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Buddhadharma : Winter 2014
44 buddhadharma: the Practitioner’s quarterly winter 2 0 1 4 perfect. My idealism not only blinded me to my teacher’s human fallibility but was also reinforced by the teachings. I was even given the message that to see flaws in the guru, or to criticize him, would lead to dreadful suffering. In retrospect, I see how I was tied into a belief system that acted as a power- ful snare using very skillful rationale. The danger with indiscriminate idealized devo- tion to the teacher is that we are trusting that he or she will hold a place of complete integrity and will have no personal agendas. I feel fortunate that with most of my own teachers, this has actually been the case. But what happens when we start to discover that the teacher is human, with issues, flaws, and needs? Do we just dismiss this as our own delusion or his crazy wisdom, since he is after all Buddha? In the forty years that I have been involved in the Buddhist world, it has become very clear that while there are some extraordinary teachers with great integrity, they are seldom if ever flawless. They may have extraordinary depths of insight, but they also make mistakes and sometimes behave badly. As a psychotherapist, I would go further and even suggest that a few of them actually have significant psychological problems. It is possible for a teacher to have deep insights but also struggle with the stability of their personal identity in the world. The exalted, almost divine status of certain teachers such as incarnate lamas, and the way they’re brought up, can cause them to become self-centered or narcissis- tic. Occasionally this can lead to bullying and even cruel and abusive behavior with students. It does not then serve any of us to simply ignore this behav- ior or to go into a kind of naive denial that says, “It is my obscuration; the teacher is perfect.” This dynamic can lead to a kind of masochistic intoxication with a teacher’s abusive behavior, with the devotee justifying it as something that is all part of his or her path. I am sometimes shocked when I hear students describe how the critical, bullying way in which they are treated is a necessary part of the destruction of the ego. So often this reflects the narcissism of the teacher rather than some kind of enlightened skillful means. The Dalai Lama wrote in his book The Path to Enlightenment: The problem with the practice of seeing everything the guru does as perfect is that it very easily turns to poison for both the guru and the disciple. Therefore, whenever I teach this practice, I always advocate that the tradition of “every action seen as perfect” not be stressed. Should the guru manifest un-dharmic qualities or give teachings contradicting dharma, the instruction on seeing the spiritual master as perfect must give way to reason and dharma wisdom. I could think to myself, “They all see me as a Buddha, and therefore will accept anything I tell them.” Too much faith and imputed purity of perception can quite easily turn things rotten. Sadly, unquestioning devotion toward teachers has indeed sometimes turned things rotten. While we can hope the majority of Eastern and Western teachers are genuine in their integrity, there are a few who do not behave skillfully, and their students are extremely vulnerable to being abused and taken advantage of. It is therefore necessary for us to wake up and not be beguiled by charismatic teach- ers and our own need to idealize. In our devotion to a teacher we can have a strong sense of respect, appreciation, and indeed love, but not in a way that blinds us to their human fallibility. We need to retain our sense of discernment that recognizes and faces when things are not acceptable or beneficial. If this means a level of disillusionment, then so be PHOTOannamurrayPreece ROB PREECE is a psychotherapist and meditation teacher living in England. he is the author of The Wisdom of Imperfection (Snow lion) and Feeling Wisdom, for thcoming in December (Shambhala).