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Man has to learn something for his/her life since he/she is born. It is because they
cannot survive without learning. It can be, therefore, confessed that since
mankind came into existence, learning simultaneously began. Because learning is
impossible without teacher, the position of teacher plays in a very fundamental
role. As a result of this concept, this essay will discuss about the following
(1) What is the significance of teacher?
(2) Who are teachers?
(3) Why are teachers playing in an important role in humankind?
(4) Is anything possible to be regarded as a teacher?
(5) How should a teacher be treated by his/her students?
(6) What are the disciplines of a teacher?
(7) Are teachers cynical?

There is a greater diversity of questions dealing with a teacher. However, the

questions aforementioned will be briefly elaborated in this essay in case a space
and time will be taken too much.

Significance of Teacher
Different meanings of the word teacher are given in various kinds of dictionaries
as follows:

(a) The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Compass dictionary, the 7th Edition
defines it as a person whose job is teaching especially in a school.
eg: a history/science, etc. teacher. Primary school teachers.
There is a growing need for qualified teachers of Business English.
(b) In the Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary a similar definition is given as
follows; one that teaches; esp: one whose occupation is to instruct.
(c) The Pali Dictionaries and commentaries generally give its definition as
below: Sissanan hitasukham abuso carati’ti acariyo (a+cara+iya), meaning a
person who attempts for the welfare of his/her students is a teacher.
(d) gives a very beautiful
definition of the word teacher. Of the four definitions there, one specifies
as a personified abstraction that teaches;
eg: "books were his teachers"; "experience is a demanding teacher"
If these commentaries or definitions are analyzed, two categories can be
discovered. One category is a living teacher and the other one is a non-living

Who are Teachers?

We have no doubt to regard as a teacher a person who teaches and instructs us.
According to this concept, there can be many different living teachers in our life.
They are:
(1) Parents,
(2) Elder brothers, sisters and relatives concerned,
(3) School/college/university teachers,
(4) Religious teachers and so forth.
In Buddhism the role of parents is so high that they are regarded as including in
the five peerless grateful personages: Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha, Parents and
teachers because they are so grateful that their offspring cannot owe a gratitude
to them in their whole life. In Samacitta Vagga, Dukanipata, Anguttra Nikaya, the
Lord Buddha delivers as follows:
Matapitaro puttanan apadaka pothaka imassa lokassa dassetaro. The meaning is
that the offspring is given a life, brought up and manifested the world by its
parents. When a baby is in a womb, a mother has to avoid what is not good for
her pregnancy so that her baby cannot be affected by any danger and the loving-
kindness is constantly radiated to hers and a father has excitedly to look after his
unseen baby. When a baby is born, both parents are very happy and become
automatically dutiful persons to their baby. And when a baby is growing up, they
instruct him/her how to speak, how to talk, how to call them, how to eat and
drink and so the like. That’s why parents are given special names by the Buddha in
Sabrahmaka Sutta, Devaduta Vagga, Tika Nipata, Anguttra Nikaya as follows:
Brahma or supreme beings, Pubbacariya or pre-teachers, Ahuneya or honorable
recipients of their sons and daughters.

Even though elder brothers, sisters and relatives concerned are not particularly
called teachers in the texts on Buddhism, if younger ones can learn something
from them, they can also be called teachers because the younger ones are
instructed by the elders how to behave in their society. For example, I have one
elder sister and brother. When my mother died when I was 12 years old I was
brought up by them. I had to learn many things from them. They are my teachers.
I regard them not only as my brother and sister but also as my teachers.

School teachers, college teachers and university teachers are well-recognized to

be a teacher as they teach and give lectures concerned to their classes. Many
west dictionaries give the specific definitions regarding them as mentioned as

There is many a religion in this world apart from world-recognized religions like
Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. Each religion has religious teachers
who distribute religious knowledge concerned to their followers. As a result, they
are teacher to their followers. In Buddhism, four types of religious teachers are
described in Mahakhandhaka, Mahavagga Pali, Vinaya Pitaka. They are:
(1) Upijjhay’acariya or a teacher as preceptor,
(2) Saranagaman’acariya or a teacher as a giver of the triple gems,
(3) Ganhtavacak’acariya a teacher as lecturer,
(4) Nissay’acariya a teacher as a person on whom someone is dependent.
They have different respective obligations on their students. And students also
have various kinds of duties which are properly conducted on their respective
Thus living teachers are of variety of types in different fields. All teachers are to
be respectfully treated by their students because they gain knowledge they are
pursuing from them. If teachers are ill-treated by their students, they might not
be ignored by a punishment.

