Why I Teach: A Personal Essay
Why Do I Teach?
I teach because we live in a world of suffering and I wholeheartedly believe that Dharma, or spiritual education, is the key to relieving that suffering. For this reason I see Dharma education (both as student and teacher) as the most important endeavor I can partake in during the course of my lifetime. That education is and has been my life’s work. Recently, I have formalized this work within the Buddhist community by the taking of Bodhisattva Vows and being given the name Karma Zangpo. These vows are my personal dedication to study and service within the Buddhist tradition. This public declaration of vows was in concert with vows I had taken within the temple of my own heart long ago, at a time in my life when I was very young and had little knowledge of Buddhism, Buddhist vows, or Dharma practices.
At that time in my life, some fifty years ago, I quite consciously made a similar vow in prayer to God and to myself that I would use my life in service to the greater good of others. As I look back on the course of my life, I see that although I have been misdirected at times, I have never strayed too far from that path.
My personal vow was made in April of 1968, shortly after Martin Luther King was assassinated. I was seventeen at the time and deeply saddened by the murder of Dr. King, I remember being so afraid for the world. My heart was broken at the loss of another compassionate and courageous human being, a man who was not only a champion for his race, but also saw the bigger cosmic picture. I was young but I understood this about Dr. King, that he saw us all as part of the same human family. He knew that no individual could be truly liberated unless we were all liberated, and that the key to that liberation was much more than political. It was spiritual. He helped me understand that the key to true liberation lies in the human hearts of all people.
In 1968, the war in Vietnam was raging. There was a desperate and urgent desire for change all over the planet, and I still remember how all other worldly endeavors seemed so very trivial and meaningless to me. I had an overwhelming spiritual hunger back than that has persisted throughout the course of my life. Although I had no religious affiliation and no community support for my spiritual convictions, I promised God and myself that I would use my life for the good of others no matter where it took me or what the cost. Although I had the blind courageousness of youth, along with a very limited understanding of myself and the world, I discovered a powerful determination within me for spiritual truth. It seems quite Karmic to me now, that I intuitively saw the value of spiritual study, practice and service in this way, without the benefit or direction of any real institutional training.
In the Hindu Yogic tradition this path of study and service is referred to as the spiritual path of Jnana Yoga, the path of wisdom and knowledge. Although, like most people, my life course had a series of ups and downs, wrong directions and missed opportunities, I pursued religious studies and academic studies for years, whenever circumstance allowed, with the sole intent on spiritual service through teaching. If I wasn’t teaching, I was working towards it. I wanted to teach in a way that I wish I would have been taught. I wanted to follow the example of other great spiritual teachers. I did not compare myself to them at all, my poor self image in those years would never have allowed for that, but I only wanted to follow their example in my own small way.
What Do I Teach?
I now primarily teach Meditation. I also teach Buddhist Dharma, Yoga, Yoga Philosophy, Comparative Literature, Cultural Anthropology, and what I call Comparative Religious Studies, which is an in-depth study of various religious traditions and their correlation. I have been educated formally and academically in all of these fields of study over the years and my credentials are available to the public on my Sangha Without Borders blog site. I teach these subjects individually but most often collectively. Doing so enables me to draw on a variety of insights in order to inform and inspire. I teach whenever and wherever I’m asked to do so. I have taught before hundreds in lecture halls and the I have taught in the intimate class room of one. Quantity is irrelevant to me, quality is everything. Teaching has been such an important part of my life for so many years that I no longer consider it as something I do, it has become who I am.
How Do I Teach?
I teach to liberate, to instruct, to enlighten, and to expand awareness -- but mostly for the pure joy of sharing spiritual wisdom with others. Through it all, I myself never stop growing and learning. As a teacher, I never stop being a student. I never stop studying, researching, practicing, listening, opening up my heart and mind to others, to new ideas and new ways of seeing myself and the world around me. Literature and Cultural Anthropology have become important vehicles for expanding my own knowledge and awareness and have added directly to my efforts to share Dharma and spiritual studies.
The Bodhisattva Tradition:
I teach in harmony with the Bodhisattva tradition, meaning that I only teach when invited to do so and with the intent of helping others gain knowledge of the Dharma. That knowledge is always focused on decreasing personal suffering through self-realization. Although I will teach by donation and for payment, I most often teach for free in my efforts to follow the Bodhisattva path. Financial gain has never been the focus of my work as a teacher. In fact, my service as a teacher has most certainly cost me more financially over the years than I have ever made. For most of my life I have worked other jobs for money to support myself and my family. Most of the money that I have earned teaching has been used in service to others, most importantly in support of my various teaching projects. My most recent teaching income has gone directly into creating and maintaining my online teaching platform “Sangha Without Borders” which offers students weekly Dharma teachings and daily meditations. Our Sangha Without Borders blog also offers both casual readers and serious students a variety of online supports and services to encourage and assist a personal spiritual practice -- all free of charge. Sangha Without Borders is just that, a spiritual community website which is all inclusive. It has no literal or figurative borders. It is a non-denominational digital platform for spiritual study and meditation. As a teacher and fellow student I encourage all to study and meditate. I invite all to share in our Sangha Without Borders.