All that glitters is not gold
~ Shakespeare

An article called Broken Gold was recently published in the Buddhist magazine Tricycle. In it various students of the dharma reflect upon their disillusionment with their teachers and/or sanghas.

The individual contributors are very insightful about their experiences and the article as a whole is a thoughtful contribution to the subject. It details how three people who have been betrayed by their teacher or sangha face their personal “struggle with the story”. This is Buddhist-speak for the persuasive narrative that seduces us into self-pity or adversarial thinking, as in its- me-against-the-world. The moral of the story seems to be one about personal accountability. As the editor writes in her eloquent introduction:

… at a certain point what matters most is not so much what shattered one’s trust and scattered one’s sangha, but the question: What heals?

And in a way, this is true: what matters is not who-did-what-to-whom and why, but how to get on with one's life in a wholesome and healthy manner.

It is a pity, however, that the article emphasizes the student's responsibility for his reactions while saying nothing about the teacher's, and speaks exclusively to individual healing while ignoring the importance of the community.

There is an air of modesty that seeps through the personal accounts that, on the surface, strikes the reader as genuine, gracious and mature. But I think it masks a lingering timidity about confronting a tradition that still clings to infantile idealizations about the Buddhist sangha and its teachers, and even Buddhist teachings, as the family we draw our spiritual sustenance from. We want to heal from our betrayal but we still want to be the good girl or boy that protects and pleases our parents.

In the introduction, the editor quotes an analogy about a golden bough whose gold does not break when it is broken. It is a lovely analogy for spiritual practice; it does not make you more or less gold. But if we do not test our teacher and sangha, if we do not test the gold, the bough may well be counterfeit.


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