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Lions Roar : November 2019
Beyond Projection: Healing the Teacher– Student Relationship Buddhist teacher and psychoanalyst PILAR JENNINGS looks at the psychological pitfalls teachers and students can fall into. IF YOU’VE EVER attended a talk by a renowned Buddhist teacher, such as the Dalai Lama, Pema Chödrön, or Thich Nhat Hanh, you probably remember the large crowds. They were there because they sensed there was something they needed from a teacher. As a longtime Buddhist and a psychoanalyst, I’d like to suggest that some part of us knows we need mentors. We need people to find the good in us if we’ve lost touch with it, to help us navigate life with all its tumult and difficulties, and to offer us inspiration. Mentors can help us cope with loss and our chronic, nagging wish for love. Sometimes, it seems like too much to go it alone. In my effort to understand these needs, I’ve found that what most defines us as people is that we’re relational. We start our journey housed in the body of another, and the moment we’re born we seek her out again. We do everything possible to re-form this needed tie—to feel that we’re close and will stay that way. This longed for closeness keeps us alive. It helps us form attach- ments that can provide relative safety and potential feelings of love. We depend on the person we’re attached to in order to help us meet our needs. Something similar happens with spiritual mentors. People drawn to Buddhist practice seek out teachers to figure out how our minds work, to understand why we so often struggle with ourselves and others, and to discover a reliable roadmap toward increased well-being. When our mentors are “good enough,” to borrow a wonderfully use- ful phrase from the British psychiatrist D. W. Winnicott, we reap enormous benefits. If they walk the talk and are relatively mature, self-reflective, and boundaried, such mentors can usher in extraordinary healing, both psychological and spiritual. Spiritual teachers reawaken our trust that we can be treated with kindness. They orient us toward meaning and purpose. They challenge painful beliefs about ourselves through their steady compassion and patient curiosity. PILAR JENNINGS is a psychoanalyst, lecturer at Union Theological Semi- nary, and author of Mixing Minds: The Power of Rela- tionship in Psychoanalysis and Buddhism. in juggling work, family, and practice. Women everywhere are oppressed by sexual harassment and unequal representation. Many Buddhists feel that it is time to take a fresh look at how Buddhist texts and teachings address gender. With the Buddha’s declaration of women’s equal potential for liberation, things started off very well. After his passing, however, patterns of male domination again became the norm in Buddhist societies. The plot thickened about five centuries after the Buddha’s passing, with the appearance of the Perfection of Wisdom (Prajnaparam- ita) texts. These texts replace liberation from cyclic existence with the perfect awakening of a buddha as the goal of the path—a quantum leap in commitment that requires the aspi- rant (bodhisattva) to accumulate merit and wisdom for three countless eons. Among the thirty-two “special marks” of a buddha, the most surprising to many modern Buddhists is a sheathed penis “like a horse.” This mark has been taken to mean that a fully awak- ened buddha is necessarily male. Exactly what the advantage of such an appendage might be is unclear, especially alongside other fantastic marks such as a spiral between the eyebrows that stretches for legions. Are buddhas shown with male genitalia because men are pre- sumed to be superior to women? Does the mark verify that the buddhas are sexual beings who have sublimated sexual desire? Are men more apt than women to achieve the fully awakened state because they must work harder to overcome sexual desire? Or is the presumption of maleness simply another patriarchal move to maintain superiority? In addition to taking a fresh look at Buddhist texts and teachings, it is time to reexamine Buddhist institutions, which are almost all completely under male leadership, and reassess Buddhist social realities. Rather than blithely swallowing the meme that everyone is equal in Buddhism, or naively believ- ing that gender is irrelevant to awakening, Buddhists need to reevaluate the way women are treated. For example, even today in the Tibetan tradition a three- year-old boy can be honored with the title “Lama” (meaning “guru”), whereas a highly educated seventy-year-old nun is typ- ically demeaned with the title “Ani” (meaning “auntie”). Dona- tions—even by women and even in supposedly enlightened Western societies—are routinely channeled primarily to male teachers and monks’ monasteries. Discriminatory attitudes have become unconsciously internalized by people in ways that are damaging to both themselves and others. Buddhists today need to wake up to this fact and trans- form their habitual tendencies, equally embracing all beings with compassion. In the Buddhist traditions, the ultimate concern for women, especially nuns, is awakening—either the achievement of liberation from cyclic existence or the perfect awakening of a buddha. The fact that women are now working to achieve full representation in the Buddhist traditions and are openly voicing their aspirations reflects their compassionate concern for the well-being of all sentient life. PHOTOBYKEVINHATT LION’S ROAR | NOVEMBER 2019 65