn't advise evaluating them and instead made some high-minded excuse or resented being questioned.

    Yup, I've known a couple of those too....

  • ShoshinShoshin No one in particular Nowhere Special Veteran

    I was researching a potential teacher, and I was watching an interview with him in which he was shown rolling a cigarette... the interviewer asked him, isn’t that an addiction, a sign of attachment? His answer was “well, it has to be possible”, and when asked what his students would think of it, he replied, “it’s up to them”.

    I’m not quite sure what to think of this, because I do feel that dealing with ones addictions is quite high up there as a sign of competency in the spiritual path. The fact that he hasn’t addressed this sign of clinging makes me wonder about him... also I find his answers somewhat easy. It’s about living the path, not just talking about it.

    That said, he was sympathetic and likeable.

    Hmm...It really 'is' up to them ....

    Some students tend to look for teachers that they can put on a pedestal and in doing so there's always the possibility that they will fall or be knocked off...The teacher's knowledge and expression of the Dharma may be wholesome but they may have habits that may not be to the student's liking...

    When looking for a teacher ( some good Dharma teachers may still hold 'bad' habits) I guess if this is the case then,,,

    Kerome
  • FoibleFullFoibleFull Canada Veteran

    Until enlightenment, we are all crazy.
    Even our teachers.
    ALL we need from our teacher is that they be a little further down the path than we are.
    I cannot speak for you, but I'm not so far down the path that I require an enlightened Buddha for my teacher.

    person
  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    @federica said:
    My point wasn't necessarily focusing on either the sense pleasure, or the dangers of smoking.
    My issue was with his attitude.
    In a nutshell, he admits he might have a problem, but it's everyone else's responsibility to deal with it, not his. ~ shrug ~

    Yeah, that was my initial feeling too. However, to say that your teacher has to be a perfect embodiment of the practice is not the right approach either, we all have flaws and it is very human to be so. So it’s a question of what we are willing to allow and what not.

    person
  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    I'm not saying he has to be a perfect embodiment.
    As I tried to explain, I didn't consider his attitude to be 'skilful'.
    The whole point of declaring yourself, or working as a teacher, is to lead by example. Or at least show willing.
    And Willingness involves some personal resolve, determination and a form of self-sacrifice.
    I'm not looking for perfect.
    I'm looking for leadership.

    I'm not sure how much faith we'd put in a Superintendent of the Police, if we discovered that he advocates custodial sentences for shoplifters and pickpockets, but still beats his wife.

    Vastmind
  • I read this today, and it brought up a few good points, although it’s mainly about more serious misconduct by teachers:

    https://www.lionsroar.com/treat-everyone-as-the-buddha/

    You would not take piano lessons from someone who’s not a good player themselves, would you? Of course not. The same is true here. If you are trusting someone with your spiritual well-being, you should be sure that this person knows the path first-hand. In order to do this, they should have a clear commitment to their own practice and training.

    [...]

    A genuine teacher should uphold their vows and precepts.

    [...]

    We must distinguish teachers who are eccentric or provocative—but ultimately compassionate and skillful—from those who are actually harming students and causing trauma. These are two very different things, and it is important that we do not lump them together.

    My personal reaction to this teacher, as you’ve quoted him, @Kerome, is that we should try to know him better before judging him.

  • VastmindVastmind Memphis, TN Veteran
    edited February 22

    Judging is a necessary for life and survival and success. We need to decide/conclude what is good, appropriate behavior and what is not. (according to our own morals/beliefs/standards/safety).That can be quick instincts, past references or careful, thought out evaluation.

    As to the behaviors themselves.. smoking and drinking, etc....Some in this thread judge it as ok. Some judge it as not ok.

    When you position yourself as a formal, professional Teacher, you are opening yourself to more scrutiny and judgment than most. It's the cost of doing business.

    You want to teach me a skill, haven't mastered it yourself, and can't seem to pass the test yourself? C'mon now, I cant go for that. - That's my judgment.

  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran
    edited March 1

    It seems he was also caught up in a controversy when he was said to have had a three-year-long relationship with a female student a few years ago.

    Here is a Dutch-language article which you can wrangle with google translate if you are interested...

    https://boeddhistischdagblad.nl/nieuws/59209-zenleraar-tydeman-blijft-aan-als-leraar-na-jarenlange-buitenechtelijke-relatie-met-studente/

    lobster
  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator
    edited March 1

    My post from THIS THREAD:

    From the article linked in @lobster's post, above:

    The Buddha's Explanation
    Why did the Buddha call himself Tathagata?
    In the Pali Sutta-pitaka, in Itivuttaka § 112 (Khuddaka Nikaya), the Buddha provided four reasons for the title Tathagata.

    • First, everything in this world, "whatever is seen, heard, sensed, cognized, attained, sought, and reflected upon by the mind," is fully understood by a Tathagata.
    • Second, from the moment a being realizes complete enlightenment until he passes into Nirvana, leaving no trace behind, whatever he teaches is just so (tatha) and not otherwise.
    • Third, what he does is in the manner of (tatha) what he teaches. Likewise, what he teaches is what he does.
    • Fourth, among all other beings in this world, a Tathagata is the conqueror, unvanquished, all-seeing, and the wielder of power.
      For these reasons, the Buddha said, he is called the Tathagata.

