We might believe that choosing a Dharma teacher is a matter of finding someone famous. Perhaps we decide to follow someone who has written a lot of books. Or, maybe our friends or colleagues tell us we should go hear a certain teacher. But nowadays, we may wonder how we can possibly know who is qualified to teach the Dharma? And how can we begin to evaluate a teacher when there seem to be so many people offering teachings, retreats, or courses? Do we just follow someone who is popular or do we need to do some research? And how can we make smart choices?
This is not only a modern question. In this excerpt from Khenpo Gyaltsen’s A Lamp Illuminating the Path to Liberation: An Explanation of Essential Topics for Dharma Students, Khenpo gives us advice from classic Mahāyāna texts. These core guidelines help us to make informed evaluations about a teacher. And this is far safer than relying on our fickle emotions or following trends. If we remember to look for these qualities when we examine a teacher, we can be confident!
The Qualities of a Dharma Teacher
The teacher’s qualities and characteristics are explained in various ways in the different scriptures. In The Ornament of the Great Vehicle Sūtras, it is taught that a dharma teacher must have ten specific qualities:
One should follow a spiritual teacher who is gentle, at peace, thoroughly at peace,
Possesses superior qualities, is diligent, rich in terms of scripture,
Realized with respect to reality, skilled in teaching,
Loving in nature, and has relinquished weariness.
As explained therein:
1. Endowed with discipline, the teacher is gentle
2. Endowed with samadhi, the teacher is at peace;
3. Endowed with wisdom, they have thoroughly pacified the afflictions;
4. Possessing qualities that surpass all others, they possess superior qualities;
5. Free of laziness when it comes to benefiting others, they are diligent;
6. Having studied extensively, they are rich in terms of scripture;
7. Knowing the true nature as that which is to be known, they are realized with respect to reality;
8. They are eloquent and skilled in teaching;
9. They are loving in nature and not influenced by concerns for material wealth;
10. They have relinquished weariness with regard to teaching the dharma.
These are the ten qualities.
Ornament of the Great Vehicle Sūtras, translated by the Dharmachakra Translation Committee (Snow Lion Publications, 2014), pp. 579-580
The Way the Teacher Expounds the Dharma
Teachers expound the dharma in a manner that is endowed with the six pāramitās [perfections] as follows:
1. Giving to others the words and meaning they have realized themselves is generosity;
2. Binding the negative conduct of their three doors of body, speech, and mind is discipline;
3. Enduring heat, cold, and other such hardships is patience;
4. Taking joy in explaining the dharma is diligence;
5. Keeping their own mind in one-pointedness is concentration;
6. Examining and explaining the contradictions and connections between words and meaning is wisdom.
In this way they expound the dharma in a manner that is sealed with the six pāramitās.
This teaching is an excerpt from:
A Lamp Illuminating the Path to Liberation: An Explanation of Essential Topics for Dharma Students by Khenpo Gyaltsen (translated by Lhasey Lotsawa Translations, Nepal: 2014, pp. 7-9). For more information visit https://lhaseylotsawa.org/books/a-lamp-illuminating-the-path-to-liberation.