Don’t Jump Over the Cliff

Saturday, July 23rd, 2011

I had just recently taken an SAT practice exam a couple days ago and I came across an interesting essay topic:

Passive acceptance of the teacher’s wisdom is easy to most boys and girls. It involves no effort of independent thought, and seems rational because the teacher knows more than his or her pupils; it is moreover the way to win favor of the teacher unless he or she is a very exceptional person. Yet the habit of passive acceptance is a disastrous one in later life. It causes man to seek and to accept a leader, and to accept as a leader whoever is established in that position.

Can the passive acceptance of the teacher’s authority and knowledge lead to disastrous consequences?

As I was writing this essay, I remembered a story from “Saffron Days in L.A.” by Bhante Walpola Piyananda. The short story was titled The Disciple Who Jumped Over the Cliff.

It was about a Buddhist monk’s encounter with an interesting situation. One day as he was reading, an upset woman came crying to him and asked for his help. Her name was Kamala and she was a resident of the meditation center. She had just been kicked out of the meditation center, and didn’t know what to do!

Kamala had always been a follower of this popular Indian guru. And a couple days prior to this situation, she had asked him for advice on how to lose a little weight. He told her to have sex as often as possible; morning, noon, and night. Her teacher said not to think of it as sexual misconduct, but as a way of exercising to lose her unwanted weight. Although this idea may sound absurd, she truly thought that this was for her own good. So Kamala made bright yellow posters to put up around the meditation center. They each said ‘Anyone who needs sex, please contact me. Kamala.’ This greatly upset the abbot, and he wanted Kamala to move out immediately!

Bhante was shocked! He then asked her, “Kamala! Would you jump off a cliff if your teacher told you to? you have to think for yourself!”

She put all her trust in her guru and was convinced to follow whatever he told her to do. Bhante helped Kamala cope with her situation and explained to her that passive acceptance of a teacher’s wisdom is not always good. It is absolutley foolish to follow another’s wisdom without the judgement of his or her own understanding.

The Buddha says “You should do your own work for, for the Tathagatas only teach us the way.” Your emancipation depends on your discovery of Truth, for you must be the one to see; no one else can see for you. The Buddha also taught that in using your own rational mind, if you see that a teaching is wholesome, then accept it wholeheartedly; if it is unwholesome, then discard it immediately.

Kamala eventually realized her foolish mistake. In the end, she developoed a very analytical mind and decided not to follow in the footsteps of her guru. To this day she is a devout, practicing Buddhist.

Oneself is one’s own protector;
What other protector can there be?
With oneself fully controlled,
One obtains a protection, which is hard to gain.
Do not follow mean things.
Do not dwell in negligence.
Do not embrace false views.
Be watchful.
Be not heedless.
Follow the Law of Virtue.
The virtuous live happily in this world now and also hereafter.

-Diane

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