Home » Letters » What If I’m Confused By Some Teachings?


Question:
What if I find some teachers’ teachings confusing, and even potentially misleading?

Answer: Never let the Buddha, his Dharma and yourself down. You should sincerely and politely clarify with them, to check your understanding. If it turns out that the teachings are really confusing and misleading, your clarification can help the teachers learn how to teach more clearly and accurately. This will benefit yourself, the teachers and all those they teach, now and in the future. (It is very easy to complicate the Dharma, to lose its true essence – almost anyone can do it. It is very difficult to simplify the Dharma, to focus on its true essence – not many can do it well.)

Question: I seem to always have many questions and much confusion about some teachers’ teachings.

Answer: If so, you should all the more ask to clarify – as directly as possible. Good teachers should let themselves be accessible to their students, for them to learn well, by being available for their questions. Good students should have access to their teachers too, for both learning well, and asking well, which is a crucial part of learning.

Question: Perhaps I am the only one confused, as others do not seem to have the same struggle.

Answer: Well, if you are ‘suffering in silence’, there might be others doing so too. Those who do not have any struggle might not be reflecting as deeply on what learnt. If they already made sense of all learnt fully, you should be able to get answers to all your questions from any one of them. If it is hard to do so, you should all the more ask the teachers for answers directly.

Question: But the teachers are learnt from, mostly at a distance.

Answer: This is not a good reason to not ask questions. You should keep asking questions when in doubt. How else will you get the answers? By being enlightened first? The answers are supposed to aid the path to enlightenment itself. As mentioned, accessibility of teachers is important. Even the Buddha made it a point to always be accessible.

If you keep failing to get satisfactorily clear answers from teachers learnt from, and need to ask others instead, as if needing extra coaching, it is not healthy – surely with some serious deficiencies on the side of the teachers and/or yourself, the student. If the teachers are seldom present, questioning and answering can still be done electronically.

Question: To be safe, I try to learn only what needed, without attachment to possibly wrong teachers or teachings.

Answer: Is that truly safe? As an extreme cautionary analogy, no one wants to keep drinking (or accepting) poisonous water (which represents impure Dharma). Those who drink it must be unaware of doing so, assuming it is drinkable. When they realise they have been (spiritually) poisoned, it might already be too late. If they do not realise it at all, it could be much worse – by being increasingly poisoned, while encouraging more to be poisoned too.

Wrong concepts repeated might be unmindfully and gradually accepted as right if not clarified. If we already know right teachings from wrong ones, why learn at all? Well, we learn because we are not sure, but wish to be absolutely sure. Can we be absolutely sure that we can learn the absolutely right from the already often disagreeable, who are hard to reach for enquiries? If unsure, why not learn from purer and more direct sources?

Question: What if the teachers do not give reasonable answers, or shy from giving any, to my reasonable questions?

Answer: It would surely then, be most reasonable to further ask a reasonable number of times… before seeking more reasonable teachers, who encourage and welcome reasonable questions, who also give reasonable answers. There is spiritual safety in learning when there is practice of what the Buddha advocated – active enquiry – urging all to always doubt the doubtful, by questioning the questionable. Practising what he preached, the Buddha was open to all queries, even on the brink of his Parinirvāṇa!

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