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Teachers Not Worth/Worth Following

To Sandaka (Outline)[1]

This is a discourse delivered by Ānanda to Sandaka, a wanderer, who, at the end becomes a bhikkhu.

Four teachers who teach the ineffectiveness of kamma:

1. A teacher who teaches that there is no kamma, that "There is not":
There is no giving,
no result of giving,
there is no rebounding consequence to good or bad deeds,
there is no mother or father,
there are no spontaneously reborn beings,
there are no beings in the world who are living in accordance with Dhamma and who know this world and the world beyond by way of personal experience and who are able to teach and lead others.

Man is made from the four elements and on death the body returns to its component elements: a man is known only so far as the grave.

2. A teacher who teaches simply that there is no kamma no result of good or bad deeds.

3. A teacher who teaches that there is no kamma, that there was no cause of good birth or bad and no cause for future good birth, bad birth or salvation; that things happen by way of chance

4. A teacher who teaches that there is no kamma, all things are fixed, there are so and so many forms and so and so many types of rebirth over time and all beings will transmigrate through all of them and be saved at the end of such journey.[2]

The reasoning of the intelligent man in the case of any of these four teachers goes like this:

If this man's views are correct, there is no sense to my taking any action as there is no benefit to myself or others, and in consequence of this there is, in effect, no difference between this teacher and myself. And additionally, this man's beliefs being true, he had no need to speak or teach and is therefore one who sets a bad example by way of wasting one's time.

And he does not feel inspired to follow this teacher or to practice in accordance with what is being taught by this teacher.

From other suttas we also have this additional reasoning: If what this man is saying is true, then he and one following him is safe (as safe as one can get); but the wise consider that he has taken a risky stance in that he has not provided for the possibility of his being wrong.

Four teachers who don't know what they are talking about:

1. One claiming to be omniscient[3], "He goes to an empty house and gets no almsfood, a dog bites him, he encounters a wild elephant, a wild horse, a wild bull, he asks the name and clan of some woman or a man, he asks after the name of a village or a town, and the way to get there."

When he is asked how is it that an omniscient man needs to ask such questions and has such experiences, he responds:

"I was supposed to enter an empty house and get no almsfood, be bitten by a dog, encounter a wild elephant, a wild horse, a wild bull, I was supposed to ask the name and clan of this woman or man, I was supposed to ask the name of this village or town and the way to get there."

In this case the intelligent man reasons this way: "There is no benefit to this man resulting from his omniscience." And he is not inclined to follow.

2. One who relies on authority and tradition. Horner: "holds to report for his 'truths,' he teaches Dhamma according to report, according to hearsay and tradition, according to the authority of the collections.[4]"

In this case the intelligent man reasons this way: "This man goes by what he has heard, and in a case such as this his understanding depends on his memory and because his experience is incomplete, his ability to remember correctly will be incomplete, partly correct, partly not. And seeing the danger, he does not feel inclined to follow.

3. One who relies on logic and reasoning.

In this case the intelligent man reasons this way: This man goes by logic and reasoning. Logic and reason depend on the correctness of the foundation on which the logic and reasoning rests. In this case the conclusions of such a one will be partly correct and partly not. And seeing the danger he does not feel inclined to follow.

4. The Eel Wriggler.[5]
These teachers, for a variety of reasons resort to saying:
"I do not say it is thus.
I do not say it is so.
I do not say it is not so.
I do not say it is not.
I do not not say it is not."

Seeing nothing to learn from such a one, he does not feel inclined to follow.

This being the case, what sort of Teacher should one follow?

In this case a teacher is one who himself following the Lucky Man, The Potter, The Lightning Bearer, an Arahant, The #1-Highest-Self-Awakened-One, Master of Conduct, Seer of the Worlds, The Well-Gone, None-Better as a Dhamma-Trainer, Teacher of Gods and Man, The Buddha, The Bhagava, has attained for himself The First Burning, or Second Burning, or Third Burning, or Fourth Burning, or Arahantship.[6]

The sutta ends by Sandaka asking Ānanda if the Arahant could: "...enjoy pleasures of the senses?"

Ānanda responds that the Arahant. . .


