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Doug Powers: Cultivating and Teaching Freedom

Apr 15, 2017

Preetha: Excited to be here. 

Audrey: Yeah, that's beautiful. I'll leave it to you to introduce Doug Powers.

Preeta: Doug Powers is our guest today and he's been a teacher at Berkeley High School for nearly forty years. He started in the late 60's and 70's and you know during a time where he described himself as a bit of a happy hippie, in that the San Francisco Bay area of the  50's and 70's. He was a student from early on, exploring student philosophy, early on exploring phenomenology, and the freedom of the mind. And it was during that kind of intellectual study of Philosophy that he first encountered Buddhism in the form of Master Hua in 1973. He became very drawn to Buddhist precepts about the mind, the causes, and conditions of freedom. And so even while embraced and continuing and teaching Western Philosophy, he took upon the study and eventually the practice of Buddhism. He taught I think at Berkeley High for nearly forty years and now he's a professor as well as the Provost, Vice President of Finance, and many other roles within the Dharma realm, Buddhist University which is located about 110 miles north of San Francisco. Doug is incredibly first to say that in both Western Philosophy and Buddhist thought and can speak coherently, compellingly, and clearly about so many esoteric topics about philosophy of the mind. But amazingly in all of his teaching and speaking, he speaks very little about himself and maybe that has something to do with his view about the nature of the self you know, maybe we'll find that out. There is very little you could’ve found out about him online and he said to me earlier, he doesn't use email or social media, and likes to interact with people only in a direct conversation. So he's actually proud of the minimal physical presence, so we're excited to nab him and get him off the record and to explore a little bit about his journey and his own life. So Welcome Doug.

Doug: Thank you, Thank you... It will be great hanging out with you guys today

Preeta: Great. So actually, just how are you today? Where are you and how are you feeling?

Doug: Well, I'm as usual is hanging out with myself here but I'm also in a really beautiful context. I try to hang out both you know in myself but also in a beautiful context, so I'm here and I will really enjoy having a conversation with you.

Preeta: Right.. Now maybe we can start out with a little bit about your personal story. Can you tell us a little bit about how you grew up and some of your early influences before you kind of became a teacher.

Doug: Yeah....It's a bit... I don't know how much detail you want me going back to I think maybe starting with the really great parents who gave me a lot of the basic elements of who I am. They were super involved in social justice and my mother worked at the International House so at dinner we had people from all over the world all the time at dinner. I didn't know that everyone didn't just hang out with everybody in the world when they were 8, 9, 10, 11, 12. And they had, they were the liberal Christians, they were religious but they weren't doctrinaire or anything and they really believed Jesus was about social justice. So I lived with a lot of compassion and also a lot of independence. I think people nowadays would be very surprised by the level of independence a kid had at 8, 9, 10, 11... I rode my bike around Berkeley, went to movies by myself in the Fourth and Fifth grade. I remember listening to Chuck Berry over at somebody's house when the album first came over cause I just remembered that Chuck Berry just passed away. And I was you know, I was talking to someone about remembering listening to the first Chuck Berry album and hanging out with this girl and his house and stuff. I remember I was 10 years old or 11 years. (laughs)
So I think the level of independence very early on and the support for that from my parents was really important. Also my mother very interestingly, she had polio in an epidemic and raised four boys in a wheelchair. So her ability to overcome really difficult problems and yet stay very very positive was was really a lesson and probably was another element of my you know basic upbringing. So yeah, I mean one of the things about that is that I was able to keep them both in their home and in the Oakland Hills by providing support. Both myself, my brothers, and other people, the Dharma friends keeping them in their home, so I was able to actually keep them. My father died at 97, my mother at 93, and I kept them in a home in their environment, in a really positive environment through that whole process.

Preeta: Vow...That's fabulous. How did you get interested in Philosophy and Religion. They seemed to be a really early interest  of yours. Were there conversations in your family around topics like or how does that. 

Doug: I don't think my parents weren't so philosophical because they were really doers, you know they did stuff, and they were involved in politics in a direct social justice way. So, I don't remember them being particularly philosophical, they're more action and more pragmatic-orientated but there were a lot of values. For one thing that we lived in the Oakland hills, within a forest and we went to the mountain, there was really a love of nature, it was there early on. But, I think the philosophy more came from a little bit later on I mean I went through the usual kind of rebellion. I guess you know if you go back to even thinking about Chuck Berry at eleven years old, there was this kind of rebellion against authority that kind of got going in 57  to date, 59 - 60, even before 60's. There was this sort of James Dean snarl, you know this kind of Chuck Berry attitude that I was remembering  that you know a bunch of us I think kind of picked up even in the late 50's and early 60's, before even the later Sixties. So I think it more comes from my personal experience and rebellion of the Sixties that did a lot of questions arose within the context of that rebellion that led to philosophical issues.

Preeta: Hmm hmm...Can you spell that out a little bit?

Doug: That's a big issue, it's like a 4 hour conversation but  I think it was this. It kind moved from rebellion to authority to a kind of...  And also I have to say that we moved from Berkeley to Oakland and so I actually kind of hung out in the streets of Oakland. I wouldn't quite say I was in gangs, but my good buddy supports, I had a bunch of buddies that was a real cross section of people and later on my really good buddies became bodyguards of Angela Davis.  So, I had a really diverse really early.. you know, how do I put it ...You know kind of rebellious,  kind of dangerous, sort of intensity, and sort of that then led into the Sixties. As it went into the Sixties, it morphed into this rebellion that had to do with you know everything, you know music, life style, drugs, sexuality, there was a kind of completely explosion of freedom of impulse, sort of got let loose. But the problem was  that although I know I was into music and all that, in my personal experience of it by and actually feeling that through. Ugh, there was some problems because like although there was this impulsive freedom it said it seemed like it constantly got entangled in something.  That freedom went in a certain direction and it got entangled in something. So I guess I was really interested in thinking more philosophically and analytical about what was actually going on in the experience of that.

