Episode 3 – The Integrity Of Mindfulness Teachers


Jackie and Maria again, with a new episode of our Becoming Mindful Podcast. In this episode, we discuss how the personal actions and background of a teacher or sage can affect  their teachings, and can one learn from someone who is not perfect?

Have you ever questioned and researched your teachers? Have you tried to diversify your learning?

Show Notes & Links

About Ram Dass


About Eckhart Tolle


About Alan Watts


About Thich Nhat Hanh


About Deepak Chopra


Critical view of Edgar Degas


About the Dalai Lama’s quote on female successor


About Tara Brach


About Sharon Salzberg


🎵 Music: Sweet by Benjamin Tissot | Royalty Free Music | www.bensound.com


Maria: Hello and welcome to the Becoming Mindful podcast. Today, we’ll be talking about some mindfulness teachers and try to answer some questions like, “Can one take advice from someone who’s not perfect?” And “where do we draw the line there?”

Maria: I’m Maria.

Jackie: And I’m Jackie. And we are Becoming Mindful.

Jackie: All right, so let’s check in. Last episode, we committed to doing some mindfulness practices on our own. Maria, how’s it going with you?

Maria: Yeah, it’s going pretty good. I’ve done the loving kindness meditation during the brushing my teeth. That has been going pretty well, although sometimes it’s strange to do, doing a task like that.

Maria: Trying to get into that feeling, the loving kindness feeling. So that took a little bit to just associate it together and not be weirded out by it, sure.

Maria: And, I actually started another one, which I really liked. Kind of a walking meditation because I’m going back to work and just going from the parking lot to the office.

Maria: I’ve done that doing a walking meditation. How about you?

Jackie: It’s been going well, but also difficult. So I committed last month to doing a walking meditation around my yard, about a 10 minute walk. And I’ve been doing that but I’ve been finding it difficult to stay mindful while I do it.

Jackie: I find myself wanting to go through my to do list and, ruminate on things instead of just being present. I felt like it was just a constant challenge to keep myself in the present and to stay free from all those distractions.

Jackie: I think it’s a practice that I need. And so I think it’s a good, but yeah, it’s hard.

Maria: Yeah. But that’s good though. I think that’s actually really good that you notice these things are coming up. So I think it’s actually really good. Failure is important too. That’s how you learn.

Jackie: You’re right, and I know that, but it’s so hard to give yourself that same permission. I feel like, I know that failing is part of it and the mindfulness is coming back and it’s that journey to come back to the present. So maybe I just need to be less hard on myself.

Maria: Yes. I agree. Yeah, I think, that sounds like there’s some fruits. Slowly but steadily.

Maria: So I think we can keep on doing that. I don’t know if you want to take on another one or you just want to keep with the ones we have for now.

Jackie: As I’m teaching yoga, I’ve started to recommit to my meditation practice, which has fallen out of my routine. So I’m trying to bring that back in and recommit to that every day.

Jackie: Hopefully next time we talk, I’ll be in a good flow and a good routine, but that’s a goal of mine in the short term.

Maria: Yeah. Great.

Maria: All right. Let’s jump into the topic of this month.

Jackie: Let’s get into it.

Maria: Yes. So I think the big question we want to start out with is: how do we evaluate our teachers, right?

Jackie: Yeah, and I think in the couple episodes that we’ve done so far, some themes have come up with the teachers that we have had exposure to and that are really prominent in the mindfulness community.

Jackie: And some of them can be , I don’t want to say troubling, but make you question or wonder if you can trust them or how you can relate to them. I think one of the big ones that I think we can start off the bat with is that a lot of the teachers that we’ve been exposed to have come from really privileged backgrounds.

Jackie: And I think that’s important for us to talk about because I think it feeds into the idea that mindfulness isn’t accessible to everyone, and that not everybody with a regular everyday life can practice mindfulness. And let’s talk a little bit about that, about some of the privilege that we’ve found in the teachers that we’ve mentioned so far.

Maria: Yeah, a lot of the teachers seem to be academics, white males, right?

Jackie: Yeah, a lot of them have gone to private school. From their primary school through their college education, they’ve gone to private schools, and that’s definitely not accessible for everyone. I know Ram Dass went to private school.

Jackie: Ellen Watts went to private school. Tara Brock, she went to private universities as well. A lot of them had really privileged education.

