The Dalai Lama’s Message to Bad Buddhist Teachers.

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Once, a Buddhist teacher’s controversial lifestyle was brought to the attention of the Dalai Lama by a group of Western Buddhist monks.

“What would be his advice?” they wondered.

The Dalai Lama’s reply was profound and unmistakable:

“One’s view may be as vast as the sky,” he said, “but one’s regard for cause and effect should be as finely sifted as barley flour.”

In other words, you may be an intellectual giant, a great orator, an inspirational teacher, but if you act like an idiot, that’s what you are, and you must face society’s music and take responsibility for your actions.

You may be an inspired and devoted student, but if your teacher is unable to sift through the barley of his or her own heart and mind, then it’s time for you to notice and wake up. It’s time to come down from the vast blue sky-temple of your mind and carry some water, sift some barely.

So, fellow Buddhists, fellow yogis, fellow spiritual seekers everywhere: your teacher’s mind may be as vast as the azure-blue sky over Arizona, but what counts in the end is what happens on those stubbly fields of life:

How good is he or she in sifting those personal bags of barley?

How good are we in doing our own mental sifting?


Editor: Brianna Bemel

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Ramesh Bjonnes

Ramesh Bjonnes has traveled the world as a meditation teacher, Ayurvedic practitioner, author, and is currently the Director of the Prama Wellness Center, a retreat center teaching yoga, meditation, and juice rejuvenation. He studied yoga therapy in Nepal and India, Ayurvedic Medicine at California College of Ayurveda, and naturopathic detox therapy at the AM Wellness Center in Cebu, Philippines. He is the author of four books, and he lives with his wife Radhika and Juno, a sweet, gentle Great Pyrenees, in the mountains near Asheville, North Carlina. Connect with him via his website: and

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anonymous May 18, 2012 8:05pm

Neem Karoli Baba told Ram Dass "gold and sex, gold and sex" – don't mess with them if you aspire to be a holy man – but time and time again we see teachers soiled by their own behavior. I am reading Irina Tweedie – her guru told her "you will never have much money – that will be very good for your spritual journey" Tantra says we all have karma, and if we react with greed, aversion or delusion we just create more karma. Life is teaching me this every moment. Thanks Ramesh for another great post.

anonymous May 15, 2012 1:05pm

Michael, learning and wisdom comes from so many sources…. This was intended as a somber message and the discussion, to me, has been far from indulging in schadenfreude…

anonymous May 15, 2012 8:12am

schadenfreude ˈshä-dən-ˌfrȯi-də n. enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others.

anonymous May 15, 2012 7:12am

Good question, yogasamurai.. When I read the article this quote was taken from, the context seem to imply that he was specifically addressing the teacher in question. But, in a more general sense, the advise applies to anyone on the path, also the monks who asked for it.

anonymous May 15, 2012 3:16am

I am not a Buddhist formally, and I do not know the historical background to the Dalai lama's remarks? I also carry no brief for the Roche man either, trust me. I am speaking simply as an outsider who knows that sages often mask their deeper meanings in such adages. Can I ask this, and I ask it most humbly- —

Is it possible that the Dalai Lama was actually suggesting to the monks that THEIR view, which they think is as "vast as the sky," is the one that might need to be refined also?

That their thinking that THEY already know and can judge why a monk has a certain lifestyle may not be correct, that they may themselves be mistaking the cause and effect of what is transpiring?

In other words, might he also be asking them to sift their own views more finely for the truth?

Possible or not?

    anonymous May 15, 2012 7:19am

    yogasmurai…who can speak for HH Dalai Lama? This particular quote as it is used in Ramesh's article which he quotes a "Buddhist Magazine" is portrayed as an admonition. Personally, I cannot say that HH used this quote as an admonition as I was not there and he is notoriously misquoted out of context. In Buddhism, at least in the tradition of Padmasambhava the originator of the above quote, this quote is anything but an admonition. It is an extremely poigniant instruction/description for the actual View. Pristine Awareness. To sift one's own tsampa is not a punishment. the quote describes the essense of the higher teaching and yet is also the mechanics. Having said that…any monk worth his tea would always regard anything HH says as personal instruction.

      anonymous May 15, 2012 3:32pm

      Thanks, Padma. I do find that wise sages, when approached by those seeking an authoritative "ruling"in support of their own views, tend to respond, Solomon-like, by speaking on a plane that is "above" the issues and the personalities at hand. It would be rare for them to weigh in to satisfy or dissatisfy those seeking their approval. However, that's just a general perspective unrelated to the Dalai Lama's actual, history or practice. It seems to be what I am hearing from you and Ramesh both. Thanks again.

anonymous May 13, 2012 11:21am

[…] the objective outer world and our capacity to reason and interpret meaning—in fact, I suggest healthy, sustainable spirituality requires this level of […]

anonymous May 13, 2012 6:19am

Thanks for this, Ramesh.

anonymous May 12, 2012 5:32pm

Svan, yes, the higher you go the harder the fall… all of the aspects you mentioned are important… well said!

anonymous May 12, 2012 1:29pm

Tantric practice is basically concerned with cultivating energy and directing it. Where and how you direct it depends on you, your teacher, your lineage. Without proper guidance, it's easy to see how this power can go astray (the Tantric path isn't likened to a razor's edge for nothing). Adding power to an afflicted mind merely magnifies those afflictions. The Anusara scandal, the Arizona tragedy and on a more mundane level, the rampant spiritual materialism of so many western hatha yogis…. how many examples do we need?

    anonymous May 15, 2012 3:48pm

    "Adding power to the afflicted mind"?

