2) Teaching Methodology
Zandtao previously offered to teach meditation as described in method and Zandtao of the Zandtaomed page. But with the Companion now being the third part of hs pathtivists trilogy this meditation has a focus on pathtivism. As was explained in the last chapter, from the point of view of pathtivism the difference between pathtivism and Buddhism is the question of possible institutional issues, but Buddhism discusses far more than pathtivism.
Throughout the Zandtaomed meditation the student is asked to bear in mind 3 themes developed in the first chapter:-
The Zandtaomed methodology is that the student meditates, writes a diary, and I respond to the diary including new instructions if appropriate. This can be quite an intense and personal process, and it is this aspect of the methodology that is most importantly different.
Let me contrast this with typical meditation teaching of the lay. Firstly I am not talking about content but methodology. In other words I am talking about a teaching principle - the way meditation is taught. When a university lecturer delivers a lecture to 100 students they do not assess during the lecture whether the student has understood. When a schoolteacher delivers a class there is a far greater emphasis on whether the student has understood. When a monk sits on stage and delivers a dhamma talk, is there any emphasis on the understanding of the audience? Or does the monk concentrate on the content of what he delivers?
In these 3 teaching situations there is a great deal of difference in the motivation of the student. If a person chooses to attend a meditation talk then it is reasonable to assume that the motivation is far better than the average school student. Clearly it is, but let us analyse that motivation a little. Let us also try to consider the objective of the delivering monk as well as the context of student and monk.
What can we assess about the motivation of the lay student? They want to attend. But is it a “church”? A place to go where they will spiritually feel good. But is the intention to follow the path? During the talk they will be quiet, many will pay attention and some will sleep – I have slept during talks, but few will leave inspired to follow the path.
So the path is not the objective of the talk most of the time. Usually such groups will also organise retreats. These have much more of a “path” element about them - the collective intensity of a retreat can be part of a person’s path and be more inspiring. Here is an example of a paid one-off retreat. Whilst there will be clear benefits in attending the retreat, will they be more than a temporary refuge? Will the student choose to then follow the path?
And that leaves the teaching situation of the monastery as the objective, the place where students go to follow the path. In the monastery the teaching methodology is deep and intense. Any student with the serious motivation to join a monastery might well over a period of time meet with a teacher who will give the time and attention to follow the path. I remember a talk with a monk. He had a long-term girlfriend, had left her to become a monk. His objective was to be taught by the abbot, and they were in a process of assessing each other as to whether they were suited. The student had to commit 5 years of his life to the process presumably the abbot as well.
This is a path for men, and such a path for women is not as straightforward – and there is clearly a bias. Such institutions with this bias need to enquire of themselves. I don’t know enough of what is offered to women, except that Zandtaomed will advise women who wish to follow the path.
But putting aside consideration of this gender bias, how many people actually manage to follow their path through this contact with monks? More importantly how many people do not follow paths as a consequence of contact with monks? For the people who do, they attend such a talk or listen over the net, and their inner voice recognises the calling and they withdraw to a monastery until they rejoin life – or remain as a robed teacher. Others might remain uninspired perhaps brought there by interest in the glamour of jhanas (not a good motivation), or perhaps they have heard of the path from sources such as these people and are seeking such an experience. Whilst I understand the need to play down the glamour, such enthusiasm for the path should not be lost.
These lay talks leading to the monastery are not a student-friendly approach. How many people dabble in spirituality? After my upheaval there was no way that I would be far from the path with all the bells and banjoes. Within me there was always a call to the path. But there was no deep commitment. I talked here of my life-innocence and need to live a second childhood, but I can only recall one person criticising me for failing to follow my path (apart from myself occasionally). In an ideal world such an opening onto the path signified by my upheaval should have opened up avenues of path choices. Instead I was weak and chose booze and intermittent spirituality for 13 years.
As a pathtivist I examine the process of people beginning to follow their paths and I see failure. I trust nature and my path as do all paths come from the mother. I trust that she provides enough paths for her world. As a pathtivist I now recognise that it is only the path that matters – discussed in manual; the world falls or rises based on whether sufficient follow their path. And now the world is falling low. The path-teachers’ guild has to turn around and say we are failing. And those who are teaching have to ask why they are failing. Be mindful that there is failure, and start to examine what is causing this failure.
I barely consider myself a member of the path-teachers’ guild, let alone do I have the knowledge or wisdom of many in these institutions. But I can observe, and I observe failure. I know that there are many people who have glimpses of the path, have no idea what to do with those glimpses, and those glimpses remain buried disturbing for the rest of their lives. Sure some of those glimpses become full-blown disturbance and lead to the individual following their path – as described by Eckhart Tolle in his introduction to the Power of Now. There is maybe some kind of threshold of suffering beyond which the person is forced to do something about the path. But for all those not reaching that level of suffering, they are forced to live with the suffering of conditioning as well as the spiritual suffering of an unrequited path.
