Can You Be My Teacher?

I feel like it might be time once again to address one the most frequent questions that comes to me:

Can you be my teacher?

I have addressed this before. I’m not even sure how many times. Maybe I should make it an annual thing. Or, given how often I’m asked, maybe I should just make one definitive post and put it up every three months.

The short answer is this:


But if I left it at that I’d just sound mean. I don’t intend this in a mean way at all. It’s more like you’re asking me if I can make monkeys fly out of my butt. The answer to that is, unfortunately, also no. Like making monkeys fly out of my butt, my becoming your teacher is something I cannot possibly do even if I wanted to.

If you live in Northeast Ohio, or if you want to brave the snow and ice and come here, I will be starting a regular zazen class on Sunday evenings at 7pm at the Akron Shambhala Meditation Center at 133 Portage Trail in Cuyahoga Falls. This will begin on January 15th. If you show up, we can sit together and maybe talk a little bit. I’m also working on setting up a religious nonprofit in Los Angeles. The group I started there still meets every Saturday morning at 10 AM at 237 Hill Street in Santa Monica. You can find out about them by going to Chances are good I will be attending the regular sittings there starting in the Spring. If I can get it together, that is. Meanwhile they still go on without me each and every week without fail.

But most of the people who ask me about my becoming their teacher live in places far from me. So I really have no idea what they imagine would happen if I said “yes.” Perhaps they imagine I have a center somewhere that they can run off to and escape their dreary humdrum lives into a world of beautiful Zen.

I understand that dream very well because I had that dream myself for a long time. I used to imagine that there were places out there somewhere — if I could only find them — where I could run away from all my troubles and just immerse myself in the wondrous dharma. But there are no such places anywhere.

Tassajara Zen Mountain Monastery is about the closest thing I’ve ever seen to what I used to dream about. It’s beautiful, it’s isolated, it’s dedicated to Zen practice, it’s not a brainwashing cult. Tassajara is nice. But it’s also not a place you can run away to in order to escape your real life. Real life will hunt you down and find you even there. Some people try to escape their real lives by going way, way far away like to India or Japan. But real life always catches them. It caught me even in the mountainous wilds of Toyama Prefecture, Japan.

What I wanted when I dreamed of those places was really just to return to childhood. I wanted to have a new mommy and daddy who would look after me and deal with all the serious shit while I got to play. But, see, even my actual childhood wasn’t like that. My actual childhood was pretty miserable in a lot of ways. I was bullied and hassled and bored. So even saying that I dreamed of returning to childhood isn’t right. I dreamed of going to a dreamland that never existed because it couldn’t possibly exist.

I imagine some people out there who ask me about me becoming their teacher are offering themselves as submissives. They want to submit to me so I can be their master and they my slave. If you want that you can go to Genpo Roshi or Andrew Cohen. They take on submissives, I hear. Me, I wouldn’t get into a van with either of those guys. I don’t want any submissives. Not as Zen students anyhow.

Maybe the folks who ask about me becoming their teacher imagine we can create some kind of on-line teaching relationship. There are Zen teachers these days who take students on-line. To me that sounds like pure nonsense. But rather than speak in generalities about the concept of Zen teaching on-line, I’ll just tell you why I, Brad, do not do it.

I don’t do on-line Zen teaching because I really don’t like the on-line experience that much. I’m not that into sitting in front of computers typing things. And yet I’ve fallen into a line of work in which I am constantly sitting in front of a damned computer. It’s rare that I spend any less than four to six hours a day in front of this god forsaken machine. That’s pretty much the minimum requirement in terms of keeping up with my own books and other writing projects. Then I also have to answer emails from people I know personally, answer emails from people I don’t know from Adam who write to me, keep up the correspondence necessary to get speaking gigs and things and find cute animal videos on YouTube.

If I were to try to develop any on-line teaching relationships that would add at least another six hours a day of staring at a computer screen on top of what I do already. Plus I really have a bad memory in general. I have a hard time even recognizing people I know when I see them. People I know well are fine, but I’m constantly embarrassed when people I know just a little bit come up and start talking to me and I can’t recall who they are to save my life.

When it comes to people I know only as names on the top of email messages I am totally hopeless. I’d have to work out some kind of weird organization system just to keep up with who was who and what they said to me last time and what I replied. Just getting that together would be a couple hours a day. And would I get paid for any of that? Nope. So when am I going to be able to do the things I need to do to earn a living?

It’s just not gonna happen. I’m sorry. I know you’ve got serious issues and I know you like my books. I appreciate that you read what I write. I’d like to help. But I just can’t.

