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Primacy of The Wise: Having a Teacher

A few years ago, I had downloaded my English dharma talks from the Won Dharma Center website. When I listened to my recorded talks, I was very embarrassed to discover that my English pronunciation was worse than I had expected.

Before I was assigned to the Won Dharma Center, I taught Buddhism, Won Buddhism, and meditation at the Won Institute of Graduate Studies located near Philadelphia to English-speaking Americans for 10 years. In the beginning of the teaching period, I often asked my American students about my English pronunciation. Most students answered, “I have no problem understanding you, I love your accent”. That’s why I didn’t pay attention much at that time, which resulted in having a strong Korean accent.

Polite people tend not to say offensive words to others. They usually say words to console and please, and not to hurt the feelings or relationships with others. Pleasing words may sound nice, but those pleasing words do not actually help our progress and growth.

When we were children, we used to receive many admonitions and instructions from our parents and teachers, to do something this way or do something that way. This kind of advice sometimes irritated us, but the advice greatly contributed to our ability to walk on our correct path toward growth, just as bitter medicine can be beneficial to our body. Yet, it becomes difficult to listen to this kind of hurtful advice, particularly as we become adults. We think that we know ourselves the best. However, we usually don’t see ourselves in an objective manner.

That is why we need a guide, advisor, mentor, or teacher who can point out our inadequacies and wrongdoings. This may be a Christian Church minister, Jewish rabbi, Buddhist monk, a friend, or a spouse. If we don’t have a mentor around us, offering us healthy and honest words – even though at that moment it may disturb us momentarily – we would miss a precious opportunity for our own growth. We know that healthy food is not necessarily delicious.

We have witnessed the history of many nations that were led astray because there was no advisor available to the leader or the person in power.

If you go to a Buddhist temple in Asia, you will usually see a statue of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, called The Bodhisattva of Great Compassion.

That Bodhisattva statute wears a crown on which another Bodhisattva or buddha is inscribed right above his forehead, in the middle of the crown. The image right above the forehead of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva is the Amitabha Buddha, who was the teacher of the Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva and who eventually led Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva to attain Buddhahood.

This means that in the head, as well as in the mind of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, he enshrines and venerates the Amitabha Buddha as his eternal teacher. He promises to himself as well as to the Amitabha Buddha, to be with him in the future world for countless rebirths.

Let’s contemplate whether we truly have a guide or teacher who would offer us honest advice when needed.

Master Daesan, the third Head Dharma Master of Won Buddhism stated, “Even if you do not pray for other things, you should definitely pray for meeting a teacher who would guide you”. It is said that students are a copy of their teacher, that a disciple is the duplicate of a teacher.

A teacher may have already been around us. However, if our minds are not ready, we cannot see them. There is a saying that a teacher appears only when a student is ‘ready’ to learn.

Do you truly wish to grow, to be happy and to succeed? If so, we need to contemplate: Do I have a teacher and am I ready to seriously accept the guidance of to my teacher?


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