Guru-Averse

or… Why I am still uncomfortable calling myself a Buddhist.

The past two mornings I’ve been hearing a nearby dog whine. Another bark. I haven’t been able to figure out where exactly it’s coming from. I’m wondering if the neighbor got a new dog who’s frightened to be alone during the day.

I went outside, but still can’t be sure where it’s coming from. The sound bounces around these houses so much when the air is this clear. It seems to be coming from everywhere at once.

Howling now. But Leonard is unperturbed. I figure he speaks dog language better than I do, so maybe it’s nothing to worry about. People, too, can bitch at the drop of a dime with little cause.

Storms in teacups and all that.

For some time now I’ve been listening to one teacher’s dharma talks. I like them because he refrains from homilies, and seems to favor consideration over dogma. He gives his interpretation of what is thought to be the words of Gautama Buddha, and often reminds the listener to ask themselves how it rings – or doesn’t ring – as true in one’s own life.

Yesterday in a talk, he interpreted a passage regarding the division between spiritual life and family life. For the first time I found myself disagreeing so strongly I began to question the foundation of the eight-fold path. I’m usually fine with contradictions in metaphors. I don’t think we are ever in a position to see the entire elephant, and that actually – a perfect metaphor that feels true from every perspective, would no longer be a metaphor and would become a kind of false dogma.

But here, the teacher pointed out that in order for one to “truly” follow a spiritual path one must leave one’s family. He said that if you chose family life you would be “behind” on your spiritual path and you would not actually be following the eight fold path.

There are times when I feel the crone in me rise in her mature glory. This was one of those times.

I once heard another Western teacher talk about how one of his gurus was cruel with him often – sarcastic and insulting. And this teacher explain that this was a good thing: the guru was teaching him in this way. My first thought even then was, yes, I suppose if you are a monk with no family (no siblings, no children, no acerbic aunts or creepy uncles), you might need someone to treat you poorly so you can learn to deal with it. Who needs family if you have a guru who makes you feel like sh*t?

When I read that the Dalai Lama has an acolyte sleep on the floor in his room in case he is thirsty in the night, I nearly wept. In his book An Open Heart he explains how much a devoted layperson should meditate each day. I was in my 40s then with two kids and a full-time job. Even with the privilege of having a responsible husband, it would have been nearly impossible for me to fit so many hours on a meditation cushion.

What about the single parents with multiple jobs? Because I don’t believe in reincarnation or a caste system, I reject entirely the notion that anything that is not a valid choice for everyone can be a tenable ethical- or spiritual imperative. I believe that to accept these ideas is egotistic, and at odds with the understanding that the self is an illusion.

The idea of “My spiritual path” seems at odds entirely with skillful intention. To relieve my suffering by avoiding what makes people suffer, is not skillful living. It’s avoidance.

This is the crone in me whose earned-wisdom will not be dismissed by people who do not have to sit in meeting rooms with colleagues, or negotiate bedtimes with children.

There are many paths and many teachers. And it’s not a friggin’ race anyway.

(Yeah, avoiding harsh words isn’t exactly my strong suit – being a teacher lets me work on that way every day.)


“Haaaaaa”: allowing that storm to settle. It’s a bit like reading tea leaves in the aftermath.

One Comment Add yours

  1. neil reid says:

    A teacher of a church I was a student of, said no rules, except for one. No drugs please. Practical, not ethical. What experience on drugs you might have you’ll think was “by the drug”, not sourced by you, yourself. Learning, he said, was hard enough without that excuse. Sometime later he announced, no rules, none. He was unwilling to impose anything “external” that way. Whatever the result, the experience, have it be clearly your own. Is that a good teacher/parent? Any other route and result won’t feel like it is your own. What was learned?

    Don’t some teachers want to spare us the struggle learning? Don’t we often want shortcuts too?

    Aren’t brick walls one of the better teachers?

    Liked by 1 person

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