Teaching & Learning

§ People with thick defilements are easier to teach than people with thin defilements. They’ve got a thick shell, so it’s easy to crack open. If their skin is thin, it’s hard to peel. (This stands for people who think they’re already good and so aren’t willing to let go of whatever defilements they still have.)

§ People come in all types. Some make themselves into pigs, some make themselves into chickens, some make themselves into water buffaloes, and some make themselves into people. Only when people are like people can you feed them rice—and even people like people come on many levels. Some eat the best rice, others eat second best, and others take what’s left.

§ Someone once came to me and said, “Unawareness and ignorance are what cause people to think, so actually they’re something positive—because if people don’t think, how are they going to become intelligent? But here you are, teaching people to sit still with their minds quiet and not thinking. What good can it accomplish?”

So I answered him: “There’s no need to talk about subtle things like unawareness. Let’s talk about simple things. When you were small and learning how to read, they started out by having you put letters together—s plus o is so, n plus o is no, g plus o is go, and so on—until you knew that g plus o is go. Now you’re in Bangkok. Suppose you put your learning aside and go to Chantaburi. If you meet a sign that says go, you can tell immediately that it says go, without having to think—right?— because you already know. If someone really knows, why does he have to think? The person who has to think is the one who doesn’t really know.”

Sometimes, if you want to serve a purpose, you have to take their own words and pour them back down their throats. It makes them sit up and take notice.

§ When I’m in Bangkok, everyone who comes to my quarters sits still and meditates—not because I tell them to, but because that’s what I’m doing myself. That in and of itself is enough to teach them. I sit with my eyes closed; when they see me sitting with my eyes closed, they sit with their eyes closed as well and don’t dare say anything. If I were to get involved in their issues, they’d get involved in mine.

§ When your eyes are blurry, you have to learn how to put eyedrops in them yourself. If you go around trying to get other people to put them in for you, you’re weighing them down. What this means is that you have to take note of things. For example, they may be speaking to you or not, but if you notice something about what they say, you take note of it: “When this person does this, what is he after? When she acts in this way, what does she want?” Just this is enough for you to begin to understand things.

This is what it means to put drops in our own eyes. With some people you have to pry their eyelids open with a rod, and even then they don’t want to open up. That’s when they’re impossible to teach. If your eyes aren’t too blurry, you don’t have to watch things too often. If you see something once, it’s enough for you to take as a guide for a long time to come, with no need for too many examples. Like expert shoe-makers: All they need is one model and they can set themselves up in business, making hundreds and thousands of shoes.

§ What it means to be a person with good ears: Your teacher may say something only once, but you can put it to use the rest of your life.