I’ve gone on a lot of weekend retreats over the years, with probably a dozen or so teachers.
These teachers come to visit the Rime Center in Kansas City. They come from a wide range of traditions and they have a wide range of teaching styles. This is a good thing because people can try to find what they’re looking for. (although I wish a Roshi or Shastri would come lead a retreat in Kansas City, but that’s a topic for another time.)
Weekend retreats are a good idea. That’s not what I’m writing about here. I’m writing about the teachers. And I hope everyone knows I’m not being critical…or if I am, the one I’m being critical of is myself.
You see, I went on numerous weekend retreats, I think I spent somewhere in the range of 50 days on retreat if you add it all up. It took me a long time to realize what was happening. Practicing with these teachers was almost always like meeting someone else’s personal hero. Is it any wonder I felt out of place?
(I said almost always because some of them were not quite that way. I’m talking about a majority of these experiences but not all of them.)
So many times I would hear about how great a teacher was and I would see people be really excited and…well they were fine. They weren’t bad, but just not what I’m looking for.
Although, as a really honest aside…I do sometimes have to wonder if other people are way better at understanding teachers with thick Tibetan accents than I am.
So, I stopped going on those weekend retreats. Rather, I stopped having the blanket view that I should go see ALL the visiting teachers. Because I don’t need to meet someone else’s personal hero. I’m glad your hero is here to lead a retreat for you. That is wonderful.
I think we need to ask ourselves why we’re doing the things we’re doing all the time. I think this is especially true in our spiritual practice. And if you find yourself sitting with a teacher who doesn’t mean anything to you, ask yourself a simple question.
Am I doing this because I want to or because I’m supposed to?
If I can’t travel to teachers that I want to retreat with and they also aren’t coming here, well I can always just retreat on my own. That’s what the Buddha did. That was the beginning of Seung Sahn’s practice too. Retreating alone is powerful.
Not that I think all of that time was wasted. I don’t. But the sitting meant more than the teachings almost every time.
And maybe I should have known better from my personal experience.
Back in 2012 and 2013 I was a Zen Monk in the Five Mountain Zen Order. I left because I didn’t connect with my teacher at all. He was not the teacher for me. I could have stayed and tried to stick it out until I received inka, transmission to become a teacher myself, but I didn’t. I considered that and it didn’t feel right. I also could have asked the Order to assign me another teacher, but I didn’t even think of that possibility until much later. I’ll never know if that would have worked. I left instead (I don’t think they’d let me go back if I tried). Thankfully I found some really patient teachers online who would supplement my monk training with other teachings to complete my training as a Zen teacher…
Of course our training is never really complete, is it?
Anyway, I had that experience where I knew a teacher wasn’t right for me and I backed out.
But for years I went on weekend retreats with someone else’s personal hero. Because I felt like I was supposed to go on these retreats. I’m not doing that anymore.
I’m only going on the retreats that my practice requires, instead of all the retreats that are available.
I think a lot of people are like me and have spent a lot of time practicing with teachers who aren’t very meaningful to them.
Don’t look for any teacher you can find. Look for the right one.
And for a while, maybe we can just be our own heroes.