How to speak, how to listen


I learn a lot about Right Speech from our dharma teacher. In conversation with him, it feels just like a conversation with anyone. I mean, it’s not an official interview, and I don’t feel like I am a student seated at my teacher’s feet. We’re just talking. Later, though, I often realize what gifts he has given in that conversation. Here’s an example:

I said I was considering doing a one- or two-week retreat. He said I should think about doing a one-month retreat. A month seems very long, I said. Very, very long!

A week is not long at all, he said. A week goes past very quickly.

The idea of sitting for 30 days scares me, I said.

The first time I tried a three-week retreat, I left on the next-to-last day, he said.

That made me forget all about myself. I became interested in his experience and what had happened. He didn’t offer any details. He just said he couldn’t take it anymore. Not even one more day. He just had to get out of there. He wrote a note to the folks in charge and said he had to leave immediately. They asked no questions, just let him go.

A year later, he went back to the same place and sat a full three-week retreat, he added.

That was all. We started talking about something else then.

It’s almost as if he handed me the ingredients to make a cake. I was asking for a cake, I guess, even if I didn’t realize it. Please tell me what I should do. Well, here’s some flour, sugar, eggs. Now let’s talk about a bakery I know … Later I realize I’m holding these ingredients. I still don’t know how to make a cake, but I have everything I need.



5 responses

  1. Great post! Sounds like your teacher is a really wise man, an ordinary man, not pretending to be someone else. Respect.

    Gudo Nishijima Roshi wrote in his and Jeff Bailey’s book “To Meet the Real Dragon”:

    “Gautama Buddha was perfect, not in the sense of an ideal, but in the sense that he was simply what he was: a complete and perfectly human being. Such perfection is not an ideal because it exists in each of us, right here, right now. Gautama Buddha taught us how to find that perfection. He taught us how to find ourselves and how to become the masters of ourselves through the practice of zazen. In other words, he taught us how to become the same person as himself: a Buddha in the real world.”

    Thank you.

    With palms together,

    With palms together,

  2. It’s funny you should say that, Uku. Once when I was traveling I met a Buddhist practitioner who had met our dharma teacher someplace else. He started complaining that our dharma teacher had cursed in the dharma room. This guy was deeply offended, it was very clear. And I said, in reply, that the great thing about our dharma teacher is that he is exactly what he is, no more and no less. He is exactly what he is.

    I can’t honestly say that about most people.

  3. When asked if one can maintain the concept of anatta or no-self beyond glimpses, my instructor stated that he only knew of those of the cloth who did. He added that they can have very boisterous personalities and yet still be aware.