According to the Vinaya


These characteristics mainly describe the outer conduct expected first from

the potential Teacher and that of his disciple. It enumerates in great

detail both worldly conduct and moral conduct which are conducive to a

healthy relationship and thus can engender the deep faith and devotion on

which the disciple can build his development.


Lopon Shakyaprabha in his "Fifty Verse Precepts of the Sramanera, the

Novice": poses that


"The spiritual teacher should have pure moral conduct, be well versed in

performing rites and bestowing vows, and have compassion towards the ill.

He should not only follow the precepts himself but also encourage others to

follow them too. He should exert himself to benefit his disciples by

displaying generosity that is the giving of robes etc, and to dispence

teachings. He should give advice from time to time. These are the qualities

befitting a perfect spiritual teacher."


The Vinaya explains that having pure moral conduct means the knowledge of

the five classes of downfalls, the seventeen basic precepts, the twelve

ascetic practices, and the four principles of a monk discriminating between

that which is to be discarded and that which have to be observed. Having the

rituals of the Vinaya means a thorough knowledge in particular of the three

rituals of the monastic community, the annual summer retreat (Yarne), the

bimonthly confession ceremony (Sojong) and the restriction lifting (Gagye)

by following them himself and being able to teach them to his disciples.

His compassion should skilfully extend to the sick bringing about their



He protects his disciples from adopting wrong conduct and encourages them to

practice pure morality, thus simultaneously cleansing their impurities.

According to the circumstances in the Sangha or among the disciples, he will

give advice form time to time; Minling Lonchen explains that He prevents his

disciples from falling into Samsara and encourages them to practice the

precepts. He transmits the vows and discriminates between that which has to

be followed and that which has to be discarded. Thus he embodies pure moral

conduct and wisdom. Thus concludes the characteristics of a spiritial

teacher according to the Vinaya tradition.


How should we examine a spiritual master? Today we have a habit of looking

for a university degree, a PhD or some famous or spectacular event. This

will not bring us any closer to an authentic teacher but may lead us further

astray. The all-knowing Jigme Lingpa in his Treasury of Knowledge already

warned over three hundred years ago:


"The accumulated virtues of a faithful follower may go to waste if he does

not check a potential spiritual teacher. If we become deceived by not

knowing the qualities of a spiritual teacher, our precious human birth could

be wasted in the same manner as we would mistake the shadow of a tree for a

snake. The successful turning towards virtue of our three doors relies on

finding an authentic spiritual teacher." It is therefore vital to check

whether the qualities mentioned in all the texts are present in our

potential teacher.


Before receiving any Pratimoksha vows from anyone, we should first ensure

that this person himself holds all the precepts perfectly and is able to

perform the appropriate Vinaya rituals. How otherwise could he pass these

vows onto us?


By exmaining our potential Master's compassion towards the sick and the care

he takes of his disciples by bestowing pure vows, we further realize the

true nature of the Master. There would be very little point in bestowing

precepts through rituals if he failed to ensure his disciples welfare or

displayed no compassion towards to sick.


An authentic Master will know how to encourage his existing disciples who

are not yet accustomed to the vows and may otherwise stray into bad habits

and need to be guided back onto the path.


Besides the above, the potential teacher should be seen to be generous not

only for the basic necessities but also in bestowing teachings. A teacher

who may fail in one of the above, although a good practitioner himself may

not have the ability to steer his disciples on the right path or deny them

the chance to follow him through lack of basic necessities.


Finally, displaying all the required qualities, if the potential teacher

does not himself follow the virtuous activities of prayers, study and

practice, he will not be able to guide his disciples away from the idle

activities such as sleeping, eating, roaming or lying about.


Thus we should follow a potential Teacher only after having examined his

characteristics not only though blind faith or respect. For this generate

times, some people are very skilful in giving the appearance of kindness and

compassion. Disciples may be attracted to a smiling countenance but it soon

transpires that he can only lead himself and others away from the virtuous

path fo he does not really follow the precepts. Such teachers should be



The point here is that non-virtuous friends as the scripture refers to them

do not appear to us behaving like highway bandits,


"Non-virtuous friends do not have frightening appearances with horns on

their heads but appear kind and smiling as if to benefit us. They help us

to play and laugh, wasting time, bringing about distractions and encourage

us to commit non-virtuous actions. Such people have to be avoided like an

infectious disease."


Guru Rinpoche himself described that,


Not to examine the Master

Is like drinking poison

Not examining the disciple

Is like leaping from the precipice.


Following someone soley by heresay or reputation, without previously

checking for oneself the genuineness of the claims entrusting our entire

liberation to such a teacher may only yeild uncertain results and benefits.


There once was a master whose words and mantras carried great blessings.

Whilst performing phowa, he took a large number of horses and cattle from

the deceased from each 'phat' he uttered and was consquently reborn as a

huge sea monster whose whole body as eaten by a myriad of small creatures.


Similarily, the Master will also check the spiring disciple over an extended

period of time. It is said that for an ordinary mind, it will take nine

years or more to get to kow a person, for a sharp mind, three years and for

one close to Buddhahood at least several months. There are also famous

stories of how very great Masters sent gifted but very difficult students to

other Masters, not necessarily because they did not have to tame them, but

also because the disciples may have had karmic connections with other



All of us will have different experiences according to our previous karma

and activities. Some fortunate people may benefit from the results of their

previous virtuous activities and meet a perfect teacher, others may come in

contact with a teacher who is not authentic and could not lead to higher

rebirth, let alone liberation and complete enlightenment.


This is why such emphasis is brought upon carfeul examination of a potential

Teacher, before making the decsion to choose a person as our master, Even

if, after realizing a teacher was not authentic, we were to meet a perfect

one, it would be very difficult to come back on the right path because of

acquired bad habits and behavior. Hence beware from the onset to choose