Often after sesshin at Mountain Lamp I crash with my friends Chris (below) and Rebecca in Shoreline, WA. Last year we got to discussing the issue of charismatic teachers in Zen, and the hazards and rewards of practicing with people who have an almost shamanic power in manifesting the Dharma. Rebecca said she once met a teacher like that, and said "I didn't quite trust him. There was something too hypnotic about it, even if he was amazing to be around." I asked Rebecca, who has handed me many a tissue to wipe away sesshin tears, "Do you think that would be an issue for me if I ever became a Zen teacher?"
Without missing a beat, she said "No." So much for my fantasies of becoming a Yoda-like master, with gnomic utterances dripping from my lips while my awestruck students gazed admiringly on.
After I recovered from the blow to my ego (Rebecca said to me, "what is it with men and their egos anyway?"), I wondered if that were a good thing, or, in more zen terms, a useful thing. Was it skillful to not be flashy, to not be particularly sparkling in presentation, but rather to be less theatrical so as not to manifest a barrier that could lead students into further alienation from their own deepest Buddha nature.
This seemed at odds with a lot - though not all, by any means - of what I'd seen in 20 plus years of practice in American Zen groups and the Buddhist Himalaya. The dramatic, and sometimes petulant, Lamas of the Mustang region inspired me less than the villagers in Kagbeni, who toiled away without complaint. In America I was inspired by the oratory of dramatic teachers, and the seeming resemblance of their exhortations to the Masters of the T'ang. But it didn't last, and it seemed that the more luminous the speaker, the deeper their woundedness, at least as shown in what Jung called "shadow" behaviors, deeds at odds with the stated aspirations of the actor. Jung called this propensity to behave in ways contrary to the ego self "Enantiodromia", the superabundance of a force that produces its opposite.
More on how this seems to appear in spiritual communities tomorrow. In the meantime, I would encourage y'all to look at Stuart Lachs' fascinating essay on demystifying a couple of modern teachers. It's here: