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[ Dhamma Talk ]

Something for Teachers

This is something I have been noticing for a long time: often when one sits down to teach someone, what happens is that without any conscious effort to do so, one finds one's self starting at the level of the individual or group one is instructing. What is then necessary is to take the most direct route to the top of your own understanding, making sure you have "explained to yourself" and understand the details of the steps in between.

I have mentioned this phenomena in a different way in discussing the way these spells are "cast". See: On Emptiness

There can be some problems associated with this phenomena.

For one, if for some reason the instruction is broken off mid way, then this can result in some considerable disorientation. "What happened! A couple of hours ago I was way out there and now I am at the bottom of the pile!" The remedy is, at the first opportunity, to sit down and continue the instruction alone as though to the individual or group previously being taught, paying special attention to seeing if the path to the top is attainable by the one you were instructing given only the information you were able to provide at the time the instruction was broken off. If not, it is a good idea to make a strong attempt to re-establish contact and correct the matter. If you are not able to correct the matter, figure out for yourself the best way to have handled the situation so as to be able to teach another so that the instruction is complete at each step along the way — This Dhamma is uniquely adapted to this situation in that virtually every unit of it ends with Upekkha, Objective Detachment. Just make sure you end at the end of a unit if at all possible.

Since the first tendancy (I speak from experience) of beginning any learning process in America is to immediately go out and try to teach it to anyone who will listen, or write a book about it (I especially love the tendancy of 30-40 year-olds to write books about longevity), this is a phenomena which is very likely to be experienced by beginners.

There was another choice: to concentrate on one's own studies and keep quiet until one had reached a high level of competance. In spite of the obvious merits of keeping quiet until one knows what one is talking about, teaching as a way of learning has a long history, and is not all bad: this way, over time, gives one great strength and an ever-broadening understanding.

My father was a Professor of Mathematics at a Teachers College. Their unofficial motto was: "If you can't do it, teach it, if you can't teach, teach teachers." So with that in mind:

Try to restrict what you are teaching to what you know you know, and remember to qualify any statements you make about what you think you know ... "It is my understanding" ... "This is how I think this works ..." And learn to judge your own competance at being able to convince others.

This is what the suttas say about the matter: (also see below)

If you understand Dhamma for yourself and you think you are competant to teach another, and you think the other person will understand and with little or no trouble to yourself or another, then you may make the effort to teach. (Teaching, while highly praised, and a superb mechanism for increasing one's understanding, is not a requirement of Pali.)

If you understand Dhamma for yourself and you think you are competant to teach another, and you think the other person will understand, even though this will result in a great deal of trouble for yourself or for the other, you may make a strong effort to instruct them.

If you understand Dhamma for yourself and you think you are competant to teach another and you think the other will not understand, but that if you make the effort there will be trouble neither for yourself or for the other, then you may teach or not, some good may result either to yourself or the other.

And if you understand yourself and you think you are competant to teach another and you think the other will not understand, and you think that if you make the effort there will be trouble for either yourself or another, then remain silent. Why should you make trouble for yourself and others for no good reason?

And if you do not understand yourself then you should redouble your efforts to understand for yourself!

 


 

The Satisfaction of Teaching (also see below: The Satisfactions of Teaching)

In the case of the first case, the teacher teaches Dhamma and the students neither pay attention nor learn. In this case the teacher is neither delighted nor disappointed but is satisfied simply to teach Dhamma.

In the case of the second case, the teacher teaches Dhamma and some of the students pay attention and learn and others do not. In this case the teacher is neither delighted nor disappointed but is satisfied simply to teach Dhamma.

In the case of the third case, the teacher teaches Dhamma and the students pay attention, remember, think about, test the meaning, evaluate the results of their testing, put faith in their evaluations, practice according to their understanding, and continue on in this way until they have attained the final goal. In this case the teacher is neither delighted nor disappointed but is satisfied simply to teach Dhamma.

