We went to see the Dalai Lama!

Dalai Lama

Last Saturday, the Dalai Lama spoke at the Boston Garden, giving a talk entitled “Educating the Heart and Mind.” We sent four buses of students and faculty down — almost 150 people! Many, many thanks to all who attended, braving the elements (and the protesters) to hear his talk.

For those of you appreciating the Dalai Lama’s choice of headwear (or those who might wish he had worn something else), I can do no better than refer you to this ridiculous post here:


Consider, for example, this quotation: “Tenzin Gyatso is the 14th Dalai Lama, the latest in a long line of reincarnations of Avalokiteśvara, the bodhisattva embodiment of compassion. He’s also an insufferable homer who loves free hats.”


“Shoveling Snow With Buddha,” Billy Collins

Shoveling Snow with BuddhaWe had our first snow of the year over the weekend, and while it didn’t require any shoveling, I did want to share this lovely poem from Billy Collins.

Shoveling Snow With Buddha

In the usual iconography of the temple or the local Wok
you would never see him doing such a thing,
tossing the dry snow over a mountain
of his bare, round shoulder,
his hair tied in a knot,
a model of concentration.

Sitting is more his speed, if that is the word
for what he does, or does not do.

Even the season is wrong for him.
In all his manifestations, is it not warm or slightly humid?
Is this not implied by his serene expression,
that smile so wide it wraps itself around the waist of the universe?

But here we are, working our way down the driveway,
one shovelful at a time.
We toss the light powder into the clear air.
We feel the cold mist on our faces.
And with every heave we disappear
and become lost to each other
in these sudden clouds of our own making,
these fountain-bursts of snow.

This is so much better than a sermon in church,
I say out loud, but Buddha keeps on shoveling.
This is the true religion, the religion of snow,
and sunlight and winter geese barking in the sky,
I say, but he is too busy to hear me.

He has thrown himself into shoveling snow
as if it were the purpose of existence,
as if the sign of a perfect life were a clear driveway
you could back the car down easily
and drive off into the vanities of the world
with a broken heater fan and a song on the radio.

All morning long we work side by side,
me with my commentary
and he inside his generous pocket of silence,
until the hour is nearly noon
and the snow is piled high all around us;
then, I hear him speak.

After this, he asks,
can we go inside and play cards?

Certainly, I reply, and I will heat some milk
and bring cups of hot chocolate to the table
while you shuffle the deck.
and our boots stand dripping by the door.

Aaah, says the Buddha, lifting his eyes
and leaning for a moment on his shovel
before he drives the thin blade again
deep into the glittering white snow.


Rita Gross, Buddhism After Patriarchy

Buddhism After PatriarchyI’ve begun to make my way through Rita Gross’s powerful Buddhism After Patriarchy. Here’s one compelling passage:

“In traditional Buddhism, except for the teachings about karma, no major teaching has been used to explain or justify male dominance. As is the case for most major religions most of the time, the core texts present the major teachings in a sex-neutral manner. One would easily form the impression that they describe the human condition and prescribe ways of dealing with it that apply equally to women and men. Many Buddhist teachers reinforce that impression emplicitly or explicitly in their teaching style. Nevertheless, Buddhist institutions, both lay and monastic, are riddled with male dominance. As is so common, we find gender-neutral teachings appropriate to all human beings linked with male dominance of the religious life and institutions.

“Therefore, something more is needed. It is necessary explicitly and directly to tease out the implications about gender issues implicit in the major doctrines of Buddhism and apply those findings both to current Buddhist practices and to contemporary gender questions. The primary theses of this part of this book are that no major Buddhist teaching provides any basis for gender privilege or gender hierarchy and that these doctrines, in fact, mandate gender equality at the same time as they undercut the relevance of gender. Furthermore, it is also my thesis that these major teachings are much more compatible with feminist than with patriarchial manifestations of Buddhism. In other words, to be true to its own vision, Buddhism needs to transcend its androcentrism and patriarchy” (153).

One more time, just because it’s such a beautiful sentence: “In other words, to be true to its own vision, Buddhism needs to transcend its androcentrism and patriarchy.”

10 Misconceptions about Buddhism

Last year, Tricycle published an excellent list entitled “10 Misconceptions about Buddhism.” The misconceptions include ideas such as “All Buddhists meditate” (#1) and “All Buddhists are pacifists” (#4).

The list is a helpful one. Each item on the list has a link to a longer article on discussion on each of the topics. The article was written by two eminent Buddhist scholars, Robert Buswell and Donald Lopez.

Read it here: http://www.tricycle.com/blog/10-misconceptions-about-buddhism

Taoism and Teaching: Reflections on Silence


We’ve been studying ancient Chinese Religions in my Asian Religions course this fall, and we recently read Lao Tsu’s Tao Te Ching. While reading it, I was reminded of two of my favorite chapters and their connections to teaching. (Both chapters are from the Feng/English translation, a favorite of a former colleague and blog reader who asked me about my preferred translation of this text in my initial interview at my current school.)

Chapter 11:

Thirty spokes share the wheel’s hub;
It is the center hole that makes it useful.
Shape clay into a vessel;
It is the space within that makes it useful.
Cut doors and windows for a room;
It is the holes which make it useful.
Therefore benefit comes from what is there;
Usefulness from what is not there.

I find this distinction between benefit and usefulness to be so helpful when thinking about my classes. We need to shape clay into bowls and cups, but those objects are useful because they also enclose space: they create openings into which other things can be put. And so it is with me as a teacher in the classroom: I need to shape words and ideas, yes, but I also need to step back and to create silence. Me pausing (and then pausing some more if necessary) opens up space for students to step into and speak. Part of my usefulness is an educator comes from what is not there: silence, space, an open invitation to participate.

I was reminded of this idea recently with one of my classes this fall. I’ve been writing short reflections after each day, in part as a practice to keep better track of what I’m doing, and in part to look for broader patterns and trends. A word kept emerging in my after-class reflections: oversteering. I felt as if I was too involved, and was doing too much work in class. More recently, I have decided to step back more during discussion, to allow for more silence, and to let students make some of the connections themselves. This means trusting my students more, and working on being more comfortable with silence and in uncertainty.

We had real success with this in class two days ago. We were discussing rescuers during the Holocaust, and I saw a connection to a previous reading we had done about a German bystander. In my enthusiasm, I almost made the remark, but I caught myself and waited. A student stepped into the silence, and then a few more spoke after her, building upon her ideas. Together they made the connection I wanted to make for them. They created something together, making connections to the material and to each other that they would not have been able to do if I had jumped in too soon.

This anecdote reminded me of Chapter 17 as well. Although the passage is written in the context of leaders and leadership, it has deep resonances with education as well.

The very highest is barely known.
Then comes that which people know and love.
Then that which is feared,
Then that which is despised.
Who does not trust enough will not be trusted.

When actions are performed
Without unnecessary speech,
People say, “We did it ourselves!”

Even better than being a teacher who is loved, Lao Tsu argues, is the one who is barely known. In this context, perhaps it’s preferring silence and the creation of space to an impassioned connection to another reading. If all goes well, this type of learning and classroom environment creates a space where students can talk to and learn from each other – where they can genuinely say, “We did it ourselves!”