Then there’s all the issues I have in general with the whole notion of teachers and students. It isn’t always an abusive relationship of the type that Genpo Roshi and Andrew Cohen advocate in the link I provided above. But it’s so easy for it to devolve into that sort of thing. And this isn’t just because evil manipulative teachers evilly manipulate their innocent students into becoming mindless slave zombies while they sit back and go “Mwah-ha-ha-ha-HAAAAA!”

In fact, there is a whole great class of people out there who desperately want to be turned into mindless slave zombies. Anyone who takes on the role of a spiritual teacher has to invest tremendous time, effort and energy in dealing with these kinds of people. Some of them will insist upon becoming mindless slave zombies no matter how hard you try to tell them not to. Here is a perfect example of how that works:

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt just like Brian in this scene from Life of Brian. There are people out there who are exactly like the mob that follows him. And no matter how often you tell them not to follow you, they so desperately want to be led that they’ll follow you anyway. It can be really stressful. I actually admire the honest people out there who take on the role of the teacher because I know what they have to deal with. All the people who want to be turned into mindless slave zombies think they’re being very sincere and devoted. Which just makes it that much worse.

Watch that clip from Life of Brian again and pay close attention to the character played by John Cleese. He’s the guy up front who says, “I should know (you’re the messiah)! I’ve followed a few!” He takes on the guise of a follower. But he’s really not. He wants to lead the movement. But he hasn’t got the right sort of personality or charisma or whatever magic it takes to actually have people consider him to be the messiah. So he latches on to someone who has a following and offers to help that person maximize his potential.

This is very tempting because guys who do the sorts of things that get them followings are usually not really good at management type stuff. Plus it’s a lot of work to have students. This means it’s nearly impossible to take on students and have a normal paying job. So guys in Brian’s position who want to try to be teachers need to find someone to help them get butts in seats and keep the donations rolling in and so on. So people like the character John Cleese portrays here can be very attractive.

But those guys will destroy everything. And they’re everywhere. Almost all of them think they mean well. Some are very convincing. Oy! The stories I could tell you…

Anyway, this desire people have to be led is a really tremendous and very basic problem for humanity in general. This desire ends up causing all sorts of terrible tragedies like Naziism, Terrorism and the phenomenon of lousy boy bands and hair metal acts.

So that’s why I can’t be your teacher.

It’s not that I don’t like you or that I don’t think your problems are serious. It’s just that I can’t do it. I’m flattered that you asked. But you’re asking for something impossible, so I have to refuse.


Here’s an interview I just did. Maybe you’ll like it.

Oh! And my friend David Sango Angstead designed a new T-shirt/Hoodie/Bumper sticker etc. for me that you can get on my Red Bubble page. It’s a very cool design. I need to order one for myself!

170 Responses

Page 4 of 4
  1. blemishishq
    blemishishq January 10, 2012 at 12:14 pm |

    Nemisisx says: "They don't make sense and they scare the shit out of ego's because you are actually looking at the Divine Reality in a dreamscape situation. This whole realm is held together by fear.

    If you just maintain an objective subjective convectional mind set, you can never make sense of it." etc.

    this is utter and complete nonsense – at least in the way you use such arguments to justify yourself, and Franklin Jones. In an "absolute" sense, of course everything, for everyone, is fine, no problems, ever. That is the promise and actuality of our original liberated state, that in grace we can experience.

    However, Buddha, and the subsequent traditions based on his teachings, all without question emphasize precepts, ie conduct in the world of causality in which we have to do business while we're here. Adi Da's generation of self-declared "gurus" included a lot of charismatic maniacs like him who considered themselves free from causality, espousing this kind of heretical nonsense you toss around here, belying all common sense. That was Da's playbook, and how he kept em in the fold. That IS cultism; that is how you brainwash ("up is down, left is right, only I get it, you are deluded, now bend over.")

    The difference between Adi Da and someone who truly practiced 'crazy wisdom' like Trungpa was that the latter always emphasized precepts and lineage, and never declared himself the most enlightened being ever. He showed devotion himself, to his teachers, and traditions. And people didn't feel used and abused in their wake (as nearly every close devotee to Jones ended up.)

    Adi Da/Jones didn't belong to any tradition. He called his teacher a 'black magician', having only spent a matter of days in his actual presence. He accepted no peers, and called himself greater than any other human ever. He collected Mickey Mouse paraphernalia. And sex toys.