The second category is regarding non-living things. They are figuratively called as
teachers because someone can obtain a very useful experience from them. They
can be anything which provides what should be known or undergone in human
life. Dealing with this concept, there are several notable expressions given by the
wise all over the world. Of them, some are herein mentionable.
An ancient wise man cited one of stanzas which describes what a teacher is:
Loko sattana macero,

Atthanattha padassako.

Gahako tam nyani yasam,

Sukham samadhigacchati”.

The stanza means “The world is a teacher, of living beings, who manifests
beneficial and non-beneficial things (to them). A man, who is wise enough to
catch this nature, gains followers and happiness”.

In accordance with this stanza, as the world includes living beings as well as
non-living things, the latter ones are also regarded as teachers. To illustrate this
concept, the following story from the Dhammapada is a concrete evidence.

One day the Thera Ananda saw a boy named Tissa. The boy with shabby
waistcloth was begging by holding a dirty plate in his hand. The Thera was so
sorry for him that he became a novice in favour of Ananda Thera. The novice left
his begging bowl packed with his shabby waistcloth in one of forks of a tree.
Therefore the Thera Ananda was individually his teacher. But whenever he felt
bored with his life of a monk he used to go to a place where he had kept his
shabby cloth and begging bowl and admonished to himself thus “What the hell
foolish guy you are! Why do you have a desire to abandon where you are fed and
dressed well? Why do you want to put on such a shabby waistcloth and beg with
such a dirty bowl? Thus he would rebuke himself and when he became calm
down, he would return to the monastery.

After two or three days, he felt up with his life again and went to the same
place. Thus he was between going and coming for his restless mood. When his
follow-monks noticed his situation they put a question where he went. To them
he replied that he went to his teacher. The original Pali sentence should be
expressed here so that the reader catches its idea as it is: “Tam evam aparaparim
vicarantan dissva bhikkhu ‘kaham, avuso, gacchasi’ti pucchanti. So ‘acariyassa
santikan gacchama’vuso’ti vatva” (p.2.54. Pilotikatissa Theravatthu, Dandavagga,
Dhammapada). The translation is as follows: “Bukkhus who saw him thus going
and coming again and again asked ‘where, friend, are you going? To it he replied
‘to my teacher’”.

By teacher, herein, it is meant his old shabby waistcloth and begging plate.
They are like teacher to him because they imbued him with a deep sense of
shame and put him on the right track. So the literature says “he thus focusing on
his old shabby cloth as its object admonished himself and meditated on the object
and soon he attained Arahatship”.

Another story from Jataka also manifests how a man can regard inanimate
things as their teacher if he/she gains the knowledge from them.

The King, Mahajanaka when he went out to his royal garden together with
his large number of courtiers saw two mango trees at the gate of his garden. Of
the two, one was plenty of sweet fruits and the other was none. He ordered to
have one of sweet mangoes and tasted it. The King felt very pleasant having the
mango and went into the garden thinking when came back to have the fruit again.
But the courtiers who followed the King thought one of mangoes was taken by
the King and they could now have a chance to eat the rest as much as they could.
And thinking thus, they all in a scramble picked the mangoes. Some threw the
fruit with stone down, some with rods and some broke branches where were
mangoes hanging. Some of them even cut the branches off by swards. Thus soon
the beautiful mango-tree became ugly for its sweet fruits within few moments.
On the other hand, the mango tree where there was no one single fruit in it was
remaining as it was before.

When the King, finished enjoying the royal garden and came out of it, saw
the two trees which were under very different circumstances from one another
and not as before when he first saw them. The beauty of a tree that was full of its
fruits now became ugly whereas of another one was remaining as usual. He asked
one of his wise men why situation of the two mango trees were undergone like
this. The wise man said “it was because this tree had had its sweet fruits whereas
the other one no. When the King finished eating one mango, all royal servants
enjoyed them all breaking its branches”.

On heard it, the King, Mahajanaka realized the nature of this world. And
having pondered, “Of the two trees, the one that had no fruits was remaining as it
was. On the other hand, the one that had many a fruit was now ruined for its
fruits. This wealth of Kingship would follow this nature. It was like the one that
was full of fruits. And contemplating thus, he directly returned his royal palace
and handed all affairs over to his son, the crown prince Dighavu and climbed up
the topmost floor of his mansion and stayed there alone meditating without
climbing down thence by allowing no one to approach him exception a person
who carried food for him. The King ordered his attendant to take some yellow
robes and bowl from the bazaar and he led a life of an ascetic there only by
meditating alone.

One day the queen named Sivali wandered why the king hadn’t climbed
down to carry out some affairs of the country and went up where the king was
staying. However, when the king knew her coming up to him in advance, he stole
away not letting them know. But as nobody including the queen recognized him
on the same stairs, they thought when saw one of ascetics climbing down from
the mansion that he was one of Paccekabuddhas who used to pay their visit to
the palace so often. And paying him their respect to the ascetic they proceeded
up. But when got the topmost mansion finding no one there, the queen suddenly
understood that the ascetic she saw on the stairs was her beloved husband, the
king Mahajanaka and rushed down to follow him.

