This weekend I had the chance to speak with my teacher and mentor Joseph Goldstein on the phone. I try to check in with Joseph every few months about my meditation practice, my dharma study, and especially my developing role as somebody who shares these things with others.
In this conversation Joseph and I talked about:
1. Being a dharma mutt
2. The role of dharma teacher
When I'm teaching, I share from what I consider the American vipassana tradition. My primary reference is Joseph's books, the satipatthana sutta, and the early buddhist canon. But -- and this is a big but -- everything I say is, inevitably, shot through with my studies in zen and the vajrayana. Specifically, I find it impossible to talk about dharma without talking about awareness and its facets, a clear nod to late mahayana phenomenology.
Is this okay? I wanted to know.
Joseph's answer? Yes. Just name your influences. In other words, he believes it's perfectly kosher to accept influence from zen and the vajrayana. And then it's also necessary to lay out for people where you're coming from, since different schools have different takes on subtle (and not so subtle) points. Put simply, students should know the stream(s) of dharma they are receiving.
He then unpacked for me, once more, his theory of "one dharma" -- that, at root, all buddhist traditions share a single goal: release from clinging. Methodologies are different. Even metaphysics are different. But that goal remains stable. Rather than split hairs about questions we can't yet answer (such as whether awareness itself is conditioned or unconditioned), we would do better, he said, to admit we don't fully know the answers to the great debates, and put our heads down to practice.
He then said, It sounds like you're teaching from the one dharma lineage. A statement I found heartening, but that brought up my next question: what does it mean to be a dharma teacher at all?
I'll try to unpack that one in my next blog post.
Thanks for reading. And thanks for hanging in with me as I publicly explore these questions and roles as they sort of bumpily unfold for me in my life.
Sending many good wishes,