“Freedom is the goal of the liberal education.”
A teacher at Berkeley High School in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Douglas Powers was a student of philosophy exploring phenomenology and freedom of the mind, as well as a self-described Bay Area “happy hippie,” when he encountered Buddhism, in the form of Venerable Master Hsuan Hua
, in 1973. Drawn to Buddhist precepts about the mind and the causes and conditions of freedom, Doug embarked upon the study (and the eventual teaching and practice) of Buddhism even as he continued a lifelong learning and teaching career in Western philosophy. Doug taught at Berkeley High School for nearly 40 years, until 2009, where he was among the early instructors in the special education program and later taught history, economics and English.
Doug is now a Professor as well as the Provost and Vice President of Finance and Administration at Dharma Realm Buddhist University
located at The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas
in Mendocino County, California, 110 miles north of San Francisco. Dharma Realm Buddhist University is a small, private institution of higher learning dedicated to liberal education in the broad Buddhist tradition—a tradition characterized by knowledge in the arts and sciences, self-cultivation, and the pursuit of wisdom. Its pedagogical aim is twofold: to convey knowledge, as well as to activate an intrinsic wisdom possessed by all individuals. All students partake of a unified curriculum, reading the original seminal texts of the Eastern and Western traditions. Undergraduates study a broad liberal arts curriculum including eastern classics, western classics, writing, music, mathematics and natural sciences. The University was established in 1976 by Venerable Master Hua, who devoted his life to education in developing the human character.
Having taught in Berkeley public schools for nearly four decades, Doug is constantly pushing the edge of how Buddhism can be brought into contact with the “modern mind.” Versed in both Western philosophy and Buddhist thought, he currently lectures on Western Philosophy, and Buddhist Study and Practice.
“Western psychology— Freud in particular—developed the concept that freedom means acting on one’s desires,” Doug has written
. “One of the Buddha’s first and most fundamental awakenings centered on the insight that to act on desire—on impulse, on instinct—is actually a form of bondage. … It’s a pattern, an almost involuntary reflex that actually holds us in bondage to a previous habit pattern. Every time we yield to and act on a habitual desire it becomes more ingrained and consequently harder for us to break in the future. … True freedom paradoxically comes not from getting what you want but from not wanting to get. In short, freedom means being free from desire, free from greed, free from habits.
As Vice President of Finance at the University, Doug has the unique task of applying these principles to the institution’s finances. “You can create any community with any amount of money and if the people themselves don't manifest the values with each other, there's no value to the institution at all. It's just another institution amongst other institutions. Unless you can do something fundamentally different in the way that we both experience ourselves and experience each other, and actually live that life in some kind of a way as a manifestation, what is there for us to institute to do of any value? Just become another institution? I'd rather hang out in a hammock. I'm not interested in creating an institution that's battling other institutions for funding,” he says
“The key is that every time you decide you don't need something you gain that amount of freedom of mind. Every dollar you don't need, you gain freedom of mind. I was taught that money is really a problem because you get habituated in it and you get attached to it and you get bound by it. Money is a bondage. The freer you can be from the money the less of a bondage you have in that way.”
As an early Western disciple of Master Hua, Doug has served in many capacities in DRBU over the years, including administering a refugee program at City of Ten Thousand Buddhas and serving as the principal of Instilling Goodness & Developing Virtue
boys’ school. He holds an MA in Philosophy and Religion from the Graduate Theological Union and an MAT in Political Science from the University of Redlands. He has been on the Adjunct Faculty of the Graduate Theological Union since 2003.
Douglas has been married for nearly 30 years, has children and grandchildren, and lives in Carmel.