Tea House

Daily Perspectives and Stories on Buddhist Trends, People, and Ideas

Category: Unrefined

Taking Action, Moving Forward

August was a difficult month for many in the Western Buddhist world. Two esteemed Tibetan teachers have stepped down from leading their organizations after students came forward with allegations of sexual and physical abuse, among other things.

For many, hearing about a teacher being accused of such acts will bring confusion. Isn’t this teacher awakened? Is this gossip? Will reporting him (or, very rarely, her) cause karmic or social harm to me or to my religion?

Luckily, many trustworthy and wise teachers have spoken out. The Dalai Lama, who has issued statements before about the need for Westerners to confront ant report abusive teachers, clearly stated that all teachers should have their teachings questioned and that any harmful conduct should be publicize. Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, Lama Rod Owens and Justin von Bujdass, and Dr. Miles Neal have also spoken out eloquently about the need for contemporary students to confront abusive teachers.

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Setting aside Buddhist myths

Following the death of Buddhist teacher Michael Stone, a friend of his offered a poignant reflection on “the myth of the heroic self” for Tricycle magazine. There, Matthew Gindin asked:

What are we to make of his tragic struggle and death, particularly in the light of his daily practice for many years of Dharma disciplines believed to reduce suffering and stabilize the mind?

Michael is certainly not the first dharma practitioner to struggle with mental illness or the self-destructive use of a substance. Many before him have succumbed to alcoholism, substance abuse, depression, mental disintegration, and even suicide. When this happens, the usual takeaway is a call to clear away the stigma surrounding mental illness. That is important and needs to be said. But I want to focus on a different, if related, lesson: the myth of the heroic self.

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Global Travels, Local Practice

This month I am far from my birth home in Montana and my adoptive home in Seattle. I am in China, currently in a monastery outside of Ningbo called “Golden Mountain.” As I told a friend recently when discussing my travels, there is a saying, attributed to Native American wisdom, that a person should not travel further in a day than a horse can carry them. That is, humans are not just spiritual creatures or social creatures, but also local and geographical creatures. We are not just intellects, but bodies, intimately connected to our physical space.

How precious and how liberating it is to really know a place, to know what to expect around each corner, the ebbs and flows of each time of day, the norms and customs, the currencies and laws. How equally demanding and perhaps frightening to be a stranger in a strange land. There is a wonder, no doubt, in being in new places. But this wonder must be born of a security and comfort in one’s body. To explore the globe, one must know one’s self, one’s body.

So here, in my room in the very early hours of a Saturday morning, I meditate.

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Digging in as a Meditation Teacher and Practitioner

Justin Whitaker

These are very peculiar times that we are living in. Growing up in a rural Rocky Mountain state in the U.S., it is easy to say that I’ve just been out of touch with the world. But I ask, and keep asking people, “what do you think of this world we live in now?”

The answer, time and again, is that it’s peculiar. From my conversations with seniors to college students, it is clear that what we are seeing now is not normal.

During election night, Nov 8, 2016, I was teaching a mindfulness class in a yoga studio in Helena, Montana. A student or two might have been missing, but the vast majority of them were there, sitting in an hour of silence and instruction while the world around them was glued to TVs and computer screens watching election results come in. I mentioned this in our class that night: we were going “against the stream” of society by simply sitting still and examining our thoughts. We turned inward while the world turned outward.

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An Introduction

Justin Whitaker

Hello. I’m Justin Whitaker, a new North America Correspondent for Buddhistdoor Global. I thought I’d use my first contribution here to tell you a bit about myself. Like so many of us these days, especially in North America, my background and resulting practice of Buddhism is deeply eclectic. Unlike many, my passion for Buddhism drew me in to a lengthy academic career, seeking ways to understand it both very broadly and in as much depth many thousands of hours in libraries can offer.

I am a recently “minted” Ph.D., with a degree from Goldsmiths college of the University of London. Prior to that, I earned an M.A. in Buddhist Studies from Bristol University (also in England), and a B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Montana. In my period as a Ph.D. candidate – a very long nine years – I took time out to work and live in Bodhgaya, India for a semester study-abroad program in the falls of 2010 and 2014. I also traveled twice to China with the Taiwanese nun, Ven. Yifa, to experience Buddhism there and am currently a core faculty member for her Woodenfish program.

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