To Guru Or Not To Guru?
A Reader recently wrote:
I have been a follower since very near the start of the podcast series and I strongly appreciate what you’re doing here, it’s good that you’re helping bring a higher level of understanding of Buddhism to many people globally.
However, I’ve noticed that of late, when people are sending in email questions they seem to be seeing you as more and more of a guru and are looking for absolute answers on complicated subjects which, for the most part, you have been giving them.
I don’t doubt that you know much more about Buddhism than I do at the present time, possibly more than I ever will, but I still personally believe that the concept of Buddhism is one that is free-flowing and does not rely on simple yes/no answers ‚Äì such as declaring buying dog food a karma neutral situation – from anyone, let alone from a simple layperson such as you or I. That’s why I feel it’s an extremely positive thing for you to be giving your input and your own personal take on people’s questions, however it’s important that people don’t mistake your word as being final and absolute.
I hope I do not come across as too confrontational here, this is just my personal take on the last couple of weeks’ emails. What are your thoughts?
You make several great points there.
I noticed right off the bat that you said, ‚ÄúI have been a follower since‚Ä¶‚Äù I hope you only misspoke there– It’s true enough that I want a big audience, but I hope nobody gets the impression that I’m looking for followers! Yes, I’m kidding; I know that’s not what you meant, but you just never know what some people out there might be thinking.
Let me make a clear statement on the topic. I am not a Zen Master! My training is from the University, not the Temple. My official expertise is strictly on an academic, almost secular level, and I can talk with some knowledge about Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, and a few others as well as Buddhism. I’m a writer and a teacher, not a priest.
That being said, I am a practicing Buddhist, and have been for years. I have read and experienced a lot on the subject beyond my training, so yes, I do know a good bit on the subject. Still, as you point out, I am a layperson. I hope you’ll find that the majority of my posts are more directed at ‚Äúteaching‚Äù rather than ‚Äúpreaching.‚Äù
Early on, I explained about the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, and other basic Buddhist concepts. Those things are pretty much facts, or at least ideas whose meaning are generally agreed upon; you can read about them in thousands of Buddhist books. The ‚Äúrules‚Äù of Buddhism are fairly simple. The application of those rules is often not so clear.
Very few ideas are really black and white in Buddhism. Buddha’s ‚ÄúGolden Path‚Äù is the pathway of moderation in all things. There are few black and white / right or wrong ideas that have no exceptions. The Buddhist world is very grey from walking down that middle path.
I will agree that some of the questions I’ve been getting recently have been deceptively complex. The one about the dog food and the one on performance reviews come immediately to mind. I thought I was pretty clear, especially in these two posts, that I was only giving my logical opinion. This is one reason I always invite anyone to comment on the blog; MANY of the answers I give could be argued differently. Buddha didn’t have any wise words about dog food or performance reviews, so sometimes we have to work things out on our own. That’s one reason Buddhism places such an emphasis on meditation and reflection.
The bottom line is that I love getting your emails and answering your questions; keep them coming in! However, always keep in mind that my opinions are just my opinions, informed perhaps, but still just opinions. I’m hoping that through this ongoing mail list/website/podcast I can help you all learn enough about Buddhism to come to your own conclusions about things like this.