Food Poisoning and Teacher Training

Actually, there’s no connection I can think of between food poisoning and teacher training other than that I got an e-mail asking me about teacher training while I was suffering from food poisoning. This photo is from the last time I got food poisoning, back in the year of our Lord twenty-ought-five. Nobody took a photo of me this past weekend. But I looked even worse.

And I’m not even sure if it was food poisoning or a stomach flu. The symptoms are pretty much identical. All I know is that I woke up on Saturday feeling like someone had punched me repeatedly in the stomach. By evening the pain was even worse. I was sweating and feverish. At 2:30 in the morning I tossed some cookies. Sunday was better but only by comparison with how bad Saturday was. And today I’m feeling pretty much normal again. We often don’t really appreciate how good normal feels until we’ve been sick.

Anyhow, while I was sick I got an email from my friend Blake. A friend of his named Rachael has been helping us out in our efforts to set up Dogen Sangha Los Angeles as a non-profit religious corporation (or whatever it’s called) in the State of California. Our goal is to set up some kind of permanent space we can use for weekly or even daily public zazen, retreats, orgies, etc. OK. Maybe not so many orgies. This isn’t Boulder, after all. But you get the idea.

Blake wanted to know if we were planning to franchise the organization. I told him I didn’t intend to do that. Heck, we only get six people to show up in LA! And he asked if we were going to do teacher training.

The first question is, “What do you mean ‘we’, White Man?” It’s not like this is some huge group like San Francisco Zen Center. There’s really only me to train anyone. And I don’t really feel like I can train anyone to be a Zen teacher.

Here’s why.

To me the word “teacher training” implies that there is a course of study. And that this course of study has a specific time limit. And that undertaking this course of study would more-or-less guarantee you that you’d come out of it as a teacher of Zen if you managed not to bungle it too badly. And that this course of study would be comprehensible, in that it would be orderly and possible for anyone who applied (within reason) to complete.

So to me, “teacher training” would imply something like (but not necessarily exactly like) a course that any competent adult coul undertake, that would last (let’s say) three years, and that would grant you some sort of credentials at the end. I just can’t see myself doing that. Of course one should never say “never” as the saying goes. But right now I don’t feel like it applies to what I do.

It’s tempting though. Because I would certainly stand to make a busload more money if I set up a teacher training course and then authorized those to whom I grant credentials to start their own Dogen Sanghas throughout the world. I’d stand to collect the teaching fees and I would set up a lot of ready-made places at which I could lecture and collect donations. It also sounds like a good way to “spread the dharma.” Because all of these teachers would be out there spreading the good word of Buddha just as I taught them.

Or would they? See. That’s where I start getting nervous. I’m not sure I want a whole load of people out in random locations waving around certificates signed by me telling people they’re training them in the Brad Warner Method of Zen (or whatever). It just sounds iffy.

Besides that, to me, Zen is about finding your own way, not about imitating my way. My way will not work for anyone else. The best I can do is be an example of someone who has found his own way and, in so doing, become an encouragement to others to try to do the same.

There are aspects of Zen that can be taught. You can teach people how to run a ceremony. You can teach people how to understand the sutras a little better by giving them the historical background and so forth. You can show people how to do zazen. There are a lot of things that can be conveyed in this way. But I’m not sure you can teach anyone how to be a Zen teacher. Or if you can, I wouldn’t know how to do it.

I did not go through teacher training myself. I stayed with a teacher for a long time and then one day he got the silly notion in his fool head that I ought to be a Zen teacher — that I was already a Zen teacher and had not yet assumed that responsibility. But Nishijima Roshi never taught me how to teach Zen, let alone taught me how to teach anyone else to teach Zen.

Teacher training, teacher training, teacher training…. I just keep turning the words over in my head and I can’t make much sense of them, at least as they might apply to me.

I dunno. Maybe I’ll figure it out one of these days.


You can donate to help Brad figure it out one of these days.


