From the outset, Lisa recognized the immense value of having a teacher, appreciating the alternative perspective they bring to her understanding of the Dharma. For her, a teacher’s role isn’t about claiming enlightenment but showcasing authenticity and humanity. She values those who are willing to acknowledge imperfections, remain humble, and avoid presenting a flawless facade.

Lisa emphasizes the importance of looking beyond superficial appearances to assess a teacher’s authenticity, kindness, and accessibility. In her view, a genuine teacher is one who reveals their humanity, steering clear of a lofty guru persona. Trudy, a teacher Lisa admires, exemplifies authenticity by teaching through her humanity, a quality Lisa also strives to embody.

Lisa is drawn to teachers who demonstrate a love for the Dharma, dedicating their lives to its practice and sharing it sincerely. She is cautious about the potential pitfalls of elevating teachers too high, recognizing the risks of abuse and unskillful behavior. To strike a balance, she advocates for an awareness of the humanity of teachers while appreciating their dedication to the path.

Ultimately, Lisa believes in the ongoing learning process, acknowledging that nobody gets it right all the time. She values teachers who are further along the path, even those with many decades of experience, highlighting the perpetual need for guidance and mentorship. The best teachers, she notes, continue to seek teachings themselves, reinforcing the idea that the teacher-student relationship remains a source of continual growth and enlightenment.


Dennis, sharing his perspective as a Zen teacher, emphasizes the role of a teacher as a guide rather than a source of enlightenment. He dismisses the notion of seeking renowned teachers, emphasizing that the individual must undertake the journey to understanding and enlightenment.

Reflecting on his diverse religious background, Dennis acknowledges his limitations in certain faiths but draws from his experiences to relate to students. He recognizes the inability to eradicate pain or serve as a substitute for professional help in cases of emotional trauma, distinguishing the teacher’s role from that of a counselor.

Highlighting the individuality of teachers, Dennis asserts that there is no prescribed mold for their approach. Encouragement emerges as a crucial aspect of his role, especially in leadership positions. He understands the challenges of the Zen path, stressing the importance of perseverance and encouraging practitioners to stay committed despite potential difficulties. Ultimately, Dennis sees the teacher’s primary role as providing support and motivation on the challenging journey towards enlightenment.


Michael reflects on the common stumbling block people encounter on their spiritual journeys, highlighting the tendency to project unrealistic expectations onto traditions and teachers. He emphasizes that while teachers serve as mirrors, they are not the reason for awakening. Michael observes that fallen teachers often result from unrealistic projections and discusses the Dalai Lama’s critique of the grandiose portrayal of teachers.

He delves into the importance of recognizing one’s own face in the teachings and practices, emphasizing that the outer teacher is a reflection of one’s inner wisdom. Michael narrates a personal story of seeking advice from his yoga master about relationships, leading to the realization of non-attached interconnectedness. He contrasts the perspectives of Buddhism and yoga on the self, stating that yoga brings one to the precipice of self-awareness, while Buddhism makes the practitioner jump off the cliff into no-self.

Michael describes the teacher as a clear mirror, pushing practitioners to let go of attachments and expectations. He shares a pivotal moment in his life when the teachings of unconditional love were profoundly experienced through his relationship with his wife. Michael emphasizes that the teacher’s role is to remind and guide, often pushing practitioners beyond their comfort zones. He concludes by urging individuals to shift from practicing their dramas to embodying their dharma, aligning their actions with wisdom and direction.


Gareth delves into the complexity of choosing a spiritual teacher, expressing his admiration for Joseph Goldstein but recognizing the challenges of forming a personal connection with a renowned figure. He emphasizes the need for a teacher-student relationship built on intimacy and genuine understanding, as opposed to a transactional dynamic. Gareth, anticipating the establishment of a “One Dharma Atlanta,” underlines the importance of personal context in guiding individuals on their spiritual journey.

Discussing the deepening of one’s practice, Gareth emphasizes the universal foundation of stopping and seeing, asserting their fundamental role in various traditions. He emphasizes his commitment to staying well-versed in multiple traditions to effectively guide others. Gareth acknowledges the necessity of maintaining his own practice and undertaking personal retreats to remain grounded and useful in guiding others.

Gareth underscores the significance of versatility in understanding diverse teachings and limitations in his role, highlighting the importance of listening to individual needs. He emphasizes the role of a teacher as a mirror, helping students uncover deeper questions and providing guidance along their unique paths. Gareth acknowledges the challenges in the West, where financial constraints impact teachers, but also sees an opportunity for students to express commitment through support.

The discussion pivots to the nuanced concept of commitment in the teacher-student relationship. Gareth reflects on the personal nature of this commitment and the financial aspect, acknowledging the importance of a student’s commitment to their practice. He grapples with the ambivalence surrounding the term “student” and underscores the necessity for a genuine commitment to foster deeper intimacy and facilitate spiritual growth.

