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Why Good Teachers Go Bad – with Shinzen Young

shinzen young

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

Show Notes

1:40 – Shinzen Intro
3:00 – Shinzen talks about Homology Theory
7:50 – Meditation and science complement each other like algebra and geometry
9:30 – Coupling of science and contemplative practice
12:50 – What science can teach contemplative practice
13:49 – In some ways scientists have less ego than meditation masters
15:50 – All meditators are teachers
20:55  – Ability of a “professional meditation teacher” to lead students through all goals
24:24 – Why meditation teachers should have respectful but open and unhurried dialog to improve the field
36:44 – Improving science by reducing ego in other ways via Meditation
38:25 – The contradiction of advanced meditators exhibiting unacceptable behavior
42:44 – The high profile flagrant behavior of a few tends to overshadow the overall positive impact of practice
46:30 – What’s missing in the case of advanced meditators who go morally off track
59:30 – Unrealistic paradigms of what liberation and meditation delivers and how it’s possible to do wrong from a place of emptiness
1:10:20 – Role/Power of a meditation teacher and culture
1:16:01 – Plane crash analogy and Shinzen’s story of going off-track
1:21:40 – The feedback that helped Shinzen fix co-dependence
1:24:50 – Bill Hamilton, “the great unsung hero of vipassana in the West”


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2 thoughts on “Why Good Teachers Go Bad – with Shinzen Young”

  1. The discussion on the master’s ego was great. Definitely not something which gets much attention often. But isn’t the primary problem with having constructive dialog regarding contemplative practice that it is inherently about subjective experience (until neuroscience gets much better)? How do you have informed dialog about something between peers when your red is my blue? Even the Undergraduate vs a Nobel Laureate are on the same “framework” of understanding with the undergrad having put in years of effort in mastering math and science, but getting a similar dialog with vast differences in experience for a non-objectively measurable thing, much less something that can be communicated easily, is pretty tough.

    1. Yes, it’s a tough thing to talk about. That’s why Shinzen said that you might spend a long time just working on the vocabulary to begin talking. Yet it’s still something that’s very worth doing, IMO.

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