Buddhadharma: Tell us about Our Beloved Teachers.
Vince Fakhoury Horn: Our Beloved Teachers is a community podcast series meant to explore the true nature of the teacher–student relationship while preserving the oral history of Buddhism in the digital era. Each recording focuses on a student’s intimate memories and reflections of one of their dearly departed dharma teachers. We introduced the constraint of only sharing about teachers who have already passed away so that people can open up more fully about their recollections without as much concern or fear about how their teachers may have reacted, were they alive, and after hearing these reflections. Teachers are humans too!
Where did the inspiration for this project come from?
When I first began to get serious about Buddhist practice, I was enthralled by autobiographical accounts of awakening. Whether it was the life story of Milarepa, or the story of the great householder yogi, Dipa Ma, I devoured all of these personal accounts of awakening. Looking back, I can see that what was so appealing about these stories of awakening was that they made it very personal, something that was actually achievable by real people like you and me. In the Buddhist tradition, there’s a long history of inspiring real stories of awakening, going back to the Buddha’s own. As I saw a whole generation of teachers from the Boomer generation begin to get older, I realized that so many of their stories, and the stories of their own teachers, needed to be captured and preserved, so they could be passed down and help inspire and instruct new generations.
What has been the role of your teachers in your own practice and Buddhist path?
My teachers have been my spiritual family. They’re the ones who raised me, passing on the family stories and the family recipes. They’ve been there for me in my most difficult times—like that time I was melting down after a series of mushroom trips that I (idiotically) did a week prior to hosting over three-hundred people at a Buddhist conference, or the time that my wife was hospitalized with Lyme disease. They’ve also been there during my most joyous occasions, like after experiencing a great awakening, or hearing the good news of my son’s birth. Just like my blood family, they are there for me through all the ups and downs, but in a way that deeply acknowledges the transient preciousness of this human incarnation.
One of the main goals of this project is to “explore the true nature of the teacher–student relationship while preserving the oral history of Buddhist Dharma in the digital era.” From your perspective, what is the “true nature” of the teacher–student relationship? And how can that be misinterpreted?
The true nature of the teacher–student relationship is exactly the same nature as in any of our other intimate relationships. At times, these relationships are beautifully sublime. At other times they are horribly messy. Sometimes they’re totally ordinary and mundane. When we reduce complex relationships to simple narratives, we miss out on the richly shaded nature of human relationships. We miss out on what makes us human. The purpose of this series isn’t to capture a bunch of hagiographies—stories of saints—nor is it to be a digital record of tell-all scandals; rather, it’s meant to display the full range of human experience, for generations to come.
With scandals involving teachers coming to light as they have over the past few years, what are your hopes for OBT’s impact as relates to teacher ethics?
My hope is that we can open up our stories to include both the beautiful and the horrible, since both are included in any real relationship. My teacher Trudy Goodman did a great job of modeling this in my conversations with her about her early Zen teachers, Seung Sahn and Kobun Chino Otogawa. I so appreciated that she didn’t hold back from sharing the ugly stuff, but also that she had a compassionate view of the causes and conditions surrounding it. Right now, as a culture, we seem stuck in an either-or narrative structure whereby we either lionize or villainize our authority figures, but the reality is almost always murkier. Understanding the richness of the teacher–student relationship, as it actually is, gives us space to include more of our own human experience. Not repressing our shadow elements means we can work with them in the light. My view is that this will help us lead more ethical lives, whether we’re teachers or not.
According to the website, anyone is welcome to host and record an Our Beloved Teacher episode. Can you tell us about why you chose a crowdsourcing approach?
Every teacher had many students, which means there are as many points of view on the life of a teacher as there were people who engaged with them. And there are many dharma teachers we don’t even know about! One example of this that’s quite striking is that my partner, Emily, interviewed Spring Washam about her experience of channeling the wisdom of Harriet Tubman. The dharma of Harriet speaks directly to our time now and transcends our fixed notions of what it means to work with a teacher and even what “dharma” means in this context. My hope is that by opening this up as a crowdsourced podcasting series, we can preserve many different perspectives, leaving a richer tapestry of stories for future generations to learn from and contend with.
To listen to the Our Beloved Teachers podcast and find out how you can contribute your own remembrance of a teacher, visit ourbelovedteachers.com.