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18 Responses

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  1. AnneMH
    AnneMH October 1, 2012 at 6:12 pm |

    hhmmmm, I see one problem with teacher training is if you had a bunch of little Brad teacher clones then the popularity of cool t-shirts would go up, and the robes may be replaced with jeans or something. And then they would travel to the mecca of the midwest to visit your home town. could be creepy.

    I still think that it is good to have some lineage in teaching, more than just figuring it out on your own. However if you want that kind of training then Naropa (in Boulder) has a very nice and costly course of graduate work including required retreats to do just that. You could get professor pay for that! (yeah some of them are at food banks)

  2. blake
    blake October 1, 2012 at 6:40 pm |

    I specifically asked you about the orgies because I think there’s a market for Zen orgies or as I like to call them, Zorgies.

    1. rae
      rae October 3, 2012 at 6:40 am |

      Count me in for the zorgies.

  3. recurvata
    recurvata October 1, 2012 at 8:15 pm |

    Well, one option is not to get hung up on the idea of ‘teacher training’. If someone attends your sangha, and seems to you to be up to it, ordain/graduate/certify/whatever them. Not as your clone or mini-Brad, but as someone you feel has sufficient understanding and integration of Buddhist principles.

    Maybe the above isn’t expressed as elegantly as could be, but basically what I mean is maybe there’s no need to caught up in packaged definitions or concepts. Shunryu Suzuki, at least according to his biography, seemed to have a pretty casual attitude towards the whole idea. It didn’t seem like he had a rigorous set program. Neither did the Buddha himself, afaik.

  4. anon 108
    anon 108 October 2, 2012 at 9:41 am |

    “We often don’t really appreciate how good normal feels until we’ve been sick.”

    Ah yes. Very true.

  5. UngKwan
    UngKwan October 2, 2012 at 10:46 am |

    I think the Kwan Um School has an approach that makes sense. After a period of at least two years in its “Dharma Teacher in Training” program, one can become a “Dharma Teacher,” which is considered to be the lay equivalent of a novice monk. You’re not really allowed to “teach” or even answer questions about the dharma, but you can lead practice and do ceremonies and such.

  6. UngKwan
    UngKwan October 2, 2012 at 12:40 pm |

    There’s actually a good summary of what the Kwan Um School does on Wikipedia:

    “There are four kinds of teachers in the Kwan Um tradition, all having attained a varying degree of mastery and understanding.

    1. A Dharma teacher is an individual that has taken the Five precepts and Ten precepts, completed a minimum of four years of training and a minimum of eight weekend retreats, understood basic Zen teaching and has been confirmed by a Soen Sa Nim (Zen master) to receive the title. These individuals can give a Dharma talk but may not respond to audience questions.

    2. A senior Dharma teacher is a Dharma teacher who, after a minimum of five years, has been confirmed by a Soen Sa Nim and has taken the Sixteen precepts. These individuals are given greater responsibility than a Dharma teacher, are able to respond to questions during talks, and give consulting interviews.

    3. A Ji Do Poep Sa Nim (JDPSN) (Dharma master) is an authorized individual that has completed kong-an training (having received inka), and is capable of leading a retreat. The nominee must demonstrate an aptitude for the task of teaching, showing the breadth of their understanding in their daily conduct, and undergo a period of teacher training.

    4. A Soen Sa Nim (Zen master) is a JDPSN that has received full Dharma transmission master to master.”

  7. boubi
    boubi October 2, 2012 at 3:49 pm |


    There are a few things i can think about.

    First thing first orgies, yeahhh baby shakadelic!

    This could sold as the “tantric side” of the whole business, add to it some libertarian state law about some unspecified vegetation with particular powers from upstate … emerald triangle … sitar music, strobing lights … suicide girls directing the ceremony … let do it in full moon. You could make some good dough man, even get a pimp-mobile and some four coats. Start a pyramid company and a rap business , “yo man!”. Organize “events” with bimbos …

    About “teaching teaching”, i’ve heard there’s a good method, it’s called Mumonkan.
    It takes a few years, there’s no cheating (if the teacher is honest) the student just have to “guess” the answer.

