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Lions Roar : November 2017
Trust is critical here. A genuine teacher is trustworthy and puts the needs of the student first. The sign of a teacher who has this quality is that students feel safe and protected in their care. They know that no matter what is going on in their life, their teacher will always be there to guide and support them. The fourth and final quality is the one that relates the most directly to ethics. A genuine teacher should uphold their vows and precepts. In the Tibetan tradition, that means they maintain what- ever monastic or lay vows they have taken, adhere to the bodhisattva vows of the Mahayana, and keep the samaya vows of the Vajrayana. This is no small feat, but it is very important. There are lots of details included in this one, and as students we may not know exactly what vows a person holds. But we can ask around and check to see if there are any questions about a teacher’s behavior or conduct. That is a good place to start. In this day and age, it is not easy to find a perfect teacher. The time of the Buddha, when people seemed to get enlightened just by showing up, is long gone. We may not find a teacher who per- fectly embodies all four of these qualities, but they should have all of them to some degree. If a teacher is completely lacking one or more of these qualities, it is probably best to move on. Leaving a Teacher These four qualities are a good general guideline to follow when looking for a teacher. But even when we do our best to research a teacher first, often we only really get to know the teacher after becoming their student. In the modern world, most of us do not have a monastery or Buddhist expert down the street. We do not necessarily know all the details about a teacher, or even have someone we can ask. So what do we do when we discover that a teacher is not quite what we hoped? Many students of Tibetan Buddhism mistakenly think that they cannot, or should not, leave a teacher once they’ve made a commitment to them. This is not the case. The whole point of the teacher–student relationship is that it should benefit the student. It is not for the teacher’s gain or profit. If you have tried your best and have found that it is not a good fit, you can look for another teacher. This is not a problem or personal fail- ing. It is good judgment. The best way to leave is to do so without bad-mouthing the teacher or creating difficulties for those who may be benefiting from the teacher and the community. Leave on good terms, or at the very least, do not leave on bad terms. Simply move on with humility and do not feel bad about the fact that it did not work out. The one caveat I would add here is that it is important to be honest with yourself. Leaving a teacher or community that does not seem to be a good fit is understandable, but if you find every teacher unworthy of your time, then you may want to look deeper into your own patterns to see what is going on. It may be difficult to make any progress on the path if you are looking for perfection. Serious Ethical Violations However, it is another matter altogether when a teacher is com- mitting serious ethical violations. Leaving a teacher on good terms makes sense when the issue is just a matter of fit between teacher and student. When the issue is people being hurt or laws being broken, the situation is different. In that case, the violation of ethical norms needs to be addressed. If physical or sexual abuse has occurred, or there is financial impropriety or other breaches of ethics, it is in the best interest of the students, the community, and ultimately the teacher, to address the issues. Above all, if someone is being harmed, the safety of the victim comes first. This is not a Buddhist principle. This is a basic human value and should never be violated. The appropriate response depends on the situation. In some cases, if a teacher has acted inappropriately or harmfully but acknowledges the wrongdoing and commits to avoiding it in the future, then dealing with the matter internally may be adequate. But if there is a long-standing pattern of ethical violations, or if the abuse is extreme, or if the teacher is unwilling to take respon- sibility, it is appropriate to bring the behavior out into the open. In these circumstances, it is not a breach of samaya to bring painful information to light. Naming destructive behaviors is a necessary step to protect those who are being harmed or who are in danger of being harmed in the future, and to safeguard the health of the community. Crazy Wisdom The Vajrayana tradition has a history of eccentric yogis and yoginis and teachers who used extreme methods to guide their students. The story of Marpa asking Milarepa to build and then dismantle a series of stone towers is perhaps the most famous example of this. This tradition of “crazy wisdom” can be authentic, but unfortunately it is often invoked as a rationaliza- tion for unethical behavior that has nothing to do with wisdom or compassion. The most important thing to know about these unusual teaching styles is that they are meant to benefit the student. If they are not rooted in compassion and wisdom, they are not genuine. Actions that are rooted in compassion and wisdom— even when they appear odd, eccentric, or even wrathful—do The purpose of viewing the teacher as a buddha is so we can see these same awakened qualities in ourselves, in others, and in the world around us. ➢ page 80 LION’S ROAR | NOVEMBER 2017 39