Friday, August 6, 2010

6 Steps to Finding a Great Dharma Teacher

What The Buddha Says:

Being a novice along the path, I have been wondering, how does one find a teacher? How does one know a good teacher from a bad one?

Straight from the Buddha's mouth, is a 6 step-test to investigate potential Dharma teachers:
A monk who is an inquirer, not knowing how to gauge another's mind, should make an investigation of the Tathagata in order to find out whether or not he is perfectly enlightened. 
I find it interesting that the Buddha assumes a teacher should be perfectly enlightened. This is a high bar to reach, and I wonder how many of the contemporary Dharma teachers have reached that state?

The first three step as outlined below by the Buddha, involves looking at the teacher's bodily deeds and speech to infer whether or not his or her mental states are pure and free from defilements. 
[He] should investigate the Tathagata with respect to two kinds of states, states cognizable through the eye and through the ear thus: 'Are there found in the Tathagata or not any defiled states cognizable through the eye or through the ear?' When he investigates him, he comes to know: 'No defiled states cognizable through the eye or through the ear are found in the Tathagata.'
When he comes to know this, he investigates him further thus: 'Are there found in the Tathagata or not any mixed states cognizable through the eye or through the ear?' When he investigates him, he comes to know: 'No mixed states cognizable through the eye or through the ear are found in the Tathagata.
When he comes to know this, he investigates him further thus: 'Are there found in the Tathagata or not cleansed states cognizable through the eye or through the ear?' When he investigates him, he comes to know: 'Cleansed states cognizable through the eye or through the ear are found in the Tathagata.'
The fourth step involves determining the length of time  since a teacher has reached perfect enlightenment. The longer, the more trustworthy the teacher. 
When he comes to know this, he investigates him further thus: 'Has this venerable one attained this wholesome state over a long time or did he attain it recently?' When he investigates him, he comes to know: 'This venerable one has attained this wholesome state over a long time; he did not attain it only recently.'
The fifth step warns against the danger of fame, and the need to be cautious when approaching a 'famous' teacher. Fame can throw a teacher out of a purified state, back into the delusion of pride and conceit.  
When he comes to know this, he investigates him further thus: 'Has this venerable one acquired renown and fame, so that the dangers [connected with renown and fame] are found in him?' For, monks as long as a monk has not acquired renown and attained fame, the dangers [connected with renown and fame] are not found in him; but when he has acquired renown and attained fame, those dangers are found in him. When he investigates him, he comes to know: 'This venerable one has acquired renown and attained fame, but the dangers [connected with renown and fame] are not found in him.'
The sixth step recommends looking for a teacher who is free of fear and attachments to sensual pleasures. The latter may be particularly challenging for the majority of Western teachers who live the householder life.  
When he comes to know this, he investigates him further thus: 'Is this venerable one restrained without fear, not restrained by fear, and does he avoid indulging in sensual pleasures because he is without lust through the destruction of lust?' When he investigates him, he comes to know: 'This venerable one is restrained without fear, not restrained by fear, and he avoids indulging in sensual pleasure because he is without lust through the destruction of lust.'
~ MN 47: Vimamsaka Sutta; I 317-20; from 'In the Buddha's Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon', Bhikkhu Bodhi edition ~
Do you know of any such teacher? Please share. :)

13 comments:

  1. Hahaha...I got a good chuckle out of that last sentence Marguerite! You mean a completely 'perfect' human being :)

    It's interesting b/c this seems to kind of contradict what I read by Jack Kornfield about looking for a teacher. He emphasizes not putting a teacher on a pedestal and expecting too much. They, like us, are human and are going through the same struggles and life challenges.

    We shouldn't be too quick too judge too. Even teachers that we may think have so-called problems may have a lot to teach. Or, teachers we think are enlightened may have other challenges. An example would be a monk who has spent most of his/her life in relative isolation focusing on meditation. Sure, they probably have much to share about the process of meditation, but we might find they aren't skilled in personal relationships b/c of the time they have spent along.

    I'd actually very much like to find a teacher. It's one of the main reasons I have been looking at different groups/sanghas. I'd like to find a group to talk with and particularly a mentor/teacher who can provide guidance.

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  2. Everything can teach us, while we wait. If we use this for an excuse, we can get lazy. Oftentimes, a teacher finds us, when we are ready! Meanwhile, I just continue meditation.

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  3. Nate, thank you. I hear your point about not idealizing teacher, and I totally agree.

    And, I also take Buddha's words seriously, and think it is important to find a teacher that passes the test . . . I used to think it did not make that much difference, but I have changed my mind, having heard, and read from quite a few wonderful teachers by now.

