Teacher Essentials: An Interview with Catherine Eaton

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

The following interview with Catherine Eaton, Mahasukha teacher and former newsletter editor, was conducted in January 2011.  Catherine is currently teaching Dharma Essentials 1 on Tuesday evenings.

Ivy Dally:  Thank you so much Catherine for taking the opportunity to answer a few questions about yourself and the upcoming Dharma Essentials course you will be teaching.  For those of us that are new to Mahasukha, I’d like to begin by having you tell us a little bit about yourself and what brought you to the Dharma.

Catherine Eaton: I came to the dharma when I was in my teens, which is more years ago than I’d like to admit. I traveled many different spiritual paths along the way, as I’ve always had a burning desire to discover a deeper truth than the one I was experiencing. Life was good but I knew there was more, much more, so I was constantly seeking some sort of transcendent wisdom, a union with the divine you might say.

My interest in Buddhism began decades ago when I was traveling and spent a little time in India. I met a group of Buddhists who hoisted upon me stacks of books with the sincere motivation that I should come back to America and spread the words of the Buddha.  I did bring the books back and spent time reading through them and I felt quite drawn to Buddhism. But as is typical in America, and particularly of California, I was in an environment dripping with spiritual and New Age philosophies and I explored many of them. The result of all this study was that I found myself pretty satisfied and peaceful most of the time but there was still something missing in my spiritual quest. Enlightenment sounded like a good idea, a lofty goal to aspire to, but definitely not within reach in this lifetime.

Then one evening in 2003 I happened to notice that a Tibetan monk, Geshe Michael Roach was coming to speak at my local bookstore and I went to hear what he had to say. I listened to the talk, bought two of his books, The Diamond Cutter and The Tibetan Book of Yoga. I also met Brian Smith that night who was soon to become an ordained monk, Lama Sumati Marut. It wasn’t too long after that day that I began taking courses from the extraordinary ACI teachers that live in Los Angeles, Lauren Benjamin, Lindsay Crouse, Rick Blue, Cliff Spencer, and soon became a student of Lama Marut. I took all of the 18 Sutra Courses in about 3 or 4 years, followed by the 18 Tantra Courses taught by Lama Marut in about 3 more years. I stuck with this program because of the brilliant, loving teachers at ACI-LA and because these Courses offered deeply authentic teachings….and there was a plan. The courses were well laid out and available and I began to notice changes in myself and my life that were quite profound. Not that it was all sunshine and roses because when you seriously embark upon a spiritual path, you tend to disturb all the sediment that has been resting quietly in your mind and when that gets stirred up and surfaces, watch out! But gradually a beautiful clarity arises.

ID:  Its been a while since the Dharma Essentials courses were taught from the beginning.  This is a great opportunity for new students to find out the basics, and for the regulars to get a refresher.  What material are you most looking forward to covering in the first course?

CE: The Dharma Essentials courses were designed for those who don’t have the time or possibly the inclination to jump into ten or eleven weeks of classes plus homework’s, quizzes and final exams for each of the 18 Sutra courses. In Dharma Essentials 1, students will get an overall glimpse of The Three Principal Paths, one of the great classics of Tibetan Buddhism. It is not a course for Buddhists alone but for anyone who wants to understand the basics of how to live a spiritual life, a meaningful life. The three Principal Paths are the foundation of the path to enlightenment presented step by step by step so anyone can follow them if they are motivated to do so. And there are plenty of motivating factors that we will be discussing throughout the classes.

And any teacher will tell you that teaching is always the best way to learn the material yourself. I love reviewing the Sutra classes, as they are the foundation of the entire path and without the basics you can’t get anywhere.

ID:  Teaching is an ever evolving skill.   One can really learn so much from their students.  Can you think of any instances in the past that really have affected the way you teach or think about teaching?

CE:  I was terrified to teach the first course I taught quite a few years ago. I co-taught it with Lauren Benjamin and her kindness and encouragement got me through it. I think the fear that came up with teaching for me is that this is such a beautiful lineage and an authentic dharma and you want to pass it along to others as purely as possible. There is a tremendous amount of material in these courses and I went through them pretty fast, which didn’t always allow for enough time to contemplate each and every fact. That is what I am doing more of these days. These courses are designed so that there is a lot of repetition, which is wonderful because many of the concepts take time to sink in.

I’ve been an artist for most of my life and have been teaching art and creativity for twenty-three years. I’ve also taught many other subjects as a substitute teacher so I’ve had a lot of experience teaching. So yes, it always seems that it is the students teaching the teacher. And what a gift to be teaching the dharma. It’s a precious opportunity that can change lives!

ID:  When teaching, or doing anything really, it’s always good to have a plan but then let it go and see where it takes you.  Where do you hope teaching this class will take you?  Do you have plans to continue teaching the DE series?

CE:  Yes, I agree that often with teaching you have to be flexible and go with the flow of what appears while in the process. The Dharma Essentials Courses are designed such that they take the significant material in the longer courses and deliver it in a much shorter period of time. Due to this, there are many points that need to be covered in each class to be sure the students get all the relevant material.

Where do I hope this course will take me? It’s always an honor to teach the dharma and ones own study deepens by the act of teaching.  I’d feel like I was somewhat successful at teaching this course if those who take it find their own spiritual search and inquiry is deepened and broadened by the process of hearing this material. And as we say with any spiritual study, if you find yourself happier and your behavior towards others is more compassionate, sweeter and kinder, you must be doing something right!

And yes, if there is a desire for more of the Dharma Essentials classes, I would take great pleasure in continuing to teach the series.

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