Idolizing our teachers

Recently I was enjoying a really great post by “Dhammabum” on chanting in Theravada countries, and the different styles and variations. One chant was by a famous Burmese monk named Mingun Sayadaw who managed to memorize the entire Pali Tripitika, which is an immense task. I enjoyed his chanting and admire his amazing devotion, but I noticed a brief comment about his lifetime smoking habit and felt a little dismayed.

Why would I feel dismayed though? It seems kind of stupid to focus on this one thing, at the expense of his other great accomplishments, but then I remember something someone told me a while back: when we put all our ideals on our teachers, we get disappointed.

Honen, the founder of Japanese Pure Land Buddhism, in his catechism was asked a related question:

Q(142): Is there merit in giving alms to a priest who has violated the precepts or to an ignorant priest?

A: In this period of the decline of the dharma, respect for priests who have violated the precepts or who are ignorant, is expected…

I thought about this statement a lot, and I think Honen is trying to get across two things:

  1. If we start withholding respect to our teachers based on our own standards, it’s kind of selfish and arrogant. In a way, we believe we’re superior to them.
  2. It puts a lot of focus on other people’s faults, and not enough on our own.

I’m reminded of a nice Bible quote, one of the few I can still remember after all these years:

Matthew 7:3, “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?”

Namu Amida Butsu

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One Comment on “Idolizing our teachers”

  1. Alexander says:

    As our own minds become more pure, don’t we see people us – teachers included – as more pure?

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