Maria: Right. Yeah. One of the exceptions would be someone like Sharon Salzberg, right?

Jackie: Yeah, and being in those privileged circles, I think, gave them a lot of different advantages.

Maria: Yeah because of being in that position where you’re in these privileged circles in the private universities or private schools, often that also means that’s how they became famous or well known. And that’s why we have access to them also, versus someone else maybe that we’re missing out on, right?

Maria: So can we say just because we know them better, are they the better teachers, right? A good example for that is also Eckhart Tolle, where he doesn’t really have much to criticize us on, but he was promoted and picked by Oprah in her book club and her show.

Maria: You get this huge exposure for. That’s a privilege too. Yeah. Whereas other teachers do not, right?

Jackie: Deepak Chopra he was featured on Oprah as well. And that’s really how he started getting prominence as well.

Maria: So you have this fame that really leads into how a lot of people get exposed to their teachings.

Maria: And I know another thing coming from these more wealthy circles is that they had the privilege to do these things, right? They didn’t have to work all day and make sure they have to stay alive or whatever. For example, Thinking about Alan Watts, he had a wife at home and had the ability to go do this philosophizing and thinking and not having to worry about his life and his livelihood.

Jackie: And being in a social class where, your partner can stay home and take care of the children or take care of the household, basically keep you alive and take care of all that. So you’ve got this time to sit around and think and do philosophy and meditate and go on retreats and all sorts of things.

Maria: Yeah take drugs, right?

Jackie: Take drugs. That’s a good point. Yeah, Ram Dass is a great example of that. When he was working at Harvard, he Was friends with Timothy Leary and did psychedelic research with him, and he said that was one of his first gateways into spirituality and mindfulness. He wouldn’t have had access to these psychedelics if he didn’t work at Harvard and he wasn’t in a research facility.

Maria: Not money wise and also not the time to do them and to experience that.

Jackie: Also, Alan Watts as well, he came up around that same time and also credits psychedelics as one of his influences that brought him to mindfulness. And you really had to be a privileged white man within like the academic world to be able to experiment with things like that without the high risk that most other people would be exposed to if you were doing psychedelics as part of your research or your profession.

Maria: Yeah, we have the monetary thing. You can also look at the psychedelics as well as being in these circles and being able to sustain this life. There’s also definitely a sexist aspect to that, because a woman in that same time, even if she was in A more higher class wouldn’t really be able to do that.

Maria: So there’s sexism there. If you think about Alan Watts with his stay at home wife and there’s like this whole controversy about him where he’s, philandering and having all these young groupies. Which is why his wife actually divorced him at some point, right?

Maria: And then you have him teaching the mindfulness and the loving kindness and everything. There’s definitely some disconnect there between the teachings and the life, right?

Jackie: Yeah, that’s a really good point. And at what point do we have to take that into account when we listen to his teachings or what effect does that have on the validity of his teachings?

Maria: Absolutely. Yeah that’s actually a good question. That goes back to can we really learn from him? If there is a disconnect between real life and what he’s saying, right? Yeah. The acting and the saying.

Jackie: You’ve got the other extreme of that as some of these religious leaders, people like, Thich Nhat Hanh or the Dalai Lama, these people who have devoted their lives to these teachings. Like Thich Nhat Hanh is a monk. He has devoted his life to studying mindfulness and working on the practices. Regarding what we were just talking about, he is living the mindfulness life. He is. That’s his every day. He wakes up and lives mindfulness.

Jackie: But at the same time, then you can also say, I don’t know how to relate to that. He spends his whole life doing mindfulness. I spend my days working and trying to live. How can I put these practices into my life? How do they translate?

Maria: Right? Yeah, and then obviously the religious aspect to it too. If I am not in the same religion, does that affect it, right?

Jackie: Yeah.

Maria: Can I still learn from him?

Jackie: Yeah, absolutely. Is it conflicting?

Maria: I’m not a Buddhist, right?

Jackie: Yeah.

Maria: But yeah, there’s multiple examples for that as well. Because I also feel oftentimes the religious aspect has a discriminatory or sexist aspect to it. Where some of these things are not available to women as much. Like even the Dalai Lama said that female successor would have to be attractive.

Jackie: Right.

