So how many Buddhadharma practitioners do we have here?

I’m a (often not very good) Buddhist, mostly of a Zen orientation though my primary teacher is Shinzen Young and I practice a form of Vipassana meditation taught by him for the most part these last few years. Previously, I had involvement in Korean Zen (of the Seung Sahn variety) and a number of Japanese traditions, including some practice of Japanese Mikkyo (Vajrayana) for a while as I transitioned away from my initial refuge taking back in 2003 with the Sakyas in Seattle for Tibetan Vajrayana.

I mainly bounced around because I wanted a 1:1 relationship with some sort of teacher as an instructor and a huge amount of Dharma groups both don’t have a resident teacher and don’t really have a good orientation around training people in practice. That’s what eventually led to my exit from Vajrayana (along with it being a bit fantastical for me as popularly presented).

I’ve done a bit of graduate level academic work around Buddhism and, about eight years back, was briefly a Buddhist Studies doctoral student before dropping out.

I currently sit with a group of folks in Berkeley, CA that is organized by one of Shinzen’s facilitators, which is how Shinzen empowers folks to teach.


I am a tourist.

What are the real benefits of having a teacher? How on earth can you be sure they’re not leading you into a den of vipers?

(Apologies if that’s off topic, please feel free to ignore, although… ‘getting into it’ questions, I thought, might be pertinent.)

@enso Sorry for making a mess! [Deleted and then undeleted]




I was about to answer your questions.

1 Like

Someone who is an experienced guide. Since meditation focused Buddhism is a practice, having someone who is an expert in the practice is useful. I used to have a power lifting coach (before I damaged my spine three years ago) who was ranked #2 in tested (for steroids) lifting meets in the United States at the time. I knew, when he gave me lifting advice or corrected my form, that he knew what he was talking about.

My current teacher is in his 70s. He became a monk in his 20s and has had a serious daily meditation practice since then and has taught for over 30 years. I figure he knows what he’s doing.

I still watch him for trouble though. One of his teachers became quite infamous for groping women and it became a huge scandal (more than once). The thing about meditative practice is that you need to compliment it with ethical practice as well. Being a good meditator with some awakening doesn’t make you a wholesome individual inherently without ethical discipline. Plenty of folks miss that.

No way at all! Well, not beyond being awake, paying attention, and asking questions. There is the whole joke about watching to see if the guru is interested in your wallet, your girlfriend, or your asshole (to be rude about it). You have to judge them based on your behavior and the traditional advice is to watch them for years. In my instance (anecdotes, not just a way of life!), I have friends who had studied with my teacher for a few years and I met him on and off for a few years before I went on a retreat with him. After a week with him, I was pretty sure that I could work with him.

I’m friends with a previous teacher of mine. We’re better friends than we are student and teacher but he still knows a lot more than me and taught me many things.


This is kinda where I see the value in having someone else call you on your bullshit, or I should say, me on my bullshit. But, and I’m obviously missing some very important point (perhaps a neurotic block in the persona, ouch), other than giving you guidelines for not behaving in ways which create traces, once you have the initial… dropping away of misconceptions, does the right behaviour inevitably lead to a feeling of determined engagement with this communal project of schools and temples? Or is that just the expedient physical manifestation of a tried and true method of getting the practice into as many receptive minds as possible… hmm, not ‘possible’… into as many minds as works?

(I’m obviously deeply suspicious of institutions)

1 Like

From what I recall of doing zazen years ago that is exactly what to do rather than approach it buffet style.


I should have said that too but that also requires that the teacher get to know you well.

My old teacher? He called me on a lot of shit because we interacted all the time, online and offline. We did koan work over Skype, etc.

My current teacher? He’s in his 70s and has hundreds of students. He’ll call me on stuff at retreats but we don’t talk a lot otherwise. I mostly ask him practice questions.

I’m not sure what you’re asking. An awakening experience, like an initial one, doesn’t lead to any specific ethical behavior from what I’ve seen. It acts more as an impetus to keep practicing.

There are plenty of Buddhists, including maybe some here, that will disagree and say that awakening and ethical behavior go hand in glove automatically but decades of sex scandals (and many not by Westerners who converted) kind of give a lie to that.

As to institutions, without them, we wouldn’t have the practice. If there hadn’t been an institution, of some sort, over the last 2,500 years, Buddhism would not be a living thing and you wouldn’t have living teachers to learn from. Shinzen (my teacher) and my old friend and occasional teacher, Keisho (who died a year ago), both lived in temples in Japan and saw plenty of people just kind of going through the motions or being there for other reasons. Keisho used to practice in the evening after dinner and other monks taunted him with “Who do you think you are? A Buddha?!” because many of them just wanted to smoke cigarettes and watch TV. Keisho’s primary work in that temple was groundskeeping… that said, he joined that temple to work with its abbot and he did. He learned and practiced and eventually came back and established a Tendai hermitage here in California and lived in it, teaching visitors and others, until he died.

My looking for a teacher was exactly because a lot of these institutions put more emphasis on being an institution than in training people and practice. I don’t want to shit talk Tibetans because I have a great respect for their traditions but they are fighting to save their people and culture and Western folks are often an easy source of cash. They don’t expect much from most of us from what I saw (and I have quite a few Vajrayana friends who have run into the same thing). You have to find a good group and lama to work with, especially in Vajrayana.

I actually think most Buddhist groups (“Dharma centers”) are centers of pestilence and whatnot. Huge amounts of political bullshit that has nothing to do with practice. That said, there are a lot of good groups out there too, just doing practice.