    If you simply state that anyone who ever criticizes your particular sacred cows no matter how ridiculous just "doesn't get it" because said cows are "beyond reason", you not only cut off the roots of possible development, you disavow any personal responsibility or native intelligence. It's like plucking out your eyes and stuffing your ears with wax.

    Luckily, an American sangha is beginning to develop that are much less likely to be deluded by such stupidities. There are many great, non-charismatic, dedicated, gentle tillers of Dharma out there who don't need pictures of some toga-clad, cheetah-print-speedo wearing, long-haired messiah to bow, grovel, and weep before.

    Dogen said it: practice IS enlightenment. There is enlightenment after enlightenment, forever. Precepts are a central expression in the world of enlightened mind/heart. When in doubt, look to precepts, in teachers behavior, and in your own.

  2. Anonymous
    Anonymous January 10, 2012 at 12:30 pm |

    "ye shall know them by their works"
    consider the legacies of, say, a Suzuki roshi, a Trungpa rinpoche, a Jack Kornfield, a Ram Dass…

    Adi Da? gee, he sure self-published a lot of books…

    Jones is barely a footnote now; let's check on this in another fifty years.

  3. Nemisisx
    Nemisisx January 10, 2012 at 1:17 pm |

    Very odd I actually only came here to talk about other matters, but people only want to hang it on you know who, and that makes me a target.Do I want to be endlessly berated by unfriendly characters? Ask yourselves why the outrage? If he is as you describe, forget it. As you say a very small event in the history of spiritual experiments. Be at peace and show a bit of ordinary maturity.

  4. Hello Fred? It's me nemisisx.
    Hello Fred? It's me nemisisx. January 10, 2012 at 2:01 pm |

    You have it ass up, the paradoxes of the Fred are not the point, Realization comes from the Fred down, in other words, Fred comes first, everything passed that point no matter how weird or contradictory it seems, does not take away or effect the Realization of Fred. It's got nothing to do with so called objective reality or being endlessly berated by unfriendly characters, because you are effectively in a dream bardo here, dude.

    What I mean by that is when you dream things, they are sort of half made, when the Fred appears in any time or place he is an extremely odd Fred, full of paradoxes because he is just Non-Conditional Fred touching up against what is a "realm" (rather than how it is seen generally as merely a very small event in the history of spiritual experiments.)

    Unconditional Fred brushes against this special, special place and you get the strange shape of a True long, hard Fred, which is very, very rare. Ok, not that rare, but still.

    Freds don't make sense and they scare the shit out of non-Freds because you are actually looking at the Divine Fred in a dreamscape situation. This whole realm is held together by fear of Fred.

    If you just maintain an objective subjective convectional microwave mind set, you can never make sense of it. It's all Freds, all the way down.

    So turn off your mind and bend over. Here comes Fred.

  5. nemisisx
    nemisisx January 10, 2012 at 2:10 pm |

    blemishishq said…

    Your reply is very fundamentalist, and full of idealistic naivety, Buddhism is "just another religion" that promotes a useful quietism in some, it has had a long time to show it's value and other than a certain peacefulness and social order (which I agree is very useful) it has come up very short, that is my personal opinion from observation.

  6. meme a la sis xxx
    meme a la sis xxx January 10, 2012 at 2:28 pm |

    you only further demonstrate your complete ignorance about Zen (and possibly Fred). Precepts are not commandments. They are working guidelines for life in a complex world where human beings are prone to get confused.

    And Zazen is not "quietism." That is mistake number one. Nor is it a technique for self-improvement, or to attain any special state. It is the self expressing itself as the self. No big self, small stuff nonsense either.

    "The precepts are inexhaustible mindfulness practices. They are also lifetime koans. Our approach to the precepts is warm and down-to-earth, but also spacious and insightful. They help us to apply the vivid moment-to-moment awareness of our zazen practice in our daily life of work, family and relationships."

    (a standard American Soto version)

    The Threefold Refuges

    I take refuge in Buddha (the principle of enlightenment within).

    I take refuge in dharma (the enlightened way of understanding and living).

    I take refuge in sangha (the community of beings).

    Pure Precepts

    I vow to avoid all action that creates suffering

    I vow to do all action that creates true happiness.

    I vow to act with others always in mind.

    Grave Precepts

    Not to kill but to nurture life.

    Not to steal but to receive what is offered as a gift.

    Not to misuse sexuality but to be caring and faithful in intimate relationships.

    Not to lie but to be truthful.

    Not to intoxicate with substances or doctrines but to promote clarity and awareness.

    Not to speak of others’ faults but to speak out of loving-kindness.