 


 

The Power of Teaching

In this case the teacher instructs:

Visit This sort of teacher
Do not visit that sort of teacher

Listen to This sort of teacher
Do not listen to that sort of teacher

Memorize This sort of Dhamma
Do not memorize that sort of dhamma

Meditate on This sort of Dhamma
Do not Meditate on that sort of dhamma

Test the Truth of This sort of Dhamma
Do not Test the Truth of that sort of dhamma

Evaluate the Results of This sort of Dhamma This Way
Do not evaluate the Results of This sort of Dhamma That Way

Place your Trust in your evaluation of the results of your testing of This sort of Dhamma This Way
Do not Place your Trust in your evaluation of the results of your testing of This sort of Dhamma that way

Practice according to your understanding of This Dhamma This way
Do not Practice according to your understanding of This Dhamma that way

Continue on in This Way Until You have Attained the Highest Goal This Way
Do not Continue on in This Way Until You have Attained the Goal That Way.

 


 

The Right Time to Teach[1]

The circumstances in which this comes up in this sutta is in the case of a Bhikkhu who has committed some sort of offense. The instructions have a wider application in any situation where one sees another holding on to wrong view.

In this case one should think about the situation This Way:

The First Case:
1. If there will be no grief and aggravation for myself;
2. And there will be no grief and aggravation for the other;
3. And the other is by nature not angry, temperamental, touchy and resentful of instruction;
4. And is quick witted and easy to convince;
5. And I have the skill to raise him from a low path to a high one;
6. It is proper to speak.

The Second Case:
1. If there will be no grief and aggravation for myself;
2. But there will be grief and aggravation for the other;
3. Because the other is by nature angry, temperamental, touchy and resentful of instruction;
4. But is quick witted and easy to convince;
5. And I have the skill to raise him from a low path to a high one;
6. It is proper to speak, because the other's aggravation is a small thing compared to the importance of him being brought from a low path to a high one.

The Third Case:
1. If there will be grief and aggravation for myself;
2. But there will be no grief and aggravation for the other;
3. Because the other is by nature not angry, temperamental, touchy and resentful of instruction;
4. But is slow witted and hard to convince;
5. But I have the skill to raise him from a low path to a high one;
6. It is proper to speak, because my aggravation is a small thing compared to the importance of him being brought from a low path to a high one.

The Fourth Case:
1. If there will be grief and aggravation for myself;
2. And there will be grief and aggravation for the other;
3. Because the other is by nature angry, temperamental, touchy and resentful of instruction;
4. And is slow witted and hard to convince;
5. But I have the skill to raise him from a low path to a high one;
6. It is proper to speak, because my aggravation and his aggravation is a small thing compared to the importance of him being brought from a low path to a high one.

The Fifth Case:
1. If there will be grief and aggravation for myself;
2. And there will be grief and aggravation for the other;
3. Because the other is by nature angry, temperamental, touchy and resentful of instruction;
4. And is slow witted and hard to convince;
5. And I do not have the skill to raise him from a low path to a high one;
6. Then the advantages of an attitude of Objective Detachment should be considered with regard to this individual.

 


 

The Satisfactions of Teaching[2]

Here is the section from the Horner translation:

At the beginning of the sutta, there is an instruction to the bhikkhus as to ways of understanding the realms of the senses. There follows the statement: 'There are three arousings of mindfulness each of which an ariyan practises and, practising which, is an ariyan who is a teacher fit to instruct a group. Of trainers he is called the incomparable charioteer of men to be tamed.' Then at the end of this sutta this is explained:

When it is said,'There are three aroussings of mindfulness each of which an ariyan practises and, practising which, is an ariyan who is a teacher fit to instruct a group,' in reference to what is it said? As to this, monks, a teacher teaches dhamma to disciples, compassionate, seeking their welfare, out of compassion, saying: 'This is for your welfare, this is for your happiness.' But his disciples do not listen, do not lend ear, do not prepare their minds for profound knowledge and, turning aside, move away from the teacher's instruction. Herein, monks, the Tathagata is neither delighted nor does he experience delight, but dwells untroubled, mindful and clearly conscious. This, monks, is the first arousing of mindfulness that the ariyan practises and, practising it, is an ariyan who is a teacher fit to instruct a group.