Preeta: Vow, that's amazing. So how did you get interested in the workings of the mind and phenomenology?

Doug: Well. You know I just read a lot.  I think one of the things that people don't realize that a lot of people don't realize is part of the Sixties, the late Sixties was that everybody I knew read a lot of philosophy and literature instead of not had something they were doing in school and class but just as part of their you know their intensity of life was not only drugs, sex, music, it was also reading you know profound text and be moved by new ideas. You know and people like at seventeen, eighteen, and nineteen read Nietzsche and Heidegger's and you know I mean not everybody. So you know it's kind of a natural process to begin to think, to begin to actually have you know reflections that were more philosophical, and that gives you structures already gives you structures to begin to think about your experience through. Because if you're just experiencing yourself in your senses, then your immediate experiences don't have some kind of structure to put it in, then you think your immediate experience is the totality of existence that you don't have another framework. So unless you have that distance, what one good thing that reading does at a certain level philosophical reading is it gives you a distance of another mind, and  another experience to experience yourself through then begins to give you that sense of a little distance from just your own experience.

Preeta: And you talk about. the freedom of the SIxties and the various forms it took, the external forms it took to get entangled in something else. And you said you kind of could feel that. Did you have that consciousness of your senses and the kind of reactions of your senses and freedom. Or was it your mind and philosophy leading you to that?

Doug: No I think because of my upbringing, I think I had,  I remember you know having were the entanglements were a lot more with other people like I think I had a natural respect for other people like at the level they were having their experience. And somehow just going out from your impulses  didn't allow you to be careful enough about other people. You know, you were like there's that kind of thing when you're in your own senses,  experiencing stuff from your own world, you're not careful about other people they become projections of your mind; kind of narcissistic projections rather.  And I think I was always sensitive enough to other people that they had to be much more careful about other people in terms of the effect. I think that's really what led me to be wanting to be more careful.

Preeta: Interesting. And during that time a kind of experimentation of the Sixties, did you have any spiritual practices at that time?

Doug: I was, my spiritual practices was Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones and you know... yeah, I had spiritual practice. Spiritual practice was always the freedom, kind of sense of freedom and awe and wonder that had to do with nature and music and relationship and so forth. And how you could develop that to something of a transformation of wonder. If you live in a world of infinite possibilities  where you can do anything, how do you choose what you do, and then how do you turn whatever you choose into not a limitation but an opening to something else.

Preeta: Hmmmmm. That's really profound. So in nature, and music you were I guess you fielded and find your way through choosing these issues.

Doug: Actually the way I ended up in the monastery was actually decided through a phenomenological analysis of how so I started using phenomenology to kind of like enter a bunch of different intense experiences. Because phenomenology points out  that the only way you would know something about something is that you enter into the actual experience of that, would it be another person, another frame of reference, or another point of view.

Doug: So the summer before I ended up in the monastery I went up in the mountains for a couple of months and lived by myself. So I got super intense, and one of the things in the process of doing that is that you see where the limitations of you taking care of yourself are, that being with yourself completely with no reference other than yourself that there is limited capacity. You begin to understand that. So a lot of the later interest in why I was interested in Buddhism was a possibility of a way to be comfortable with myself because I could see that the basis of freedom was a deeper level of being comfortable with solitude, being comfortable with what you chose to do in relation to other people. Having a sense of loyalty and trust that at the end of the day there was a kind of appreciation of following through on something rather than just kind of an impulsive action. This all took more wisdom than just immediate impulse.