The ascetic, Mahajanaka walked onward without looking back at all and he
saw one of hermits Narada by name. The hermit gave him admonitions when
knew he renounced the world. And Mahajanaka ascetic, while proceeding his
way, encountered again one of sages called Migajina who possessed some stages
of supernatural power. The sage put on him questions who his teacher was and
under whose name he became an ascetic. To him, the ascetic, Mahajanaka replied
that he had no an individual teacher but his teachers were those two mango trees
of which one was full of fruits and the other was of none. And he continued his
reply when he saw one of them which had fruits was ruined and the other was
remaining as before, he got an alarmed apprehension and he left the palace.
Accordingly, those two mango trees were his real teachers.

To confirm this statement mentioned above one of the original stanzas

from Mahajanaka story should be applied here:

Ajinahmi hinyate dipi, nago dandehi hinyate.

Dhanahmi dhanino hanti, aniketamasanthavam.

Phali ambo aphalo ca, te satharo ubo mama.

Its significance would be understood as follows:

A leopard is killed for its leather, an elephant for its ivory,

For wealth a banker is killed, who will kill whom has no passion and greed,

The two mango trees with and without fruits, my teachers are.
A reader may notice here how the king, Mahajanaka filtered out the
essence of world for his renunciation and how he could apply his apprehension by
noticing the nature of the world and how an inanimate things could be regarded
as a teacher by an individual when it could be applied to his life. So teachers are
not only those who are individuals but also non-living things. As a result, the
ancient sages’ saying “Loko sattana macero, the world is a teacher of living
beings” is a notable statement to all human beings who want to learn something
which is useful and beneficial to their daily life.

Such concept, by which an inanimate thing is regarded as a teacher, is not applied

only by Orientals but also by the Westerners. Minna Thomas Antrim stated that
experience is a good teacher but she sends in terrific bills. That’s why the
definition of a teacher is given in the as a
personified abstraction that teaches. And it takes examples such as "books were
his teachers"; "experience is a demanding teacher". Aldofus Huxley (1894-1963)
also said that experience teaches only the teachable.

Of many people who learned and achieved the penetrative knowledge or

wisdom from the natural world, the two persons were noted for their enormous
attempt. One is an oriental and the other is a westerner. The former one is the
Buddha. He renounced the world and approached many living teachers including
the two ascetics named Alara and Udaka from who he obtained the mundane
knowledge with which he was not satisfied and he quitted them. And he had
made an extraordinary austerity for six years by himself. He gained nothing from
his attempt. However, he could fitter out some fundamental experience for his
further steps. Finally, the Middle Path was discovered.

When He was asked by one of Jain monks, Upaka by name who his teacher
was, to him the Buddha replied the following stanza:

Na me acariyo atthi, thadiso me na vijjati.

Sadevakasamin lokasmin, natthi me patipuggalo.

The meaning is that:

No teacher I have, no one is the same with me.

In the whole universe including celestial realms, there is no one who can be
compared with me. (Bodhikatha, Mahakhandaka, Mahavagga Pali, Vinayapitaka)

The latter one is from the West is Thomas Edison, the greatest inventor
who developed many useful devices including the electric bulb for the whole
world. He had to go to school for about three months only and then he left
without returning. His schooling was only at home. His mother guided him how he
should study. He tried to invent an electric bulb for ten thousands of times. Some
of his friends gave him some disheartening commends. To them he replied as

“If I find 10,000 ways something won't work, I haven't failed. I am not
discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward”.

And he made his continuous attempt. Eventually success came to him. His
victory is for the whole mankind. He well used his experiences without giving up
any hope. His experiences were his good and real teacher.

So far, it can be understood that teachers are both living beings and non-
living things. In fact, man can learn something more from non-living things than
living teachers.

Role of a Teacher
As it is above mentioned man cannot live without learning for his survival. So the
role of a teacher is enormously significant. However, according to Buddhist
literature, a job of a teacher is just to give guidance to his/her student. The
Buddha himself claimed in Pancasatabhikkhu Vatthu, Magga Vagga, the
Dhammapada as follows:

Tuhmehi kiccam’atappan, akkhataro tathagata.

Patipanna pamokkhanti, jhayino marabandhana.

Its significance is known to us as below;

You yourself have to strive what you should, teachers are only guides.

Followers practiced and meditated liberate from the bondage of Mara.

This statement shows that the responsibility of a teacher for his/her students is
not full but just to provide a direction how a student should take a further step. A
student himself has to attempt for what he has expected for his life. Herein one of
the ancient teaching systems which was described in Niti books (Code of Ethics) is
better to be expressed, accordingly.

