Feet of Clay

A few years ago I interviewed a Buddhist teacher that I had come to admire. I’d heard this person give a number of dharma talks and liked the way he blended traditional Zen teachings with modern poetry and gleanings from other lineages. I asked him if I could interview him for a magazine devoted to Buddhism and he agreed. He wanted to know if he could see what I was going to publish before it went to press, and seeing how it was a Q&A, I didn’t see a problem. That was my first mistake.

All went well with our first interview. He was, not surprisingly, wise and funny about his past and what brought him to the place where he is now. The editors liked the interview but asked for more; they had questions about an old controversy at the center where he taught and wondered if he might address them. He was agreeable, when I finally reached him (corresponding with Buddhist monks can be a lesson in patience) and I showed him an edit of the first Q&A, which he seemed pleased with. I asked a few more questions, he gave me some good answers and I added them to the final piece, which the magazine rushed into print (though “rushed” is a relative term for any spiritual publication).

Then the teacher asked me if I could see the final version and I told him it was too late; they hadn’t even given me a chance to review it but presented the story to me in a PDF, fait accompli. Not that there was anything to complain about; it was a laudatory feature about a guy doing good work, illustrated with beautiful photos of him in nature. But when I told him that it was too late, but not to worry, he blew a gasket, called me “deceitful” and “manipulative” in an email–fighting words where I come from, and where he comes from, too. (He was raised in what we would today call a conflict zone.) I envisioned kicking the monk’s ass, which is definitely not the way I thought this assignment was going to turn out.

I still see this teacher occasionally, and while I admire his teachings, I’m aware that as a human being, he’s as fucked up as I am. I was reminded of this today when reading Jack Kornfield’s new book, No Time Like the Present. Not being up on my Buddhist gossip, I was surprised to learn that Jack had been divorced, after 30 years of marriage. I’ve heard him speak a number of times, have sat with him and read his books, and just assumed his life was perfect.

“I had to let it all be okay and realize that it does not define me,” he writes. “‘How could a teacher of mindfulness and lovingkindness be getting divorced?’ I was asked.

“Like a human being, that’s how.”

Reading that helped me let go of my still simmering resentment about the teacher I interviewed years ago. Now I have only a few thousand more resentments to go.

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