    Not to praise self at the expense of others but to be modest.

    Not to be possessive of anything but to be generous.

    Not to harbor anger but to forgive.

    Not to do anything to diminish the Triple Treasure but to support and nurture it.

  7. nemisisx
    nemisisx January 10, 2012 at 2:42 pm |

    "Not to speak of others’ faults but to speak out of loving-kindness"

    "Not to harbor anger but to forgive."

    Well you could demonstrate those 2 to begin with, that would make a difference.

  8. Anonymous
    Anonymous January 10, 2012 at 2:44 pm |

    speaking of fundamentalism, how come you still never have addressed the issue of Adi Da's unequivocal claim that the ONLY path toward "enlightenment" (which he claimed was a special, constant emotional bliss state that only he had ever fully experienced – which is a profoundly idiotic stance in itself)


    He didn't leave an out. It's him, or nothing. Sorry, but isn't that the definition of fundamentalism? I really want to hear you take this on. And if you say he didn't say this, you are a bad Daist, and I'm prepared with a shitstorm of quotes…

  9. Anonymous
    Anonymous January 10, 2012 at 2:48 pm |

    "nemisisx said…

    "Not to speak of others’ faults but to speak out of loving-kindness"

    "Not to harbor anger but to forgive."

    Well you could demonstrate those 2 to begin with, that would make a difference."

    It's crazy wisdom, sugar. You are feeling the fire of my love.

  10. Gempo
    Gempo January 10, 2012 at 2:53 pm |

    If you won't be my teacher how about being my baby mama?

  11. scmgeek
    scmgeek January 10, 2012 at 8:58 pm |

    Didn't ask ya to be 😛

    But seriously I do believe that seeking a teacher (or more precisely a guide) can be good, bad, or both. Bad if you're looking for somebody to solve your problems for you.

    Bad if you're looking for somebody else to take responsibility. Bad if you submit.

    Maybe not so good if you just parrot something you've read in somebody else's book (oh heck, I may be doing just that, ok my bad).

    Good if you've done some serious reflection and some just sitting. Good when you realize some things and that there is a responsible choice that needs to be made: nihilism or take responsibility and seek out somebody who's been down this part of the road before. I'll bet a lot of us have had that day when we kind of got it, or got something, and started laughing our heads off. That can be the blinding “Aha!” for the discoverer. It can also be the “yeah, all new students do that” from the point of view of the Guide. The Guide has seen this before. There's value there.

    The same kind of person who's willing to shill out big bucks to be the Big Swindle Buddha Nerd Minion is in some serious danger. He was probably in danger regardless of who he sought out. It could just as easily have been a timeshare scam or Jim Jones.

  12. Jempo
    Jempo January 10, 2012 at 9:10 pm |

    Do not drink the Kool-Aid folks. It's cool and all, in fact it's uber-cool! but it is also fattening. Just check out his waistline…

  13. scmgeek
    scmgeek January 10, 2012 at 9:37 pm |

    I've been thinking about your Tassajara comment. There's just no such thing as “Getting away from it all.” I mean you're still somewhere and that somewhere is always right here. (uh oh, deep thought, my bad). Tassajara is remote, and I mean really freaking remote (I'm still picking dirt out of my sneakers). But even if you ditched everything to be there and immerse yourself in That Neato Place – you're still somewhere. There are still things to deal with. Somebody's got to gather stuff from the garden. Somebody's got to work in the kitchen. Somebody’s running the intro to zazen class. Somebody's got to clean the pool. Somebody's got to pick up that thing that that dude who nobody seems like really like left right there for the umpteenth time. So no, release from problems and responsibility doesn't happen, and I don't think it's supposed to. You mind them less.

    If you did manage to isolate yourself then what good is that? You'd become so badly out of touch with The Other Humans that your impact would be nil.

    Not arguing with you here, in fact I believe I'm absolutely agreeing with you.

  14. Pigasus
    Pigasus January 11, 2012 at 2:43 pm |

    Please don't say you've spent a lot of time at Tassajara. Some people actually have. Stick to "punk rock," monster movies, and porn.

  15. Cidercat
    Cidercat January 11, 2012 at 3:01 pm |

    " Q"How many vegans does it take to change a light bulb?"A: "Don't know but where do they get their protein?" all the best. "

    Love it!! 🙂

  16. Mempo
    Mempo January 11, 2012 at 7:11 pm |

    I've gotta pee.

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  18. Paul Young
    Paul Young January 22, 2012 at 3:38 pm |

    but Brad, only the true messiah denies his divinity.

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