Preeta: So you spent the summer up in the mountains - which mountains?
Doug: I went up to the Sierra Nevadas and I walked through the Sierra Nevadas going up at the very top of the mountains.
Preeta: Wow. Was that during or after college?
Doug: That was right after college. Right after graduating I started teaching in Berkeley in 1969.  I chose that because in trying to figure out the best way to use my time and effort it seemed like the place where society came together, where all the elements of society come together is at a high school, before university has split everyone off into different groups. It’s a place where there was a real diversity of people and where the social dynamic was really super alive. And also you have time with people, in a classroom you have a semester or a year. There's a possibility for a transformation to occur in all that time so you know for lots of reason I chose that as a focus. Right after I graduated with my masters degree in teaching I just started teaching in sixty nine. I stayed there  off and on at Berkeley Berkeley High for forty years. So one of the things is working with institutions -- they go on and just doing stuff yourself it’s just whatever your thing is, and then you go and that’s okay. But institutions they do keep going so the influence is longer. I had already started teaching before I went further with that so I was already teaching at that time. 
Preeta: How did you get exposed to Buddhism?
Doug:That was  actually again due to phenomenology. When I got up in the mountains by myself I realized, I don’t have a lot of tools. When you take yourself out of the usual day to day life you realize your sanity is actually based on your babits. And when you pull yourself out of that entirely there isn’t any ground of your mind that you can use as a marker, as a frame of reference, because it takes away all the frames of reference that you identify yourself through. And then you’re kind of lost. So I realized I needed to find some kind of road map for what the mind, the deeper level of the mind  was. And I came across some Buddhist stuff through readings and it seemed like that was a really interesting possibility as a roadmap. So with my phenomenological approach I decided I would go live in a monastery for six or eight weeks and not leave the front door and see what happened with that.So I had no real interest in it other than as a kind of philosophical personal thing that would be interesting to see if I could get something out of in terms of this road map. 
Preeta: And how did you find the monastery?
Doug: It was just pure pure I mean we would call it in the West serendipity. Of course everything is causal but let’s not go there. It just was complete chance. My really close girlfriend woman friend in Berkeley we just happened to on the front desk where she was working at GTU  Graduate Theological Union and one of the nuns in the monastery brought a little leaflet over and hand it to them to put up. And she knew I was like looking around for this Buddhist thing so she handed it to me and then I went over there and they told me, “Don’t come, because Master Hua won’t be here he's going on a trip,” and I said, “Well I'm coming anyway.” and I came anyway and it was complete chaos when I was there so but there was only like seven people living there the whole of DRB that is now the city of ten thousand buddhas was then 7 people in the mission on 15th street.
Preeta: So tell us a little bit about Master Hua and why did you choose to go to his monastery?
Doug:I didn’t choose to go to his place. Other than that I got this leaflet. I had no idea about anything. No context. It was just pure I don’t even know. Obviously there's some reasons I don't understand even know. But anyway, there was no choice I just got it. And he wasn't there so I hung out with these guys over there the monks and nuns over there. I had no idea what the heck was going on. When I left I was really happy to get back to hippiedom. Then he came back and somebody called me and said, “You were here, come back.” And I went back and he was doing a chan session so I went back and did a chan session. And I actually don’t even know, I couldn't tell you  -- Basically I guess he was basically saying, “I have more freedom than you have.” And I said, “No, I definitely have more freedom you have.” And we kind of a freedom war I guess is what happened. 
Audrey: And this is a really interesting image that you’re painting. Because the monastery at that time was in a converted mattress factory on 15th street.
Doug: Yes I mean going back now and hanging out with millenniums in the Mission I always walk by it you know. And memory you know, yeah.
Audrey: When people think of monasteries you think of this serene place where you're striving for inner peace. Can you describe what it’s like to randomly show up at this monastery, the head abbot is not there. You’re with these newly converted monks and nuns. What was that like? What happened?
Doug: Well they were all western. It was the wild west. It was the closest to the wild west that you could possibly get. Everyone was just barely starting in being monks and nuns and they were living in this community the women and the men didn’t get along at all. And it was a constant -- there were these big windows in the back and they had this big thing you had to push them up and down. The women wanted them up, the men wanted them down so they were banging open and shut every five minutes. And I didn’t know anything about Buddhism and they were reading some part of a sutra on the demon stage --I had no idea what was going on. I can't even describe it. Although I didn’t know what was going on, it was fine, it was in keeping with the 60s and 70s. It was in a day that you were walking across University Ave getting from one friend’s place to another friend’s place and you put out your hand to hitchhike and somebody picked you up that was going to Eugene and you got right there in your sandals, went to Eugene in the truck and then started a new life and then four weeks later you remembered, “Oh no, no, no, I was going to somebody's house I got to go back!” I remember hitchhiking in ‘67 and The Hollies picked me and brought me to London and you just hang out with The Hollies and rock people. It was just in keeping with the general chaos of the time.
Preeta: So after that first chaotic encounter at the monastery, the first session, what kept you going and brought you back?
Doug:I have no idea. I really don’t have any idea. There was something that, Master Hua was the chan patriarch of Buddhism. His teacher died at 120 and he didn’t know English real well though with me he spoke English most of the time because I was too stupid to learn Chinese --he said you’re too stupid I’ll just talk in English. First he lived in the haight nobody knew who he was. He was just this Chinese guy who came over here to bring Buddhism to the west. Didn't put himself up in any kind of way at all and just kind of hung out until something happened. And he was a nomad too. He went from China to Hong Kong and then he was a nomad into the US an invisible nomad. So I don’t know. Running across him, he was like He manifested a kind of absolute freedom. As a nomad where nothing could hook him, money couldn’t, sex couldn't. Nothing was interesting to him in that way. And yet he was like super profound. But nothing -- the regular stuff that everybody is interested it never crossed his mind. Money, sex -- too boring to think about. So there’s this whole other realm of freedom and possibility that isn’t even available here in any kind of way and how do you get there -- so it was kind of a curiosity how do you get to that kind of nomad freedom., A really good description of this is in a Thousand plateaus by -- they have this image of somebody on the back of a camel. Somebody is writing on the back of a camel at full speed across the desert absolutely still going nowhere. (laughs) 
Preeta: And so what was he like in terms of his personal qualities? Was he severe? Was the joyful? What was his personal demeanor?
