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Verse 37: Discussing the teachings

Verse 37: Discussing the teachings

Part of a series of talks on the 41 Prayers to Cultivate Bodhicitta from the Avatamsaka Sutra (the Flower Ornament Sutra).

  • The power of realizations
  • Looking beyond charisma (or lack of it)
  • Different teachers appeal to different people
  • Hearing, thinking, and meditating on the teachings

41 Prayers to cultivate bodhicitta: Verse 37 (download)

“May all beings attain the eloquence of a Buddha.”
This is the prayer of the bodhisattva when seeing someone discuss the teachings.

When the Buddha teaches, he’s very eloquent. The Dharma itself is an eloquent topic. In fact the way the Buddha teaches is very eloquent because the Buddha has experienced the teachings. Sometimes we say, “Why should I meditate and work so hard to get realizations? I can just study the Dharma in the book and then teach it.” Now aside from the fact that you’re not going to get out of samsara, the teachings are not as effective if you don’t practice them. When a bodhisattva practices them—and then of course when the Buddha has really actualized them—the depth of their own realization comes out when they give the teachings. That’s why when some people go to one of the public teachings of His Holiness, you see people there, His Holiness walks in the room and he says “Hello” and they start to cry. They listen to some teachings and the teachings become very powerful even though they may have heard the same topic before. The eloquence comes through the power of the realization.

However, that doesn’t mean that when a person is not a good speaker that they don’t have realizations. It doesn’t mean that if a person is charismatic they necessarily have realizations. We have to be very careful here, otherwise we can come to all sorts of funny conclusions like, “That person is so charismatic, what they’re teaching must be correct.” Not necessarily. Or, “That person is so boring or they don’t know the right words to use, therefore they must not practice, or they don’t understand the subject well.” That also is not correct. In fact, one of our auxiliary bodhisattva vows is when you criticize a teacher for not being a good speaker, and don’t go to the teachings. You say “that person’s not interesting, they’re boring, they don’t make me laugh enough, I can’t understand what they’re saying.” Thinking like that is detrimental to our own practice because we can loose out on something if we’re just looking at the superficial way in which the teachings are being delivered. Of course, it’s better if we can be a good speaker and highly realized as well as everything, but just because we’re not, or just because somebody isn’t, doesn’t mean they’re not a good teacher.

This whole thing is really quite important, because sometimes we get quite confused. There might be somebody who is a good teacher for our friend but we don’t have karma with that person and they’re not a good teacher for us. Or there might somebody who is a good teacher for us, but our friend can’t understand them. They’re not a good teacher for our friend. We shouldn’t get confused just because we and our friends may have different teachers or prefer different styles of teaching.

Similarly, like I was saying, somebody might be a good speaker, they might make you laugh a lot. They might do so much. They might teach and you go, “oh yeah I get it, I get it.” Whether you are really getting the right point or not, we don’t know but you feel like you are getting it and so then you think that teacher is wonderful. A teacher explains something and you say “I don’t get it. I don’t get it, the teacher is awful, the teaching is awful. The whole things stinks.” All these kinds of opinions come from thinking that there’s an objective, external reality.

One of my teachers coughs all of the time. Many people go to his teachings and they’ll say, “Why doesn’t that guy get eloquence lessons.” They’ve actually tried to get him them. “Why doesn’t he go to the doctor and get rid of this cough.” People will go and they’ll say, “I can’t understand a word this guy is saying. He’s muttering.” He’s actually a quite amazing teacher, but if you don’t have the karma then you think: “who’s this guy?” We need to be careful. We can say “This isn’t an appropriate teacher for me,” but we can’t say, “That person’s bad.”

Similarly, if we listen to a teaching and we understand it, we shouldn’t necessarily conclude that we’ve understood everything 100% correctly. That’s why we have hearing, thinking, and meditating. That’s why there are three of them. We don’t just hear and think, “Oh I heard and I get it.” We have to think about it. In the class of thinking about it, that’s when it comes to discussing things with our dharma friends, and why they do debate in the Tibetan monasteries, to make sure that what you’ve understood, you’ve actually understood correctly. We can go on believing something for a really long time and then suddenly find out years later that we have misunderstood it to begin with. This is why it’s very important to hear teachings many times. That’s also why I think it can be helpful hearing it from different perspectives and why it’s so important to talk about the teachings with our Dharma friends, so that our understanding really gets refined.

Venerable Thubten Chodron

Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.