Maria: You know you think, ok, so now the beauty of a woman, the objectification of a woman somehow is even mentioned by someone like a Dalai Lama.

Jackie: I know, I was so triggered when he said that and I know that he apologized for it, but it just goes to show that that there’s different expectations on women than there are on men. And what does attractiveness have to do? it shouldn’t be factored in, but it is.

Maria: Right. Absolutely. I think another big question mark or something to think about when we evaluate whether or not we think that these teachings have validity or these people have validity as teachers to us, is the commercialization of the teachings, right?

Jackie: Absolutely. Even someone like Thich Nhat Hanh. He’s published over 130 books. And, does that affect the way that they teach or how they choose to disseminate their teachings? And does that affect the accessibility of their teachings as well? If you need to purchase something in order to get their teachings. What kind of a lens does that put on their work?

Maria: Obviously there’s the other side that they also have to be able to live and most of the world is a capitalist society. So they also do have to play by those roles and they have to be able to survive and make their living. If you talk to someone that offers other teachings, like a violin teacher you pay them for what you learn. The same as with some of these teachings. If they help you and if they give you insight, then it makes sense that they get paid for their work.

Jackie: You see some of the extremes of it like Deepak Chopra, who’s been really heavily criticized for the way that he has monetized his teachings. The spirit of mindfulness and the spirit of these teachings is to make them widely available, but just as you said, I want to support the people that I’m learning from and they need to eat and they need to live.

Jackie: So yeah, I think it’s a balance.

Maria: You also have to look at in what way do we have different measures or different scales for different types of teaching? If I talk about mindfulness versus I don’t know, cooking. If you think about someone like a Gordon Ramsay, who is just yelling and insulting everyone but nobody would think twice to say okay, now I can’t use his recipes, or I can’t listen to his cooking advice versus someone like a mindfulness teacher.

Maria: But then on the other hand, those are also different topics, right? And especially on the mindfulness space and loving kindness and those things often actually directly talk to the whole space of ethical interaction with each other, right? Then it feels like you got to walk the walk, you know if you talk.

Jackie: Yeah, absolutely. Speaking of Gordon Ramsay, I think it’s also interesting to note something like the Explosion of mindfulness in places like Hollywood and celebrities who are really getting into it and whether or not they can be teachers of mindfulness.

Jackie: I know I like to listen to the things that someone like Russell Brand has to say. He’s got some very interesting perspectives. But at the same time he’s a celebrity. But he’s got lived experience and he has a platform. So when you combine those two things, maybe you’ve got this opportunity to offer these teachings more widely. And someone like him, has done quite well for himself. He actually offers a lot of free teachings and that kind of a thing. So when you have a different source of income and you have the ability to offer these teachings I see it happening in places where people are offering them for free and just want to put them out into the world.

Maria: Exactly. And especially a topic like this it’s really hard to say, no, you don’t have the credentials versus you do. And I know a lot of people or a lot of teachers are also criticized for like being in the pseudoscience space. This is not scientifically proven, but a lot of this is really philosophy.

Maria: How far can you even go to scientifically prove this or make this in a way where it wouldn’t be something that everyone could teach. I think, yeah, so really it comes down to where do you draw the line.

Jackie: Of all these conflicts that we’ve talked about, there’s been two sides of the coin, right?

Jackie: There’s extremes in one direction, extremes in the other, and how can you tell if they’re credible, or if you can learn from them?

Maria: Yeah. I think for me, it comes down to where you can still separate the person from the work, right?

Maria: Some of their things that they do that we might find not ethical versus their work. One example from the art side for me is if you look at Edgar Degas, who was pretty much a dick, he was a horrible person.

Jackie: How do you really feel?

Maria: He was sexist. He said some antisemitic stuff. And he was just always like full of himself, like he’s so much better than everyone else. But his art is really good. And, can we still learn from his techniques and look at his art and it’s okay to do that with the caveat of, okay, we don’t wanna look at him as a person that we admire, right?

Maria: But then. How far can you really go with that? Because, one of the examples, and I don’t know if I was going to say this, but, think about Hitler. Okay, this is really super extreme, right?

Jackie: Thinking about Hitler.

Maria: Hitler was an artist, okay? Who in their right mind would say, okay, I’m going to look at Hitler’s art and use that and be okay with it, knowing that this is from Hitler, right? But that’s like the real extreme, right?