(The second case)...Some of his disciples do not listen, do not lend ear, do not prepare their minds for profound knowledge and, turning aside, move away from the techer's instruction. But some disciples listen, lend ear, prepare their minds for profound knowledge and, not turning aside, do not move away from the teacher's instruction. Herein, monks, the Tathagata is neither delighted nor does he experience depression. Having ousted both delight and depression, he dwells with equanimity, mindful and clearly conscious. . .

(The third case) . . . His disciples listen, lend ear, prepare their minds for profound knowledge and, not turning aside, do not move from the teacher's instruction. Herein, monks, the Tathagata is delighted and he experiences delight but he dwells untroubled, mindful and clearly conscious."[3]

 


 

To Teach or Not To Teach, That is the Question"

A Personal Aside

Please take a side-trip to read: Rhys Davids translation of: Digha Nikaya I: #12: Lohikka Suttanta

This is the pointing to me by myself such as to say: "But you too, Begga O, are one to whom applies the sections that read: "... there is a sort of teacher who has not himself attained...[who] without having himself attained to it teaches Dhamma to his hearers, saying: "This is good for you, this will make you happy." (Leaving out the bit about... "Then those hearers of his neither listen to him, nor give ear to his words, nor become stedfast in heart through their knowledge thereof; they go their own way...) "... Such a teacher may be rebuked, setting out these facts, and adding various humbling similes."

I continuously ask myself if this whole project should not be abandoned for a more serious concentration on my own welfare. To this point I justify my activities here on the following grounds:

1. The putting together of BuddhaDust has been and is my way of doing my Dhamma-Vicaya. This was clearly much needed, especially in the matter of developing my memory of the location of sources such as to be able to reasonably back up (as well as abandon and modify) some of my thinking with correct citations. In the same way it was needed in order to clarify that thinking. As a matter of after thought (in other words, not my intent when starting out), that much of it is put in the form of instructions directed at others seems to be a more or less harmless literary convention ... always, when I am here exhorting others, I include myself as an exhortee.

OED: exhort: 1. trans. To admonish earnestly; to urge by stimulating words to conduct regarded as laudable. Said also of circumstances, etc.: To serve as an incitement

2. I am in peculiar personal circumstances which while not being conducive to sustained meditation, nevertheless provide me with a substantial amount of free time. Doing Dhamma Research by way of preparing materials for presentation on BuddhaDust serves one purpose I suggest dhamma study be used for by others: it keeps my attention on higher things in cercumstances where my mind would otherwise be highly vulnerable to degradation.

3. This sutta is not exactly clear on how it should be read along with the numerous ... um ... exhortations to one and all under this system that teaching Dhamma is one of the better ways to learn it, and that it is in fact a fault to learn and not teach at least up to a certain point. I take the position that this sutta is really discussing teachers from other systems, and that here, as long as we are not making the claim that all this good stuff is coming from our own great mind, that teaching is a good thing.

I do not ignore the fact that I come from a line of teachers, and that the "lust" to teach is deeply ingrained in me. I have taken steps numerous times over my career to let go of certain teaching strategies because they were seen by me to have been motivated too heavily by the desire to teach (anything), rather than the desire to be of benefit, and I can say that I have also taken steps a number of times along the way to avoid situations which would likely have resulted in unwarranted fame as a teacher (so I believe I am not completely out of control in this matter!).

Just thought yawtta no.

 


[1] MN 103: Kintisutta;

[2] MN 137: Salayatanavibhangasutta
 
Not only is this important for the instruction it gives teachers, but note should be made that the term used here is "Satipatthana". This famous term used in this context should be kept in mind when deciding it's meaning.
 
