Buddha taught that since Bodhisattva’s have abandoned self-cherishing and are motivated by compassion that all their actions are pure. If we refuse to believe this we incur a secondary downfall. This also advises that we should rejoice in all Bodhisattva’s actions because they are motivated solely by compassion and bodhichitta.
As a general rule, people struggle to gain a correct understanding of pure view. Take for example the actions of the Spiritual Guide or one’s teacher. When we observe our teacher’s actions there are two possibilities: either their actions appear to us to be conventionally correct or they do not. If they appear to us to be correct, it is very easy to maintain pure view. Few problems arise. If however the teacher’s actions appear to us to be conventionally incorrect, then it gets more complicated. The root of this problem is people grasp at an object as needing to appear as pure on the side of the object, and when it doesn’t confusion arises. In a situation where, from the point of view of the practitioner, the Spiritual Guide or teacher appears to engage in some mistaken action there are again two possibilities: either the action is in fact conventionally correct, but the practitioner lacks the wisdom to understand how or why; or the action is indeed conventionally incorrect.
If the action is conventionally correct and the practitioner lacks the wisdom to understand how or why, then Geshe-la advises us to go speak frankly with our teacher. We explain that it appears to us that the teacher is making a mistake by acting in a particular way, but we are open to the possibility that we may be wrong about the situation. So we ask to get the teacher’s point of view. Once the teacher explains to us their point of view and they are right about it, then we just learned something and now we once again no longer have a problem with what they are doing.
If however after the teacher explains to us their point of view we still think the teacher is wrong, then we need to be very careful. There is a danger that we start to generate inappropriate attention on the mistake of the teacher, to the point where that becomes the only thing we see. If this happens, then even when the teacher is engaging in other actions, such as giving flawless teachings, we are incapable of receiving any benefit because all we see is the mistake which crowds out anything else. If we find ourselves in this trap, then we need to compartmentalize. In other words, we tell ourselves, “OK, their action still seems to me to be a mistake, but that doesn’t mean all of their actions are mistaken. So I will temporarily set aside this question and focus on everything else which is still good. Perhaps over time my view will change, and if it doesn’t, I can always once again go speak with my teacher when I have bit more perspective on the matter.” Venerable Tharchin once told me a very good story to illustrate how this works. He said, “I have been with Venerable Geshe-la now for many many years. There has not been a single instance where he has made some very big decision or change of direction with the tradition where I did not think he was completely crazy and that he was committing a blunder of cosmic proportions. Initially, I would fight him and complain – either externally or I would internally grumble. But then, as time went on, I came to see how what I thought was a blunder was in fact a very shrewd and skillful move. After going through this experience easily a half dozen times, I started to realize that I probably shouldn’t trust my initial reaction to such things. So now, when something new arises, I may still think he is making a mistake, but I suspend my judgment to see how things unfold with time. Again and again, time proves that each of his decisions were quite prescient. Now, since this has happened to me so many times, when he makes some bold move that I think is wrong, I just assume I am wrong about the whole thing and I eagerly watch to see how things will unfold with time knowing that I will be dazzeled in the end.” In other words, if the teacher’s action is in fact conventionally correct, our compartmentalization while maintaining an open mind will pay off in the long run in the form of deeper wisdom and amazement about our teacher’s skillful means.
Where things can get quite complicated, though, is when our teacher’s actions are in fact conventionally incorrect. We can take as an example the various scandals of certain senior teachers several years ago. Or we can take lesser examples of the myriad of mistakes our teachers make every day. How should we approach situations like this? Once again, as before, we should approach our teacher in exactly the same way saying that what they are doing is appearing to us to be a mistake, but we are open to the possibility that we might be wrong. When we approach our teacher in this way, there are then two possibilities to how they might respond. Either, they say, “you’re right, I was making a mistake. Thank you for pointing it out to me. I will try do better next time.” If this happens, there is no problem. Our respect for our teacher grows because we see they have integrity and they are showing the example of somebody who admits their mistakes and corrects for them. If, however, they deny that they are doing something wrong and they get all defensive about it, then we once again need to be very careful. First, we once again need to compartmentalize and say just because they are wrong about this one thing doesn’t mean they are wrong about everything. So I can still receive benefit from them for the other things that they are doing correctly and I shouldn’t let this one mistake prevent me from receiving benefit in other contexts. Second, with respect to the mistake itself, we can say, “conventionally this action they are doing is wrong and I know I am right about it. So even if they can’t admit their mistake, it is nonetheless teaching me something. It is teaching me what not to do. Their defensive attitude is also teaching me what not to do. So even though they are making a mistake, their mistake is nonetheless providing me with benefit because I am looking at it in a correct way.” If we reason in this way, we come to realize it doesn’t matter at all whether our teachers are making mistakes or not, because either way we still receive perfect benefit. Pure view is not found on the side of the object, it is found on the side of our own mind. Nobody and nothing in samsara will ever appear completely perfect on the side of the object, but it is possible for me to view everything that appears in a perfect way and therefore receive perfect benefit no matter what appears. This is pure view, and this way of practicing will never deceive us.
One final instance deserves mentioning. If the mistake our teacher is making is a particularly egregious one where if it continued it would harm other people or the tradition in some significant way, and we have tried to approach our teacher about it and they are not-responsive to our questioning, then we have a duty to go to whoever is our National Spiritual Director or even to the NKT office if necessary to report what is happening. Examples where this might apply are sexual scandals, stealing money, the teacher moving in the direction of breaking off from the NKT, etc. Small things we should just let go of, but big things need to be reported. Geshe-la is very explicit about this, so much so that several years ago he put forward a new amendment to the NKT internal rules saying that it is the responsibility of practitioners to report things that seem wrong as a means of protecting the tradition. If there is wrong doing that does not get corrected, then it can bring the entire tradition into disrepute, thus harming directly or indirectly countless living beings. Our teacher may be upset about our blowing the whistle, but we can do so with confidence that our action is pure because it is motivated by the compassionate wish to protect the tradition and to protect those who our teacher’s actions are harming.
If we find ourselves in a situation where we might need to take such a step, we should first discuss it with some of our closest Dharma friends and other teachers whom we trust to see what they think. Since this is a big step, we need to make sure we are right about it; but if after having checked in our heart and having checked with those we trust it seems like the right thing to do, then we should not hesitate nor should we fear the potential fallout. There is nothing about being a Kadampa that condones covering things up. Too much is at stake for that.