4 Ways of the Wise, continued
1. Depend on the teaching and not on the teacher
We are often impressed by speakers who dazzle us with their charisma. Powerful personalities can bring out strong emotions in their audiences. Speakers or teachers who are entertaining, provocative or engaging can motivate us to act. Today, it seems as if a teacher must become a “motivational speaker” to have any students at all.
This can cause problems. Is it necessary to name the charismatic leaders of the past who have led people into great suffering? Appearances can be misleading. Charisma does not tell us whether someone’s knowledge is correct or not.
Choose a spiritual teacher as carefully as you would choose a surgeon. Your life depends on the skill of the surgeon. And something infinitely more important depends on the skill of the spiritual guide.
Of course, many people interested in Buddhism do not yet feel that they are ready to have a personal relationship with a teacher. Perhaps for them it is enough to read dharma books by different teachers. At the beginning, it is helpful to explore. But if we want our practice to go beyond the superficial, if we want to make some progress, then at some point we have to find a teacher.
I suggest that you put as much care into selecting a dharma teacher as you would into choosing a cancer surgeon. Before committing to one teacher, you should investigate. Research several teachers first. Then, select one for you based on the most important criteria: skill at teaching, meditative awareness and knowledge of dharma.
Traditionally, teachers of Buddhist philosophy are separate from teachers of meditation. It is not easy to find someone truly qualified in either area of course. But teachers skilled in meditation are even harder to find than those with a good academic knowledge of philosophy. Philosophy teachers may even be able to teach basic meditation. But more advanced practices can only be taught by someone who has made some progress on the Buddhist path him or herself.
Buddhist teachers should teach the teaching of Buddha, not their own teaching. So it is helpful to know something of the Buddha’s teaching. Read books about the historical Buddha and other great teachers of the past such as the Buddha’s disciples and Tibetan masters like Milarepa. This will help you judge whether a teacher seems to be conveying the genuine dharma.