The Nature of the Teacher Is the Nature of the Teachings
“The Great Master of Oddiyana warns:
‘Not to examine the teacher
Is like drinking poison.’”
from Words of My Perfect Teacher
by Patrul Rinpoche
We acknowledge the dubious honor of a response by William L. Cassidy to our recent post, “Haspori.” Cassidy responded on his blog, Digital Tibetan Buddhist Altar, with a post entitled “Answering Echoes.” (He maintains his blog under the name “Tulku Urgyen Tenpa Rinpoche,” titles to which, as we have shown elsewhere, he is not entitled.)
Cassidy begins his response with the following ramblings. (Really, lest you wonder why we bother, his writing is often more syntactically skillful than the following excerpt evinces.)
The use of the term “parroted phrases” is a cheap shot at those who repeat the Buddhist teachings as offered by qualified masters. Cheap, we say, because of the illogic of both deriding the use of the teachers’ phrasing AND insisting that “we are only talking basics.” In fact, we openly admit that we do not feel in any way qualified to instruct anyone in the Dharma. We do, however, feel not only free, but obligated, to repeat teachings given by qualified Teachers. We do so in the hope that they may bring some benefit to others who do not possess “lived through experience of the dawning of knowing the nature of their own minds,” as the DTBA blogger is inspired to put it.
In his post, Cassidy clearly suggests that he HAS lived that experience and is somehow able to instruct us on the nature of mind. Moreover, he claims learning and realization to the degree that he can assert that no Western translation of Vajrasattva practice is adequate—and we must trust him to give us the “real deal.” The hubris in this claim reveals the quality of his “knowing the nature” of mind.
Rather than debate his assertions point by point, we wish instead to place his remarks in perspective. We have shown over and over that the writer of DTBA is a con man.
Con men are successful not because people are stupid (although they may believe we are), but rather because people tend to be trusting, especially in the presence of something that “sounds” convincing. There is no question that Cassidy has devoted a portion of his life to studying Dharma texts, and has some familiarity with Dharma practice—but ask him any detailed questions and you will find you receive an evasive response. He knows only enough to put on a good show that he knows more than you. Watch for evasions like, “It isn’t important,” or “It depends,” before you follow him down the road of his logic. We have covered this point previously on this blog.
At this time, in the context of Cassidy’s latest display of his “wisdom,” we wish to examine once again the teachings about what to look for in a qualified Teacher, as well as some of the characteristics of those who, we have been warned, will try to lead us astray.
In recent post, Cassidy has shown a predilection for quoting Gyaltrul Rinpoche, so we will begin with an excerpt from Gyaltrul Rinpoche’s commentary on “Great Perfection Buddha in the Palm of the Hand” published by Yeshe Melong, 1992. Gyatrul Rinpoche refers to the teachings of Padmasambhava, Guru Rinpoche, about the false teachers who were predicted to arise in these degenerate times:
“Also, Guru Rinpoche says that in these degenerate times demonic forces (demons, negative spirits, and harmful entities) are intentionally manifesting, sending forth deceptive emanations of themselves of spiritual teachers, appearing as great scholars and realized ones, honorable and disciplined on the outside yet actually harmful entities on the inside. They are intentionally trying to lead sentient beings into the lower realms.
Guru Rinpoche also said that during these degenerate times there are many demons and spirits who will say they are deities when they are not. Specifically, there are nine types that will come into human realms to lead beings astray on the spiritual path in these times. These negative spirits will manifest deceptive displays, making it appear that they have reached the first, second, and third bhumis when in fact they haven’t. They will display magical signs to cause you to believe they have. They will even appear as bodhisattvas when they’re not. They will manifest different signs and miraculous displays, through body, speech and mind, so inconceivable that they will take your mind away. Seeing these deceptive displays of power, beings with weak merit and karma will experience the arising of faith and will focus their devotion on these negative beings.
It is also taught in the sutras that in the future there will be demonic spirits, demons, who will become khenpos and will be called archaryas, and will be exceedingly honorable and peaceful. Yet you mustn’t trust only in this. They will be very skillful with words, but still you shouldn’t trust them. It is very difficult for such a being to show the signs of one who has been liberated from the snare of cyclic existence, and therein you can find your sign.”
Indeed, according to these teachings, it is very difficult not to be deceived. So, what are the qualities to look for? Gyatrul Rinpoche describes the qualified teacher in this way:
“He should have great pure vision, pure perception, and should work solely for the purpose of others. The lama should have abandoned the eight worldly concerns, and without a single concern for this life and for the things of this life, he should direct all efforts towards preparations for future lifetimes. He should be a true holder of a lineage containing the powerful blessings of great realized masters. . . .”
Gyaltrul Rinpoche continues in the same text to describe some things to look out for, such as one who mixes traditions.
“Such a teacher may be clever with words, there may be much to listen to, but the path is upside down. Such a teacher will say he is non-sectarian, saying this is why he’s bringing all these different teachings together (p. 47).”
Emphasizing the importance of all the traditions, Gyaltrul Rinpoche stresses that they should not be mixed.
According to Gyatrul Rinpoche, the clarity of the teacher, the teaching, and the lineage is essential because of the confusion in which we sentient beings find ourselves.
“You are already in a state of deep-rooted confusion. When a teacher doesn’t lay out a path clearly, when he can’t document its origins, its lineages, and has no proof of its validity, when he mixes traditions, creating his own path, and tries to convince you of its validity, confusion increases. On the other hand, if a teacher is very clear and teaches in a straightforward way: ‘This is our tradition; this is the origin, these are the principles, this is the path,’ no matter what religion or what tradition, keeping it in its proper context, this makes things much easier for the disciple (p. 49).”
We beg you to examine anyone who attempts to offer teachings in the same way.
“By not examining a teacher with great care
The faithful waste their gathered merit.
Like taking for the shadow of a tree a vicious snake,
Beguiled, they lose the freedom they at last had found.”
from Words of My Perfect Teacher
by Patrul Rinpoche