Those of you who have done any teaching - ever, even for like a day - will have at least one story about a student who absolutely flummoxed you with their misinterpretation of what you taught them. If you have the opportunity to work with said student over time, their level of understanding may improve. Or not.
It requires a kind of alchemy to move thoughts and ideas from one brain to another. There is no getting around the various filters that lay between a tacher’s mind and the student’s. They are diverse in concept and constructed from both the student’s and the teacher’s personal experiences. Socioeconomic status, home family structure, home religion and exposure to other religions, race, culture, sex, gender identity and so much more inform how a person will both give and receive information.
In one particular outstanding example, I remember a singing student I only taught for a short period of time. In our first lesson we spent almost the entire time working on a pitch stretching exercise while emphasizing the fact that it should be easy, not forced - or so I thought. I provided specific strategies for her to use during the week to decrease force and strain - or so I thought. When she left I was convinced we’d had a meeting of the minds, that she understood what I was getting at, and how she should practice over the course of the week.
The following week she returned and I asked her to show me the exercise, which she was proud to tell me she had practiced religiously. What followed was the perfect example of how not to do the exercise. If I’d been teaching “Miranda Sings” her demonstration of the exercise could not have been more off track. She was literally doing everything I’d told her not to do.
Oh where did I go wrong?!
...and I’ve been teaching for more than 15 years...
For this reason and based on having played numerous games of “telephone” over the course of my life, I don’t care what the Buddha said. More specifically I don’t care what anyone tells me the Buddha said. The reality of human interaction is that many of his students didn’t get “it” when it came to his teachings. They may have gotten the basics, but not the nuances, or they could have been off track all together. Certainly no one was able to transmit actual quotes over the course of hundreds of years without tweaking and paraphrasing. And let’s not forget the art that is translation from one language to another.
We have no infallible way to discern who did get it and to what extent they got it. We have no infallible way to know what elements were added from each student’s cultural heritage. All we have is best guesses. All we have is the record of his teachings as they are. It’s is up to us to sift through the information and decide what make sense to us. We need to get past any notions of what the Buddha said and instead focus on what he meant.
Once we have come to our own understanding, we need to be humble enough to recognize that our own interpretation of the record will inevitably pass through our own cultural and personal filters. We may be divinely inspired or we could be far out-in-left-field wrong. The kicker is we won’t know if we’re right until this life is done - and if it turns out the annihilation camp is correct, it will be long past mattering.
If you believe you have had some special divine realization that has made all of life’s mysteries clear to you, then good for you, I say. You do you.
Remember though that ya could be wrong. Be humble. And most of all be kind.
Now buy the Book!