    Now, seriously, what is this sudden importance in ceremony? It never occured to me you ever gave any importance to them.

    Getting institutionalized? Even Dogen mounted an institution, he could have gone wandering and teaching.

    As usual you’re too honest for your own good.

    Don’t you have doctor where you live?

  8. fkzd
    fkzd October 2, 2012 at 5:16 pm |

    Don’t you have doctor where you live?

    Since when are zen teachers/nonmainstream writers for whom that’s their “day job” able to afford health insurance?

    I’m worried about your health, Brad, for what it’s worth.


  9. Harry
    Harry October 2, 2012 at 7:12 pm |

    Hi, Brad.

    Hope the cookies are staying down at last.

    Maybe you’ve seen this, but it has recently become available in full on Youtube. Sex and Sogyal Rinpoche…



  10. Proulx Michel
    Proulx Michel October 3, 2012 at 1:05 am |

    Ha! Sogyal! Most disgusting fellow. met him once in Montpellier, when Nishijima rôshi was there. Herve Boucher, another Dharma heir of sensei, was going out with a girl who was Sogyal’s secretary for our region (we’ve got the biggest tibetan temple in Europe 50 km from here). S wanted to meet the man of his secretary. He thus knew that, not only was she in couple, but that her man was a Dharma heir as well.
    That didn’t keep him from trying to seduce her, which made her drop everything, her man included.

  11. Fred
    Fred October 3, 2012 at 8:56 am |

    “Sogyal has spent the majority of his life in a Western cultural context. He was educated primarily in English schools in India then at Delhi University and then, having moved to the UK in the sixties, studied comparative religion at Cambridge for two years (undergraduate courses usually last a minimum of three). His Western education then far exceeds his formal Buddhist training. He is deeply steeped in Western ‘cultural’ norms, and fully comprehends Western notions of propriety and what constitutes an abusive relationship, for example. ”

    Crazy wisdom is a crock of sh*t enabling ugly little men to get laid.

    Zen itself is an illusion as is the ” you ” of you can attain enlightenment.

  12. fightclubbuddha
    fightclubbuddha October 3, 2012 at 9:22 am |

    Before they can teach, they must first be students for many years. Before they can be students, they must first pass through Tangaryo practice. “If the applicant is young, tell him he’s too young. Old, too old. Fat, too fat. If the applicant then waits for three days without food, shelter, or encouragement he may then enter and begin his training.” Tyler Durden

  13. Alexander
    Alexander October 3, 2012 at 9:33 am |

    I would not be averse to paying for a colorfully printed certificate that said “I learned how to sit down and shut up with Brad Warner.” Signed in crayon.

  14. boubi
    boubi October 3, 2012 at 9:35 am |

    I thought that in the USA you could go to the hospital for food poisoning or other emergencies.

  15. boubi
    boubi October 3, 2012 at 9:38 am |

    >>“If the applicant is young, tell him he’s too young. Old, too old. Fat, too fat. If the applicant then waits for three days without food, shelter, or encouragement he may then enter and begin his training.” Tyler Durden<<

    It's the same as in Rinzai zen monastries, my former teacher had to stay in front of the monastry three days.

    Nice you like figt club 🙂

  16. boubi
    boubi October 3, 2012 at 9:49 am |

    Yo folks

    There are new openings for a bright and clean new start in a job full of opportunities and chances in extraworlds.

    Beeing half my age i would consider a try.

  17. chasrmartin
    chasrmartin October 3, 2012 at 5:48 pm |

    Okay, as a Boulder Buddhist since Naropa started, I will admit the Tibetan Buddhist parties are usually better. Boulder Zen people wear all black and try to stand around being more austere than thou. And I’m definitely up for the certificate signed in crayon.

Comments are closed.