“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”
~ William Arthur Ward
The Story: At a public talk, a Chinese woman asked the Dalai Lama about a matter very troubling to her.
She told him about some men traveling in China, dressed in the saffron and maroon robes of Tibetan Buddhist monks. These men called themselves “Dharma Rajas” or “Kings of Buddhist Teachings” and attracted many followers in China.
But these men, she said, were only interested in getting money from their followers and having sex with the female disciples.
The Dalai Lama had been speaking to his Chinese audience about practicing Buddhism today. He said, today, people give great care to their bodies—meaning they seek comforts and pleasures and are very interested in clothing and appearance—but they treat the Buddha’s teaching as “something lower than the bones left over from their meals they would feed to a dog.”
He does not speak this way toWestern audiences. But to Asian Buddhists, who have longer experience with Buddhism, he is frank.
The Chinese woman asked the Dalai Lama, “What can we do about corrupt phonies like this, who go around disgracing the Buddha’s teaching, and abusing the sincere people who come to them for help and understanding?”
The Dalai Lama was very direct in his response. He told her these followers have no one to blame but themselves. According to Buddhist teachings, he explained, it is essential for each of us who seek out a teacher to examine the teacher’s character and ability scrupulously for as long at it takes to determine, confidently, for ourselves, that this teacher is capable and good.
This is a very different response than she was expecting. She seemed to expect the Dalai Lama to swoop down on the phonies with his dharma squad, discredit them and announce forcefully that people should not study with them or follow them.
Instead he said it is up to each of us. We need to take responsibility for ourselves and our training.
This kind of careful evaluation of a prospective teacher is too often the opposite of what happens when people seek out training in martial arts and in Buddhism. It is normal for people to find their way to a dojo or a dharma center—hopefully but casually, by accident or by advertising—and taking for granted it’s all about the same, get seduced by a sales pitch. Then, after putting a little time and money into the relationship, they declare their teacher the greatest teacher and their style the greatest style, and thus validate their path and privilege their judgment over all others.
This is commonplace; it is naïve and it is corrupt.
It is common to all religions. It causes unhappiness, limits people’s intelligence, reduces their freedom and it often leads to friction and even violence on the way to decline.
In the Mitra Varga or Verses about Friends it says:
“People degenerate by relying on those inferior to themselves
By relying on equals, they stay the same
By relying on those superior, they attain excellence
Thus rely on those who are superior to yourself.
If you rely on whoever is superior—thoroughly
And endowed with ethical wisdom
And exceeding wisdom
You will become superior even to those who are superior.”
In the Sutra Lamkara it says:
“Rely on a teacher of Buddhism who is disciplined, serene, thoroughly pacified;
Has good qualities surpassing those of the students;
Is energetic; has a wealth of scriptural knowledge;
Possessing loving concern;
Has thorough knowledge of reality and skill in instructing disciples,
And has abandoned dispiritedness.”
We can understand through Buddhism, if we are deceived by a teacher it is a result of our own karma. This does not absolve the corrupt and abusive teachers, political leaders or radicals from the evil they do. But it does tell us the responsibility is ours to choose well, and to deal with the consequences if we don’t.
Accorrding to Buddhist teaching we now live in the age of decline. We live in the time, 2,500 years after the historical Buddha came into the world, when people are no longer able to follow the Buddha’s teachings. Even though the teachings themselves are present in books and are as valid as ever, the cultural conditions have declined to the point where political leaders no longer support morality; people are primarily concerned with sex and money; minds are disturbed, and bodies are sick.
During this age of decline, according to sutra, there are countless bodhisattvas, great spiritual practitioners, at large in the universe. These bodhisattvas keep the teachings alive by manifesting the teachings, and by living out the profound wisdom and kindness in them. They also maintain a karmic connection with the Buddha’s past and future and work tirelessly to return to the world to share the dharma, thereby, saving beings from suffering.
In an age when it is not unusual to encounter people who believe most of the world is their enemy—that happiness will come from sex and money, that whoever dies with the most stuff wins, that we should kill people to express our grievances, that lying is to be expected, that we should brutalize and enslave people who criticize us, that we should hide when frightened and placate our oppressors—it is difficult to practice well.
Despite the imperfections of our age and the limits of our own lives, we do have some freedom, even now. A few blessings, a clear mind, a healthy body, friends around us. A few moments of peace in the morning and evening for practice. The energy to do some good for someone every day.
One of these great blessings is, great bodhisattvas are everywhere, around us and within us. They will appear to us to guide us immediately, in infinite ways, as soon as we want them.
The best part is, we can join with them right now.
Jeff Brooks teaches dharma in the Gelug tradition and is a detective currently working and teaching in the southeastern USA.
Editor: Jennifer Spesia