Giving false answers to questions asked out of faith.
If someone out of faith asks us a sincere question about Dharma, and out of miserliness we refuse to give a correct answer, we incur a gross downfall.
Generally speaking withholding the Dharma from somebody creates the karmic causes for others to withhold the Dharma from you in the future. Since finding the Dharma is so rare, it is quite foolish to create such karma for ourselves.
There are many reasons why we might not answer questions asked out of faith. One might be we simply don’t know the answer, but we are too prideful to admit that we don’t, so we refuse to answer. A second might be we think by withholding the Dharma I can get the other person to do what I want them to do. Many parents, for example, will blackmail their kids by withholding their love for them if the kids don’t do as the parents wish. Such similar abusive behavior can also occur in a student-teacher relationship. The teacher, of course, might have their rationalizations why their withholding of the Dharma is in the best interests of the student – and sometimes they may be right – but generally speaking we should really check our motivation and wisdom to make sure we are right before we do such a thing. As a general rule, it is better to err on the side of giving the Dharma than withholding it.
A third reason might be simple laziness. We know the answer, but just can’t be bothered to take the time to answer. It sometimes takes a lot of work and commitment of time to answer other’s Dharma questions. A fourth reason might be we just don’t like the other person. Even people who have been practicing and indeed teaching for many years will still have preferences within their mind towards some people and aversion towards others. This likewise happens within a center. To pretend otherwise is spiritually fatal conceit. Of course we know we shouldn’t have such preferences, but if we are honest with what is going on in our mind, such preferences exist. The others in the Sangha are not stupid. They know when we have such preferences, and if they are not on the receiving end of it, they can generate all sorts of resentments towards ourselves as the teacher or towards other members of the Sangha.
This is why it is generally advisable for members of the Sangha, and Dharma teachers in particular, to make a point of cultivating healthy and happy relationships with those in the Sangha they like the least! It is too easy to run off with those we like and exclude those we don’t, even if we do so in only very subtle ways. It is natural, of course, when we are at festivals to spend time with our close Dharma friends who we haven’t seen most likely since the last festival, but then we end up neglecting the students we brought to the festival with us. While it is a strange sentence to say, we should follow the example of Jesus and Bill Clinton! If you check, the vast majority of Jesus’s teachings were about reaching out to those who everyone else shuns and condemns. He made a point of heading straight for those who the culture of his time excluded and through his love he brought them into the fold. When his disciples would object, he would chastise them for not taking the teachings to heart. In a similar way, Bill Clinton’s general mode of operation when he is in large crowds is to find the person who is the most excluded and the most marginalized, and he will go right up to them and make them feel like they are the most important person in the world. Of course, his motivation might not be 100% for doing so, but as a way of going through life it is perfect.
We need to remember that we do not just give Dharma through giving formal Dharma teachings, but rather our every act in this world is an example of giving Dharma. If there are people who look up to us or who would benefit from our help, but out of laziness, attachment, anger and so forth, we fail to help them it could likewise be considered a transgression of this vow. There are those who we may have not yet met but could otherwise be helping, but if we fail to do so again motivated by delusion, it could likewise be considered a transgression of this vow.
Giving Dharma is not limited to just giving Dharma advice packages as Dharma advice. We could be watching a football game with a friend, and simply discussing it in a completely normal way could serve as sharing Dharma wisdom. Of course we don’t want to be weird about this where people think we are some Dharma robot who starts every sentence with “Geshe-la says,” but when you think about it there is not a single situation that doesn’t directly or indirectly teach some truth of Dharma. Our job it to simply become aware of this truth, and then share our perspective of things in a completely normal way. Then, even if we never talk about the Dharma and the other person doesn’t even know we are Buddhists, we wind up having our every word wind up being the sharing of Dharma wisdom. But if instead, out of attachment to idle chatter, we fail to do so, it could be an example of transgressing this vow. Just be natural. If Dharma is within you, by being natural, it will naturally come out in ways others can accept.