Why do teachers do it to begin with? Why did Jesus of Nazareth, after spending those lost years in the desert—realizing himself, making himself free—why did he come back to teach, knowing that he was walking into his own death? Why did Shakyamuni Buddha—a prince, who left all those riches and almost lost his life suffering the practice of asceticism for many, many years before coming to enlightenment—why didn’t he exercise the other alternatives that were obviously there after realizing himself? He could have gone back to his father’s clan, taken up his prince’s crown, gone back to his wife, his child. Instead, for forty-seven years he lived the life of a wandering monk, with only his bowl and his robe, teaching thousands of people. Forty-seven years of teaching, and ultimately, he only transmitted the dharma to one person—Mahakayshapa. Why did the Buddha choose the iron yoke? Is the iron yoke really an iron yoke? Being a monk is one thing—it’s restrictive, no question about it, but not nearly as restrictive as being a teacher. A monk has one master, a teacher has many masters—the entire sangha. There are many restrictions imposed on what a teacher should or should not do—not by his or her own teacher, but by the students.
So what is the motivation to teach? Is it fame, money, power? In the case of Shakyamuni Buddha, that wasn’t functioning; he already had all of those things. Anybody who thinks that being a Zen monk or a Zen teacher in the United States today brings fame, money, or power is sadly mistaken. Maybe a hundred years from now, but not now. So, what’s the motivation?
I remember when I first wrote up the contract for the purchase of the property here on Mount Tremper. The Zen Arts Center didn’t exist yet. In fact, I had no idea what the name was going to be, so I drew up the contract in my own name, with the understanding that I would later change it. One day, I was suddenly overpowered by the thought of what I was getting myself into. I hadn’t quite taken the final step and committed to the Zen Arts Center yet, so there was still a way out. I discussed this with a friend of mine, who is a businessman, and he said to me, “Why don’t we make it a business? Forget about the Zen stuff—take off those robes. We can turn the property into a great health spa and restaurant.” Can’t you just see it? Doshinji Restaurant and Health Spa!
“It’ll be a little village where people come to spend the summer,” he said. “They’ll exercise, swim in the pool, hike on the trails, work out in the gym downstairs, and have real gourmet meals. The kitchen is already there. Fix up the main hall as a dining hall, and you can make a lot of money.” I said, “But I really enjoy this practice.” He said, “Well,take fifty or one-hundred acres, and put the hermitage on it. You can get a manager to run the place, and just come down the mountain once a week. It’ll be really easy.”