Mrs. Horner footnotes: "These three satipatthana have nothing to do with the four usual ones, as is clear from (the quote above). They are, more precisely, aave.nikaa (special, exceptional) satipa.t.thaanaa of a Buddha, his even-mindedness, sama-cittataa, when his audience listens, does not listen, or partly both. See B.H.S.D. under aave=.nika and sm.rty-upasthaana." (Note that even Mrs Horner intuitively mis-remembers her own translation and assumes the same even-minded reaction in all three cases.)
 
and in a second footnote:
 
"tayo satipa.t.thaanaa yad ariyo sevati yad ariyo seevamaano satthaa ga.na.m anusaasitu.m arahati. The two occurrences of yad in this sentence have the effect of referring not to these three stipa.t.thaanaa as a whole or unit but to whichever one of them is called forth by the circumstances: of the disciples listening, not listening, or some listening and some not; ... Also see the gloss of yad ariyo at MA.v.27; yad ariyo ti ye satipa.t.thaane ariyo sammaasambuddho sevati. Tattha tiisu .thaanesu .thapento satipa.t.thaane sevatii ti veditabbo: "which an ariyan" means those arousings of mindfulness which an ariyan who is a fully self-awakened one practises. Here it is to be understood that, setting up mindfulness in the three (sets of) circumstances, he practises the arousing of mindfulness."
 
In other words what the mention of these three here means is, something like: "Pay attention, because there are these three special forms of satipatthana which Buddhas possess which makes it a matter of indifference as to whether or not you listen, but if you do you will be trained in a most excellent way (and this is justified also at the end of the sutta by the description of a variety of achievments got by one trained by the Tathagata.) and I will be pleased."
 
There is one other case in the suttas which I recall (but do not have a citation for) which gives a different setting for satipatthana. This is a case where a series of Bhikkhus are asked about their ability to "Satipatthana". One mentions that he lives having set up satipatthana for half a day. This does not please the Buddha. There follows a series of others who mention the time it takes them to accomplish this, and these too are met with disapproval by the Tathagata. Finally Sariputta and Moggllana speak up: Sariputta reaching what I would call "satisfaction" in the time it takes to chew and swallow one mouthful, and Moggallana reaching satisfaction in the time it takes to draw in one in-breath. The Teacher is pleased.

[3] Please note the difference between the way I have this case and this example. Although Horner's is a correct translation, I find it hard to accept given the statement in the second case "Having ousted both delight and depression ..." and given the numberless cases throughout the rest of the suttas where it is said that "delight is the root of bhava". This could have been an error in setting down the text, or this may have implications for our understanding of exactly how delight is to be handled.

 


 

The Crack-Pot[4]

What do you think, Beggars? Given two pots sitting there, one intact, not liable to oozing and leaking moisture and one with cracks, liable to oozing and leaking moisture, which would a beggar most wisely use to first store his water for drinking?

Of course a beggar would most wisely use the intact pot that wasn't liable to ooze and leak moisture, then, if there were time, he might fill the Crack-pot as well...perhaps it might retain enough water for washing the feet, or sprinkling the grounds to control the dust.

In the same way, Beggars, when contimplating beings out there suitable for teaching, the Teacher should look for those who continuously progress, re-evaluate, and rouse up energy for Higher things, not towards those who do not continuously progress, re-evaluate, and rouse up energy for Higher things.

In the same way, Beggars, when contimplating beings out there suitable for teaching, the Teacher should look for those who take a stand on the evaluations they have arrived at after testing Dhamma, not towards those who do not take a stand on the evaluations they have arrived at after testing Dhamma.

In the same way, Beggars, when contimplating beings out there suitable for teaching, the Teacher should look for those who evaluate the results of their Dhamma testing, not towards those who do not evaluate the results of their Dhamma testing.

In the same way, Beggars, when contimplating beings out there suitable for teaching, the Teacher should look for those who test the truth of the Dhammas they are considering, not towards those who do not test the truth of the Dhammas they are considering.

In the same way, Beggars, when contimplating beings out there suitable for teaching, the Teacher should look for those who carefully consider Dhammas they have remembered, not towards those who do not carefully consider Dhammas they have remembered.

