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The trouble with teachers

“I won’t go into a big spiel about reincarnation, but the first time I was in the Gucci store in Chicago was the closest I’ve ever felt to home.” Nobody ever said that Kayne West was fit to teach, well, anything.

Thursday 18 August 2016, 02:21PM

Taktsang Palphug Monastery in Paro valley, Bhutan.
Taktsang Palphug Monastery in Paro valley, Bhutan.

by Jason Jellison

However, if one were to think about the shopping malls in Bangkok, as well as the decline of Buddhism in the East, that statement would take on a new form of irony.
The biggest trouble with teachers is that it is very difficult to find one that won’t lead you astray. Take, for instance, the televangelists in America. If ever one should beware of false prophets, these bloodhounds would take the cake.

Here are just a few notable pearls of wisdom from these “learned men”. Pat Robertson apparently forgot the whole “turn the other cheek” part of the Bible when he once said of Washington, D.C., “Maybe we need a very small nuke thrown off on Foggy Bottom to shake things up.” In the same vein, (and apparently forgetting that pesky “Thou shalt not kill” commandment) television huckster Jimmy Swaggart once quipped, “I’m gonna be blunt and plain, if one ever looks at me like that I’m gonna kill him and tell God that he died.”

Money is, of course, also frequently a topic for teachers. Joel Olsteen is quoted as having said, “God wants us to prosper financially, to have plenty of money, to fulfill the destiny He has laid out for us.” Creflo Dollar (aptly named, I might add) got more efficiently to the point when he recently tweeted, “Jesus bled and died for us so that we can lay claim to the promise of financial prosperity.”

Throughout history, women have also been the subject of the most stupid of teachings, even by good teachers. Aristotle once said, “The female is a female by virtue of a certain lack of qualities.” Plutarch once said, “A wife should have no feelings of her own…” Saint Thomas Aquinas once wrote that woman is made when “the semen is weak”, Cato the Elder lamented that, “Woman is a violent and uncontrolled animal…”, Napoleon proclaimed, “Nature intended women to be our slaves…” and even Sigmund Freud stated, “The sexual life of women is a dark continent for psychology.”

I imagine you’re thinking that Buddhism would be immune from this chicanery; with all of its sophistication and everything? Not so! With the proliferation of the Internet, there are so many incorrect quotes attributed to Buddha that I could write another column. Sadly, all religions can be taught improperly and improper teaching is disastrous for a follower.

There has always been and always will be the crowd who wants to take your money, much like America’s infamous televangelists. There are also far too many teachers who simply learned incorrect knowledge and unwittingly pass it on. The question becomes how do I find an enlightened teacher?” It’s not easy. After all, in Thailand, you would need a team to translate for you. I do have some advice that can help.

First, a sincere Buddhist teacher will not be interested in your money or be hawking goods. Second, you need to know that Buddhist teachers do not perform miracles like Jesus. They cannot take away all of your sorrows and suffering. If you’re looking for that, look elsewhere or you’ll be taken advantage of.

Finally, while Thailand is one of the best places for a Westerner to discover Buddhism, Thailand is not one of the best places for most Westerners to learn Buddhism. Yes, there are certainly a few services in English that you can find for yourself on the Internet. You need to understand that Thai culture and Western culture are polar opposites. Many foreign teachers will struggle to accommodate your learning style and translation will also be a serious issue.

If you really want to learn Buddhism you may need to make a commitment to return to the west. You may be surprised to learn that many of Thailand’s best monks actually live in the West now. There are many wonderful temples dotting Europe and America. There is even a Buddhist university in Boulder, Colorado.

Bear these things in mind when searching for a teacher. Remember, Buddha urges us to find the truth on our own, for Buddha said, “By oneself is evil left undone; by oneself is one made pure…” That’s something Buddha actually said. It’s in Dharmapadda XII, verse 165.



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