On the Passing of Teachers (2022)

“It is possible that the next Buddha will not take the form of an individual. The next Buddha may take the form of a community-a community practicing understanding and loving kindness, a community practicing mindful living. This may be the most important thing we can do for the survival of the earth” .

~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh has passed away at the age of 95. He’s been in poor health for many many years and this is no surprise. But it’s still incredibly sad.

He was an amazing Buddhist teacher and a big inspiration to me. Two of my teachers died in 2021, Lama Chuck Stanford and Zen Master Wonji Dharma. Both of those deaths hit me hard. And now at the beginning of 2022 Thich Nhat Hanh has passed away. Three deaths in rapid succession. The world is changing. All things are impermanent.

I’m reminded a little of when my parents died, over 20 years ago now. 3 years apart and both from different cancers. This isn’t the same as losing a parent (or two), not even close. But it’s still…. something.

I never met him and I’ve never practiced in his community, but Thich Nhat Hanh has been a big inspiration to me. The first book I read on the subject of meditation was “The Miracle of Mindfulness” way back in 2000. And his book “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching” is still, in my opinion, the best introduction to Buddhism that there is.

He was one of the most well known Buddhist teachers in the world. He was born in Vietnam and he became a monk as a teenager, in the 1940s.

In 1966, he became a Zen Master.

He traveled the world as a peace activist throughout the 1960s, and in 1967, his friend, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., nominated him for a Nobel Peace Prize saying, “I do not personally know of anyone more worthy of [this prize] than this gentle monk from Vietnam. His ideas for peace, if applied, would build a monument to ecumenism, to world brotherhood, to humanity.” He wasn’t given the award—it wasn’t given to anyone that year.

He was denied permission to return to his home country in the 1970s, so he moved to France.

He founded an organization called “The Order of Interbeing,” and spent his life spreading Buddhist teachings and advocating for a peaceful world.

There’s a story that gets told about the death of the Buddha. It’s said that his cousin Ananda was at his side and had time to ask two final questions.

Ananda asked, “Do we have to follow all the rules that you set out?”
And the Buddha replied, “Just follow the important ones. Don’t worry much about the minor ones.”

(Ananda forgot to ask which rules were the minor ones)

Then Ananda asked, “Who is going to lead us when you’re gone?”

And the Buddha said, “Be lamps unto yourselves.”

It was up to his followers to figure out how to go on. And when our teachers pass it’s up to us to figure out how to go on too. We can get through losses like this. And we will go on.

I think he was aware of just how much people put him on a pedestal. He was almost worshiped. The fact that there even are celebrity Buddhist teachers is a strange thing. Sometimes it feels like a bit much and I wonder if it felt like a bit much to him.

He wrote over 100 books and he taught many many students. There is little doubt that he had a large impact on modern Buddhism.

Thich Nhat Hanh stated that the way forward is to strengthen our bonds of community. We need each other just as much as we need teachers, maybe more. I believe he would like that to be part of his legacy, although of course I don’t claim to speak for him.

Teachers arise and pass away. It’s up to communities to (hopefully) carry on.

Don’t be sad he’s gone. Be happy he was here. We’re all better off because this great teacher existed.

Suhita Dharma, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Karuna Dharma.
All three deceased now. Suhita Dharma was one of the teachers of Wonji Dharma (who was one of my teachers) who passed recently as well.

“I have pacified your mind” (video)

This is the story of Bodhidharma and his student Huike.

Let me know what you think.

 


Upcoming Events:

8/25/18: 11:00AM-11:30AM

Meditation Mob KC

Nelson Atkins Museum of Art

4525 Oak Street
Kansas City, MO 64111

We are going to meet up on the south lawn of the Nelson Museum and we’re going to meditate in public. I’ll give a little bit of guidance and a short talk and we will sit (in the shade of course) and meditate together with open hearts and awakened minds.

Go like the page Kansas City Zen to get updates for events like this.

9/9/18: 9:00AM-10:15AM

Dharma Talk and Meditation

Tam Bao Buddhist Temple

16933 E 21st St, Tulsa, OK 74134

I’ve been invited to travel to a beautiful Buddhist temple to give a dharma talk. While we’re there, we’ll have the opportunity to visit the largest Buddhist statue in America.

To learn more about this group, click HERE

Teachers Who Inspire

My study of the Diamond Sutra has made me think about the importance of having a spiritual teacher. We think sometimes about reasons to have a teacher and I think a teacher’s role in inspiring us is sometimes downplayed.

I’ll quote from the beginning of the sutra here:

“That day, when it was time to make the round for alms, the Buddha put on his sanghati robe and, holding his bowl, went into the city of Sravasti to seek alms food, going from house to house. When the alms round was completed, he returned to the monastery to eat the midday meal. Then he put away his sanghati robe and his bowl, washed his feet, arranged his cushion, and sat down.

At that time, the Venerable Subhuti stood up, bared his right shoulder, put his knee on the ground, and, folding his palms respectfully, said to the Buddha, ‘World-Honored One, it is rare to find someone like
you. You always support and show special confidence in the bodhisattvas. World-Honored One, if sons and daughters of good families want to give rise to the highest, most fulfilled,awakened mind, what should they rely on and what should they do to master their thinking?'”

That was probably an unnecessary long quotation. But, here’s what I have to say about it. At first it might seem like the Buddha didn’t do anything. But, that’s not the case.

What he did was engage his daily routine with complete mindfulness. As he puts on his robe, goes from house to house, eats, etc. he is being completely present in the moment. This kind of awareness is described in the Zen tradition. It’s said that chopping wood and carrying water can be spiritual practices if they’re engaged with total mindful awareness.

Anyway, the Buddha’s student Subhuti can see how serene and aware the Buddha seems to be, even in the midst of routine activities.

I imagine myself in Subhuti’s role, so I imagine him thinking, “The Buddha is Enlightened as hell. I should ask him for a teaching.”

And the whole sutra is about Subhuti asking for teachings.

Now, what does all this mean to me?

I’ve studied with a variety of Buddhist teachers. I have seen that it makes a big difference when I’ve met one that is fully present. It’s so easy to be out of this moment, with our minds wandering.

But when we see someone who is fully present in this moment, I think we can tell. We can be inspired by teachers like that, just as Subhuti was. And we can ask them for teachings, just like Subhuti did.

Teachers can motivate us if it seems like they are more present than we are.