Sitting on the floor I awaited eagerly for the lesson to start.
That was the 1st time I am receiving instruction from that teacher and there was only a handful of 5 students sitting in his room.
“Do you know why the Buddha’s head look like this?” the teacher pointed to a buddha statue beside him
There was silence. I was the only new comer to the group of 5 students. The rest of the class just smiled peacefully.
“The Buddha’s head is covered by snails and I want to share that story with all of you” the teacher continued.
Suddenly my logical mind felt like it was hit by a train. That feature on the statue is supposed to represent the unique feature of Sakyamuni Buddha. It is meant to show his hair curled in a clockwise direction! What is this guy talking about? SNAILS? Does he know Buddhism at all? Why isn’t anyone correcting him? All beginner’s buddhist text taught it. Isn’t he a highly realised master?
I decided to keep my mind open and continue listening.
“Let’s hope the teacher will start giving some tips on meditation later on” I thought to myself.
“The people in China once asked Buddha why there are tide in the ocean, what causes the tide. Buddha did not know the answer and so he went to the underwater world and ask the Dragon King of Eastern Ocean. The dragon king said that it is a secret. Buddha was determined to know the answer and so he secretly stayed in the sea to find out the secret.” the teacher continued with the story, smiling so slightly with amusement in his eyes. Everyone else was just sitting there listening politely. They seemed to believe every word the teacher was saying!
My eyes wide with disbelieve. Buddha from CHINA?!!! Where on earth did this account of the Buddha’s life come from? I have never read this in any Buddhist text before. The Buddha already achieved ultimate wisdom and knowledge, how could he not know about tide? I was starting to doubt the teacher. Is it a waste of time to be sitting there listening to all these rubbish? Let’s be patient, maybe the teacher did not have formal buddhist study but is good in his meditation. I am here to learn meditation anyway. I convinced myself to focus on the story.
“Buddha sat in meditation under the sea, observing the tide coming in and out. He couldn’t understand the tide. However Buddha did not give up, he was determined to find the answer. He sat under the sea for hundreds of years. During that time the snails decided to nest on the head of Buddha. Buddha was very focused and not disturbed by the different animals crawling over him and making nest on his head. With such determination, he finally found the secret of the tide. He returned to the fishing village and shared his knowledge with the people. As a result, the fishermen learnt about the ocean’s ebbing and benefited greatly from it. To thank the Buddha, they created his statue, showing the snails on his head. That’s all for today. Hope you find the story useful for your meditation.” The teacher said after a moment of silent in the room.
That was the end of the lesson? I was incredulous.
Once we were outside his room, I turned to my friend and asked him. “What was that about?”
” The teacher gave that story because you are new in the group” said my friend with a smirk on his face.
“What? SNAILS on Buddha’s head?” I asked with eyes wide open.
“Yup. I think you just passed his test narrowly” He chuckled.
“What? Everyone knows about the feature of the Buddha and he is a monk! Doesn’t he know?” my head was whirling now.
“Of course he knows! But if you were to correct him just now, he would never teach you meditation ever! To be a good student we need to be open, like an empty glass. Otherwise we can’t be taught. We heard that from another lecturing monk last week didn’t we?” said my friend. Still smirking. “Anyway, examine the story deeply and you should get the general advice on meditation for beginners. By the way, why didn’t you seek clarification? just now after the story?”
Suddenly I realised what had happened. I went numb in the head again!
The 1st lesson is a lesson and a test.
The teacher was testing the quality of the student. Is the student open minded or receptive to training? Is the student patient? Can the student endure? How does the student react to confusion?
When seeking spiritual training from a teacher, we need to be open minded. Once we decide to listen, we listen.
After we had listen, we analyse and think. If we are fixated on what we want to hear, we can never learn new things because new ideas will never have a chance with us.
AND always clarify when in doubt! Real clarification begins with humbleness. A willingness to accept the teacher as more knowledgeable than ourselves. (I failed that part)
Just like we should examine the quality of the teacher. The teacher will also examine the quality of the student. That is the compassion of a qualified Buddhist teacher. Teaching an unqualified or non-ready student may bring harm to the student instead.