When the master refused to teach

There is no point in trying to pour water into an overturned container.

This happened more than 10 years ago and it left a lasting impression for me.

A small Buddhist centre invited a famous Lama to teach a profound practice. Newspaper advertisements were placed and many people arrived at the centre on that day. A space that is approximately 600 +/- square feet. Everyone was packed into the room like sardines in a can. It was a weekday and the teaching was supposed to be on 2 evenings (7pm to 10pm). Most people came after work.

We waited patiently in that room. An hour passed and the teacher had not arrived! Someone in the crowd opined, “Perhaps he was delayed over dinner.”

When Lama finally showed, it was almost 9pm! He smiled profusely and even bowed to us (the awe-stricken students)

Everyone was excited and looking forward to the teaching.

Lama apologised for being late and explained that he was preparing himself to give this profound teaching. Unfortunately, he wasn’t prepared enough and therefore could not teach. He humbly asked to be forgiven.

“What !??” Many thoughts flashed in my mind. Some not too pleasant ones, I had to block out.

The crowd of city dwellers, used to clockwork precision was surprised and perhaps some people like me were irritated by the sudden change of plan.

Lama announced that he will share some introductory teachings instead. He explained that this will help us prepare ourselves for the actual teachings. We expected him to stop at 10pm but it went on and on.

It finally ended around midnight! He promised to try his best to teach us the next day.

I was exhausted and my legs felt numb from sitting cross-legged on the floor, in a packed room. (You can’t adjust your posture without disturbing another person)

Day 2.

The same thing happened! Lama did not impart teachings on the profound practice and continued to give “Basic” Buddhist teachings. The importance of refuge, story about compassion, etc etc. After a short toilet break, there seemed to be more space in the room. I guess some participants had more urgent matters to attend. Day 2 ended beyond midnight!

Day 3.

I was surprised that the room is not as crowded. Those who came were obviously very tired from the previous 2 nights. More basic teachings! A short toilet break later and more people left!

Lama started to teach the advertised practice after 10 pm and it continued to 2am!

Day 4.

I was in a dazed state. 3 consecutive late nights plus work in the office. Time seemed to be warped and I found myself back at the centre in no time. Lama was punctual this time. Those who complained about his tardiness and lack of spiritual attainments were not there. Those who think they can get the same teachings from other “higher” Lama were not there. Those who were simply curious about profound Tibetan practices were not there.

The teaching continued until 4am! We were taught a mantra at conclusion and told to recite it verbally. Perhaps I was simply too tired and hallucinating. But I had a wonderful experience that new morning!

I am glad to have stayed even though the master had refused to teach on 2 previous nights.


In the oriental world, stories similar to the above is common. The knowledge holder imparts their wisdom selectively.

When we seek a spiritual teacher, we examine their qualities and make sure we learn from qualified teachers.

Unfortunately, in our modern world, we treat everything like a transaction and felt entitled all the time.

We look upon a spiritual teacher as if they are school lecturers paid to do a job. We wrongly assume that they are obligated to teach us. (no matter what)

We forgot that, a spiritual teacher will examine their students to determine if the students are the right vessels to inherit their knowledge too.

Imagine, approaching a Buddhist teacher and being rejected. Can we take that setback? I believe most of us will be discouraged. Some may even become angry.

If we examine the life of the Buddha, we will discover that Buddha had refused to teach on a few occasion too. He explained that the knowledge seeker who requested the knowledge was not ready to understand the knowledge. Those instances were known as the Buddha’s Noble Silence.

Try not to take things for granted and maybe we will learn more in the process.

May all be well and happy.