How To Be Good Dharma Students & Teachers


All these sentient beings [will, in the future (now), away] from the Buddha, gradually be further apart [from him]. Evil ‘teachers’ who speak the [corrupted] ‘Dharma’, [will be as numerous] as the Ganges River’s [grains of] sand.

– 阿难陀尊者 (楞严经)
Venerable Ananda (Surangama Sutra)

Due to the projected air of ‘respectability’ by some so-called ‘Buddhist teachers’ (be they ‘monastic’ or lay), which is sometimes reinforced and guarded by devoted students, newbies might assume it to be rude or inappropriate to ask questions about whatever taught. This was the past experience of a fellow participant in one of my Dharma classes. Emphasised as lesson #1 in every course I teach, the Buddha does not expect blind faith in any teaching, much less in his. Thus, there should be active enquiry whenever there are doubts – to clarify for further understanding, and to probe deeper to see if that taught makes sense. Due to this constantly open invitation to ask, be it personally or electronically, she learnt the value of open discussion on Dharma matters, realising that it is possible to ask about the Dharma without fear of offence, without it being seen as confrontational.

Accessibility to a teacher is new to her because she has ‘Buddhist’ friends who see the asking of questions about their ‘teachers’ and their teachings to be disrespectful, which made exercising the basic right to enquire a breakthrough. Enquiry is the second step of learning, after taking the first step of mere listening with attempts to nod to the agreeable… while possibly suppressing troubling doubts that naturally arise. Since the Buddha who famously encouraged proactive investigation is our role model teacher, who never demanded any follower to be unquestioning, any ‘teacher’ who does not welcome questions is not a good or proper teacher at all. Such a ‘teacher’ probably has something dark and immoral to hide, or is lacking in wisdom and/or ability to explain the Dharma clearly. If so, what is there to learn from such a defensive and inadequate ‘teacher’?

About her enquiry-averse friends, she can continue asking them intelligent questions, but if they are still resistant, insisting it as ‘wrong’, and if the teacher cannot be reached, it is time to take a break… till there are more skilful means to compassionately awaken them to the error of their ways. This is so as the more ‘relentless’ probing there is, the more upset they might become. On her part, there is no need to get upset at all, as some are simply not ready for the true Buddhist way of learning yet. The truth is, only the insecure, be they teachers or students, can feel intimidated by sincere seekers of wisdom. Refusal to appropriately answer polite and reasonable questions is one of the hallmarks of cults of personalities that run on blind faith. There is often the subtle or even obviously devious threat of karmic ‘damnation’ too, should one cast any doubt on the ‘teacher’s’ words.

Deluded devotees were probably once more discerning than now, but increasingly rationalised for each questionable teaching or action of their ‘teacher’, until they crossed the threshold of seemingly ‘no return’ (which we hope is not), having ‘completely’ idealised the ‘teacher’ to be perfectly blameless and ‘Buddha-like’. Besides cult leaders, some easily agitated ‘teachers’ use seniority in years or status to throw ‘rank’ when feeling challenged. Such anger expressed can create immense negative karma as it can give the Dharma a bad name, while scaring newbies away from learning the precious Dharma. This should be the last thing responsible teachers would want. With sincere apologies amiss, such ‘teachers’ are not only poor ‘teachers’ who misrepresent the Dharma, but poor students of the Dharma too, who lack genuine practice of compassion, patience, repentance, wisdom… For both teachers and students, true seniority has to be measured by how well the Dharma is learnt, practised, realised and shared instead!

It should be out of pure sincerity
to acquire the pure Dharma,
that teachings are mindfully enquired.

It could be out of sheer laziness
to acquire the pure Dharma,
that teachings are blindly accepted.

– Stonepeace | Get Books

Good students learn the Dharma
by asking good Dharma questions.

Good teachers uphold the Dharma
by answering good Dharma questions.

Stonepeace | Get Books

Good teachers make the Dharma
more accessible to more students,
befriending them with the Dharma.

Poor teachers make the Dharma
more inscrutable to more students,
estranging them from the Dharma.

– Stonepeace | Get Books

Related Article:
Some Controversial (Non-)’Buddhist’ Teachers
http://www.tinyurl.com/externalpaths (Courtesy Of ‘True Buddhists’)

Please Be Mindful Of Your Speech, Namo Amituofo!

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