Thank you for the interview with Pema Chodron.
Chogyam Trungpa's unethical behavior helped me see things more clearly. I have been drawn to, and been mistrustful of, teachers "above reproach." Students tend to create reasons for such good persons to be acting in some not-good ways. With Chogyam Trungpa, the question of "above reproach" never came up to begin with. He drank a lot, asked students to sleep with him, showed no interest in being saintly. He just passed along the teachings. He says in his writings that we can not stop at "good" and "bad" but must keep looking. Whether or not he acted unethically "on purpose" in order to teach a lesson cannot be known. Just is.
I am most grateful to Pema Chodron, who clearly and with no hesitation expressed her commitment to her teacher.
I believe some Western dharma students often expect that their relationship with their dharma teacher should be one between equals. This may be appropriate where the teacher has little more experience than the students, where there is no lineage behind the teacher, or if the student is a new practitioner. However, once a commitment has been made by the student, and surely after samaya vows have been taken, the relationship is simply not equal. It is the teacher's job to "pull the rug out" from under the student's preconceived ideas, habitual tendencies, and solid sense of self. This is not a politically correct relationship! While this idea may offend our sense of democracy and equality, it allows us to see the "Big Mind," so eloquently described by Pema Chadron.
I am disturbed that the Western dharma teachers are equating a teacher's trustworthiness and legitimacy with the taking of certain "monastic" precepts. In the name of protecting students (really, women) from "bad" teachers (a patronizing message at best), they have denied the reality of the Crazy Wisdom traditions, practiced for centuries by the Kagyu, Nyingma, and Sakya traditions as well as a variety of Zen traditions. I was dismayed to read (see the Fall 1993 Snow Lion Newsletter and Catalog, and Turning Wheel's Summer 1993 issue) that His Holiness the Dalai Lama told the Western Dharma Teachers that he knew no Crazy Wisdom Masters. Historically, the Dalai Lamas have received teachings in secret from these Masters. Let us not rewrite history in order to make Buddhism, and Buddhist teachers more palatable. There have always been outrageous, non-monastic enlightened lineage holders. By solidifying what is "good" or "bad" in our teachers, there may be a tendency to become self-righteous and condescending toward our sisters and brothers in the dharma because we see ourselves in the "good" group.
Emily Danies Wolitzky
Editor's Note: At this time, Pema Chodron is on retreat. Should she choose to respond to any of these letters, her response will appear in the Summer '94 issue.
Letters vs. Letters
I have been reading your publication for several consecutive issues and find it to be generally informative and at times inspirational. A thorough reading of the letters-to-the-editor section, however, has led me to conclude that there are some very opinioned people out there. In fact, the stridency and vehemence with which some of these opinions are voiced is disturbing. In response to this overly adversarial tone I offer the following:
Ladies and Gentleman—Lighten Up!
I ask you all to consider that the ideas, notions, or views expressed by the contributors are conditioned by their karma and reflect a particular moment in their unique process of exploring and coming to terms with the dharma. Just as no two individuals are alike, so no two processes or practices will be identical. We are all, every one of us, in transit.
Meanwhile, here are some tips for keeping your blood pressure and convictions under control. If a particular piece of writing really gets your goat, try looking at the spaces between and around the print. After all, what is the alphabet but a completely arbitrary set of symbols? And type is nothing more than a localized disturbance in an otherwise uniform and indiscriminate field (i.e., paper).
Finally, remember the immortal words of Byrdman to his pal Ernie: "You gotta put down the duckie if you want to play the saxophone." I respectfully request that we thoroughly examine our own dear duckies before we begin to honk them so vigorously at one another.
Albany, New York
I am a beginner. I was delighted to discover your magazine. It's sad, however, that so many of the letters I read in the Fall Issue seem to be about judging, rather than sharing. I can't know (and don't care) if anyone else's practice is "real"—whatever that means.
San Francisco, California
Prozac Pro and Con
After reading Dr. Epstein's "Awakening with Prozac" (Vol. III, No.1), I was left with the depressing feeling that he continues to equate psychoanalysis with an anti-pharmaceutical "Freudian ideology." As a psychoanalyst, I am the last to deny that psychopharmacological treatment has its place, but I am hardly the first to note a close parallel between Buddhist meditative practice and the process of undergoing psychoanalysis. Each entails an awakening to something of the permeability of reality, to the realization that "I" may not be who I think I am. Perhaps psychoanalysis approaches this from the inside out—from self to not-self—while meditation comes the other way, letting go of self at the outset. But the two are complementary, and quite possibly useful adjuncts. Psychoanalysis and meditation can each lead toward a direct experience of how emptiness gives rise to form and form dissolves to emptiness.
Robert Langan, Ph.D.
New York, New York