How to appraise a spiritual teacher.

We have heard the Kalama sutta many times and know that Buddha does not endorse blind faith in spiritual teachers. However, how do we go about appraising someone to determine if they are qualified to guide us spiritually?

I am fortunate to read the Canki Sutta recently and here’s my personal take, interpretation and (I think) practical approach after being inspired by this sutta.

Canki Sutta.

There are three class of teachers.

  • Those who safeguard the Truth
  • Those who have awaken to the Truth
  • Those who have attained the Truth

 Those who safeguard the Truth,

are people who have very strong conviction in the doctrine. They could be upholding an unbroken tradition that was handed down for many generations. With strong convictions, they keep and preserve the doctrine/scriptures.

Such people are said to be safeguarding the Truth. Perhaps they simply like the doctrine or they could have reasoned and pondered; and after reasoning and pondering, deeply accepted the doctrine.

I think those who safeguard the Truth can be knowledgeable and will make a good companion for our study and practice of the Dharma.

This is the most fundamental and easy to check but we cannot be lazy. We need to read and study to be knowledgeable. Then it is easy to appraise if another person is equally or more knowledgeable than us.

How do we ascertain those who have awaken to the Truth?

  • One has to observe if that person is free from the 3 poisons (greed, aversion and delusion) in terms of their action, speech and thoughts.
  • One has to observe if that person makes frivolous claims, such as saying “I know” while not knowing or “I see “ while not seeing.
  • One has to observe if that person’s advice/teachings causes or lead others to engage in greed, aversion and delusion
  • One has to observe if that person teaches from deep experience and realization that is free from the 3 poisons. One has to observe deeply and come to conclusion that “the Dhamma he/she teaches is deep, hard to see, hard to realize, tranquil, refined, beyond the scope of conjecture, subtle, to-be-experienced by the wise. This Dhamma can’t easily be taught by a person who possesses the 3 poisons”.

When we encounter such a pure teacher who has awaken to the truth, then we should

  1. have conviction in him/her.
  2. Visit and grow close to the teacher.
  3. Hear dharma from the teacher,
  4. Remember what the teacher taught.
  5. Having remembered the teachings, penetrate the meanings of the teachings
  6. Then ponder and come to an agreement with the teachings
  7. After agreeing with the teachings, a spiritual desire arise
  8. Through that spiritual desire, one becomes willing
  9. When one is willing, then one contemplates
  10. Through these contemplation, one applies effort and exertion
  11. Exerting ourselves, we both realizes the ultimate meaning of the truth with our body and sees by penetrating it with discernment.

The above deals with how we can awaken to the Truth.

Note: Point 1 to 6 is pertaining to safeguarding the Truth. If we do that, then we are also safeguarding the Truth. I think this can be considered as studying the Dharma.

Point 7 to 11 is bringing the Dharma into practice. I think contemplating means that we bring what we learnt into our daily life and reflect upon the teachings based on our daily experience. Contemplation is not limited to the session when we are sitting on our meditation cushion.  For example, the contemplation of impermanence, non-self, emptiness etc can be and should be done in our daily life.

Those who have attained the Truth

“The cultivation, development, & pursuit of those very same qualities: to this extent, Bharadvaja, there is the final attainment of the truth. To this extent one finally attains the truth. I describe this as the final attainment of the truth.”

This is refering to those enlightened teachers.

Note 1: The qualities here refer to the absence of greed, aversion and delusion.

Note 2: Attainment is beyond description. For one who has not attained the Truth, one cannot determine if another person has attained the Truth.

However, a person who has attained the Truth will not be contrary to one who has awakened to the Truth.

Therefore, when looking for a spiritual teacher; After we determined that someone has awakened to the Truth, we can have trust/faith and be receptive to spiritual training and teachings from them.

In this way, our approach is balanced. (My personal interpretation of middle approach)

We have a deep respect for our awakened teacher, but we do not loose common sense or reasoning. We do not fall into the trap of blind faith


It seems pretty simple that we should always focus and be on the alert for signs of the 3 poisons. (aversion, greed and ignorance) Any teachers or teachings that creates or build up this 3 poisons in us is not Buddhist.




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