Jackie: You’ve got one side of it. Definitely don’t want any association with this person. Really, regardless of what they have to offer, their behavior kind of outweighs anything that they could bring to the art world, if we’re going there or either mindfulness teachings.

Maria: It’s pretty easy if we talk about extremes, right? To say yes.

Jackie: Yeah. But then there’s so much gray area. I think it, it comes down to we need to know ourselves and we really need to know what racism or sexism or antisemitism sounds like and how it manifests so we can recognize it when it comes up in teachings and we can identify it and, like you said, be able to separate it from the wisdom, from the knowledge, from the truth.

Maria: Yeah, and one important part there is that we need to really know. We need to research the people that we’re listening to. If you read about mindfulness and you look into mindfulness and you listen to talks or something you might resonate with it and like the lesson or a specific quote or something, but you really got to do the legwork and figure out who is that person before you go in and use that as your teaching. But then on the other hand, some of these concepts can be easily separated from the people. If I’m thinking about loving kindness meditation. I can, easily say yes, I’m going to do that. But maybe I’m not going to promote the teacher that is a terrible human being that said something about Loving kindness, right?

Jackie: It is a lot of work to really know everyone that you’re learning from, but if you’re looking to absorb these teachings and to build practices and your life around it what these people are saying, it’s really important to know where they’re coming from and why they have the viewpoints they do.

Jackie: One of the ways that I’ve been able to do that is through looking for knowledge from a wide variety of teachers. And you can start to pick up the themes between them and the concepts that resonate true throughout all the different teachers. Because The underlying concepts of mindfulness are so human and organic that if you really expose yourself to a lot of teachers, there’s going to be this common thread through them that you’ll be able to pick up.

Jackie: And diversity in your teachers is a really important part of trusting your learnings. But as I say that I’m thinking about everyone that we’ve talked about. And to be honest we’ve talked about mostly white people.

Maria: Yeah mostly white men, a few women here and there.

Jackie: And a couple, people from Deepak’s from India and Tich Phan Hanh is Vietnamese but they’re, generally we’ve talked about white men and. That’s who I’ve been exposed to, and maybe that’s because I’m white, and it’s a very segregated world. That’s my responsibility to correct.

Maria: Exactly. So I think that’s one of the takeaways. We should really diversify our background in mindfulness, on this journey to being mindful. I think it’s also important to look at other teachers that do not fall into that demographic that we talked about.

Jackie: And, as I entered this mindfulness world, I was looking for books and lectures and that kind of a thing. And the type of people who are able to do that are the privileged class. So it makes sense that I’ve found a lot of privileged teachers.

Maria: Yeah. But I think now with the internet and social media things being just a little bit more available that way.

Jackie: Yeah. There’s no excuse.

Maria: There isn’t really an excuse. No. Exactly. So I think that’s one of our homeworks to diversify that a little bit.

Jackie: Yes. But yeah. I need to intentionally seek out some different teachers.

Maria: Exactly.

Jackie: All right we hope that you were able to take some ideas and thoughts away from this episode to ruminate on. If you have any comments or any information or points you want to make, you can leave them in the comments on our website or pop over to social media and start a discussion there. We’d love to open this discussion up further and invite you guys in and hear what you have to say. As we said in the episode, we want to broaden our knowledge and our exposure to these topics to a much bigger, diverse group. Please bring your comments. Bring your suggestions, bring your resources of diverse mindfulness teachings and share them with us and the whole community.

Maria: Yeah, so we hope that this gives you a little bit of food for thought about different people, how to evaluate your teachers. Obviously that’s your personal journey, but hopefully our discussion points you into some direction that’s helpful for you.

Maria: And with that, we’ve reached the end of our current episode. Next month, I think we want to go a little bit more into the intersection of creativity and mindfulness. I hope you will be joining us for that again.

Jackie: We hope you continue to join us and learn along with us through this ongoing open conversation. You can find out more about how to subscribe and links about everything we talked about today in our show notes.

Jackie: And on our website becomingmindfulpodcast. com and on our social media at Becoming Mindful Podcast.

Maria: Yeah, thank you for listening and we really hope you like this episode and want to hear more. So if you do subscribe, we also appreciate any comments, questions and reviews.

Jackie: Until next time, be well.

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