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When a zen school has many teachers...

Issues related to Korean Son lineages.

When a zen school has many teachers...

Postby nowornever on Tue Feb 12, 2013 12:19 am

For example Kwan Um has many zen teachers. In the past most zen schools had 1 teacher so everything was clear - all students learnt from this teacher. The fact of many teachers is all right but somehow some students like that may be confused who is their teacher. They attend lots od YMJJs and Kyol Ches with teachers who are changing all the time.
Who is whose student and who is whose teacher?

P.S. I am one of those confused students who is not sure whether Bon Shim SSN, Wu Bong SSN or Andrew P. JDPSN is his teacher...
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Re: When a zen school has many teachers...

Postby Gregory Wonderwheel on Tue Feb 12, 2013 12:51 am

nowornever wrote:For example Kwan Um has many zen teachers. In the past most zen schools had 1 teacher so everything was clear - all students learnt from this teacher. The fact of many teachers is all right but somehow some students like that may be confused who is their teacher. They attend lots od YMJJs and Kyol Ches with teachers who are changing all the time.
Who is whose student and who is whose teacher?

P.S. I am one of those confused students who is not sure whether Bon Shim SSN, Wu Bong SSN or Andrew P. JDPSN is his teacher...


I think there may be some wishful thinking in the premise of the query. It seems you are using the term "school" in a narrow sense that doesn't make sense to me.

In the past, as today, Zen "schools" did not have 1 teacher. Speaking about the Kwan Um school as having many teachers is like speaking of the Soto school having many teachers and the Rinzai school having many teachers. In 1650 if you wanted to study Rinzai Zen you had to decide which teacher to work with. Hakuin went from teacher to teacher until he found his affinity teacher. It is only when the first teacher continues a lineage that there is only one teacher, and that lasts only as long as that teacher is alive, and while the lineage doesn't yet achieve the status of a "school." A lineage can only be considered to be a new "school" after the 1 teacher has authorized many teachers and his or her successors have established the lineage by the presence of multiple teachers with the teaching style of this "family" of teachers being sufficientyly distinct to be identified as such. Usually it

I sympathize with a student who is not clear who their teacher is, but the sympathy only goes so far, because the straightforward thing to do in such a situation is to pick one of the potential group of teachers with whom one feels the greatist affinity and ask him or her the question about establishing a teacher-student relationship.

_/|\_
Gregory
Why you do not understand is because the three carts were provisional for former times, and because the One Vehicle is true for the present time. ~ Zen Master 6th Ancestor Huineng
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Re: When a zen school has many teachers...

Postby Nonin on Tue Feb 12, 2013 12:52 am

nowornever,

Whom do you consider your teacher(s)? Ask the teachers you've mentioned whom you should consider your teacher or if you should consider all three your teachers. Kwan Um school is a lay school, and their teachers serve more than one group. Only a teacher from within that school can answer your question organizationally, but ultimately, only you can answer it.

I'm a Soto Zen Buddhist teacher. There are and have been many, many teachers within the Soto Zen school. My main teacher, who was my lay ordination, priest ordination, and dharma transmission teacher was Dainin Katagiri. My Shuso (Head Monk) teacher was Sojun Mel Weitsman when I was Head Monk at Tassajara Monastery. I also had two other teachers that I practiced and studied with: Tenshin Anderson at San Francisco Zen Center and Ikko Narasaki at Zuioji and Shogoji monasteries in Japan. So, I've had four main teachers, but the seminal one was Dainin Katagiri and also the one who was my master. I'm one of his dharma heirs. Katagiri-roshi encouraged me to go and study with the others I've mentioned and also encouraged me to visit others if I wanted to.

When I was a novice monk (before dharma transmission), I visited and practiced for short times with two or three other teachers in the US. I also consider the Godo-roshi at Zuioji, Daito Hayashi, as one of my teachers and also Thich Nhat Hanh, whom I did a couple of retreats with in California and also in Minneapolis.

Sometimes in Soto Zen Buddhism, a person's transmission teacher is different from one's shuso teacher and dharma transmission teacher. Also, after dharma transmission, a person studies with yet another teacher.

And, I encourage my lay students to go and study with other teachers, for either a short or a longer time. Most of the time they come back; sometimes they don't. It's a personal choice. It's important that one choose a priest ordination teacher wisely, for one makes a commitment to practice and study with that person over the long haul, but, sometimes, that doesn't work out and one moves on to another teacher.

Hands palm-to-palm,

Nonin
Soto Zen Buddhist Priest. Transmitted Dharma Heir of Dainin Katagiri Roshi.
Abbot and Head Teacher, Nebraska Zen Center / Heartland Temple, Omaha, Nebraska, USA
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Re: When a zen school has many teachers...

Postby Judy Roitman on Wed Feb 05, 2014 3:21 am

Dear Nowornever, Gregory Wonderwheel, and Nonin,

To clear up a few matters for Nonin and Gregory:

The Kwan Um School of Zen is a school. As a school we have, for example, an ethics statement and procedure; agreement on how inka and transmission is given; basic agreement on kong-ans; basic agreement on forms; and so on. While every teacher in the KUSZ traces her/his lineage to Zen Master Seung Sahn, not every teacher who traces her/his lineage to Zen Master Seung Sahn is a member of the school, since some teachers in the lineage did not agree with some aspect of the school and left it.