Doug:He was completely free. I wouldn't I wouldn't say he was limited to be joyful. That would be kind of a mood. He was more free than joyful. But he was like very intense. He was in his own experience he was obviously completely free, but in his interaction with other people he took each person really seriously and wanted each person to actually gain the freedom of their nature, and not be so caught up in whatever their identity was. You know everybody's got this point of view and identity and everybody sees things from that point of view and he wanted to really, really undermine and undercut the limitation of your identity. So in order to do that, it's can feel pretty ruthless. You’re pretty wedded to your identity you know so to actually undermine that identity is a pretty interesting process. So every time you get a project -- but remember as soon as I moved in the monastery to be still it turns out he was this super mahayana master who said there is absolutely no use in developing stillness unless that stillness is completely engaged in the world in every way so if the stillness isn't equal on Broadway and you know on fifty six Street in New York City or in a mountain or in a monastery it isn’t real stillness. 
Preeta: And did you say you moved into the monastery at some point?
Doug: Well I lived there a lot off and on. I lived in Berkeley and there again I've always been in a mode of living kind of all different places. But between Berkeley and there I lived there and as I spent more time there you know we did  all kinds of from the monastery while I was teaching and I did a lot of  different kinds of things, one of the things that we were doing was from that monastery we then went up and got the City of ten thousand Buddhas and some other places, and then started schools, elementary to high school. The university got started there. And then we ran a refugee program for resettling refugees. So from sitting in the monastery I actually entered the world going 350,000 miles a year flying because I commuted to NY every week and Asia all the time doing all the refugee work from the monastery.,
Preeta: Wow. So all this is going on while you were still teaching at Berkeley High.
Doug: Yeah off and on. I remember one or two years there I was actually running the refugee program I was actually chairman of the California refugee program, teaching at Berkeley High,running a hotel that somebody had given the a teacher that was in SF and taking four classes and a doctoral program. (laughs) So I had these briefcases that were labeled. And I couldn't remember where I was, so finally I went to the Master and said, “I don't have one space between one thought and another.” And he said, “Really good. You can't have any false thinking there.” 
Preeta: Did you that you take up personal Buddhist practices at some point, meditation and all the things that go along with that?
Doug: It was very clear right away. In order to do this kind of freedom that he was about there’s a whole Buddhist framework for it. All these sutras are like a roadmap, they are like guidebooks. And he was a manifestation of those. So you had to do meditation obviously because meditation is stilling the mind. It starts by observing and not being moved by things arising and being aware of awareness. It’s a process that a person goes through and the process of cultivating the mind ground there are all kinds of road maps. So he had very intense meditation retreats for 21 hours a day you got up at 2:30 in the morning sat for an hour walked for fifteen minutes, till twelve at night one break at lunch. It was all monastic. So living with monastics in a really intense practice, I didn’t know anything different so I didn’t know there was another Buddhism. I thought that was what it was. It was really super intense and then precepts! So right away he said no one is doing any of this meditation or working with generosity and compassion unless you have taken precepts. Because unless you get control over these basic impulses, these aspects of human -- humans interact in certain kinds of ways at this time and the way they interact there are all kinds of impulsive actions not just in the mind but in the body too to get control of. Of course taking precepts right away no alcohol or drugs just doing that one precept completely transforms your context because before that, assuming that all that was the road to freedom, and then all of a sudden moving to give those up, you have to go through a transformation of seeing what the freedom is, and the mind from, where it’s the freedom of impulse, and those drugs and stuff are helping the freedom of impulse, to seeing, actually yourself, the mind ground where something arising and then the infinite consciousness, the infinite time and space of your consciousness you can actually see it collapsing on the object of desire. And kind of collapsing infinity into this very limited focus. You have to actually be able to see that transformation of the mind from one kind of freedom to the other, and that takes some discipline. 
Preeta: That’s remarkable. I noticed that you’re married with a wife and kids and grandkids. Where in all this, when you were doing your running a refugee program teaching doing all this stuff,  where did you find time to meet your wife?
Doug:  Well, Carol was a friend back in the old days. She was actually the younger sister of one of my best friends. And our families actually knew each other from back in the fifties and sixties and in fact I think maybe in sixties we might have gone out on a couple of dates or something and hung out. So then in the meantime she actually got married to somebody I introduced her to. Anyway in the meantime she got  married and she also said that you are way too reckless and dangerous to marry until you get to at least forty before you even had any possibility of being stable enough to not kill yourself every day so you were way too dangerous in it to you even think about in any way whatsoever. She was sort of an open space and I hung out with her a little bit and so then she had a couple of kids who were just at kind of adolescent age and I'm like sort of an expert at adolescence. I'm one of the few people that really love sixteen seventeen year olds, any energy of  them because I've never really gotten past sixteen or seventeen myself.  I've always been a rebellious teenager so even now so I really can identify with a rebellious teenager. I still like James Dean smell is where I am and a little irony on top of that.  But she was always totally supportive of my cultivation and that although I've been married for almost thirty years I am here only on the weekends. So all the week, every week for the whole time I was either in Berkeley or been to City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in Ukiah or teaching at Berkeley or university stuff and doing that the whole time so I am here only on the weekends.  I'm only down on the weekends and she's completely supportive of it. The key I mean is if you want to do relationships and also be on a journey, a spiritual journey, and then people relate to each other have to be completely support of each other's cultivation. If you both people can support each other's cultivation there's actually some support in that. Marriage is just  saying I will actually be there for you if you need me then you can only say that to one person but if it is two then you can’t actually say that. 
Preeta:  Well, let's talk about your time as teacher.  In your forty year incredible career as a high school teacher. You said that it was a way to start transforming people before they get caught up in boxes potentially away from transforming culture.  What do you think of our education and after looking at how well education in our schools how well are they doing transform?
