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Teachers, traveling to teach, what is difficult?

Teachers, when you travel to teach, what is difficult? What sort of supports, material or otherwise, would be helpful?

When we see teachers of Dhamma traveling, what sort of supports are helpful and welcomed?

…how do we define a lay follower who is practicing to benefit both themselves and others?”
A lay follower is accomplished in faith and encourages others to do the same. They’re accomplished in ethical conduct and encourage others to do the same. They’re accomplished in generosity and encourage others to do the same. They like to see the mendicants and encourage others to do the same. They like to hear the true teaching and encourage others to do the same.
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Hey, thanks for asking!

In general, it’s not really a hard gig, well for me anyway. It’s very pleasant and people are always lovely. The biggest down side for me is that it makes it hard to focus on my long-term work.

Some issues I have encountered, in no real order.

  • Sometimes people involve you in their local issues; say, a dispute in running the Buddhist society or whatever. But you’re just passing through, you have no real knowledge of what’s going on. It seems to me that sometimes people act as though they’re seeking advice, whereas in fact they’re just canvassing support.
  • Gifts! I mean, it’s super-nice and all, but I have only a monk’s bag, that’s it, and I really neither need nor want anything else.
  • Getting things done. If you’re travelling, especially for extended periods, there is still work, for me, that mostly means SuttaCentral stuff. I need decent, reliable wifi and, please oh please, a desk to sit at.
  • People think you want seclusion and quiet, but frankly, if I want a retreat I’ll stay at home. What I want when travelling is to reach people, teach, and help where I can. I don’t need anything special to be able to be alone and meditate.
  • Sightseeing, especially to Buddhist centres and stuff. I mean, I’ve been a monk for 25 years, I’ve seen lots of Buddhist centres. I’d rather go for a walk in the park, or just stroll through the neighbourhood and see how people live.
  • Over-zealous Vinaya scruples. Sometimes people are exposed to monks who behave in a certain way, or who interpret the Vinaya one way. They assume every monastic will behave the same way, and sometimes go to great lengths, inconveniencing themselves and others. It might be organizing accommodation, or, say, like in the event I was just at, where the lay folk told the women they had to put offerings on a cloth for the monks. They are just trying to do what they think is right, but I feel pained sometimes at the stereotypes, usually sexist, that it perpetrates. Keeping Vinaya is not your responsibility; it’s mine. If there is an issue that I’m uncomfortable with, I’ll tell you. (Psst: I know what I’m doing. I’ve been doing this a long time and I can make up my own damn mind!)
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This is really different for different people. For introverts, having time alone is what recharges them to be able to do public programs. It’s not about seclusion to meditate. Especially on days where there are multiple public activities in a day. Remember it’s not just the events. Often the person driving the teacher to an event will (not unreasonably) see it as a time to talk and ask questions. And some teachers would be energized by that, kind of a warmup. But others find it draining.

So it’s helpful to just ask. It may seem silly to offer to drive them 30 minutes to spend an hour back in their room before the next event. But for some teachers it can give them a real boost.

And specifically as far as “if I want a retreat I’ll stay at home,” teachers who are leaders of communities may actually enjoy having a day of seclusion offered to them while traveling because having a retreat at home isn’t really a thing. Sadly. Again just ask.

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No, of course you’re right. It’s great to have some time off and seclusion. But I am thinking about times when people have scheduled a “retreat” for a few days in the trip, which often feels like waste of time; not a real retreat, but not doing what I came for either. Anyway, like you say, just ask.


Oh I thought of another one. It should go without saying all these are personal, and others will differ!

When I travel to teach, I am not going to promulgate some special doctrine or other. I just want to connect with people in Dhamma. I like a challenge and I like to do different things. I can, yes, do an intro to metta meditation and the ABCs of Buddhism, and I love to do that—but not every day! People ask, “What do I want to talk about?” but I don’t really know what I want to talk about until I start speaking, and I actually see who you are with and where it is. Sometimes when I have taken the time to organize a series of talks on particular topics, the organizers politely let me know that they have changed them.

So what I appreciate is if people get to know something of the kinds of things that matter to me, and find some common ground where I can connect with the people there. Make specific, strong suggestions for interesting topics, something I can get my teeth into. You’ll get a much better talk if I feel like I’m being challenged than if I’m just going through the motions. And please, don’t ask me to talk about the institutional structures of Buddhist societies in Australia. (Yes, that happened, and no, I will not do it.)

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Do you (Bhante @Sujato but also more generally to any teacher) like retreat participants to have prepared in particular ways for retreats? If so, in what ways (generally, or as specific examples for retreats upcoming)?

I expect answers might vary by situation as well as by teacher!

Addition: perhaps one partial answer is “So what I appreciate is if people get to know something of the kinds of things that matter to me, and find some common ground where I can connect with the people there. Make specific, strong suggestions for interesting topics, something I can get my teeth into. You’ll get a much better talk if I feel like I’m being challenged”
but if you care to expand on that or mention other likely -to-be worthwhile prep work, please, do.

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