The best teacher is one who attacks your hidden faults. The best instruction is one aimed squarely at those hidden faults.
Lama Atisha, who helped to establish Buddhism in Tibet in the 11th century, said this.
All spiritual practice is encompassed by a two-pronged approach: eliminating faults and developing good qualities. This is the meaning of spirituality as I understand it.
There is no way to eliminate faults without first becoming aware of them. I may become frightened or even indignant when I hear that a good teacher will attack my faults. Yet, when I think about the meaning of a fault or negative quality, I realize that attacking my destructive habits is not the same as attacking me. On the contrary, it’s equivalent to liberating me.
This morning, Pastor Vicky, who leads a service each week at the assisted living community where I work, told the story of Jesus at the last supper saying to his disciples that “each of you will fall away from me.”
The Pastor then said that Jesus, and God, know the failings of our heart. She continued to explain that we must not look around to point the blame to others when we make mistakes, but to recognize our own failings. Then, we mustn’t spend our time “navel gazing,” hanging our heads and telling ourselves how awful we are. Instead, we just realize the past is past and discontinue the mistaken behavior.
As a Christian, she said to do that in the context of Jesus’ forgiveness and the necessity to give ourselves to God’s will, explaining that self-reproach is not the voice of God because God lifts our head. Though I don’t personally accept this portion of her teaching, it was altogether an exceptional instruction.
I was deeply impressed, and the experience of attending the service pointed out one of my faults – my attachment to my own spiritual tradition. I’m not quite sure how she gleaned from a story about Jesus telling his friends that they’ll fall away from him an instruction to mind our own faults. But I’m glad to admit, my respect for her tradition has grown.
I came to see my attachment, which imposes limits on me and blocks me from recognizing the goodness of other spiritual teachings, from listening to someone who isn’t formally my teacher. Just so, if I’m determined to watch myself closely, I can come to understand that all people I encounter and all situations can be teachers.
Why? Because life is interactive! I’m constantly reacting to everyone and everything I meet, and since I do have negative qualities – I have anger, I have arrogance, I have lust, I have delusional thinking – they will undoubtedly arise in response to that with which I interact.
Today, I’ll place a thick bull’s eye in the center of my heart. I’ll stay open to acknowledging my shortcomings and harmful habits in order to overcome them. It will not be easy, but will reap irreversible benefit.