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.