In the same way, Beggars, when contimplating beings out there suitable for teaching, the Teacher should look for those who remember what they have heard, not towards those who do not remember what they have heard.

In the same way, Beggars, when contimplating beings out there suitable for teaching, the Teacher should look for those who listen attentively, not towards those who do not listen.

In the same way Beggars, when contimplating beings out there suitable for teaching, the Teacher should look for those who will be receptive, not towards those who are resistant.

Then, if there is time, the teacher may find some way for even those inattentive, weak-minded, beggars of poor memory and little motivation to set down a little of their burden of pain.

 


 

[4]By Memory, not a translation.

 


 

Dhamma Teaching

Translation and comments by Andrew Olendzki

Reprinted with permission from
Insight Journal, Barre Center for Buddhist Studies
Volume 15, Fall 2000

This brief anthology of excerpts from the Pali texts on the subject of teaching the dhamma are offered as a modest contribution to the contemporary debate on how the teachings of the Buddha are transmitted.

As we can see, the word "dhamma" in these passages seems to refer to a very carefully crafted curriculum of teachings, and that there was a great concern that this body of material be accurately and precisely communicated from teacher to student.

The realization in personal experience and the integrity of intention also seem to be areas of particular concern in the ancient context, as they are today.

 

§

 

Teaching the Dhamma

Anguttara Nikaya 5:159
It is not easy to teach dhamma to others.
Concerning the teaching of dhamma to others, only after five things have been internally established is dhamma to be taught to others. What five?
1. "I shall speak a graduated discourse. . . "
2. "I shall speak a discourse that is insightfully-arranged. . . "
3. "I shall speak a discourse grounded upon caring. . . "
4. "I shall speak a discourse without motivation for personal gain. . . "
5. "I shall speak a discourse without disparaging myself or others. . . "
. . . thus is dhamma to be taught to others.

 

§

 

Confusing the True Dhamma[1]

Anguttara Nikaya 5:154
These five things, monks, incline toward the confusion and the disappearance of the true dhamma. What five? When the monks:
1. do not carefully hear the dhamma,
2. do not carefully learn the dhamma,
3. do not carefully retain the dhamma,
4. do not carefully investigate the significance of the retained dhamma, and
5. do not carefully know what is significant and practice the dhamma according to dhamma.

 

§

 

Anguttara Nikaya 5:155
These five things, monks, incline toward the confusion and the disappearance of the true dhamma. What five? When the monks:
1. do not learn the dhamma: [i.e., the] discourses, poems, refrains, verses, utterances, stories, birth-tales, marvels, expositions;
2. do not teach to others in detail the dhamma as they have heard it and as they have understood it;
3. do not make others speak in detail the dhamma as they have heard it and as they have understood it;
4. do not recite together in detail the dhamma as they have heard it and as they have understood it;
5. do not mentally think about and ponder upon, do not consider with the mind, the dhamma as they have heard it and as they have understood it.

 

§

 

Anguttara Nikaya 5:156
These five things, monks, incline toward the confusion and the disappearance of the true dhamma. What five?
1. When monks mis-understand the discourses they have learned, mis-arranging the words and letters, and then misconstrue the meaning of the mis-arranged words and letters.
2. When monks mis-speak, do things that constitute mis-behavior, are endowed with a lack of patience/forbearance, and possess little talent for grasping the teaching.
3. When the monks who have learned much, who have received what has been passed down, who have retained the dhamma, the vinaya and the manuals, — they do not make others carefully speak the discourses; and because of their lapse the discourses become something with its roots severed, without a refuge.
4. When the senior monks live in luxury, take the lead in falling into laxity, lay aside the responsibility of dwelling in seclusion, and no longer put forth effort: to attain what has not yet been attained, to achieve what has not yet been achieved, to experience what has not yet been experienced.
5. When the community is divided. When the community is divided, then there is shouting at one another, there is blaming one another, there is closing in on one another, there is giving up on one another. Those who are not clear do not get clear there, and the few who are clear become otherwise.

 


 

[1]See also: DhammaTalk: Sasana

 


 


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