Doug:  It's you know that's a very sad tale. And watching for forty years I mean that's about a five hour conversation so I don't know how far to get into that. But you're right, I mean you actually hit on the nail on the head why I was interested in it.  It  was the place you could transform closer I think the most effective because you have more time with people you can actually work with people actually. I love that age because they're in the first formation of a narrative.  Later on they're usually too disappointed, by twenties even by the late twenty's they're already reacting to either a narrative that works which is already trapped in their views of that or a narrative that doesn't work that already works in the disappointment at that so I don't know it's OK but it's kind of late. When the narrative is transforming is a really good opportunity to first of all have a seventeen year old realize that the perspective is to be on their own that's the first step and that is really profound thought and emotions and so it would be on the world that they're living in their own personal experience and then once you can get them to see that this is really profound stuff going on outside their own experience and realize that whatever perspective you have, whatever narrative you have in it kind of the first person. I always teach everywhere is Nietzsche. Nietzsche is the eternal adolescent even the perspective you're using is relative to context  I mean the postmortem modern world only has one difference in the tradition and that's to realize that you can choose a perspective and it's relative to context and at any vantage point you're coming at stuff from that you think is true is not really true in the way you mean it to be true. It's just a vantage point and so to get him to realize that it's not just their emotions and the issue is the entire structure and view and identity that they're bringing to their experience and to get them to understand it. The first thing that for a weak I get to work on kind of on happiness formula. As far as you go you you could either change the narrative. The narrative is the internal story you're telling about yourself that you're just making up and then there's a certain amount of capital that you  would need for different kinds of storylines.  I mean if you have material capital, cultural capital, social capital, symbolic capital you need some kind of capital.  It is the relationship between the narrative story and the amount of capital you're willing to go out and work for and create that matches that narrative so you're more free in the narrative than you are in the capital so you have to choose which way whether you want to give up time for capital or do you want to change the narrative by giving time to working on the narrative --  just like that in the first couple weeks. 
Preeta: I understand you had experience talking about education with the senior President Bush, can you talk about that?
Doug: Yeah well I mean. Yeah when I was writing the refugee program actually it was actually main place that I had some influence on Bush was actually in California. I did talk to Bush but that was more with the refugee program issue. We met with him around refugee actually we did talk about education about but in California Governor Wilson decided he was going to cut whether Proposition ninety six or something. He was going to cut the funding which it said a certain percentage of the money had to go to education and so he was oppressing and so Master Hua had dinner with him. So Master Hua like you just tell him that he won't get reelected if he doesn't support education. He told me that you've got to get that across to him. So he's coming over to dinner with him and there was all these sort of people I didn't know. They were all these entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley and so I was sitting. I didn't know how to break it because he just kept talking. I had to break in because Master Hua asked me to take care of this. Really sorry to break in as I am going in but why are you trying to support a revolution of overthrow of the government through your education program and everybody's food fell,  a lot of people’s forks fell. He could see his entire brain come to a screeching stop like what did he just say and so when you had that split second there I was able to like rush in and say not supporting public education and supporting private education that different segments of society going and educating themselves. The point of public education is you have a set of values that we have in common with each other and as soon as you start doing individual education from their own little -- breaking the society into component parts and have them do their own education then you lose that platform to create common values and so how you know you are not creating a revolution and alternative eyes working on common set of values. I've been told since you don't have defence because usually you know that's what Republicans used as defence -- the fear of the other that's what Republicans did. Democrats are supposed to use like education so I said you won't get reelected if you did not change the policy. His office did call and I talked to him and he did change of policy and from that his platform turned to where he set up a thing where the first three years of public school the class size could be no more than twenty and funded that. That came from that conversation. 
Audrey:  Wow
Preeta: So you taught for forty years and had the effect on people in their formative years presumably a couple of generations. What made you step over to teaching at DRBU? 
Doug:  You know well I mean I'm really dedicated. I could talk a lot about the transformation of the public schools. I think we made some headway. I mean I would say you know from the time I started this move,  there was a lot of the fundamental problem of public education and education is a lack of expectations of students. For some reason you know starting in the Seventies and Eighties educators just had dumbed down education or make it related to the individual in some kind of way but there's a kind of unconscious liberal racism in dumbing down education or making it fit the student because nothing in society in terms of work or experience or research changes.  So you still needed the same level of technological knowledge to make an income that you could survive off of.  To make eighty, ninety, one hundred forty thousand dollars which you need in the Bay to survive you still need to have education. Society didn't change, corporate needs didn't change in terms of knowledge, the level of knowledge that people really had to have in order to function within a society actually became more technological during that forty years and education tried to fit the education more and more to the adolescent mind of the people. The first thing I said in class is I'm really sorry you guys I know you everyone is saying they were interested in your personal experience. what would be the point of me even being here if I wasn’t trying to give you something other than your personal experience. I think it started with a good point and did that just sitting there and lecturing, throwing stuff out. You want to bring stuff to the individual but that mistake was that it didn't keep high end of standards for everybody and expect everybody of all races, all groups, all genders that they had to come to the same level and then provide support for that.  In the last five or six years they had it in the African-American study --  a good friend of my Bob McKnight because I really love him he and I realized we had to change the rhetoric of the whole thing to -- the racism was really not having equally high expectations not adjusting the entire construct to meet that particular need of a different t viewpoint although you wanted to make sure that it was in the curriculum that a different viewpoint actually undermines the student’s ability to be successful. It might help some people academia but not all. Any way it's a big topic but so I think we tried to bring back through a series of programs and try to bring back high levels of expectations to our students and change the rhetoric to racism as not having equal expectations of our students and bringing them to that level rather than transforming education to bring it to the other without recognizing that what you want to do is bring success within the context of the society you live in when you're talking about an adolescent. We can talk about all the other stuff later on. We can have a kind of academic conversations about [????] minded stuff but when it comes down education it has to be about actually transforming it so it works for those students in the context of the real world in which they live. 
Preeta:  So what’s your experience with DRBU (Dharma Realm Buddhist University)?
