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Guidance to future dhamma teachers

For those of you who wish to become a dhamma teacher in the Great Western Vehicle.

Thu Jan 8, 2004  5:41 pm

By the contemplative recluse monk Sotapanna Jhanananda (Jeffrey S, Brooks)

(copyright 2004 all rights reserved)

First I want to acknowledge your effort at becoming a sangha (community) member, because I know how difficult it can be to serve people. Humans can be very unpleasant beings. And, we contemplatives can be at times somewhat ascetic. And, we ascetics often lead lonely lives, because we tend to prefer our aloneness, I know this. So, we must always make sure we have a quiet secluded space within which we can withdraw and renew ourselves. That quiet refuge is our respective dhamma centers or our homes that we often open up as dhamma centers. But, we must also give rise to an egalitarian love for all beings, not just for the narcissist humans. But, what better way to give rise to loving kindness than to serve humans, not their selfish needs, but to serve them spiritually, to help them throw off their tiresome burden of selfishness and greed.

I have been encouraging each of you to study the Pali canon, which is the foundational literature of Buddhism. As you read through the Nikayas, I believe you will get the same impression about the Buddha I received, and that is, he did not expect his students to be silent devotees for 10, 20, 30 or 40 years until he died, and then to fight over being the single heir to his authority. He empowered each of his students at a summer 3 or 4 month rains retreat. Once they had gone through that training they were expected to spread out all over the known world to teach. Unlike Jesus, he recommended that they travel alone. They were also expected to return the following year to the rains retreat with their students. The Buddha's senior students often returned with hundreds of students to the point that the rains retreats had thousands of aspirants.

There are a number of reasons why I encourage my students and fellow senior level dharma seekers to teach. First and foremost teaching presents us with challenges that inspire us to learn more about the dhamma. Secondly, too few teachers empower their students, so that now the USA has many thousands of highly skilled dhamma students, like many of you, but too few of them have a venue from which to be heard. Too often it seems one must claim enlightenment to just to be heard in this culture. So, I want to always inspire and empower the senior practitioners, like you, wherever I find them.

You will be surprised at how quickly you will arrive in your own as you study the Nikayas. First of all very few people ever read them. You will be amazed almost no dharma teacher here in the West has ever read more than a few suttas. And, you will know this as you read the first two volumes, the Digha Nikaya and the Majjhima Nikaya, then if you attend a dhamma talk, I am sure you will realize that the teacher you are listening to could never have read the Nikayas, or he or she would not be saying what they are, an claiming it is the teachings of the Buddha.

The Nikayas are really the highest authority in Buddhism, even if Mahayanists and Vajrayanists tend to outright reject them. The reason why they reject the Nikayas is because much of the philosophical construct that holds Mahayanist and Vajrayanist beliefs together are not supported by the Nikayas, therefore they must demonize the teachings of the Buddha. I find it quite some irony that they even call themselves Buddhists when they do such things.

So, when you begin to teach do not feel too intimidated when someone challenges you. A good dhamma teacher needs to be first and foremost humble, so if someone with greater knowledge of the dhamma challenges you, then concede right away, do not compete and posture. Listen and thankfully learn. If they say things that you do not agree with, then ask them for their canonical support, then go read that sutta, and see if they are correct. If you find their interpretation is flawed, then challenge them. But, do so without ego and posturing and defensiveness, because all of that is based on grasping and aversion, which we must reject as Buddhist contemplatives, because according to the Buddha in the Four Noble Truths, grasping and aversion is the cause of dukkha (dissatisfaction).

You will find that few highly trained dhamma teachers know anything about the ecstatic experience (jhana) or even accept it. Which might explain why few of these teachers read or grasp the Nikayas, or they would be dedicated the ecstasies (jhanas). So, you are already way ahead of 99% of all Lamas, Rinpoches, Roches, Bhikkhus, Bhantes and lay dhamma teachers. All you need do is familiarize yourself with a few suttas to support your philosophical construct and read through the two volumes. You need not memorize anything.

When you feel challenged during dialog, and you feel as if you are caving in or you are turning to "jelly," look at it. Seamlessly observe the arising phenomena, heroically. Do not let any sensible manifestation of that "caving in" escape your observation. And, if you do that each time, you will gain equanimity, until some very famous and renowned dhamma scholar could challenge you with an excellent argument, and you will not lose any equanimity at all.

So, the dhamma needs community, community needs patience, and compassion. Dharma teachers need to be the living embodiment of patience, and compassion. Just let every moment be in service to all beings, and you will get there very quickly.

May you become enlightened in this very lifetime,

Jhanananda (Jeffrey S. Brooks)

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