KUSZ is not a lay school. It is a school which includes both lay people and monastics, as students, as teachers, and as leaders. It differs from many Buddhist schools/lineages in that lay people can be fully authorized as teachers, can perform the same congregational roles (conducting ceremonies, etc.) that monastics can, and can play major leadership roles (for example, the current guiding teacher of the school is a laywoman).

Also, in the KUSZ, students do not make a personal commitment to a teacher the way they do in, say, Soto Zen. The commitment is between a Zen center and a teacher, and generally the center's guiding teacher gives approval for things like level of precepts. But the student/teacher relationship is not monogamous. Students are encouraged to practice with many teachers in the school. If a student in a Zen center feels a strong affinity for a teacher not associated with that center, that's no problem.

And now I can address Nowornever's original question. You ask whether Bon Shim SSN, Wu Bong SSN (who died last spring) or Andrew P. JDPSN is your teacher. They are all your teachers. Whatever teacher is in front of you right now, that is your teacher. In fact everything is your teacher, but this is not what you are asking about. Can it be confusing to practice with more than one teacher? Well, sometimes different teachers are looking for different things when they ask you kong-ans, and sometimes different teachers give very different answers to questions you might ask, but that is only confusing if you make it confusing. If your mind is open and your center is strong, then every encounter is an opportunity, and having encounters with different people can be a source of great enrichment.

In my own practice, for many years we did not have a resident guiding teacher and every year we had retreats with four or five different teachers, many of whom came just once, or just once every few years. Later, when we did have a resident guiding teacher, it was my husband and we had a son and I simply could not sit retreats that he was leading. So I would sit retreats with visiting teachers, and travel to the Chicago area to sit with other teachers. In other words, in my 22 years of Zen training before being authorized to teach, except for the first year on the east coast with Zen Master Seung Sahn, I never sat a retreat with the same teacher twice in a row, and for the last 15 or so years before inka I considered four people to be my teachers, four very different people I might add. It was absolutely no problem.

Now my center has two resident teachers and we are in many ways very different from each other. I think this is wonderful. It gives students a wider view. It helps everyone --- teachers and students --- becomes less attached to their thinking.

So I guess my response to you, Nowornever, is that there need not be any problem. You have many wonderful teachers in the European KUSZ sangha. I hope you learn from all of them.

Best,

Judy
Judy Roitman (Zen Master Bon Hae), Kansas Zen Center, Kwan Um School of Zen
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Re: When a zen school has many teachers...

Postby Pedestrian on Wed Feb 05, 2014 4:33 pm

Judy Roitman wrote:You ask whether Bon Shim SSN, Wu Bong SSN (who died last spring) or Andrew P. JDPSN is your teacher. They are all your teachers. Whatever teacher is in front of you right now, that is your teacher. In fact everything is your teacher, but this is not what you are asking about. Can it be confusing to practice with more than one teacher? Well, sometimes different teachers are looking for different things when they ask you kong-ans, and sometimes different teachers give very different answers to questions you might ask, but that is only confusing if you make it confusing. If your mind is open and your center is strong, then every encounter is an opportunity, and having encounters with different people can be a source of great enrichment.


Thank you, Judy, for this rich response. I think it's spot on.

Nowornever, I am a member of the Boundless Way Zen sangha, with a formal (shoken) teaching relationship with James Ford who lives here in RI. In addition, I often sit, take dokusan, and practice with other teachers in the sangha, including David Rynick and Melissa Blacker, who live at the nearby Boundless Way Temple in Worcester MA. Though my formal teacher is James, like Judy he strongly encourages that I work with other teachers, as do all the BWZ teachers.

My experience with these three teachers and others in the sangha supports Judy's statement above, particularly during intimate practice encounters such as koan work during dokusan and side-by-side samu (work practice) during retreats. Sitting across from different teachers during a lengthy chew on a particular koan; spading dirt next to another teacher during samu; setting up cushions in preparation for zazen on a Monday night: each of these encounters with my different teachers enriches my practice.

As long as my attitude is engaged, that is! As I understand it, a basic principle of the Zen Buddhist teacher/student relationship is that the student creates the teacher, and not the teacher. I'm particularly aware of this in formal practice settings: putting on my rakusu, laying out zafus, chanting, and so on help prepare my attitude, opening me up to receive teaching from wherever it may come. And when less prepared, I admit to being productively poked from distraction into awareness a few times by my teachers, who have used a well-placed phrase during an informal chat or, of course, the ringy-ding-ding of the dokusan bell indicating the encounter was over to beneficial effect.

I've also found, at least in this sangha, that the teachers are very willing to engage my questions about these differences. But that usually doesn't turn out as I think it will when first asking those questions! Judy wrote, "Whatever teacher is in front of you right now, that is your teacher. In fact everything is your teacher, but this is not what you are asking about." That reminded me of a paragraph Brad Warner recently wrote about Gudo Nishijima that has been ringy-ding-dinging in my head lately:

Whenever I talked to [Nishijima] he was right there with me in a way that no one else has ever been. People sometimes complained when they asked questions that he wouldn’t answer [their] questions but instead talk about something else. I used to think so too until I started paying closer attention. That’s when I noticed that he always answered the questions people asked. It’s just that the questioners often, like me, had no idea what they were really asking.


If my attitude is right, if I can let my questions flow and shift and change, if I can accept the coming and going of confusion and knowledge... I usually find there's a lot to learn in every encounter with my teachers, formal and informal, human and not. But the learning unfolds only in that intimate encounter itself.

Not sure if that helps. Thanks for asking the question to open the conversation.
"Buddha, to liberate beings, cultivates practices everywhere." Avatamsaka Sutra.

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