In the Tibetan Buddhist community, both East and West, we love the idea that our lamas are perfect. We are eager to place our trust in masters who exist only to help us progress spiritually. The texts themselves insist that we must regard the spiritual master as a buddha. I agree that this view, combined with faith, is the bridge by which the most profound teachings are transmitted. I don’t, however, believe that each person put in the position of being a teacher is perfect.
Here at Namdroling, as well as at many other monasteries, it is possible to study in shedra for nine years and graduate as a Lopon. It isn’t easy, but it is within the range of the intellect, and thus accessible to people who know Tibetan and have the time and interest.
There is certain wisdom to be gained through study, as well as contemplation and life experience. The actual, direct experience of wisdom, which all the sutras and tantras point towards, however, is an experience beyond intellect. My own study and experience tell me that the path to wisdom is long; progress is usually made slowly and deliberately. It never happens by accident.
It is, therefore, possible to become erudite without having pierced the depth of meditative experience. I know many, many people in this situation. When these men and women have special titles, such as Tulku, Khenpo, Lopon or Lama they often have great expectations placed upon them. People often see the title, and begin to impute qualities. Perhaps there nothing particularly wrong with this, as long as the lama acts in tune with the Dharma. The thing is, when one’s mind is not fully tamed, it is difficult to always act in tune with the Dharma. Thus, we have a group of erudite people, trying to act in tune with the Dharma, at least in public, or at the very least, in the presence of their students. This situation may progress for quite sometime, until the lama is observed doing something which shatters the students’ faith.
This is an issue which often concerns me. It is not possible for us to demand that all Dharma teachers be enlightened. We hope, of course, that our guides are advanced on the path, otherwise how would they know where to guide us? Nonetheless, I think we need to create the mental space to have respect and love for our teachers while still giving them room to be human.
Please share your thoughts!