I’m out $100 on a plane ticket I can’t use. Before I booked the ticket I double checked my calendar and my events page to see when I needed to be in Scotland. Unfortunately both were wrong. I’d forgotten that the event in Glasgow that was initially suggested to take place on Saturday and Sunday was later changed to a Friday and Saturday event. So the actual dates in Glasgow are Friday November 16th and Saturday November 17th. Full info can be found on the Merchant City Yoga webpage. Scroll down to about the middle. That’s what I should’ve done before buying that plane ticket.
I discovered this error during a last minute check of the Internets when I was packing to leave my hotel in Koblenz. The discovery scrambled my brain such that I left a bunch of important stuff behind in the room. Luckily I know how stupid I can be, so I habitually carry back-ups of my most essential stuff in my backpack (extra underwear, extra toothbrush, etc.).
A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog post about my stay at the Southern Dharma Retreat Center (who apparently do not like me anymore, by the way, though I’m at a loss as to why). In that post I casually mentioned that I’d left my electric razor behind when I went to my next destination. When I looked at the comments section I discovered that whatever point I’d been trying to make had been completely ignored by the commenters. Instead there was a long line of comments about how I was obviously not truly mindful since I forgot my razor. Many who posted seemed quite gleeful in pointing this out. Like, “Ah ha! I got you! You’re a total phony! A real Zen Master would never forget his razor! A real Zen Master would be mindful!!”
It was a true facepalm moment. It had never even occurred to me that anyone would react like that. For one thing, I have never based my public persona on the idea that I was a shining example of mindfulness. These folks had me confused with those other guys they see in the back pages of the Buddhist magazines.
But more importantly it represented part of one of the biggest problems the Buddhist world in the west is dealing with these days. And that is the way we expect nearly supernatural powers to be displayed by our so-called “Masters” and react with disdain if our ideals are not met. Anyone who fails to measure up to what we think of as perfection is a phony and can therefore be ignored as we continue our quest for someone who does measure up.
The spiritual supermarket is filled to the brim with people who understand this. So they carefully tailor their public personas so as to seem as perfect and infallible as they know their followers expect. Problem is, this always breaks down. Always and forever. No one can keep that stuff up 24 hours a day 7 days a week. No one.
Generally they solve this problem by surrounding themselves with people whose job it is to keep outsiders from seeing their less Enlightened moments. But this breaks down too whenever one of the inner circle takes off their blinders and notices what’s actually going on. Often this is triggered by some kind of traumatic event, such as when the Enlightened Master in question attempts to have his way with one of his inner circle. That’s the most common scenario. This person then writes a tell-all book about the real truth of her or his former Master, after which the group that surrounds the Master has to reconvene and do damage control or else fall apart.
These days with the media invading everything we do, it’s a lot harder to present an impenetrable wall of infallibility. So we’re seeing a lot more Masters get scandalized. Which, I think, is generally a good thing. But I feel like most people’s reaction upon seeing such scandals is to think, “Oh! That guy was a phony. But maybe some other guy is the real deal.” Or they get cynical and decide that nobody in the world of spirituality has anything to offer at all and that absolutely everything spiritual is just a big con job.
There is a middle ground. I discovered it by being in close proximity to my teachers. They were both very open about their human sides. And yet I could see that there was also something very profound and deep about them as well. This kind of thing can never happen with teachers who get too big, who have thousands of followers arranged in concentric circles intended to protect their image of perfection from those further away whose donations are important to finance their summer homes and car collections.
In his book Sex and the Spiritual Teacher, Scott Edelstein talks about how it can be that a teacher can exhibit real insight and yet sometimes behave very badly anyway. He points out that the Buddhist view does not look upon a person as a single coherent entity who moves through life unchanged while all about him or her is in constant flux. Rather, the Buddhist view is that all of us are just the manifestation of causes and conditions. It’s possible, then, to be a brilliant expounder of the dharma when in the zendo giving a lecture and two hours later be a big asshole behind closed doors.
Granted, it does say something if the contrast is very great. And all of what I said about people who create and protect phony personas of the stereotypical “Enlightened Master” figures into this too.
But we, as students, have to understand the role we play in this. When we insist upon perfection as a criteria, we’re really only hurting ourselves. We’re missing the real beauty of the imperfection inherent in all of us including our Enlightened Masters.
Brad is still in Europe. Check his events page for upcoming gigs in Berlin, Glasgow, Manchester and London
Help Brad buy more plane tickets he can’t use — or at least some toothpaste and shaving cream to replace what he left behind — by donating to this page!