Should We Follow Only One Teacher’s Teachings?

One who positions oneself
to always be unquestionable
will always be questionable.

Stonepeace | Books

As rephrased, a Dharma class participant asked the following – ‘A so-called “Buddhist teacher” claims that we should only follow one teacher’s teachings, in/directly suggesting himself and his teachings of course, or there would be no advancement in spiritual cultivation. Yet, when his students have doubts on his teachings, they are unable to ask him in person, and not even by more “comfortably distant” email correspondence, which goes unanswered, even when written detailedly and sincerely. This resulted in some of his students becoming spiritually stuck, unable to progress in terms of his teachings, while fretful about looking for other teachers due to his claim that it is crucial to stick to one teacher. To somewhat broadly “answer” all students who are persistent with queries, he claims that they just need to listen to his recorded teachings many times over, even if for hundreds of times, and they will naturally get the answers. What do you think of this?’

Here is the answer given by the teacher, as further extended – ‘The Buddha taught us to practise active enquiry, to wisely learn and question even his own teachings. He was also open to his potential followers’ exploration of various other teachers’ doctrines, although he also advised on how to discern fruitful teachings. Of course, such advice, as famously recorded in the Kālāma Sutta, which is also known as “the charter of free inquiry”, was also open to question. In fact, it is through deeper examination of teachings to compare and contrast, that leads to true appreciation of the worth of the Buddha’s teachings. While it is not a must for all Buddhists to study non-Buddhist teachings, it remains true that wise and investigative learning on any subject is welcomed and encouraged.

Hence, not answering questions on the questionable is to lack answerability on that which might be mistaught. Such is an evasive and irresponsible teacher, who does not care for his confused devotees. It is therefore wrong for any “Buddhist teacher” to demand anyone, to unquestioningly and thus blindly devote to him exclusively, what more when he cannot be accessed, not even in terms of the Dharma for clarifications. It is this instead, that leads to stagnation, to become lost spiritually. It is egoistic to even suggest that all other teachers are not on par as oneself, that they are more likely to mislead with wrong teachings, while only one’s teachings are perfect. Positioning oneself to be as if a Buddha offering perfect Dharma, such a prideful attitude is the beginning of one’s spiritual downfall.

It is surely uncompassionate to insist students to look for needles that answer their questions, in a haystack of teachings, when those needles might not exist in it. This wastes much time, effort and life itself. Instructing students to listen to an unenlightened teacher’s teachings repeatedly for answers is a kind of dogmatism too, out of the unfounded and thus blind belief that this teacher’s portrayal of the Dharma definitely contains all the answers to all possible questions, as if his teachings form a complete canon similar to the entire treasury of sūtras taught by the Buddha – which can never be the case. To summarise, any teacher, even if popular, who refuses to answer reasonable questions is probably forming a cult of personality, while having made many mistakes already. Thus, to follow him is a mistake!

The Buddha also famously taught of Sudhanakumâra (善财童子), the model spiritual pilgrim in the Avataṃsaka Sūtra (华严经), who sought the advice of as many as 53 great teachers, all of whom were surely also open to queries, which proved useful in guiding him towards Buddhahood. Such cross-checking also prevents being fooled by any one wrong teacher’s one wrong teaching for life. Especially in our defiled land, why risk putting all your spiritual “eggs” in one imperfect basket? Even upon reaching Amituofo’s (Amitābha Buddha) Pure Land, it is encouraged to make “excursions” to meet many other Buddhas elsewhere, as empowered by Amituofo himself, for accumulating more meritorious virtues and wisdom. Of course, wide learning should lead to focused practice too, lest one becomes Jack of all trades; master of none. Interestingly, Sudhanakumâra settled for the practice to reach Amituofo’s Pure Land, which offers access to countless perfect teachers!’

One who positions oneself
to always never question
will always be questionable.

– Stonepeace | Books


  • Comments: It depends… as mixing of lineages, tradition create further confusion. Hinayana say they are right, but there are mahayana teachings out there. Even higher there is vajrayana. It is also dependent on students capacity of wisdom and their karma that they decide to learn from which tradition.

    Reply: Confusion can be diffused if there is proper learning for personal practice through authentic teachers, coupled with focus on one main Buddhist tradition for mastery. Each tradition tends to say they are the ‘highest’, but what leads to Buddhahood the fastest and in the safest way is truly the highest for the individual, as dependent on capacity at the moment. Generally, the swiftest path to Buddhahood is the Pure Land path: http://purelanders.com/2015/08/24/does-amituofos-pure-land-offer-the-fastest-way-to-buddhahood Amituofo

  • Comment: Master Hsing Yun is a well known teacher and respected by many people. However are all his teachings true buddhist teachings? For eg he taught on humanistic Buddhism and published a few books, are these ok to follow and learn? Master HY seems to be teaching us that it is ok to stay in samsara to practise humanistic Buddhism life after life without having to go Pureland? He also teaches about fengshui?

    Reply: It is difficult to say if all teachings of any one single person, other than the Buddha, are true Buddhist teachings. We need to discern all teachings with wisdom on a case by case basis – even the Buddha’s teachings! MSY’s temples also advocate Pure Land teachings. Personally, there is no encounter of him teaching fengshui.

  • On a similar note, should I be wary of a teacher who almost demands daily devotion to his teachings by insisting that his students post daily to an online chat group giving thanks to his teachings regardless of whether he has posted a new teaching or not. This is, in his words, that we show we are constantly grateful to him for his teachings.For me, this does smack of an ego unworthy of Buddhism.

  • As such demands seemed centred on ego, specifically his, more so than on sharing of the actual Dharma selflessly, it should be wise to stay clear.

    Perhaps there can be sharing of appropriate teachings from the Buddha, directly from the sutras, on problems of being egoistic, to ‘tame’ or ‘test’ his ego. If he objects to the Buddha’s teachings, it will certainly be clear that all should stay clear.

Please Be Mindful Of Your Speech, Namo Amituofo!

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