Teachers on teaching


In her one-on-one interactions, Lisa’s approach is to meet individuals where they are, listening attentively and incorporating their challenges into a Dharma context. While recognizing the need for therapy in certain situations, Lisa emphasizes the value of infusing daily life with Dharma principles. By exploring immediate experiences and delving into the body and breath, she helps individuals tap into Dharma wisdom—a deeper understanding that transcends conditioned reactivity and fear.

Lisa believes in the transformative power of accessing a voice of wisdom beyond the conditioned mind, quoting Einstein’s insight that problems can’t be solved with the same mind that created them. Her work aims to guide individuals toward utilizing this wisdom to navigate life’s challenges and attain a deeper sense of freedom. Through this process, Lisa assists students in evolving, addressing not only their personal experiences but also guiding them in teaching and working with others as they mature in their practice.

Acknowledging the importance of boundaries, Lisa ensures a balanced approach, suggesting therapy when necessary and emphasizing that she is not a therapist but a facilitator creating a context for meeting life through the teachings of the Buddha.

Sensie Michael

In reflecting on his early days of teaching, Sensie Michael shares that he initially imitated Matsuoka Roshi’s approach but soon realized that his students did not respond the way he had expected. Stressing the importance of flexibility in imitating teachers, he emphasizes the need for practitioners to innovate eventually. Sensie Michael’s training, influenced by formal protocols learned from Barbara in Austin, Texas, and attributed to Eiji, involved specific rituals and protocols. He describes the significance of each gesture, highlighting the logic behind various forms.

While acknowledging the depth and breadth of his training, Sensie Michael points out that the real training in Soto lies in meditation. Over almost 50 years, he notes a change in his practice and teaching style, indicating a shift from relying on written records to a more spontaneous and flexible approach. Sensie Michael adopts various talk styles, ranging from spontaneous audience interaction to book report-type talks, tailoring them to his own evolving understanding.

He draws parallels with the trajectory of Buddhist teachings, noting that as one’s personal experience deepens, the ability to teach becomes more eloquent. Sensie Michael emphasizes the correlation between personal experience and teaching authority in Zen, asserting that authority in Zen comes from one’s own experience rather than external credentials. He notes the importance of maintaining credibility and recognizing the potential impact on students’ trust if credentials are questioned.


Shinge emphasizes the regional nature of her teaching approach, highlighting the message that individuals are inherently okay as they are. She encourages self-discovery, urging students to question and experience for themselves rather than relying solely on her guidance. Shinge acknowledges the historical challenge in Buddhism where some individuals are willing to undergo rigorous training while others seek an easier path. In response to the desire for accessibility, she affirms that everyone is welcome to engage in the practice but underscores the importance of recognizing that the awakening is not something to obtain but rather to realize within oneself through dedicated effort and experience.


Gareth reflects on the evolution of his teaching style, acknowledging a shift from an intellectual approach rooted in Zen tradition to a more inclusive and personal engagement with Buddhism. In the Zen context, he excelled in reciting koans and delving into the extensive lists of ancestors. However, upon establishing Red Clay, a center influenced by diverse backgrounds, Gareth, along with two others, transitioned from their roles as ordained Zen priests, creating a space that initially involved self-indulgent reflections on the past.

As Gareth broadened his horizons, exploring Pali Scriptures, Mahayana traditions, and Tibetan teachings, his teaching focus transformed. Rather than merely offering profound teachings, Gareth found his purpose in being there for people, emphasizing presence over content. He shares insights from Dijak, a practitioner from Furnace Mountain, who stopped suggesting that people should practice, a shift Gareth now comprehends. Drawing inspiration from figures like Mr. Goodhart, a self-realized Indian mystic, and Jack Cornfield, Gareth values the idea of showing up and responding to questions rather than imposing content.

Gareth highlights the powerful impact of personal stories in teaching, commending Lisa for her intimate approach. He aspires to emulate her ability to share profound personal stories that resonate deeply, breaking open hearts and connecting with individuals on a more personal level. Gareth emphasizes the importance of making teachings personal and relatable to truly connect with people in a meaningful way.

Gareth reflects on the evolution of his teaching style, particularly in the context of Western Buddhism and the lay practitioner community at Red Clay Sangha. He emphasizes the shift from monastic traditions to a lay-oriented, everyday practice, citing potential challenges in maintaining the spiritual depth of mindfulness practices in a secular context. Gareth acknowledges the benefits of Red Clay Sangha, a leaderless lay community, where diverse teachers bring their unique practices without conforming to a specific mold.

While praising the community’s growth and support, Gareth also acknowledges its limitations in providing the profound wisdom and insight found in deeper, one-on-one teacher-student relationships. He highlights the importance of trust and the challenge of going beyond certain boundaries within a community setting. Gareth shares his personal journey of finding a teacher in Lisa, emphasizing the organic and mutual growth of their relationship. He contrasts this with past experiences of unilateral surrender of power, emphasizing the soft edges and gradual expansion of trust in his current teacher-student dynamic.

Gareth expresses the significance of a teacher who maintains a strong personal practice and seeks guidance from their own teacher. He sees taking on a teacher as a pivotal point in one’s practice, signifying a desire for deeper guidance and a recognition that a peer-led community may have its limits in fulfilling that need.