Doug: So moving on to DRBU,  the big issue is bringing Buddhism to the West is a huge project so the DRBU is an opportunity. Master Hua really saw that. His main goal here was to bring Buddhism to the West and in order to do that, you have to bring all this huge mechanism that is mostly found in Sanskrit Bali, Chinese and in different cultural constricts and that needs to be brought to the West.  To bring into the western universities,  really the monastic community is really important, schools are really important. But the university would is an opportunity to bring Buddhism to the West and by having it accredited which is what we've been mainly working on lately and we're really at the last stages of that. It gives an opportunity for us to bring the actual mechanism of Buddhism and insights and show how even within Western thought and in many different modes of thought, the fundamental foundation of what’s being talked about there is to be found like in all different kinds of great books and all different kinds of traditions.  So the university is setup to have people study different strands and from different cultural backgrounds and see the foundations that are found there for the end and lead the students to kind of finding their own foundation or their own wisdom and having a confidence in their own foundations of their own wisdom. The main goal that Master Hua wanted to have for education was for them to find the ground of their own experience because from a Buddhist view human nature is really positive. It's not negative. The western has a sort of negative view towards human nature but Buddhism has a view that human nature is naturally contented, compassionate, enjoys generosity, enjoys aesthetics, and enjoys it has a basically, fundamentally positive nature that we could share with each other in a really positive way if we relate each other with positive values. And that the negative aspects that we find around us aren't in human nature. These are things that are created from society, created from dysfunctional ways that we communicate and so we need to bring back to students the sense of that so then they can transform the world to embodying that. 
Preeta:  It's amazing how many students does DRBU have and where do they come from?
Doug: Right now we have between the grad the M.A. program we  just started, so it is new we've been around for a long time but the new accredited program has been around for a few years. We're still just in the second year of the undergraduate program and the graduate program is only been operating for a couple of years two or three years too. So the graduate programs mainly zeroed in on hermeneutics which is this structure through which we experience and perceive and so that having a comparative hermeneutics where students can study Buddhist text but also Western context so they can see as they translate concepts from Buddhist Sutras the whole history of western thought that they'd have to translate that into. So the problem is the terminology has to be translated into a whole another way, we've got a whole another culture and we're still like probably in kindergarten in that process. It took China a long time to bring Indian Buddhism in to China. It is going to take probably I don't know, couple of hundred years to make the mechanism of Buddhism sort of a commonsense element of western, modern thought. And so you know the university probably universities thing is to try to be involved in that practice and bring students through that process at the same time. And so the graduate program just zeroing on that, studying Buddhist texts, Western hermeneutics  over then the relationship between how you bring these texts into the modern mind and the undergraduate is to give the students a cross-section over four years of different strands -- Chinese Indian, Buddhist, Western, Scientific, Mathematical concepts. What are the grounds of these different strands of thinking to see the common deep elements of human nature and each in a positive way and then how to not only in themselves get in touch with that but be able to communicate with people throughout the world from different points of view, different constructs, different cultural constructs. Because ultimately the goal of the student is to both develop his wisdom that is grounded in this kind of stillness but also have that completely balanced with a sense of generosity and a sense of community based on generosity because ultimately civilization is how much generosity there is and so the balance between stillness and generosity is really important to develop in students. 
Preeta: I wanted to ask about your role as finance director.  I mean you're obviously such a multi talented, multi faceted person and the fact that you're a professor, you lead the academic program at University but you also are a finance director of the University.  I am curious how do you go about fundraising and the material needs of keeping the institutions alive and the freedom and that desire to be free from the constraints that money can place on an institution, how do you balance that and yet serve your role as finance director?
Doug:  Well, as you know you're talking two questions institution and individual. So I'll just talk maybe more as a teacher I mean. We don't really do fund raising. We chalk up basically and we give people an opportunity. Because k I think my view or our view is that money's a responsibility and I try to stay away from it as much as possible not because I think anything is wrong with it but because I just don't want the responsibility of it. So I want to try to keep as -- every dollar has the karma of the whole world running through it. So touching a dollar is an interconnected web of everything so you have to use it really carefully. People just don’t all realize the level of really subtleness of the whole thing of money and the karma of it. So people that have it, that are responsible have to use it for something purposeful and useful or else they've completely wasted their time getting it. There's no purpose in it at all. I mean getting money has no purpose unless there's some reason you want to use it for -- for compassion, good and generosity otherwise people just get uptight,  irritated, want to hold on to it, start wars and stuff. I think we provide an opportunity for people who have resources that if they could see what we're trying to do in the good, we're trying to bring about and that it gives them an opportunity to use their money in a very useful way. Nobody gets paid any differently and the entire hierarchy gets paid the same. Nobody gets paid more. And everyone gets paid just on the basis of survival because if you made more than that then there'd be some other purpose involved in it and if there's another purpose involved then the problem is in the karma of you being involved in the institutions then it is already a problem. So you had to have everything running just right. The amount people getting paid,  if they're not getting paid then they can't do it.If they're getting paid too much and there are for reasons other than just doing it and then they're losing the blessings of doing it. So there's a theoretically perfect place where money can be used perfectly in every context within the causing additions as being used and if you can get the closest to that place it will take care of itself. 
Preeta:  Wow. You don't fundraise, you provide an opportunity for people or resources to use their accumulated karma, the form of money, in a certain way, in a useful way. How do you identify those people?
Doug: We don't.. Anybody listening to this must be thinking how do these people ever function? No, we don't really. We're not organized in a way to do very much in that regard. We don't go out and do anything when anybody else does we just talk to people and see if somebody is interested because we don't even ask anybody exactly. Somebody sees the possibility. We would probably have to get better at it I guess. I guess we had to organize, we had to maybe get out there a little bit more so people can even understand what we're trying to do and then have the opportunity. But it's just through conversations with people and people who have affinities or come across in some kind of way. I think we do need to do a better job getting out there so people have the opportunity but we don't ask people for it. I mean master Hua never asked anybody for anything. There's no need to ask. If people want it, if they want to do something with responsibly with what they've got and that's great if they don't then they just going to be all tied up and in the bitterness of their own like greed. So it is an opportunity for people to not be greedy that's all. 
Audrey:  On that note we actually got a question. Someone anonymously submitted a question through live stream from planet earth.  Here’s their question: You mentioned something like, "Generosity is the mark of a civilization." Clearly, Buddha spoke about 'daana' (which is perhaps more charity than generosity) and Bodhisattvas cultivate this ground of compassionate offerings. But from a modern context, can you speak a bit more about the nuances of generosity and how it relates to culture?

