Why Good Teachers Go Bad - Shinzen Young and Michael W. Taft
This is an EXCELLENT conversation about what it means to be a teacher, how open, respectful conversation similar to that which we see in (most) scientists is necessary for growth and development in meditation teachers, and how/why meditation teachers go bad.

It's a 90-minute talk, so perhaps take it in chunks, but it is worth listening to and discussing in full. Here's the link:


Addressing "Crazy Wisdom" he says, with admirable frankness, "This shit has happened before" and these teachings are pernicious. 

Young notes that these teachers quite often have a lot of wisdom and warmth and understanding of the teachings, but just have a little darkness that they haven't dealt with. This is crucial though, and he offers this analogy:

 "If I mix a little dog feces in to your hamburger, maybe there's not much there, but the impact is pretty noticeable - a little bit really counts." 

Concerning pitfalls of teaching, he lists three that he thought of long ago:

  • Money
  • Power
  • Sex

All of these will come to a good teacher and must be dealt with wisely and appropriately. A fourth one that occured in his own teaching was:

  • Codependent relationship

He doesn't go into great detail about this (but enough to strongly encourage all teachers and students to listen), but notes that at one point he had a relationship with someone and gave this person power in the community that wasn't earned: the power was just given via the conduit of the relationship. Students complained a bit, but he was 'sucked in' to the relationship to the point where he couldn't hear them. It was only when two trusted peers came to him and said "what the fuck is happening in your community" (his paraphrase of the non-harsh words coming to him) that he realized that there was a real and growing problem.

I'd call this the sycophants and narcissists problem in communities. In any community, 'spiritual' or otherwise, a leader or leaders will emerge. Some people, likely due to poor childhood relationship building, will want to 'glom' on to the leader to make themselves feel whole or important or good. The same occurs in unhealthy romantic relationships. 

A healthy leader recognizes that this is what is going on and keeps the other person at a healthy distance - not pushing away per se, but ensuring that boundaries are not crossed. In a romantic setting, the healthy person sees that this is not going to work and does their best to step out of the romantic side of things. 

A narcissist revels in the attention/affection from the other person and reciprocates it by giving special treatment or privilege to that person (again, this is unearned in the sense that the privilege might include power over others that the person is not capable of managing). 

In my own teaching life (both academic and meditation) I've certainly encountered cases where boundaries needed to be drawn, and I'm not at all famous or rich or any of that. Students will project. 

This follows well on the heels of the last post, discussing Lama Willa Miller's discussion of recent issues in Tibetan Buddhism. Her article warned us to see the "clay feet" of our teachers. Young and Taft's discussion suggests the same, but also warns us not to lose sight of our own clay feet if we do become teachers - even in the loses sense of 'teaching' people basic meditation techniques, academic topics, etc. 

The blurb with the podcast reads:

In this special one-year anniversary episode, Shinzen Young talks with host Michael W. Taft about becoming a meditation teacher, the unrealistic paradigm about what meditation delivers, Shinzen’s codependency disaster, Bill Hamilton, the great unsung hero of vipassana in the Western world, homology theory, how science can influence meditation in the West, sociopathic teachers, and what we can do to make sure that good teachers don’t go bad. Who is a teacher? What’s the family test? These questions and more.
Shinzen Young is an American mindfulness teacher and neuroscience research consultant.His systematic approach to categorizing, adapting and teaching meditation, known as Unified Mindfulness, has resulted in collaborations with Harvard Medical School, Carnegie-Mellon University, and the University of Vermont in the burgeoning field of contemplative neuroscience. You can learn more about Shinzen on his website shinzen.org.

I'd also highly recommend other podcasts from Michael Taft / Deconstructing Yourself. He also has a Patreon page where you can help support his work.