I'd like to post something from my blog that was in response to difficulty I encountered with a teacher who will remain unnamed but whose teaching style I think is representative of the sorry state of affairs that the teachings of the Buddha are in NYC to be sure and probably the US in general. Although I will be the first to admit that my intentions were definitely colored with a strong dose of dosa
I do think the problem of teachers passing adhamma off as true Dhamma to those who have no other acquaintance with the teachings deserves some attention. In short, I would like to get feedback on how others deal with these issues. Do we simply ignore them? Do we we attempt to correct these people and move on when it seems to have no effect (which is what I did when I left the day-long retreat ayt the first break period)? I value this community so much because of the commitment of so many members to understanding the Dhamma on its own terms and would appreciate any advice, admonishments or corrections you have to offer. Sukhi hotu!
I had a somewhat disturbing experience today with a teacher who was billed as having some knowledge of the Pali Canon and the teachings of the Buddha but was remarkably evasive (I believe the canonical term is an “eel-wriggler”) when I asked questions that pertained to the suttas specifically and the Dhamma and the Discipline in general.
There are, monks, some contemplatives & priests who, being asked questions regarding this or that, resort to verbal contortions, to eel-like wriggling, on four grounds… There is the case of a certain priest or contemplative who does not discern as it actually is that ‘This is skillful,’ or that ‘This is unskillful.’ The thought occurs to him: ‘I don’t discern as it actually is that “This is skillful,” or that “This is unskillful.” If I… were to declare that “This is skillful,” or that “This is unskillful,” desire, passion, aversion, or resistance would occur to me; that would be a falsehood for me. Whatever would be a falsehood for me would be a distress for me. Whatever would be a distress for me would be an obstacle for me.’ So, out of fear of falsehood, a loathing for falsehood, he does not declare that ‘This is skillful,’ or that ‘This is unskillful.’ Being asked questions regarding this or that, he resorts to verbal contortions, to eel-like wriggling: ‘I don’t think so. I don’t think in that way. I don’t think otherwise. I don’t think not. I don’t think not not.’
I have to admit that I was incredibly disturbed by this and felt completely indignant when people in the audience asked this teacher for the definitive “Buddhist” perspective on whatever their particular concern was. I know that I should not allow my aversion to completely carry me away but it angers me to see people with a genuine interest in the Dhamma being led completely astray by teachers who indiscriminately use the term Buddhist to label their particular philosophy. I have no problem with Seon, Zen, Pureland, Yogacara, Madhyamika or other post-canonical Buddhist philosophies and religions but I think it’s important that we be clear about the provenance of our views. If one takes Chinul, Dogen, Amitabha or Atisha to be the authoritative guide for one’s practice that is fine but I do believe that one should make that clear when taking on the role of a teacher. To do otherwise is to do a disservice to the Lord Buddha and to hasten the end of the true Dhamma.