I’m hoping other folks chime in because my experiences are just mine and are limited.

Edit: Ah, I get it now, you’re asking if you feel some communal pull to the group or institution after some awakening experience. Not that I’ve personally experienced or heard of! I know plenty of advanced practitioners that talk to no one but their teacher outside of seeing some folks at retreats.


Yeah. The ethical behaviour is not beside the point.

I do kind of like the idea of this emergent continuance of kindling embers, being passed down through time and the institution being this minimalist structure sort of crystallising around the process. I think it’s for that reason that I’m attracted to some interpretations of Daoism. The receding action. But that ideal seems almost like a fantasy to me.

I suppose the manifestation will always be embedded in and permeated by a cultural context.

Reading my previous comments, I guess my perspective is also strongly influenced by a belief or understanding of reincarnation. More than just minimising strife for and through yourself, I guess that would seem like an important, long-term project to remain cognisant of.


One of the things that triggered this thread was getting into things a little on the Zuckerberg thread and what folks think are the requirements of taking refuge and being a Buddhist.

I don’t believe in reincarnation. I don’t necessarily disbelieve it either. It has no weight to me or my world. I see a classic Zen approach (though not limited to Zen) to worry about this life, this moment, right here and now. What do I care if some aspect of “me” (whatever the hell that is) is reborn. Heck, I’m happy with the thought of dying eventually too. It beats the alternative!

My old teacher, who had been a Tibetan (Kagyu) monk once ran into his lama in the middle of the night in the kitchen (I think they were both snacking and/or stealing some food). He asked the lama (who, as I recall was quite famous though I can’t remember if it was Garchen Rinpoche or someone else), “What reincarnates, exactly?” The lama said “Mostly bad habits” and left it at that.


An online friend of mine (and Zen priest) posted this and I just saw it a few minutes ago:


Even if you could evolve through eternal time and space into multiplicitous, novel perspectives?


If I could truly evolve. I have, historically, a lot of anxiety and am not always a happy person. My daughter and my mother both have anxiety and depression problems. I’d have to develop true clarity and equanimity to really want to live “forever.” Much of the time, I’m just getting through the day or week!


Of course, if I had to live it as myself with only the capability to change insofar as my current biology would allow… then I wouldn’t live forever!

Allow me my nonsensical contrivances!


Buddhist Atheist here…i meditate, i like the quite time to just be especially in this busy world.

I’ve take refuge, but don’t think it is necessary to be buddhist. I personally don’t think there are any requirements to being buddhist other then identifying as one, who am i to judge another’s path?

To me personally it all boils down to just being present in the now with things as they are without heaping your own stories onto them.


Within the Buddhist community, it is pretty standard (for better or worse) to associate the act of formally taking refuge with becoming a Buddhist, formally. That’s why you’ll see discussion of it as an important act.

As to whether you can be a “Buddhist” without it. Well, Americans, for example, are so wishy washy on things that you can probably say “I’m a Buddhist” if you’ve read a pop Buddhist book, light a candle, and chant “Om!” or the Heart Sutra. :slight_smile: I have opinions on that but no one will care what I think about what they do!

Formal organizations are more strict about it.

What drew you to it? Was there a specific book, teacher, thing?


I met a Son teacher in SoCal and studied/practiced with him, took refuge, and also sat at the Long Beach Zen Center, then moved to SF studied with a Ch’an teacher and also sat at the SF Zen Center, then moved to Austin didn’t really jibe with the AZC, so I go to a Gelug temple (I like lists) though I’ve been pretty lazy lately.


There is a Chan teacher here in the Bay area?

Was the Son teacher with the Kwan Um School of Zen or someone more directly out of Korea?


I joined a zen sitting group in highschool, mainly because i identified with the many books on the subject i was reading. The first book i read was Zen Mind Beginners Mind by Suzuki Roshi.

I’ve done retreats, programs, and been a part of centers in the Rinzai, Soto, and Chan Zen traditions, as well as Tibetan Buddhism. Nothing like sitting in silence all day every day for a month to really percolate and settle into the practice. Talking seems weird for a few days afterwords.

That is why I took refuge, out of respect for the lineage and teacher that i was practicing with. While the formal structures can help, and are time tested, i personally don’t think they are absolutely necessary, unless one is participating in a specific linage, and then i think it is good to respect the structures of that lineage.

I don’t believe in direct reincarnation, rather that our lives impact other lives and events and hence ripples of our existence continue on after us shaping the world around us. Children are the most direct example of this, but only one way in which the us that is not us carries on and changes.

I’m not attached to achieving anything, rather the opposite, i’m in it for the letting go. I don’t need to be enlightened, rather just be a bit lighter. :slight_smile: and i like the silence and aspire to be mindful and awake.

and stuff…


I guess I’ll ask the room: Is there any official Buddhist position, that anyone is aware of, on epigenetic memories?

1 Like

not that i’m aware of, but i don’t think there would be any opposition to the idea either. i’ve asked specifically about reincarnation several times to teachers, the best answer i ever got was:

“light a candle, use that candle to light another candle then blow out the first, different candle, same flame, but what is a flame and is it not always changing?”

That answer got me thinking. We are so attached to our existence of who we are, but that is really just a story, is the who we are now the same who we were when we were little, or who we will be in the future? We are always changing and impermanent anyway. Even when i remember the past me, really I’m remembering a story I’ve created about who I was, not the actual me from then. That me doesn’t exist anymore. Our existence that we are so attached to is really a chain of different stories of our self and we don’t want that story to end because we’ve become quite fond of it.