The Importance of A Good Buddhist Teacher
As the saying goes, “Without someone to speak the Buddha-Dharma, it cannot be understood even with wisdom.” Although we are wise, we cannot necessarily comprehend the Buddha’s teachings without the explanation of a benevolent, knowledgeable teacher (Kalyana-mitra). Thus, having one is very important to us Buddhists.
Venerable Ananda once asked Shakyamuni Buddha, “Is a good teacher the partial cause and condition of our successful Dharma cultivation?”
Most people would think, "My enlightenment relies partially on my hard work and partially on the guidance of a good teacher." But Shakyamuni Buddha says, “It’s not like that. A good teacher is the ENTIRE cause and condition for us to succeed on the path of Buddhahood.”
Such an answer gives us room for reflection: If a good teacher IS the entire cause and condition for attaining Buddhahood, then what is the use of our diligent cultivation and wisdom?
I will illustrate this with an analogy. A big rock will sink when placed in water, as will a pebble, because it is the nature of a stone. If there is a condition for it to float, such as being carried by a solid ship, the stone will not sink regardless of its size. It is just like the wicked person on the lowest-level of the lowest-grade who has committed abominable karmas all his life, facing the fire of hell at the time of death; not only he escaped the three domains and six realms but also achieved rebirth to become a Buddha. How did he accomplish this? He relied upon a good teacher who told him the wonderful Dharma of Amitabha’s deliverance. He said to him: “Recite ‘Namo Amituofo.’ If you cannot, just repeat after me or listen to my voice. Then, you will escape the hellfire and gain rebirth in the Land of Ultimate Bliss to become a Buddha.” This evil man who committed the five grave offenses in his life repeated “Namo Amituofo” after the good teacher.
How could he possibly understand what the good teacher meant by “Namo Amituofo” at the moment of death? Amitabha spent five kalpas of thinking and planning to make forty-eight great vows and countless eons of cultivation accumulating the Bodhisattva virtues and merits to build the Land of Ultimate Bliss for him, and he did not even know what he was reciting, but what was the end result? The hellfire turned into a brilliant, red lotus, on which he sat, and it carried him to the Pure Land.
Amitabha certainly wishes to liberate sentient beings, and his name of myriad merits and virtues propagates throughout the universe. Nevertheless, that being would have fallen into hell had there not been a good teacher guiding him.
If the simple existence of Amitabha’s name and deliverance can liberate wicked men out of samsara, we all should have been liberated as well, having become Buddhas when Dharmakara Bodhisattva did ten kalpas ago. But why do we remain in the cycle of birth and death? Because we have not met a genuinely good teacher. This shows that having a good teacher is very important indeed.
(Translated and edited by the Pure Land School Translation Team)
Faith in, and acceptance of, Amitabha’s deliverance
Single-minded recitation of Amitabha’s name
Aspiration to rebirth in Amitabha’s Pure Land
Comprehensive deliverance of all sentient beings