... cannot become one intentionally to deprive a living creature of life
... take what has not been given, as it were by theft.
... to indulge in sexual intercourse
... to speak a deliberate lie
... to enjoy pleasures of the senses in regard to what was stored as he did formerly when in the household state.


"... is incapable of deliberately depriving a living being of life;
he is incapable of taking what is not given, that is of stealing;
he is incapable of indulging in sexual intercourse;
he is incapable of knowingly speaking falsehood;
he is incapable of enjoying sensual pleasures by storing them up as he did formerly in lay life."

N/B: footnote MA: "He is incapable of storing up food provisions and other pleasurable goods and subsequently enjoying them."

But I think this is a narrow and secular interpretation. What "storing up" means is that there is no way that there was any new Upadhi, "going after getting" involved, in that at the first setting out of going after getting, one has already begun to store up, put away for the future. That which he has previously set rolling he has no control over, but he sets going no new grasping.[7]

Then Sandaka asks about the nature of omniscience (aññā) asking if, wether walking or standing still, asleep or awake (at all times) the arahant knows and sees (ñāṇa-dassana).

Ānanda gives a great simile:


"Well then, Sandaka, I will make you a simile, for by a simile some intelligent persons here understand the meaning of what has been said.
Sandaka, it is like a man whose hands and feet have been cut off;
whether he is walking or standing still or asleep or awake, constantly and perpetually are his hands and feet as though cut off;
and moreover while he is reflecting on it, he knows:
'My hands and feet have been cut off.'
Even so, Sandaka, whatever monk is a perfected one, the cankers destroyed, who has lived the life, done what was to be done, laid down the burden, attained his own goal, the fetters of becoming utterly destroyed, freed by perfect profound knowledge, for him whether he is walking or standing still or asleep or awake, the cankers are as though destroyed;
and moreover while he is reflecting on it, he knows:
'My cankers are destroyed.'"


[1] [MN 76] Majjhima Nikaya #76: Sandakasutta

[2] See: Makkhali Gosala

[3] See also: DhammaTalk: On Omniscience

[4] That includes the suttas. How is that? This is a matter of distinguishing between asserting what one does not know and practicing what one has trust will work with the idea of testing the truth thereof. If a truth received by hearsay is tested and proves to be true, then speaking of it is no longer a matter of reliance on authority, even though the words spoken to describe the truth are the same as those of the authority, and one gives all credit for that truth to that authority.

[5] For a full description of the Eel-Wrigglers, see:
DhammaNet Spell: Eel-Wrigglers

[6] That is what this sutta and Ānanda here says, but I do not think it would be incorrect to also add here: A Streamwinner, a Once Returner, a Non-Returner. And, elsewhere, the Buddha says words to the effect that even hearing a bit of the Dhamma no more than four lines long is worth great gratitude.

Here again I suggest that the issue is in whether one listens to what is taught and investigates the truth of it for one's self or whether, listening to a teacher, one places faith in that teacher where what that teacher is saying may be adding to or explaining "doctrine" or "authority".

The difference between the teachers one deems it reasonable to follow, (on speculation, as it were) and those described earlier is, in general terms, that the teacher who is worth following is one who has personal experience of an over-all idea one approves — here referring specifically to one who is approaching a teacher with the hope of ending dukkha.

From personal experience I can say I have learned sometimes vital pieces of information from teachers who were otherwise full of beans and whom I would not consider "following" for anything.

One of my memorable teachers was a New York City bum I only saw in passing one evening. A ragiddy old black man who had, apparently, just been refused a handout by someone, he was muttering to the world, as he walked along: "I beggs; its the only honest way to make a liv'n." Seeing, knowing this man to be one who had personal experience, his statement seemed reasonable to consider. Considering it it was tested in mind and against experience and approved of by me.

[7] Someone might object that just setting out on begging rounds is going after getting. This should not be understood as going after getting: in terms of kamma, there is no intent to get; what is being done is being done out of compassion for the body. The Arahant does his duty "to his old companion" (the body), but has no desires as to the outcome. There is also compassion there or the giver in that he generates good kamma that way.




PTS, Middle Length Sayings, II: Discourse to Sandaka, Horner, trans, pp 192;
WP, Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha, #76: To Sandaka, Ñanamoli/Bodhi, trans., pp. 618

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