The word education has a root meaning of “leading out”. It was something I hoped to be able to do as a teacher but in the end the best I could offer students was exam success; the corporate paradigm held such dominance – discussed by Matriellez. Should a path-teacher be doing more to lead out? Of all those who have not reached the threshold of suffering that takes them involuntarily, almost blindly, to the path, have they been helped to be the best they can?
Not every person learning meditation needs to be taught by a master but there are many people below that threshold of suffering who are in need of teaching. They need people who know of the path to take them on. And as soon as I wrote that the word “charlatan” came to mind. Such people are vulnerable, and there are plenty of charlatans to take advantage. But is it enough to say there are charlatans but you can come to my monastery and be safe? And of course the charlatans are often taking advantage of women who cannot always take the monastic route.
Paths are so completely different yet where are the diverse path-teacher approaches? There are the Glastonbury people I like with their motivational movie for Ascension (Ascension is not my path). They encourage people to lead themselves out – but they cost. The people in this video have suffered, and have been given the chance to find their paths, yet they didn’t throw everything up to join a monastery. I hope they found their paths, if they didn’t I see no harm in this approach (as seen in video) except for those goal-oriented people who failing Ascension give up on the path.
There are the paths of indigenous wisdom which is being killed out by genocide, I know little of their practice. Within religious and path-oriented institutions I know little of, there will be people fighting to promote the path but in all these institutions there needs to be questioning because path-teaching is failing.
Do we as path-teachers want to take on the raw egos of the ill-disciplined? These egos cause pain. Repressing ego is not a solution for the student, ego can only be let go through awareness. There does need to be the discipline of respect, but how do we encourage permanent enquiry in the student if we are not open to enquiry? At the same time there is the ego of the teacher – attachment. All good teachers want students to do well, and become disappointed when this doesn’t happen. This is disturbing for the teacher. What happens to the teacher when they see the student floundering with ego or intellect, or controlled by defilements (greed, hatred and delusion); they become attached to the pain wanting students to follow their paths without hurt. Compare this with parents. On a daily basis they see their children making mistakes, and have to learn to live with this. Teachers on the path have the ability to be detached; such disturbance is an acceptable cost. These egos will cause the teacher pain but is that an excuse not to fulfil the duty of teaching? But there are limits.
These are observations and questions not particularly pointing in any one direction but all directions – for all path-teachers. In far-eastern societies where the culture is not always open to questioning a teacher has to be aware of that conditioning. In a western society where the culture does not encourage moral restraint and where the intellect is encouraged at the expense of panna and sampajanna, the teacher must also be aware of these conditionings. Their students will be conditioned in these ways. The egos of students lacking sila and panna will be difficult to handle, how will students develop a proper level of questioning if such enquiry is repressed?
When the teacher in the monastery is working with a student monk, the senior is able to assess the student’s progress. At no other time in the traditional approach can the teacher assess the student’s progress? But what if the student is almost there and a bit of personal encouragement would have tipped the scales? Is it sufficient to say that the path will bring them back when there is such evidence of overall failure of the path-teachers’ guild?
If we examine the Buddha’s life after his awakening he did not remain in a monastery. He travelled and taught. I would suggest that he was accessible and he took on egos although my knowledge of the Buddha’s life (here is a history) is too limited to cite examples.
Zandtaomed’s methodology is accessible but has its own discipline – without some form of discipline there can be no learning. The key method is ongoing assessment once discipline has been established. It is true that because of the medium the assessment cannot always be guaranteed to be accurate. But that assessment is personal and ongoing. It can be encouraging, and can maybe catch some that may fall through the cracks.
What if monasteries got involved in this type of personal approach? I can envisage a situation in which teaching students could be part of monastic training. When a good teacher teaches, they learn from the students. Once a monk has reached a certain stage, they have the ability to teach some students. Under supervision their responses could be monitored, this would be a learning experience as well. In the end it would probably lead to those following the path becoming monks, but those who don’t will have learnt about the path.
Currently the path especially given religious institutional biases is not a religious thing, for me the word religion and path ought to be synonymous but it is far from so. Whilst religions can often provide moral stability, institutional issues often prevent their establishments from relating to all people on the path. There is a need for such people to find elders on the path, Zandtaomed offers this. I just happen to have read - (just coincidence - other than that no knowledge), and make no judgement as to the quality, that this 4day-3night retreat is ?560; Zandtaomed is free. I should charge then more conditioned people would think it is good.
Zandtaomed offers a place for those individuals on the path who want to learn about meditation – in particular anapanasati-bhavana. Because of its assessment and feedback approach it offers something different to most meditation approaches – ongoing evaluation. As far as I know this approach is only available to those who are monks under supervision of an “abbot” or teaching monk. It requires commitment of both the student and the elder, the student – meditation and diary, the elder – response (and detachment). But there is increasingly a place for such teaching methodology as the path-teachers guild is failing at the moment and needs to make changes.
[PS There is no such thing as the path-teachers' Guild so no trips to Shangri-La to find it .]
Next Ch5 4 Dhamma comrades/Companion Contents/Previous Ch3 Complete Engagement