Doug: Well sure, I mean generosity -- generosity is a basic nature of humanity that feels really really good when you do it and it's also like a major marker of cultivation -- you can develop all the stillness you want and all the wisdom that you want but until that wisdom is actually integrated with the cause of the conditions of the whole world that we live in, it's just a kind of narcissistic self reflection so from the maya that has to engage the whole world. In the first move of engaging the world is this incredible sense of wanting to give. The generosity of giving which feels super good and when people are able to develop that generosity, it opens up their heart that is the other component of the stillness. The stillness and the generosity are one and the same. They're alike they just go together. And then you measure a person by the generosity,  and eventually you need markers and somebody’s stillness you can't really measure their generosity.  There is generosity of time, generosity whatever and of course civilization is giving individuals the opportunity for freedom and then does people who have gained something from that freedom sharing that with others is the mark of civilization.  If you don't have the two of those, there's no civilization and there is barbaric uncivilized existence. Those have to be brought together. Stillness is the ground where the awareness can observe and gain wisdom. Generosity is the heart in its natural condition sharing - sharing spirit, sharing aesthetic, whatever aspect of sharing.

Audrey:  Right. I am curious you had this opportunity to spend time with his incredible Mahayana Buddhist master, Master Hua, and you first mentioned that you were kind of drawn into it by going to this freedom war with him when you met him.  Can you describe a little bit more about what do you mean by this “freedom war” ? What happened?
Doug:  Well, I was pretty free because I could do anything I wanted.  I had no super ego, could go anywhere in the world and do anything I want. So I thought that was freedom and he said well, “Yeah, that is a kind of freedom and the problem is that every time that freedom comes down on something you have no idea how to make a choice, you can't see, you have no wisdom to see any infinity of choice and you have no way to see or have wisdom within that to see the causation of action, so that you any action you're going to take is getting to bound up in something. So you have to develop much more discipline of mind to open up that awareness of awareness that gets past where the compulsion comes up from the unconscious. As soon as you're done sitting away and then you're just more free and if you don't have constraints. The greater freedom you get the more possibility is for getting on bothers stuff that you're confused and so you have to go really far out of the awareness of awareness and then at some point you know you can gain a kind of real freedom which is a freedom from the desire. The only problem with seeing that is that you're only looking at stuff from that freedom, from the limitations of your own narrative and your own desire. If you get rid of your own narrative and desire then that freedom could be realized and experienced and explored and the aesthetics of it could be explored and experienced in a really open and free way and not have it be limited by the limitations of your own view and desires. 
Audrey: Did you had a dialogue with Master Hua? How did how did you come to see this view?  It sounds like before when you were on the hippie side of the freedom war the conversations were test drugs and roll but then you teacher was talking about this other kind of freedom that you were describing. 
Doug: Yeah, I really like that freedom and I didn't have any problems with it. It wasn't that I was like kind of unhappy with it and I was looking for something like it.  It was just like watch experiencing him in his manifestation of that, I could see that in a lot of ways he was a lot more free than I was. Over time I just watched him, I traveled with him to Malaysia, I was around him and just watching that form of nomadism and that form of freedom, I could see something about there was really a freedom of mind and not only freedom of mind but then that freedom of mind was reengaged in the total dynamic causal constricts of the universe at the same time. So it wasn't like a stillness or emptiness that was removed, it was a stillness or emptiness that was completely engaged. So stillness and emptiness being completely engaged at the same time and everything is going on. That’s pretty pretty deep. And watching the actual manifestation of that was pretty remarkable. 
Audrey: Yeah I remember you sharing before about how when all of you would work at the monastery and whenever you got comfortable in a certain position then Master Hua would end up switching things and ask you to head up some refugee programs or something else.
Doug:  Right, you were supposed to really do whatever you did really really well and if you didn't do a really really well and really pay attention to it then you get really criticized and if you got attached to doing it anyway then it got taken away. You had to do something really well but you had to do it not with attachment to it because if you got attached then that was knocked out from because then that means you started limiting your frame of reference again by the attachment. 
Audrey: With those lessons were there any particular moment or lessons with your teacher that really stand out to you?
Doug:  See I mean it was more of a general sense of stuff 
Audrey: Is there a memorable story of when you tried to go mountaineering with him?
Doug:  I mean, I can have a really quick thing there. I was travelling with him in Malaysia and we were given all this speech. I mean for one thing it was like really crazy because we were given these talks to thousand people and I looked like some kind of Aborigine that they had picked up in Borneo or something like that. I had this beard and it went straight out and I really did look like an Aborigine. And he had us up on that front there and giving talks to Chinese in Malaysia they were going, “where did you pick up this Aborigine guy?” and he actually never said a word about it.  I don't even know like now looking back I was totally mad but I decided I was like I have to go climb the Himalayas and he said, “No no no no no you don't know what you're doing? Don't go climb the Himalayas now but maybe sometime.  I don't think it's a really good idea and you don't see that causing additions all well”.  And so I was up in Malaysia. In those days I was kind of traveling around the world like India, Sri Lanka. So I remember this exchange -- I said well I'm going to go because I'm in North and it's cheaper for me to go from here and he said, “ Ok I will give you any amount of money you want,  give you right now and then you don't need to go right”.  I said, “ No, no I still want to go.  I'm going to go because the weather is better right now”.   He said, “Ok, I'll take care of the weather, when you get there would you wait a little”. I said, “ I don't know”.I guess really my story is that you have no idea what you're doing, you're just going to go anywhere and so I went to Burma, Thailand, Nepal and stuff. And then I was climbing Annapurna and landed forty feet down with my head first and then had to be helicoptered out. It's all a big story. 
Audrey:  Oh my God.  How did you fall?
Doug: Oh I just was out there.  It was a crystal clear night and I was up by about seventeen eighteen thousand feet on Annapurna.  I just met this guy in Burma and he'd been living in Asia for about three years and we didn't have any equipment or any sherpas or anything. We just had our tennis shoes and Levis. He didn't have a sleeping bag. We got him a sleeping bag and a coat and we just headed across the Himalayas with no guides or anything. We didn't even know where Annapurna was and we just had to ask me where is Annapurna. But I was completely reckless and we just started climbing Annapurna. We didn't have anything. We ended up in some village up about twelve thousand feet and we got some cheese and put them in our backpack and started climbing. So I don't even you know what to say so I got up there. We were in this little cave, it was like I don't know ten o'clock and as I was looking up at the stars, it is really bright stars, up there and then people were coming past us to go climb up high. They were going up there that oh yeah it's a year that the women who came from Berkeley to climb Annapurna, two or three of them fell off and died or something. It was that summer nineteen seventy eight or so. So I was looking up there and actually literally I don't know because it was literally like I don't really know I was standing there and then I just fell off. I don't even know I remember that time, I don't know why it almost like something pushed me or something like that and I just landed in and of course since I landed on my head, I crushed my skull.  The other guy had to drag these hunters down a little further and they dragged me up and I just laid there for a week because in those days there wasn't the same kind of communication so I laid there a bunch of days until somebody sent somebody to get a helicopter from the Royal Nepalese Army from the US Embassy or something like that so and it's a big one so that's OK. 
Audrey:  And yeah that’s interesting story and when you came back what did Master Hua say?

