28 Mar Interview with Elaine Jackson, Resident Teacher
We are excited to welcome Elaine Jackson as our new Resident Teacher. She is a founder and former Director of Vajrapani Institute and a treasured member of our community for many years.
Here’s an interview our staff member Louie Markovitz conducted with Elaine.
What drew you to the spiritual path?
Although growing up I went to church and sunday school, I didn’t feel drawn to organized religion. That changed when I attended the 1977 month-long retreat led by Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche in Yucca Valley. I was inspired! I learned that I could actually change my mind with the practices being taught.
When did Vajrapani Institute enter your life?
At the end of the retreat, one of the students gave a rousing speech about the need for a retreat center in California after which a piece of land in the redwoods of Northern California was donated. My husband asked me, “How about we sell everything, live in a teepee in the redwoods for a year and build a retreat center.” It sounded cool! So we did. We moved to Boulder Creek with our two children to start Vajrapani Institute.
What was it like for you, developing Vajrapani Institute?
From the beginning this was a community of Bodhisattvas. I soon learned that a person simply couldn’t remain here just because it sounded cool to live in a teepee with farout hippies. To survive the various seasons and challenges of Vajrapani Institute, it became clear how important it was to use the teachings on my feet. If I didn’t have a wish to benefit others, I wouldn’t last here.
What does a being a “Bodhisattva” mean to you?
There isn’t any question that when you practice every day you develop a yearning and a longing to help others. Thinking only about what I want is such a small and contracted place. When I think about others, my heart opens naturally and this is a much more pleasant place to be. On the other hand, it’s one thing to have the wish to help and another thing to have the wisdom to know how. This is why we need to study and practice.
You’ve sold me! Similarly, were you drawn to Lama Yeshe’s Bodhisattva qualities?
Lama Yeshe was a joy magnet. He had a way of saying things where everyone heard what they needed to hear. There was a quality of explaining the Dharma in a way people could understand.
I’ve been attending your weekly meditation teachings and enjoy how you keep the teachings simple.
I speak what’s true for me. If I don’t know it, I am happy to tell you I don’t know it. Once you begin to understand how the teachings are true, you can explain them in a very simple way. The Buddha didn’t say, “This is the way it is.” He said, “Check if this is the way it is.” This is the difference between blind faith and intelligent faith.
Is this an attitude you bring to your role as the resident teacher?
When you begin meditating on the teachings, you begin to learn how they are true. When I am teaching, I ask students to inquire, “How is this true for me?” In the beginning we should question and have intelligent doubt. Slowly, we keep marinating our mind in the practices and we begin to have confidence in their validity.
How will you connect to those who are new to the path?
Like that movie last night – wasn’t it hilarious!? (“Enlightenment Guaranteed” – A German film about two beginner Zen students).
Yes, it was great.
I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time! I was right there with them. I know how hard it is and how much pain they experienced in doing these practices. To see their progression, in that short period of time – it was wonderful! So we meet the practice where we are. We are being gentle and taking a moment. We keep meditations short and simple and learn the tools to keep our practice fresh and fun.
Has being gentle has a been a large part of your practice?
That’s right. I haven’t been austere. Lama Yeshe used to say that you are already successful, just having the wish to do retreat. Just by having the wish to do something other than your usual activity, you begin to tear a hole in the fabric of your suffering. You’re moving out of what you’ve always done and into something more fulfilling.
Seeing their basic goodness?
For sure! The Buddha said that we all have Buddha nature – we all have the seed for enlightenment right here. To see beyond the critical committee of our judging mind, and begin to focus on wisdom and compassion, is ultimately where happiness lies. Remember that whatever you’re doing with a good heart is “good enough Dear!” as Lama Yeshe often said.