When I first started IDP’s Yearlong Immersion Training two years ago, I was intensely consumed with all kinds of doubts and questions about whether or not I would ever be well suited enough to be a dharmateacher. I also wondered if a year was a sufficient enough amount of time for such a process to unfold, since the vastness of Buddhist teachings and practices seemed so daunting and terribly important.
When I first gave meditation instruction during that first weekend of training, I was more nervous than I’d ever been doing so, and I had already been facilitating a meditation and discussion group for nearly three years at that point. And I was not alone in this--many of my friends in the 2011 group were equally nervous, self-critical and insecure during several stages of this very unique and life-changing year long experience.
The same questions ran through my head repeatedly: How could I possibly remember all of the most critical tenets and sutras? What if someone asked ME a zinger of a question to which I could offer no clear and meaningful answer? What if MY understanding of the dharma wasn’t authentic enough, sophisticated enough, appealing enough...well rounded enough...
Finally I said to myself, “Enough!”
One day, someone asked me why I was getting involved in a program that could potentially authorize me as a dharma teacher one day if it made me so anxious. My answer was instant and spontaneous: “I want to help other people in some way and I think that the dharma and mindfulness training offer dozens of options for doing so.”
It was then that I realized what all of my insecurity and second-guessing was really about. While on the surface, my fears appeared to be based on a very deep concern with other people and whether or not little old me could ever be adequate enough to teach them anything useful. But in reality I was making the whole process about ME: my reputation, my knowledge or lack thereof, my speaking style, my years of practice, my credentials, my appearance, blah blah blah.
Yet my underlying intention was to help others in some way by sharing some aspects of the dharma that might be useful in people’s everyday lives.
Recognizing this discrepancy enabled me to get over my fears and doubts and to renew my aspiration to be of service to others whether it meant just teaching my friends some meditation and breathing techniques, or eventually being in a place where I can give a detailed lecture about dependent origination to a large group at an official dharma center.
The only pressure being put on me to be anything in particular was coming from my mind and my mind alone.
What makes one a Buddhist teacher or not isn’t so cut and dry.
Over the past few years I’ve been around teachers that draw large crowds to their events, and yet they just don’t resonate with me personally. I've been around Buddhist teachers who aren’t sanctioned or ordained as anything special, and yet I’ve been blown away from what they have taught me--not just through their words but through their example and kindness. And many of these teachers are lucky if more than five people show up to hear them speak.
To be completely honest, I find each moment I experience to be the absolute best and most reliable teacher, but I’ll address that in some future rant.
In his book “Still the Mind” , Alan Watts compared the spiritual teacher to a pick pocket trying to sell you your own watch. Unlike most other spiritual traditions, in Buddhism we understand and emphasize that all of us are already inherently awake and complete--we just need to allow that already clear nature to emerge somehow.
Whether someone is officially sanctioned as a teacher or not isn’t what’s most important--what counts the most is how effectively we can be our own best teachers and learn to understand our minds well enough in order to be of service to others.
If our intention is clear and selfless, that’s all we ultimately need to be an effective teacher/friend/guide/or service provider. There are countless ways in which mindfulness training and dharmic lessons can be conveyed, and it is up to each of us to find out how we can best do that as individuals living in our respective historical/geographical/geo-political contexts.
No one needs to versed in every minute detail about the dharma to be helpful. There are things I would never attempt to teach either because I don’t yet understand the concepts intellectually nor do I have enough of an experiential basis on which to build an effective lesson. So when I know something, I share it. When I don’t know something, I’m ok with saying so or just not trying to pass myself off as someone who does.
I am very grateful for the opportunity to be part of IDP and it’s incredibly vibrant and diverse community. I love all of my friends from the 2011 Yearlong Immersion training and have been in awe of all of those people I now know from the 2012 Immersion group. And I’m excited to continue to learn and grow with all of you in 2013 in the Advanced Immersion Training.
To those of you beginning your training in February--please know that you each have something unique about yourselves that must be put to good use in some way, be it great or small. Time flies by rapidly and we haven’t a moment to waste. We also mustn't waste those aspects of who we are in this life that can be utilized somehow as tools for transformation.
May we all realize the unique manner in which we experience and understand the dharma so that we may use it to be of benefit to ourselves and all others.
(re-blogged from the IDP BLOG)