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Submitted by Lodro Rinzler on Sat, 12/17/2011, 4:05pm
Recently my dear friend Ethan Nichtern and I were talking about my new book, The Buddha Walks into a Bar… (coming soon to a bookstore or Amazon near you). “The thing with releasing a book,” he said, “is you’re going to have to figure out what sort of spiritual teacher you want to be.” It was interesting feedback to receive, and one that left me contemplating the role of a young person teaching the dharma today.
On one hand, I’ve taught meditation for over ten years now. I started a Buddhist group in college, led introductory meditation sessions for years, empowering hundreds of college students in the art of mindfulness. Then I became the Executive Director of the Boston Shambhala Center, and taught extensively there. A little over three years ago I moved to New York City and have taught the entire Way of Shambhala curriculum, developed curricula of my own, and taught at a number of universities. So to hear that I should take a step back and figure out what sort of teacher I want to be, after all of that, gave me pause.
So here’s the reveal: I have decided that I am not going to be a “spiritual teacher.” I am going to be a genuine guy who loves to discuss the dharma with people. I refuse to believe that I have perfected anything other than the art of being who I am and I’ve gotten good at being mindful and often nice. If people want to hear what I have to say about that then I am happy to have a dialogue with them.
To be clear, I’m not against anyone defining themselves as a spiritual teacher. I think that’s fine, if that hat fits you. For me, I can use the particular handle “teacher” or "meditation teacher" if it makes what I do accessible. However, I prefer to think of what I’m doing as more of a practice where I go out and be genuine and fearless with what I know and if people learn something, awesome. Because as far as I’ve experienced, that’s what talking about the dharma is; it’s being real with who you are and what you know.
Part of my contemplation has been based in the fact that even though I have a strong meditation practice and teach, I still mess up sometimes. And that’s okay. I will never profess that I don’t have short-comings. Sometimes I’m curt with someone, or I gossip, and so on. Thankfully, meditation has brought me to the point where I notice these things, catch myself, and deepen my resolve not to make the same mistakes again. Also, compared to the sort of mistakes from years ago, the level of harm created is getting smaller and smaller all the time. But if I went out and said I’m a “spiritual teacher” people might get the idea that I don’t have flaws and trust me, I do.
As one of my heart teachers, Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche said, “By making mistakes and more mistakes, one enters onto the right path.” Over eighteen years as a practitioner I have learned that I am gradually being nudged onto the right path for me. I have glimpsed the inner workings of my own mind, seen past it to my awake state, but do not reside there in the way that my teachers do. And frankly, I think the vast majority of people who call themselves spiritual teachers are the same way. They continue to have moments where they lose touch with their basic goodness and that’s okay; they are human and ideally learn from those incidents.
So here’s my invitation to all us “spiritual teachers:” let’s reside in our awakened state as much as we can, work to be kind and genuine, and lead from that point of view. Let’s be genuinely who we are. That’s what I have realized I can offer, as I’ve recently decided to be the sort of spiritual teacher who is not a “spiritual teacher.”
Lodro Rinzler is the author of The Buddha Walks into a Bar: A Guide to Life for a New Generation. He is doing a lot of events right now and would love to see you.
Post Script: Given that I mention Ethan, who is a Shastri, I should point out that if someone is offered a title within their lineage they should embrace it as he has, and use it to the best of their ability to make the dharma accessible as he is doing. If someone uses their title to promote their ego, then they will have issues, but that’s a post for another time.
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