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  4. Was Once, absolutely, no need to wait. The search for a great teacher does not mean not practicing. It just means being ready and open when that person crosses our path. The more practice, the more ready to receive the teachings.

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  5. Nice post over at Ken Mcleod's blog on "what are you looking for in a teacher?" It can get complicated and yet I suspect there's a very intuitive side to knowing if the relationship is right or not (once we can get past the head!)

    http://musingsbyken.blogspot.com/2010/07/what-are-you-looking-for-in-teacher.html

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  6. Oh! yes, the heart . . .

    That is what's happening with me. I am feeling more and more drawn to the purity of teachings from Southeast Asian Theravada teachers. Looking into booking three week long retreat very soon with one of them.

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  7. Hi Marguerite,
    Great topic! Here's something my Dharma teacher said about this that I really like:

    "But good teachers can be hard to find. Be careful; don’t abandon your own upright center and chase after others. If you follow a blind person, you’ll fall into a ditch.

    "Taking refuge in the Sangha does not mean blindly following monks and nuns. What you should believe in is your own Buddha-nature,
    (the one that's really doing things). Taking refuge in the Sangha means that when you think that the actions, words, and thoughts of a teacher all agree with each other, and don’t go against your own conscience and good judgment, then you follow and accept that person as a teacher."

    (from "No River to Cross," by Daehaeng Kun Sunim)

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  8. Thanks for this entry. I think it's worth noting that in this sutta, the Buddha is not giving general advice for how to find a teacher. Rather, he's giving very specific advice for how his followers can investigate whether he himself (the Buddha) is fully enlightened.

    Even so, I think you're correct to suggest that we can draw some insights from this sutta into the best methods to evaluate a teacher.

    Common among all the various methods of investigation described in the sutta is that they pertain to what is perceived through the eye faculty and the ear faculty, in other words, what one sees and hears in the Buddha's own conduct. Interestingly, the most common method many of us might use today -- using our mind faculty, applying our preconceived notions and opinions -- does not enter into the equation.

    That excludes questions we might think are natural, such as: "Do I agree with this person? Does this person's teaching fit my general outlook? Am I comfortable with this person?"

    Also interesting in the sutta, once such a teacher is found (a fully enlightened Buddha), and once this examination has been done and faith has taken root, that faith is described as "invincible by any recluse or brahmin or god or Mara or Brahma or by anyone in the world." That must be some amazing teacher.

    In answer to your question, I know of only one such teacher. As the Buddha told Ananda on the occasion of parinibbana: "Now, if it occurs to any of you — 'The teaching has lost its authority; we are without a Teacher' — do not view it in that way. Whatever Dhamma & Vinaya I have pointed out & formulated for you, that will be your Teacher when I am gone."

    But that doesn't mean there aren't some pretty good teachers out there to help us along the way. I just wouldn't worry about whether they are perfectly enlightened, though.

    With best wishes.

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  9. Sunim, thank you for sharing your teacher's words. So wise. In the end, it is about hearing one's own truth, and also trusting feminine quality of intuition.

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  10. And Morning Star, thank you also. I feel so grateful for your response and the ones before you. I agree the main thing is the Dharma as manifested in the teachings, and ultimately realized in oneself. A good teacher, just like a sangha are like the glue that can bring more cohesiveness to one's practice, and lends it more support, and impetus.
    Not necessary, but pretty important!

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  11. Dear Marguerite,

    You may be surprised how humble a great teacher is. You may already know one. One who has attained great perfection seeks not fame nor fortune for he (she) has seen through all that. I firmly trust Buddha's words. He may very well be your baker or gardener.

    When student is ready a teacher appears.
    May peace rest in you.
    Miro

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  12. I am with you, Miro! Like you, my antennas go up, whenever I smell fame and groupies around a teacher. Not that I am not going to listen to that person, but as the teaching above points out, there are a number of problems with a 'famous' teacher. For one, he or she becomes less accessible, and no longer has the time for personal interviews. There is also less of a chance to go on long retreats with that teacher. And pride and conceit can take subtle, and nevertheless dangerous forms, that may taint him or her again.

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  13. Thank you for this article, and nice quotes. It's old, but you might still appreciate a couple thoughts I have about your questions.
    I think there may be more teachers than most people realize who are arahants, or if not that, at least noble ones of some sort who are deeply immersed in mindfulness and quite full of wisdom.
    The Pali texts about householder life being literally incompatible with arahantship are false, because I know at least two arahants who are householders, and probably quite a few more, though I'm not sure of their attainments.
    Everything relies on the student, and, everything relies on the teacher. But as far as each of us is concerned, I think it is smarter to focus on ourselves as a student. If we do this thoroughly, our wake-- and, as the buddha says, only even after a good chunk of time following awakening-- may become that of a teacher.

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