Who Teaches at Centres?

I thought it might be useful to try to draw together some kind of ‘checklist’ of the issues and criterion involved in deciding who we are happy to have teaching at our centres, whether they be Order members, mitras, friends, or people from outside Triratna. There might be a different set of considerations when discussing someone teaching in an Order context, so what follows concerns public centres.

Vajragupta, March 07.

1) Are they a good teacher, with a good grasp of the Dharma, and able to relate to those at the class/retreat in a healthy way?
Obviously we’d want what was taught to be in harmony with the Dharma and to be helpful to people’s practice. We’d also want whoever teaches to be reasonably effective communicators, self-aware, and aware of how they relate to people at the class/retreat.

2) Is what they teach congruous with the FWBO system of practice? What is their perspective on that system of practice? Do they understand it? Do they appreciate it?
Someone may be a brilliant Dharma teacher, but what he or she teaches is just different to Triratna and Bhante’s approach. A centre may want to ensure that it does not present too many varied practices and approaches, but encourages a coherent, consistent ‘path of regular steps’. So, the choice of ‘who teaches’ does not necessarily imply a judgement of the quality of what is being taught by a particular person.

There may be times when presenting the distinctiveness and coherence of our approach is more important – for example, when deciding the on-going programme of a public centre. There might be other times when we deliberately present differing perspectives and diversity – for example, a one-off event with debate and discussion with teachers from other Buddhist sanghas.

This issue of ‘congruency of approach’ doesn’t just involve what we teach, but also how we teach. In other words, we may also need to check there is an appreciation of our way of practising sangha, our understanding of ‘horizontal’ and ‘vertical’ kalyana mitra, and how we relate to people at our centres.

3) Are they able to dialogue, discuss, and remain in harmony?
Whoever teaches at a centre needs to be able to discuss the issues that arise with those running the centre. They need to understand that the council of a centre has the ultimate responsibility for deciding what happens and for ensuring the centre’s spiritual well being. Are they able to discuss issues without polarising and reacting? Are they going to understand and appreciate the issues involved and be willing to dialogue?

4) Are there issues of harmony with others in the local sangha, or in the wider Order and movement?
We have a responsibility for running our local centres, but these are also part of a wider movement. So, we also have a responsibility to consider the needs, views, and feelings in the wider Order and movement. If there is controversy about a particular person being invited to teach, should we go ahead if it may promote misunderstanding and disharmony? Or should we seek a greater degree of consensus first?

5) If they are providing something new or different that isn’t already available in the movement, what is the best context for them to do this?
We might be asking someone to teach who comes from another tradition, or who is explicitly bringing-in a teaching or practice not currently part of our system. We may be doing this because we feel they are bringing in something new and valuable. In these cases, we may need to consider point 2 above in a new way.

a) Is what they are providing really new and not available in the movement? If he or she is not an Order member, are they the best person to bring it in? Might there be an Order member who is qualified to do so, and who can do so on the basis of greater experience and appreciation of our approach?
b) What is the best context to first bring in a new teaching? Would it not be best done on an Order event, or an event with a specific aim and audience, rather than at a public centre?
c) Although they may be bringing in something new, which they consider really valuable, are they able to do this on the basis of appreciation of our approach? Or do they have issues and unhappiness with our approach? If so, do they need to discuss and work this through first?
d) How can we bring in a new approach and teaching and synthesise it into our approach in a mature and intelligent way, without causing confusion amongst people, or loss of confidence? Are they willing to see their teaching as an experiment and join in a process of discussion and evaluation of it and its effect afterwards?

6) Will it be good for them?
Will teaching help the person we are considering asking? Will it enable them to offer something valuable and thereby gain themselves? Or might it give them inflated ideas, or mistaken notions about their status and their relationship with Order members, mitras and friends? (This point overlaps with point 2 above and our understanding of how we teach and relate to people in the sangha.)

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