Think Carefully

In my post Spiritual Materialism and Cherry Picking, I explained that its “perfectly okay to not belong to any tradition, and to test each of them out for many years before ever committing to one” and that is, in fact, “much better than just ‘diving in’ into any tradition simply because of its outward attractiveness, or following any teacher simply because of their charisma. That is exactly how people end up in cults, and end up being even more confused than when they initially began their spiritual journey.”

The tragic events that happened in Arizona may prove to be a sad example of my point above. This is why it is always important to choose your teachers wisely and with caution. Upon investigating the teachers Christie McNally and Michael Roach, one will learn that Roach was once ordained in the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism. In fact, he was said to be the first westerner to qualify for a Geshe degree at the Sera Monastery in India. He is said to have once recognized McNally as a “Lama” and his “spiritual partner”. This has led to quite a bit of controversy itself – which eventually lead to the Dalai Lama censuring Roach, who refused to renounce his monastic vows, effectively barring him from having anything further to do with the order, stating that his “unconventional behavior does not accord with His Holiness’s teachings and practices.” Their “spiritual partnership” eventually ended, although they supposedly still teach together. McNally began a relationship with and eventually married one of their students – Ian Thorson, who was recently found dead in a cave in Arizona.

Before ever deciding upon a teacher or school, it is always wise to do some proper investigation first. Sometimes, we may put our trust in those who would only misuse it and misinform us – filling our heads with all kinds of incorrect ideas. We should always check out our potential teacher’s credentials and their lineage and be entirely confident in their ability to teach us and lead us correctly on the path. However, even this can sometimes be tricky as well. As in the example of Roach, some people may have been ordained into a certain lineage at one point – even though they may not be recognized by that lineage anymore. Therefore, although a certain person may appear to have the credentials to back them up, that is no guarantee that they are still involved with any school or that they are not misrepresenting the teachings.

In fact, the Buddha himself insisted in the Upali Sutta that people think carefully before following any teacher – including himself! The Upali Sutta tells the story of a famous Jain who came to debate with the Buddha and prove him wrong. However, instead of being proven wrong, he was very impressed by the Buddha and decided to become a disciple right then and there on the spot. The Buddha told him to take more time to carefully think about this and to reconsider it before finally making a conclusive decision. Upali was even more impressed by this, saying that if it were any other teacher they would gloat and brag and go on about converting a chief lay-disciple of Mahavira. Upali then went on to say that he wouldn’t stand up until the Buddha accepted him. Therefore, the Buddha did on one condition: since he had been a Jain and gave alms to Jain monks, he should continue giving alms to Jain monks if he was to become a disciple of Buddha.

So, we should all consider the advice of the Buddha and think things over carefully before ever committing to any practice, school, teacher, etc. We should keep in mind that it’s okay to take our time, as there is absolutely no reason to rush anything. Ultimately, we have to walk the path ourselves – and at our own pace.


About bodhipunk

Just another anarcho-commie dhamma punk.

Posted on 05/07/2012, in dharma, dukkha, news, religion, samsara, stories, suttas and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. very important point. My spirtual teacher, Sogyal Rinpoche, is also very strong and severe on that. Nice rituals are very seductive for materialism!

    • Exactly. No matter how seductive or appealing any practice may be, or even as repelling, we should always test the results for ourselves. That is direct knowledge.

      Unfortunately, some peoples’ own first-hand “direct knowledge” might end up being less than what they bargained for. Unfortunately, some people may fall for yet another charlatan, like Roach. After breaking his so-called “spiritual partnership”, he was seen hitting Manhattan clubs with Russian models:

      This is why proper investigation is always important. It’s great to be able to trust in your teacher – which is why it is important to know that you can.

  2. I’d be interested in your thoughts on what to do if you don’t have a choice of teacher. I am mother of dependent children, living in a small town, with limited financial & time resources. I have a daily meditation practice and read dharma books every day. There is one dharma/meditation group in my town and I have been going to this because it is the only one, and because I think there are benefits from meditating with others. However, I have some reservations about this teacher and about the tradition he teaches within…so my question, really, is – is it better to have any dharma teacher than no dharma teacher?
    If I read books by, say, Pema Chodron or Jack Kornfield, can I consider them to be my teachers? Or does there need to be a personal relationship?
    I find your posts informative and thought provoking and would be interested in your opinion!

    • Tibetans used to find it a blessing if they would recieve a direct teaching from a teacher just once in a lifetime. Finding your teacher can last a lifetime or longer. Looking for the right teacher is as important as finding one, so the journey starts already with seaching one and not after you found one. I am very happy with Sogyal Rinpoche because he is authentic and has studied comparative religions in the UK, so he also understands us. He is very much NOT sectarian and represents the oldest Tibettan form of Buddhism, Nyigma. I like the way the Tibettans “fight” ignorance and obscurations with coulors and sounds. They are madly passionate about loving kindness. Who knows, perhaps I used to be one in a former life ;-). .

      Anyway, find what it ok for you. If you need a teacher in your neighbourhood if the internet will do, it’s up to you. Please allow me to give you one little advice that Sogyal Rinpoche always gives; whatever you do, it is about you and what you feel. Be kind with yourself. in Buddhism there are no mistakes, you can’t do anything wrong, we are all fools in this life and we are all immaulately perfect in all our our lifes. Say to your self: may I be well, may I be happy, may I be safe. There are plenty of poeple who wish you to be all of this, including me, even if I don’t know you. You share the same spiritual space as me and as any other living being, so it is only natural that I wish you well, but I wish it with all my heart.

      May you be happy, may you be well, may you be safe!

      thank you for letting me posting this.


    • Francois gave some very good advice. Take your time. If you have reservations about a certain teacher and lineage, then ask yourself if you can really benefit from the teachings they give. It’s great to have a community, but how much you will really benefit from it is entirely up to you. If it is serving its purpose, then why not continue? Also, have you talked to others in your community about the teacher in question? Are there any other groups in your general area that you can check out? Here are a few links you can use to help find more centers around your area: and

      Yes, books can be teaching tools. However, you cannot ask the book a question directly and expect a response. But then again – sometimes, a few Dharma books is all one needs for their own personal practice. Just keep searching with an open mind. You can learn from anyone, regardless of their religion or degree of “enlightenment”. If it helps enrich your own practice, then that is all that really matters. Good luck on your journey, friend. 🙂

  3. Thank you so much to you both for your considerate & thoughtful replies. I am reassured that the looking for a teacher can be as important a part of the path as finding one!
    I do find the classes of some benefit, as much through interactions with other students of the dharma as with the actual teachings and as such will probably continue for now, whilst keeping an open mind, continuing with my personal practice, plenty of dharma study and loving kindness practice 🙂

    Thanks again!!

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