Doug: Well, he said, "Where are you? Are you still alive?" And I said, "Yeah, I guess so because I'm talking on the phone." 

So he says, "Come back up here."

So I go back up into the city and I'm sitting there. And Master Hua says, "Oh, Golay back. He go to kill himself. Come up here."

He said, "How many times did I tell you not to go?"

I said, "Maybe three or four."

And he said, "You Western guys, you are so headstrong. I told you don't go up there. You go up there and you go kill yourself. You actually killed yourself. You remember, you actually died. You actually died. Buddhism Bodhisattva had to go and save you. I sure hope you don't make a big as mess out of this life as you did the last one." 

Audrey: That is great. Thank you, Doug. We have a question from Brenda in the Bay Area. She asks, "Can you share more about relationships that are rooted in spirituality? What qualities are most important in cultivating these relationships?"

Doug: Actually, if you cultivate, you might actually be able to relate, and if you don't cultivate, I'm not sure if you can, because it's all the traits. A little bit of stillness of mind, you might actually listen to somebody else in their own experience of themselves rather than an interpretation of themselves through your needs, desires, wants, and views. So you don't actually relate unless you cultivate as far as I can see. 

If you actually have a little bit of stillness, a little bit of awareness, and you can actually listen to somebody else, not from your own vantage point, then you are experiencing them from their own experience. Then if you care or love them, then you just accord with their conditions. 

If you are cultivating, you should be confident enough in your own stillness, that the other person isn't about neediness. The other person is about sharing existence and not about solving problems that cannot be solved about human existence. So then you support--the goal of the relationship is to support each other in cultivating the independence, the freedom, the confidence in the other person. And they are doing that with you. A really good relationship needs each other less and less and less. And then relates out of supporting each other's greater and greater independence, and greater and greater confidence in their own spiritual foundations and finds great joy and independence in the freedom of the other person. 

And then when you come back together, you are sharing completely new existence every day. Rather than in the mechanism of the pattern of control or "you do this, I did this." Endlessly doing what people are doing, and I have no idea what they are doing. 

Preeta: So related to that, I read this really interesting thing you wrote about freedom. You talked about [the prison aspect???] of the Western notion of freedom, about how getting more and more and more, people think they are getting freer because from that power maze. You said  this interesting thing about how no matter how big someone's bubble and no matter how much they have, we are always living up against the edges or boundaries of our bubble. So no matter how much you have, you are always still living at the point of scarcity or insufficiency. When you are always bumping up against someone's bubble, the only way to be free is to give up will all together. 

Doug: Yeah, that is actually Schopenhauer. If you put Schopenhauer and Deleuze and the stuff on habits and Nietzsche all together, you can see that they were into the question of power and freedom. In terms of analyzing ourselves, what ultimately do we want from a Western view? We ultimately want actually to do whatever we want to do. If that is the goal--we want to do whatever we want to do--which i'm not sure is as deep what people could be but that is kind of where we are. 

If you actually look at it from that view, then the way we have the most amount of power is not having to do with what someone else wants us to do or getting somebody else to do what we want them to do. The problem getting somebody else to do what we want them to do is you have to have power over them and they have to agree to do that in some kind of way. To not have to do what somebody else wants you to do, you actually have to have a lot of power too. 

You have to have a certain amount of capital to be free to do whatever it is you actually want to do. The problem is that no matter how you come at power and freedom from that vantage point, you could have the greatest amount of power that you want, but the power itself is always at a boundary of somebody else--a boundary of somebody else's either power over you or your power over them in order to get them to do what you want them to do or not have to do what somebody else wants you to do.

The whole of capitalism is just the using the money symbol as the boundary membrane of that. Money is just a membrane boundary of that dynamics. And it is ultimately about how we each use our time--the freedom of our time. Because all we have is time, and the question is how we have to use our time. And so, you just have to come up with a strategy, the more power you have that needs other people for the empowerment, then the more you are touching other boundaries of that power. 

But on the other hand, being free from other people, you can't just be free from other people's power without power either. They are just different strategies. Americans are mostly are interested in being left alone by other people. So they read everything through being left alone and whether you are right wing or left wing America, it is all about freedom within a certain kind of constrict. It is just that the two parties have two different groups of people in different constricts of what they mean by freedom of what. 

If you see the boundaries of that. The Buddhist idea of that is that if you look at it not having to do with somebody else, so you have the freedom of your own empowerment, then the further you can be not in need or want or desire, the more freedom you have because the less of a boundary that you have to create in terms of capital and exchange in order to create that.

So as you simplify down to as close to nothing you can get, you less and less have to be involved in the relative aspects of capital and boundary and stuff.

Preeta: Wow. 

Audrey: Doug going deep. One final question, "How can our ecosystem be of service to you, Doug? Is there any way that we can support your incredible work?"

Doug: Sure, the main thing is that it is not me. I don't need any support. I think the University. I think the students in the university and the university community, I think we have a huge amount in our retreats and our retreat center--we have 60-80 rooms, and we do retreats and stuff. I think there is a lot of ways that we can be interconnected to serve each other. 

I just hope that we can communicate with each other a lot and work together in a lot of ways, and I can see us--like right away, if you gave me an hour, I could think of a hundred ways that we can interrelate that would serve each other. 

Audrey: Well, thank you so much for taking the time out of your Saturday morning to be on this call and to share all your nuggets from thoughts on financial systems to education to being in the Himalayas and everything in between. Being in Berkeley in the '60s and your upbringing, there are so many gems from your life that really can shine light on a lot for all of us. 

Preeta: Just so grateful to have the opportunity to be in conversation with you, Doug, and I look forward to more opportunities to learn from you. You have so much to offer. And I'll be at your retreats. 

Doug: Ok. They get full pretty quick, but there's other things too. As I said, let's talk about ways--the key these days is that we work with each other. And I know we have huge amounts of inner-relationships that we can work together and support each other, so let's just figure out all those different ways we can do that. 

Audrey: That sounds great. And Mish in New York writes, "Thank you, Doug, for sharing yourself with us today. I've been smiling throughout this call. Smiling in Brooklyn."