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Buddhism Teacher

"A Buddhist is primarily a person in search of a satisfying life while pursuing enlightenment and practicing compassion and loving kindness"

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Snakes in the Grads

Graduation CapLast month I attended the high school graduation ceremonies of my grandson, Kai, where one of his teachers at Westmark School, Lauren Roedy, gave the graduation address. I was so moved by it, in fact my eyes rained a bit, that I asked her if she would send it to me and permit me to share it with you in this Newsletter and website blog. She agreed and included the following note:

I start my classes off with three deep breaths every day. I

tell the kids that whatever is going on in their lives outside

is just happenings…it’s not them. They don’t happen; they just

are. The space they feel when they take three deep breaths-

that’s them. Not every student could give over to the three

deep breaths. I had one student who would blurt out, “I don’t

want to breathe today!” I would smile and look at him and say,

“Think about what you just said.” And then we would all giggle.

But, it’s true. Sometimes we don’t want to breathe, ridiculous

as it sounds. We’re scared. Kai was never scared. Kai embraced

the breathing and often sat in a meditative state longer than

the three deep breaths with a look of pure joy on his face.

It is with gratitude and pleasure that I now share with you Lauren Roedy’s sensitive, compassionate and inspiring graduation speech to Westmark School’s graduation class of 2011:

A Snake Sheds Its Skin When It’s Time

Not long ago, I found myself at a party talking about my students, as I am wont to do. I was explaining how at the beginning of the year, in September, I start the structure of my class and how it continues the same way through June. I start each week by handing out an agenda that includes what we will do each day and what the homework is and when it is due. It’s all right there on that piece of paper, plain as day. On top of that, just to be diligent, I go over what the homework is each day in class. This is my brilliant plan, so simple to follow, so logical, such a great way to help students manage their time and stay organized. However, much to my dismay, inevitably, at random points during the week, students will ask me, “What’s the homework?” As if it is a big mystery that is impossible to unravel. “Well,” I say, “it’s right there on the agenda…just like it is every week.” And shockingly still, even after a kagillion repetitions of what is due, someone will come to my office hours and ask, “Hey, what’s the homework tonight?” And my instinct in that moment is always to freak out and scream, “Are you kidding me? Really?! A kagillion reminders weren’t enough?!”

I explained to my friend at the party that I’m baffled by this situation that continues to occur through June and that always makes me feel like I’m just banging my head against the wall. I want to grab the confused kid by his collar and drag him to his notebook and fling it open to where my gift of an agenda is just sitting and waiting to be read and understood. And that’s when this wise friend of mine kinda rocked my world with this simple sentence: “You know, a snake sheds its skin when it’s time.”

Leave it to nature’s metaphors and a wise friend to wake you up to a fundamental truth. A snake sheds its skin when it’s time.

I don’t know a lot about the snake community. Perhaps there are teacher-snakes and parent-snakes and friend-snakes who all support a particular snake in its run up to the big shedding. Maybe that happens. A bunch of snakes helping a snake be all it can be, helping it to be a better snake. I don’t know. But I can tell you for sure that within the snake community, there is not a lot of yelling or frustration over the condition of a snake’s current skin layer. They do not lift a scalpel or a laser or any blunt instrument and proceed to rip the skin off that snake because they want a new layer NOW. No they do not.

But we attempt to do that too often.

In every way at our disposal-with our wills, our voices, our expectations, our reactions, with all the tools of progress, we try to rip that skin right off. Our work screams-SHED, you snake, EVOLVE! Inevitably, as this metaphor dictates, we are just left with carnage-a wounded snake, a fleshy mess, a sad heart. All because we think we know how and in what time frame the snakes around us should grow and change. We create a lot of pain this way.

We should stop ripping the skin off. We should let Life lead the shedding. A snake sheds its skin when it’s time. And it’s better that way. Who are we to know the timeline of each snake in its evolution? We’re not cosmic reptile experts. Also, our struggles, problems, issues…those aren’t the whole snake. They are just one layer of skin. They will, always, shed themselves on Life’s timeline and give way to a new layer. And, we really never know just how awesome that new layer will be. We might have a vision for how it should look, but Life’s design is often much better than our limited ideas for what should be.

A former Westmark student who graduated a few years back paid a visit recently. He had struggled all through high school. Reading was a struggle, writing was a struggle, turning in homework was a struggle, paying attention was a struggle. His first year of college was a struggle, too. And then his second year…a miracle happened. He said during that second year he was just able to do what he couldn’t do before. He didn’t know why exactly. He was paying attention, doing his homework and using so many of the tools that his Westmark teachers demonstrated…but he couldn’t use them previously even when he wished he could. But, he uses them now. He was surprised at himself. Surprised and happy in his new skin. I’m really glad none of us ripped his skin off before he could shed it himself.

And, as if I needed more evidence to back up this skin shedding metaphor…another former struggling student sent me an email. He spent two years after Westmark bouncing around at different colleges. He had avoided attending a place where we had recommended. Eventually, though, he decided to give that place a shot. In the email, he attached his transcript. He wanted me to see it. There were six classes listed. He had gotten A’s in every one. All six. A’s. Believe me, his high school transcript didn’t look like that.

