The Three Jewels and the role of the teacher

The teacher is imperative in the Buddhadharma. That might sound a bit radical. But let us consider this statement and dismantle it, trying to understand the core of it. When we take refuge we take refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. This alone is profound and multi-faceted but for the sake of simplicity, let’s keep it all simple. Buddha means Completely Awakened, it is a Sanskrit word.

The manifestation of Buddha’s mind are his instructions and teachings, or the Dharma and the ones who make sure that the teachings, not only 1:1 but also expounded, explained, and conveyed, get into the next generation, are the Sangha. Without these explanations of the Sangha it is a certainty that we will neither understand the teachings intellectually, nor comprehend them in our heart. That sounds as if I was doing some PR for teachers and advertise them. And it is always a bit strange if a teacher talks about the necessity of teachers but I have to take back my sensitivites here and inform you about this because else the teaching on refuge, only for the sake of being ego friendly, would be incomplete. Let me compound this a bit more so no misunderstanding can arise.

The teacher is not important for us because he or she is so beautiful to see, is eloquent or  smart. The only reason is that he or she brings us the Dharma, the Buddha’s teachings. Not only that. The teacher gives us the transmissions or explanations of the lineage that are necessary to understand such simple statements as “Buddha attained enlightenment”. Students of the first semester at Buddhist university take apart this sentence for half a year, just to get a feeling for the depth of this statement, the compendium of all what it comprises.

The relationship that each student of the Buddha Dharma has with the teacher is individual. There is no such thing as a codex of comportment that defines strictly how to treat a teacher. Each student has his own relationship with the teacher, a solely spiritual relationship, just to take away possible misunderstandings. The teacher is Sangha, technically. He or she transmits and transfers the Dharma, Buddha’s teachings. Everyone of you has a different kind of trust in this fact and hence comports themselves accordingly: With respect, in trust. The more trust we have in the teacher as the bearer of the Dharma, the more respectful will our interaction with the teacher be. The more devotional we are, the more respect we will feel.

It is that simple. If someone tells you something differently, then that is not correct. The teacher is Sangha and not a rock- or filmstar whom we admire beyond the morally reasonable and completely switch off our brains. We have faith in the teacher as the person who brings us Buddhas’ teachings and explains them so we can fullfill the promise that we gave during our taking refuge: to follow the sacred path of the Buddha and to actively put it into action. The teacher guides us along the path but we have to walk the path ourselves.

Chöje Lama Palmo