The Five-Minute Buddhist Books

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On Teaching Buddhism: My Point of View

A long-time reader wrote:

You mentioned in several past episodes that you are not a Zen Master or Guru, and yet, you have taught hundreds if not thousands of disciples through your podcast. Does this not make you then a teacher of aspiring Buddhists? With the availability of the internet, it is likely your students/listeners have more information at their fingertips that aspiring Buddhists decades, centuries, or millennia ago did not have available. What exactly is required to *be* a Zen Master or teacher of Buddhism? The Buddha simply went around teaching and his students called him Teacher. Do you need some kind of ritual or official certificate to be a Teacher of Buddhism these days? Or were you just being humble and did you not realize that you are what you do?

My Response:

Traditionally with Zen, one master confers the title of “Master” on to very experienced students after so many years of study and meditation. There’s no official certificate or plaque, no, it’s just done when the old Master thinks the student is ready.

I didn’t study under a Master, and never have had one. I’ve taken college courses, and have a degree in “Comparative Religions.” I have a Minister’s License from the State of Ohio that allows me to marry people. I’ve read tons of books, watched umpteen videos, and practiced all kinds of meditation. I have to admit that I’ve experienced a lot of what Buddhism can offer. Does this make me the equal of a Zen Master? I don’t think so. I might go so far as to say I’m an “expert” at Buddhism, but I’d have to point out that even then, it’s mostly book-learning, not experiential.

Do I know more about Buddhism that the Masters a thousand of years ago? Probably, but only because there is so much more to know now than in those days (all those new sects and groups that didn’t exist back then, for one example), and the access to that information is so much easier today.

When I think of a modern “Master,” I think of Thich Nhat Hanh or Sheng Yen. Those guys are the real deal.

Am I a teacher of Buddhism? Absolutely. Am I good at it? I don’t know, but I like to think I have a fairly unique voice in the Buddhist community, and I’d also like to think it’s an honest one. My goal here is, and always has been, to clarify, simplify, and remove the layers of mystical jargon and mumbo-jumbo that tends to accumulate around Eastern religions.

Am I being humble? Probably a little. I’d like to call it something else… honesty.




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