Yes, a snake sheds its skin when it’s time.

Kai And His TeacherSo, class of 2011, give yourselves a break. You are in the skin you need to be in right now. It’s perfect. You are just where life wants you to be. And She will move you forward from here. Your entire life will progress in this miracle fashion. You’ll shed the old and grow the new…effortlessly if you let it…love the skin you’re in and respect the skin that others are in. We all shed our skin when it’s time, no scalpel necessary. And right on time, you are here. It’s the perfect moment to shed your high school selves and evolve into graduates. We love you all dearly. Will the first row please stand.

Editor’s Note: Teacher Roedy (in above photo with student Kai) told me that she has written a book, a fictional novel about a girl at Westmark during her senior year in high school. It will be published by Penguin in the spring of 2012. “I’m proud of it because it embodies the spirit of the kids I’ve taught these many years,” she says. This Newsletter will let you know when it comes out. I’m sure the author will see that if you want to own an autographed copy you’ll be able to purchase one at her website when it’s up and running.

From Kids and Skin-shedding Snakes to Dolphins . . .

dolphinFrom Jean Parcher: “It is of interest to note that while some dolphins are reported to have learned English — up to fifty words used in correct context — no human being has been reported to have learned dolphinese.” -Carl Sagan, astronomer and writer (1934-1996)

. . . then Back to Snakes, the Black Snake of the Ego

Recently, my intellectual and sculptor friend, John Storojev, recommended this Newsletter’s book pick for a great summer read. Quite appropriate, I might add, in view of the topic of this month’s Newsletter’s subject, for the book’s title is Bitten By The Black Snake. I loved this book and I’m indebted to my cherished friend for telling me about it.

Renowned spiritual teacher, Osho, said: “Man has many scriptures, but none are comparable to the Gita of Ashtavakra. Before it the Vedas pale, the Upanishads are a mere whisper. Even the Bhagavad Gita does not have the majesty found in the Ashtavakra Gita . . . it is simply unparalleled.” Bitten By The Black Snake presents this ancient sutra “with a clarity and power very rarely matched. It has been called “a quantum leap into the absolute.”

Manuel Schoch, author of this wonderful writing, has interpreted with modern sensibilities, the timeless wisdom of this ancient sutra, which predates Jesus, Mohammed, and perhaps Buddha. Step by step he shows us how “one can simply observe, instead of engaging in the constant reaction and struggle created by the black nake of the ego. Instead of identifying with one’s body, thoughts, feelings, habits, and experience, one can be connected to the everlasting consciousness that manifests these.”

Bitten By The Black Snake is a short book of just 114 pages, available in paperback and packed with wisdom. Read it and find out, among lots of other things, why the Buddha wasn’t a Buddhist.

One Response to “Snakes in the Grads”

  1. david stringer says:

    I have read your blog and the recommended book, Bitten by the Black Snake. While it was quite a good read, there was certainly nothing there to prove Schoch’s boast that Ashtavakra’s teachings have a “simplicity and directness that cannot be found……..in Buddhism”, (page One). The greatest purpose of his book would seem to be to market his “Time Therapy” and “Modern Meditation”. His claim to have experienced a complete re-structuring of his body during a mystical moment in 1974 in Switzerland probably speaks volumes. Major contentions of his book seems to be that 1) meditation is a trap/bondage, 2) All we need do is be “aware” to be “enlightened” and 3) Once we have achieved this, we should cease meditation. All of which begs the following questions: Why did Buddha sit in jhana even after his enlightenment? Why did Buddha enter the Jhanas just prior to his parinirvana? Why did he exhort his Sangha to meditate all day? In one sutra he explains how he sat in Jhana for seven days and nights! Why are so many Western “Buddhist teachers” so intent on teaching a 7-fold path rather than the 8-fold one taught by the Buddha ( he always described the 8th fold “Right Concentration” as the levels of Jhana, or Samadhi). If you teach an incorrect 8-fold Path, you are teaching incorrect Four Noble Truths, as the Fourth Truth is the 8-fold Path. If you refuse to teach correct Four Noble Truths, are you in fact teaching the Buddha’s Dharma? Incorrect Dharma teachings such as these are emasculating Buddhist teaching in the modern Western world. The Buddha said his Dharma was deep and hard to see, and even contemplated not passing on his insights due to the difficulty of shattering the deeply rooted Ego-illusion, yet so many modern teachers seem happy simply to practise “Mindfulness”, as if this were Enlightenment rather than a mere tool to achieve it. Whoops, I said that banned word: achieve. In modern Buddhist-speak, desiring to achieve Enlightenment is a no-no. Despite a wonderful sutra urging us to do exactly that!! (MN 126, and the wonderful SN 51.15 by Ananda). Desire is one of the Buddha’s Four Bases of Power — it just has to be right desire, the aspiration for escape from Samsara. Of course this desire vanishes, along with the fetters of “Self-views” and Doubt, on “opening the Dharma Eye” or Stream-Entry. If you modern Western teachers are so antithetic to the Buddha’s Dharma (the sutras), why do you call yourselves “Buddhist”?