by Geri Loizzo
One of my favorite stories found in the Jewish tradition was told to me by my dear teacher, Yogini Mary Reilly Nichols. It’s a story of a young man who goes to see a famous rabbi and is asked by a friend, “are you going to hear the rabbi speak?” “No,” replies the young man, “I am going to watch the rabbi tie his shoes.” He did not mean this as a joke, and he understood that the embodied qualities of enlightenment which the rabbi exuded in his very being, could offer powerful inspiration that he could intuit.
Another of my dear teachers, Ngawang Gelek Rimpoche, used to say that recognition of the desire to learn from a mentor is the moment of exclaiming, “I want that!” He also said you should choose your teacher wisely, with a light, jovial caution, preferably one who lives “three valleys over.” The reason for this is to help us focus on the extraordinary, or enlightened, qualities of the mentor, and not get bogged down with reminders of their human ordinariness. Whether you ascribe to the “three valleys” approach, or a more intimate relational experience, it’s always good to remember that one’s personal agency and process is of the utmost importance.
Learning from a teacher should be an experience of opening doors into your own innate potentials, never a process of ceding your autonomy over to another. A true teacher knows this and treats their students with the utmost respect. I’m grateful to have and have had such teachers in my life, both on a personal level, and on the level of inspiration at a distance. The recognition of “I want that!” is I suppose, a strong positive passion of mine.
He would often say that the most essential reason for having a mentor in a tradition that is passed on through time, is so that you receive wisdom not just from one teacher, but from the lived experiences of generations of teachers.
Gelek Rimpoche was one of the heirs of a long line of Tibetan masters in the Nalanda tradition, dating all the way back to Nalanda University in India and from there back to Buddha himself. He would often say that the most essential reason for having a mentor in a tradition that is passed on through time, is so that you receive wisdom not just from one teacher, but from the lived experiences of generations of teachers. That’s a lot of wisdom! And since real wisdom must be intuitive, not just conceptual, it involves far more than ideas existing in our minds; it is an embodied fruit, living in the example of a living teacher.
Walking on a spiritual path has a funny way of pointing us in a direction toward leadership. The reason for this is that the path changes us. We respond to things differently, display the signs of a bit more wisdom, and even reflect a new sense of ease in our bodies. People start to take notice, and before you know it, someone wants a taste of what you’re drinking so to speak, and inside of you, a longing may emerge to share it. Whether we actively choose to be a teacher or not, we find that in certain areas of our lives, we are looked towards as an example, this is leadership! As my teacher taught, the strongest way to cultivate leadership in a contemplative life is to rely on qualified mentors who themselves embody a clear and unbroken lineage.
It is for all of these reasons that I’m so excited to share my inspiring experience with our Meditation Teacher Training Program in partnership with The Path. Having taught several iterations of the training with Joe Loizzo and Marlie McGovern, I found myself deeply moved and inspired by witnessing intimate groups of super motivated and open students grow into thoughtful meditation teachers over our three months together.
Last Spring, we invited a gifted young teacher, Megan Mook to join our team, and last fall we asked Scott Tusa and Dr. Pooja Shah to form a dream team for our meditation teacher trainings. The trio of Megan, Scott, and Pooja is one of the most potent combinations of knowledge, heart, and skill that I’ve ever witnessed in action! It comes as no surprise that all three have both rigorous traditional training and a strong connection to a living lineage of mentors.
Megan, who has a Masters in Buddhist Studies from the International Buddhist College in Thailand, also studied with Nalanda Institute mentor, Professor Bob Thurman, and Lozang Jampspal at Columbia, and keeps close ties with several meditation masters in the Nalanda tradition. Scott spent nine years as a Tibetan monk, including the last four at the feet of his closest teacher, Tsoknyi Rimpoche. Pooja is a Columbia physician who specializes in Integrative Medicine and a graduate of our two-year Contemplative Psychotherapy program under the guidance of meditation masters Bob Thurman and Sharon Salzberg, and considers Geshe Tenzin Zopa her main mentor. All three reflect the Nalanda ideal of having one foot in pure lineage and one in the everyday world where the skills of contemplative living are so sorely needed.
I’m so delighted that our upcoming Meditation Teacher Training in Compassion will be taught by these three, whose combined lineage of teachers offers a taste of the embodied fruit of wise compassion. In fact, I’m envious of the new class of aspiring teachers who will get to study with these teachers, and intuit the collective wisdom of their teachers, and their teachers, and their teachers, and…I want that!
Editor’s Note: The next iteration of Meditation Teacher Training focuses on Compassion and begins March 2nd. Find out more on our MTT 2019 info page.
Geri Loizzo is Nalanda Institute’s Director of Programming.