Dealing With a Buddhist Teacher (Guru) that His teachings are Not Clear
To learn about Buddhism, there are many good books that you can refer to. These books contain the basics and fundamental teachings of Buddhism. However, if you want to go deep into Buddhism, it is likely that you learn under a teacher. These teachers usually go by the name Guru. A Guru in Sanskrit means the one who drives away ignorance and the darkness it casts on people. Therefore, we may qualify a Guru as filled with wisdom, compassion, and realization.
But then, at some point, we may find that these Guru has lost the qualities in their description. This can be found where a Guru asks you to do certain irrational things. Maybe because you are already told that a Guru’s action is that of the Buddha. Hence, whatever he does is right. This is mostly found in the Vajrayana practice as the Guru devotion.
This devotion usually comes with the teaching that one would go to a Vajra hell if he doubts or opposes the actions of the Guru. Now, one may wonder if these are part of the true practice of Buddhism. Or, are they just abuse of the teachings of the Buddha.
While we are going to see in this article the problem of abuse in the teachings of Buddhism. And, ways to overcome it, let us not forget that Buddhism bases on the practice of inquiry.
Abuse In the Teachings of the Buddha
Buddhism is a practice that many see as too good to be true. Of course, you might feel the same when you encounter the basic teachings of Buddhism. For example, the Buddha himself advised his followers against seeing him as a god. Instead, he is a man who teaches the path to enlightenment. More so, you are free to follow this path or not.
Regrettably, in this degenerate period of today’s world, we find confusion in certain Buddhist teachings. These cut across the various branches of Buddhism. And, they mostly do not reflect the original teachings of the historical Buddha (Gautama). Most times, the culprit teachers (Guru) uses the devotedness of the students learning under them against them.
This has led to cases of physical, mental, spiritual, and intellectual abuses. Now, who is to blame? While we may blame the teachers who abuse the teachings, let us answer the following questions.
Is a Student Meant to Accept All the Teachings from a Buddhist Teacher?
The answer is simply No! Certainly, the Buddha made it clear even while he was teaching that you should only accept his teachings only when you have verified it yourself to be true. Thus, the Buddha pointed out the reasons why one must not accept the teachings. Hence, you should not accept things out of:
- simple rumor,
- mere hearsay,
- because it has been in the tongue of other people for a long time,
- they came to us through tradition (handed down through generations),
- it is in line with scripture we have,
- the assumption that it is the fact (mere inference),
- because it came from an ascetic and we should always respect and believe their teachings,
- maybe because you feel the person that presented it to you is good and you like him.
The Buddha advised against accepting any teaching based on just the list above. Instead, we should understand that the starting point of Buddhism is in Samma Dhitti (Pali). This means Understanding and Reasoning.
Therefore, we should only accept things when we have examined them adequately. And afterward, find it by ourselves to be moral and without fault. Also, that those we consider wise accept it. When we live by these things, it brings happiness and overall wellbeing to us and others around us. Thus, the Buddha advised that when we find qualities like this, we should not only accept but also live it out accordingly.
On the other hand, if after the examination and we do not find the qualities of accepting, then we should reject such views and stay away from them.
This means that you are only meant to accept the teachings of any Guru when you find them by yourself to be true. Hence, acknowledging the Buddha’s method of truthful inquiry.
Even in verse 24 of “The 50 verses of Guru Devotion” or “The Asvagosha’s Gurupancashika*. It is clearly stated that if you do not have the capacity or understanding to do what the Guru directed, then you should explain politely the reasons you cannot accept it.
What is the Best Way to Say No to a Guru’s Request You are Not Clear About?
If a Guru requests you as a student to do something you do not feel right about, simply let him know as politely as you can the reasons you feel you cannot. Usually, not every Guru has attained the enlightened state of the Buddha. As such, it is important that as a student, you utilize your right to inquire about the Guru before following.
The Buddha Shakyamuni always said that a student should inquire about his Guru thoroughly. And, only when he feels convinced and confirms the Guru should he start practicing the Vajrayana path. Thus, he told his disciples,
“I have given the teachings, you should now check and inquire before you follow. However, you don’t have to follow because these are my teachings”
When we understand these teachings of truthful inquiry, then we can politely turn down any teacher we are not completely okay with the teachings. For instance, if your Guru says you should steal, and within you are flowing waves of doubt, you can simply bow in his front and say politely, “It is not needful stealing from others, so, I may not wish to do so”. More so, you may stress the reasons you feel that stealing is not good.
What If Your Guru Asks You to Do Something That Might Seem Okay, But, You Cannot Accept It?
Sometimes, there are things your Guru might ask of you that is quite simple and okay. However, you may not want to accept it due to your personal feelings. Well, try to first find out the reasons why he would love you to do so. That is to say, seek for clarification first, at least to clear your doubts.
An example of this may be a Guru asking you not to remove your footwear while coming inside his house. Certainly, you should feel free asking him to clear you on the reasons why he likes people going inside his house with footwear. Of course, especially when you prefer to remove your shoes and he does not.
The Guru should come up with a reason good enough to convince you beyond doubt. In other words, his reasons must be logical to make you feel at peace with entering his house with footwear.
Does It Matter That a Buddhist Teacher is Enlightened?
No one teaches better than one with experience. Therefore, there is a need for a Guru’s enlightenment in order to lead others towards enlightenment.
Some people believe that it does not really whether the teacher has attained enlightenment or not. That as long as he teaches the Dharma, he can lead others to enlightenment. Now, enlightenment is a spiritual encounter, and only when you have attained the state can you be able to lead the path. Even the Buddha started teaching others when he has already attained enlightenment.
Someone who is promising paradise should have a taste it before promising. Hence, the enlightenment of a teacher is crucial. This is especially when it comes to the teacher-student relationship. Also, this is part of the reason to inquire about your Guru before following him. At least, you can get the best learning experience.
The goal of practicing Buddhism is to gain enlightenment. Where enlightenment aims at achieving clarity of perception, reason, and knowledge. Therefore, there is a need to only join a Guru’s lineage in a clear mind. And, also come your basic intelligence, common sense, and normal life. A good Guru will expand your scope.
More so, do not join the line if you have any doubt. Of course, this is about your spiritual development and not a fan club. You do not also want to get stuck in some sort of cult. Hence, the need to inquire more carefully.
While there is recent growth in the practice of Buddhism, it is important to learn the basic teachings of Buddhism before going deep looking for a teacher. Certainly, when you know the goal of Buddhism, you are better directed toward the right path.
With the insights on this page, you can better handle a Buddhist teacher that you feel his teachings are not clear to you. Or, are not in line with what you originally found in the basic Buddhist teachings.
Remember, never practice blindly, instead use your wisdom as the way of inquiry teaches.