Norman Fischer

‘I have always appreciated the fact that when you give a Zen talk, you make three prostrations to the Buddha before and after the talk. These bows are meant to indicate that it isn’t exactly you giving the talk. The Buddha is giving the talk using your body and voice. Bowing is praying to Buddha to help you do as good a job at channeling him as you possibly can, with the faith that whatever you say, right or wrong, will be of some use if you are sincere and try your best. After some years I came to see that this applied to anything I did as a Zen teacher: if I was honest, tried my best, followed precepts, and didn’t pretend to be anyone, everything would be okay. This sounds simple-minded enough, and it is, but it is actually not so easy to do.

And what does “everything would be okay” actually mean? It certainly doesn’t mean that things won’t ever go wrong. In fact, things will certainly go wrong. Maybe another capacity a Zen teacher should develop is the resilience and breadth of view that will enable her to live with the fact that she is going to fail. At least, this has been my experience. Occupying the teacher gear in the whirling Zen machine requires that you receive everything with an open heart and have the willingness and stamina to take full responsibility for each and every relationship you enter, which means to care and try your best to help.

People come to Zen practice, as they do to any spiritual practice, with plenty of human needs. They come with trust, mistrust, and hidden expectations. Of course, the Zen teacher, an imperfect human being, is going to disappoint a fair number of them. Some will be disappointed on the first day, others only after many decades. You, the teacher, will misunderstand them and they will misunderstand you. You will say and do things that are hurtful, even if you never intended to. Meaning to straighten someone out (always a dubious proposition), you will completely botch the job, reinforcing the behavior or view you were trying to soften.’ (from Lion’s Roar)

I scheduled this before I wrote yesterday’s post – and had thought to add that I have been listening to a number of Norman’s talks recently, and deeply appreciate his wry, compassionate take on things.

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