It is fairly easy to become a popular “Dharma Teacher” these days if one repeats banal platitudes and shares psychological strategies that make people feel comfortable in samsara. Thousands pay great quantities of money to hear these fraudsters preach a Dharma without renunciation, without precepts, and without commitments.
- Right View? Instead of the Four Noble Truths, karma, rebirth, and Buddha Nature, these merchants promote their personal opinions, selling a Dharma without Buddha, without doctrinal content, and without disciplic succession.
- Right Thought? Instead of the Four Thoughts that turn the mind to the Dharma (this precious human life; the inevitability of death; the inescapable consequences of action; and the pervasiveness of suffering in cyclic existence), they misrepresent Buddhism as a humanistic philosophy and a psychological technique for generating complacency and ‘self-esteem’.
- Right Speech? These merchants concoct their own versions of the Dharma, promoting unrestrained ‘self-expression’, regardless of the harm it may cause.
- Right Conduct? These ‘teachers’ do not observe the Precepts themselves, nor do they encourage others to do so, as if peace of mind were possible without basic morality.
- Right Livelihood? They disregard the specific instructions of the Buddha against trafficking in the Dharma by charging for instruction, and in their desire to accumulate followers and ‘donations’, they are complicit in their students’ participation in corrupt and harmful industries.
- Right Effort? They do not abandon their own unwholesome practices, nor do they cultivate the Ten Perfections, and much less do they recommend that their followers engage in radical transformation.
- Right Mindfulness? They promote an extremely narrow view of what is more aptly named Right Recollection, as if mindfulness were merely a way of ‘being present’ for personal effectiveness, without recollecting the Buddha, His instructions, and universal welfare.
- Right Concentration? These Dharma merchants misconstrue meditation as mere technique (a breathing exercise or visualization practice), instead of promoting the true cultivation of peace and clarity.
The Dharma is not meant to make us comfortable. It demands that we transform ourselves. It shows us the way to renunciation, moral discipline, and selflessness. It is not a business. Let us always prefer an honest word, a faithful teaching, even if it does not come wrapped in the best ‘production values’.
Lest someone think this is an overly harsh assessment, the Buddha states in the Ākāśagarbha Sūtra:
Dishonorable teachers and their patrons declare pure Dharma to be non-Dharma, and refer to that which is non-Dharma as Dharma, thus abandoning the true Dharma.
Having abandoned their training in loving kindness, great compassion, and the perfection of wisdom, as well as their training in skillful means and the trainings taught in other sūtras, they manufacture rules for the community that are dissociated from meritorious activities and therefore harm the Sangha.
They resemble donkeys, as they carry the texts of the Dharma, without understanding them.
Once they have been greatly honored and venerated and have received the offerings of their patrons, they criticize, in front of the householders, those monastics that diligently practice relinquishment of wrong conduct. And their retinues become angry at the monastics that diligently practice relinquishment, and disparage them.