    Isn't that the very definition of what's now called "yoga teacher training"? Read half (or more) of the postings here at EJ. Scary stuff.

    There's the John Friend/Gisele Roche phenomenon operating at the level of the broader yoga movement or "brand," and there's the same false guru phenomenon operating at the level of your local yoga studio, or just someone's basement apartment — from guru wannabes wishing they could be Friend and Roche.

    It doesn't seem to matter how many examples we have. It's a force that deludes and wipes out even people's temporary understanding of its own destructiveness. It just waits out the scandals and continues to breed in the interim, and reincarnates inside its critics.

    Chogyam Trunpa Riponche called Tantra in the West a "spiritual atom bomb." He warned that once "detonated," its "spiritual radiation" would wipe our entire communities of people. And he said this in the early 1970s. Wise Man.

    Anyway, thanks to the rise of Neon Yoga, and the women who are its chief hand-maidens now, Tantra is no longer merely a threat to discrete communities, but probably to much of the broader culture at this point.

    I am writing a piece on the rapid rise of Yoga Porn. It's virtually indistinguishable from the way Yoga is evolving, commercially, as a whole. In just the past month, there's been an enormous proliferation of web sites, and videos. Sad but true. And while the narratives are lame, the yoga itself tends to be really good. Like Kathryn Budig good – maybe even better.

    Could this be one area where men and women of more traditional faith formation and the rather poorly grounded but well-meaning young yogis can converge in terms of "conscientization"? Perhaps, but I'm not really holding my breath. 35% of avid hard-core porn users are now women after all, and even here at EJ, and in the yoga world generally, porn is clearly quite popular, with little real boundary line between the erotic and the exhibitionist.

    Sexual "freedom" you know. Leggo my Eggo. (Or the breathless "confessional" variety so popular at EJ: how I finally stopped being frigid and learned to enjoy extreme anal. Gosh, I finally had my first orgasm).

    Rinpoche called "spiritual materialism" by another name: "Satanism." How many people who celebrate him, Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike, have the courage any longer to call it that? Nowadays, many people talk about spiritual materialism like its a "mindful" lifestyle choice. Uh, calling Mr. Orwell.


anonymous May 12, 2012 11:00am

Dallas, no need to eat it, simply sifting the grainy parts of heart and mind will do….. 🙂

anonymous May 12, 2012 10:23am

so we need to eat more grain?

anonymous May 12, 2012 8:35am

The vastness of the sky or the View is not attainable without "sifting" through the barley flour, grain by grain, simultaneously.

anonymous May 12, 2012 8:21am

In your reference to "Arizona", I whole heartedly agree. The quotation from His Holiness like all quotations from HH. unfortunately should be approached with some degree of verification. He is continually misquoted out of context and just plain misquoted. The quotation which you site originated with Padmasambhava. The quote is very famous and used as a teaching metaphor on meditation and View by all schools of this thing we are calling Tibetan Buddhism. I am sure HH Dalai Lama has referred to this quote many many times. But…i have only heard it used, "One's view should be as vast as the sky and attention to one's actions as fine as tsampa (barley flour)". This is a wholey positive teaching meant as advice for the serious practitioner from one's own Guru. Though the quote you show is slightly different, it's meaning is the same but in the form of an admonition. If the quote from HHDalai Lama is accurate, it is his perogative in a teaching moment without question. For those of us who are hearing this quote for the first time should hear it as heart advice to one's own personal practice.That…our minds can be as vast as the sky and hold attention to our actions as fine as tsampa simultaneously.

    anonymous May 12, 2012 11:04am

    Padma, The quote is from an article in a Buddhist magazine…. even if it is not 100% accurate, the meaning is what is important….great teaching!

    anonymous May 12, 2012 7:25pm

    What Padma said—probably the HH DL was quoting Padmasambhava. A quote we studied and loved on the Buddhist path.

      anonymous May 12, 2012 7:36pm

      Yes, and here is another version of this quote, basically conveying the same message and supposedly said by Padmasambhava:
      "Though my view is as vast as the sky, my attention to the law of karma is as fine as a grain of barley flour." So a possible context is that the Dali Lama used this original quote and changed it a bit to fit the context of the concerned teachers. It's all one message; and it's all very deep, wise and good!

        anonymous May 12, 2012 10:35pm

        To be precise with this quote, you'll need to read it in the original Tibetan language — there's as many different English versions as there are translators… so far all three versions posted here are adequate translations because they all convey the same meaning!

anonymous May 12, 2012 7:58am

I appreciate this. Thank you.

anonymous May 12, 2012 4:00am

Yes, Matt, it is important to note that ethics is the foundation of both Buddhism and Yoga, in other words the personal is also spiritual, what we say and do matters! Unless you are one of those nondualists who believe this world is an illusion and only Spirit is real. Now, that was sarcasm!

anonymous May 11, 2012 10:01pm

Thanks, Ramesh.

Yogis–Buddhist and non-Buddhist–frequently forget about the whole "cause and effect thing" and I'm not being sarcastic at all.

The beauty of it is that it is a simple analysis, yet it doesn't require being grounded in scientific materialist reductionism as some would have it.

In sum, it's realistic, but not realist . . . and wise.

anonymous May 11, 2012 9:44pm

[…] […]

anonymous May 11, 2012 7:58pm

[…] The Dalai Lama's Message To Bad Buddhist Teachers. | elephant … You may be an inspired and devoted student, but if your teacher is unable to sift through the barley of his or her own heart and mind, then it's time for you to notice and wake up. It's time to come down from the vast blue . […]