    Let me pre-empt the following by confirming that I do NOT expect our Gurus, lamas, teachers and elders to be enlightened in order to qualify for their positions, but I Do think that the third point - My BOLD - is an important factor when evaluating a teacher.

    We have had so many discussions on Teachers and Lamas here, who have, either through third-party exposure, or through their own transparency, displayed controversial, uncharacteristic or even scandalous habits and behaviours.

    While the discussions have often , in a nutshell, come to the conclusion that 'of course they're imperfect, they're 'only' human' , even through Buddhist teachings we are reminded - and deserve to be reminded - that to be born a Human, is a privilege, not an excuse.

    IF the Buddha himself describes himself as someone who does what he says and says what he does, I think it's beholden upon those who purport to expand and disperse his teachings, to at least make decent effort to do likewise....

    lobsteradamcrossley
  • ShoshinShoshin No one in particular Nowhere Special Veteran
    edited March 1

    Hmm I wonder??? Does Karma have anything to do with how one chooses a teacher ?

    I guess one has also to take into account....The teacher 'is' a teaching in itself

    When I think of Dharma teachers, I'm reminded of Pema Chodron whose teacher was none other than the controversial teacher Chögyam Trungpa ....And Pema Chodron turned out alright =) :) I guess she looked past/beyond the finger that was pointing....

  • personperson Don't believe everything you think the void Veteran

    There are plenty of, often hard won, lessons to be learned from flawed teachers as well about wrong turns to be avoided. Provided you can keep/find again your own head/heart.

  • VastmindVastmind Memphis, TN Veteran

    True. Bought sense is better than no sense.

    personShoshin
  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    Hmm I wonder??? Does Karma have anything to do with how one chooses a teacher ?

    Good question.
    In my experience, most inevitably. Karma is unavoidable.

    As @Shoshin knows, everything, everyone is The Dharma and The Teacher.

    ... meanwhile we are attached to/seduced by our inclinations.

    A perhaps more relevant question is how does one choose to be a student? Refuge perhaps ...

    Shoshin
  • techietechie India Veteran
    edited March 3

    On the one hand, I agree that a teacher should lead by example. And especially in Buddhism, it's very important to let go of cravings.

    But I also believe in rebirth - we may carry certain latent tendencies and habits from previous births. Just as it's hard to drop a habit developed in childhood, it's even harder to drop tendencies which we've been developing over many lives.

    Not an excuse, but accepting rebirth means accepting this possibility too.

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    Sorry, isn't that the whole point of practice?

  • ShoshinShoshin No one in particular Nowhere Special Veteran

    @lobster said:

    As @Shoshin knows, everything,

    Ah @lobster I thought that you had finally recognised my Omniscient Nature........but then I saw the comma ;)

    lobsterKundo
  • The latest episode of one of my favourite podcasts, The Zen Studies Podcast, is about precisely this topic. I thoroughly recommend a listen—this podcast has been invaluable to me in learning about Buddhism (and not just Zen by any means).

    https://zenstudiespodcast.com/unethical-buddhist-teachers/

    lobster
  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    @Kerome said:
    It seems he was also caught up in a controversy when he was said to have had a three-year-long relationship with a female student a few years ago.

    Here is a Dutch-language article which you can wrangle with google translate if you are interested...

    https://boeddhistischdagblad.nl/nieuws/59209-zenleraar-tydeman-blijft-aan-als-leraar-na-jarenlange-buitenechtelijke-relatie-met-studente/

    So not just smoking but a dick on fire?
    Now how do you feel about his teacher potential?

    Personally I would look for a different smoke and mirror (so to speak). Good that you are investigating/applying discernment ...

  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    Well, I think I shall continue my search. Alltogether just a few too many flaws.

  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    Very useful post @adamcrossley many thanks.

    We are often so hungryghosties/desperate for unfolding, we abandon common sense. @Kerome I wish you every success. If our calling to Truth (remember her) is genuine, she will come and seek us out.

    Circumstances/karma will coalesce.

    “Know from the rivers in clefts and in crevices: those in small channels flow noisily, the great flow silent. Whatever’s not full makes noise. Whatever is full is quiet.”
    The Buddha (Sutta Nipata)

    adamcrossley
  • @lobster said:
    Very useful post @adamcrossley many thanks.

    My pleasure :)

    “Know from the rivers in clefts and in crevices: those in small channels flow noisily, the great flow silent. Whatever’s not full makes noise. Whatever is full is quiet.”
    The Buddha (Sutta Nipata)

    I’ve never read this before, what a beautiful image. Thanks!

  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    I think one can get to the root of suffering and still live like a normal person and enjoy normal things.

    Buddha be praised. o:)

    Teachers are people [lobster faints at the revelation]. Ah yes of course they are. I did hear that Buddha was perfect, Jesus was God, Trump is a genius and Ceasar was a god. I wonder who writes this stuff ...

    Strangely enough the human realm involves suffering (eg. crucifiction, dukkha, democrats, Brutus).

    This is why the wise from what I hear, forgive the humanity and encourage the betterment.

    Hail Ceasar. ;)

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