One of my favourite stories in Buddhism is Angulimala. Angulimala was a feared serial killer in ancient India who was tamed by Buddha and later became enlightened.
Angulimala wasn’t born a killer. He used to be a diligent and bright young man seeking spiritual insights. He followed a famous teacher to obtain higher eduucation. Angulimala was bright and learned fast. Consequently he became the teacher’s favourite and even surpassed his seniors. This created jeolousy amongst his class mates and they plotted against him. They staged an accusation that he was seducing the teacher’s wife. The plot was successful and Angulimala lost the affection of his teacher.
His teacher wanted Angulimala to leave his congregation and demanded that Angulimala to obtain a thousand fingers to complete his spiritual training.
With complete faith in his teacher, he proceeded to fulfill his “holy duty”. Not realising that was a ruse by his teacher to make him leave. Before long, he lost all reasoning and just wanted to fulfill his holy commandment and became a feared killer.
This story fully illustrates how a person’s mind can be exploited or corrupted by a wrong teacher. In the same story, Buddha became his saviour when He made Angulimala realise his mistakes and repent.
Here are some of the guidelines that I had learned in my earlier education and I hope it will be useful to all beginners of Buddhism.
- The teachers of Buddhism whether monks, nuns, laymans or whatever title accorded by various Buddhist traditions or cultures are simply just teachers. Buddha is a teacher too. Buddha taught the method and we applied his method to get the desired result. HAPPINESS. Do not think, believe or treat Buddhist teachers like how you would worship a God. If any Buddhist teachers want to make you believe they are some kind of God, something is wrong.
- Examine the teachings of the teachers and make sure they are in line with basic Buddhist principles and moral conduct. (such as the five precepts etc) By all means examine the behaviour and conduct of the teachers. If they are monks and nuns, they need to comply with the monastic code of conduct. Since the fundamental of Buddhism is to rid ourselves of cravings, hatred and ignorance, any teachings that promote or encourage negativity should be examined with extra care and thought.
- Monastic monks and nuns observing the full precepts of Buddhist monastic codes are carrying on a legacy from the Buddha’s time. They represent the ideal way of religious livelihood demonstrated by Buddha and his order. They deserve respect. But again they do not become god just by wearing ancient costume. Even if the Buddha is alive today, the best way to honor him is to follow his teachings and gain enlightenment. Of course we should support the livelihood of these noble monks and nuns by providing alms and donation.
- Since Buddhism does not promote god worshipping, there is no such thing as a commandment that damn us to hell for disobedience. That means no teacher can force us to do anything that we feel uncomfortable with. If you are not ready to do something, don’t do it! All the Dharma are advices that guide us to do good, accumulate merits and obtain everlasting happiness. If a teacher ask us to do something that is morally repulsive and we do not wish to do so, then don’t. No teacher will ask us to commit crime or inflict self harm.
Since it takes two hands to clap, the other part is about ourselves.
- We have to understand the role of Buddha and his order of noble disciple. We have to learn that Buddhism advocate “Do It Yourselve” happiness. Happiness cannot be obtained without investing our own effort. This leads to the next point.
- Do not shop around for mystic monks, nuns or layman believing that our problems can be resolved if we find the powerful one. Our problems cannot ever be fully resolve unless we get out of Samsara. The Buddha did not teach his disciples to become shaman or witchdoctors. Anyone entering full time monastic living requires material support, especially food. If we provide them food and basic living necessity, it free up their time to focus on spiritual training. Therefore our charity is for supporting their noble goals of obtaining enlightenment. If we only promote and focus on sponsoring people with fantastic claims in performing miracles etc, we are helping to promote superstition. We inevitably promote a culture that encourages lay people to sponsor only mystics. In short, do not promote a culture that educate people to view the monastic order as mere witch doctors….
- Do not develop unhealthy attachment to the teacher. Their role is to teach and our role is to practice. There is no room for unhealthy love and attachment towards one’s Buddhist teacher. Even attachment to Buddha is a hinderance as demonstrated by the noble Ananda (Buddha’s personal attendent monk) Ananda heard every sermon that Buddha taught, but his attachment prevented him from gaining any enlightenment until after the Buddha had passed into parinirvana.