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bowing to our teachers

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A week ago Chong Go Sunim, our monk-correspondent in Seoul, wrote about the annual Teachers’ Day in Korea …

… when people go to pay their respects to those teachers who’ve had an impact in their lives. Seeing a group middle-aged men, made up of sun-burnt farmers in cheap suits and manicured business men all laughing and joking together, everyone passing by knows they were once fellow students, now come together to greet their old teacher.

My thoughts went to the teachers who’ve made a difference in my life. Several came to mind immediately: my Grade One teacher (Herr Sommer, kind teddy bear of a man, who drove one of the first post-war cars so tiny as to barely contain his large frame) and my doctoral advisor (Carl Leggo, poet from Newfoundland and professor at UBC who, by example, showed me how to write from the heart). And many others in between. Some of them nasty (such as the one we addresses as “Yes, chef!”, the one who had his hands full beating his apprentices whether they’d made mistakes or not) and many loving (such as Chozen and Hogen Bays, my monastic teachers for the last ten years, who’ve nourished my Buddha Nature with such patience). May they all be blessed for their intentions and efforts. May they be happy.

Which teacher do you remember?


7 responses »

  1. His gentle kindness and willingness to go the extra hundred miles has enabled me to become a Zen Buddhist, a life’s dream, and to go on to fulfill my life. Unassuming and humorous, he accommdated my needs at all times.
    Gassho Tesshin,

    [editor’s comment: Rev. Tesshin James Smith is with the Atlantic Soto Zen Center in Nova Scotia at

  2. As i was going about my business today, i was thinking of who has guided and influenced my life;
    my grandmother was my very first thought; she died when i was 14…and left me the legacy of truly living her faith in a very simple and loving way that touched many peoples lives around her;
    my friend, Baba, who introduced me, 30 yrs ago, to another world in India; the world of sadhus, temples, devout faith, simplicity of life;
    helen, who founded windsor house alternative school, still thriving 30 years later; she showed me her dedication and passion for children and families,and
    provided a place for my son to receive a non-coercive education;
    and you, peter…with your commitment to service, helped to introduce me to the world of meditation, monasteries, and Buddhist truths.

  3. The one I remember the most from school was Joyce Watts. Concealed under the frail, elderly disguise of a tough middle-school teacher was a former “rosie the riveter” and an open, warm spirit. Later I realized that she put on a stern front for middle-school students (anyone would be insane not to, imo!), and I think I confused this with conservative. She drew me out and was a warm person to talk with before class, and surprised me, when seeing my budding interest in Buddhism, by bringing me “The Way of Zen” by Allen Watts, and “The Three Pillars of Zen.” I liked the “Three Pillars” so much that she gave it to me with an inscription. That she had these on her bookshelf in this conservative, rural backwater, was my first inclination that the wrinkles concealed more of a free thinker than I’d guessed. Later, having moved, I sent her flowers, at my mom’s urging, for which I am very grateful. I still wish I’d stayed in touch with her.

  4. there have been so many teachers in my life my nonna (granmother in italian) made me realize anything is possible in life if you put your mind to it… she was born in 1905 in Italy actaully it was Austria at the time she was born, widowed at age 33 raised 2 children on her own and remained a widow until her death in 2000. My mom taught me how to be independent, loving, resourceful, the love of nature, flowers in particular good food, the love of creating good food, the importance of family, being respectful of money, my grade 5, 7, and 8 teachers (Mr. Harris, Mr. Pointer and Mr. Fowler) taught me the joy of education, my brother Peter taught me the joy of expressing my feeling by journaling, my head nurse at TWH in Toronto taught me that everyone matters, everyone has a contribution to the wheel of life, my patients in my nursing career have taught the true meaning of history and have blessed me with their life stories and you Peter have brought me to finally explore a way of life I have always wanted to but some how never got to mediation, mindfulness, Buddhist teachings. I feel very blessed

  5. I give thanks to you Peter for teaching me. You reach through all my layers of fear and judgements and self-doubt and delusions and show me the way through your actions and kindness and subtle nudges.

    I also had a really great english teacher in grade 11 who brought Shakespeare to life for me by showing us his passion. I wish I could remember his name! I remember a day when he spoke of what it meant to be a civilized society because we take care of others. It has stuck with me ever since.

    Such gifts to be given!

  6. and this from Anais:

    “All the teachers that I have had haven’t been exceptionally good or bad, so I don’t have much to comment on this topic. But speaking of comments, I have to say that your blog posts have been generating lots of interesting discussion lately. I think that you are continuing to develop a devoted following of readers who remain engaged with the various topics of your posts. Most likely because you write with honesty and are not afraid to tackle the full range of human emotions. You show a vulnerability at times … a vulnerability that we all experience but can’t always find the words or the courage to express.”

  7. I realize that the teacher I acknowledge and respect the least, is myself.
    Most likely because to do so appears egotistical.
    I stumble, continuously, but am usually the one to pick me up, to encourage me to learn from the experience, and to start me off again.
    I seem to need to rationalize this, so I recall two teachers (the Buddha and a Yogi), who suggested that we not take their word for anything, but instead learn from our own experiences.
    “Be your own authority”, they seem to say.
    My experience suggests that I learn better not from what others say, but from their behavior.
    So, I acknowledge that untold multitude who have taught me through their actions, sometimes painfully, sometimes joyfully.
    And as others have been my teachers without their being aware of it so, I realize, I have also taught others.
    May my behavior always be an inspiration, without my ego knowing or caring.


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