A student has to learn one line of a stanza which consists of four lines from his
teacher, the second line from class-mates, the third one by himself and the
fourth line of a stanza will be automatically versed in due course.

This teaching system vividly states that the obligation of a teacher for his/her
student is a quarter of a whole or one-fourth. The rest have to be done by a
student himself.

Anything can be a teacher

If the word which covers everything as a whole can be regarded as a teacher,
anything, whatever animate and inanimate things may be, in the world is possible
to be a teacher from whom one can get some knowledge. Even an animal, if
someone is wise enough to learn something from it, would be a teacher. There
are many stories in which we happen to know that animals were possible to be
regarded as a teacher. One of those stories is mentionable in this essay.
Once upon a time, there was a young man, who one day having observed
one of herons which toasted some fish up, ate and swallowed it sitting at a hole in
a paddy dike or sluice, practiced first by toasting some dry branches up and by
catching them through his mouth not letting them fall down the ground. Thus, he
step by step practiced by toasting bricks, knives, spears and so and so forth, and
eventually he could catch them through his mouth not letting them fall down the
ground. When he had mastered, his expertise in the subject was publicly showed
to people going all over the country from village to village and from town to town.
He, thereof, won various prices and rewards as his skill satisfied the people

One day when his reputation came to the ears of the king, let him get into
the palace and ordered to show his skill. When the king saw the man’s
presentation and was satisfied with it, he asked him whence he learnt the art. The
man, felt embarrassed to confess who his teacher was, replied that he had no
teacher but learned by himself and continued his show. This time he had to play
with spear by toasting it up and catching it by his mouth. However,a consequence
of an evil deed he had recently done followed him like a shadow. He could not
catch the spear when it fell down against him mouth and his palate was pierced
with a sharp blade of the spear and he died then and there.

This story gives a lesson to the people that if they are not able to regard
even an animal, from which they got some knowledge as their teacher, they will
be punished by the Natural Law that is never partial towards anything and
anybody. This is one of many illustrations of animals whence a man learns
something which is really beneficial to his life. And this story gives one of proverbs
to the Myanmar society thus: “Against teacher a palate is pieced”.

We, therefore, must be careful not to insult our teachers in any way
whoever they are. A teacher is the light of our lives when we are in the dark, the
map of our lives when we get lost the way. He/she uncovers something covered
to students. He/she turns right side up something upside down for them.
How to treat a teacher
This paragraph by and large deals with a student. As stated as above,
teachers must not be insulted by their students. They must be given a proper
respect. In many a place of Buddhist literatures it is contributed that they are to
be respectfully treated. One of statement as to them given by the Lord Buddha to
the young man, Singala in Singala Sutta, Pathikavagga Pali, Dighanikaya,
Suttanta Pitaka, is worth of mentioning in this case. The Buddha delivered
Singala, the youth five activities which students must give their teachers

(1) Utthana or standing up when a student sees a teacher coming,

(2) Upatthana or giving a service a great or small to a teacher,
(3) Sussusa or obedience to a teacher,
(4) Paricariya or welcoming a teacher and
(5) Sakkaccan sippuggahana or learning humbly from a teacher.

Buddhist society, thus, have adapted the five duties of students. On the contrary,
this tradition has still been ignored in the Occident and in some parts of Orient
where the West ideals have been popularly adopted.

Obligations of a Teacher
Just as there are five duties which students must follow dealing with their
teachers, the same number of responsibility is mentioned by the Lord in the very
Sutta as follows;

(1) Suvinitan vinenti or admonishing well students,

(2) Suggahitan gahapenti or having students learned perfectly,
(3) Sabbasippassutan samakkhayino bavanti or whatever he knows is taught to
his/her students,
(4) Mitt’amaccesu patiyadenti or introducing his/her student with his/her
friends so that a student have more friends and
(5) Disasu parittanan karonti or prohibiting his/her students from dangerous

A teacher, thus, according to Buddhist literature has to adapt these five

obligations aforementioned upon students. However, it is obvious to us that
these duties belong to only living teachers but not to those natural inanimate

Are teachers cynical?

To this question it is difficult to give a definite positive or negative answer. The
answer can be both—yes or no because cynicism of teachers depends on personal
or individual disposition as well as on situations of their students. Nevertheless, a
teacher has to be a careful and thoughtful person on his/her students who can
have various learning skills. He/she ought to observe who has what strength. If a
teacher does not do so, he/she will easily be cynical concerning his/her students.
Students cannot have the same quality with one another.

To sum up, the concept of a teacher as stated as above is of the two categories—
animate beings and inanimate things—both of which are to be well treated by
students concerned. The expression—Loko sattana’macero or the world is a
teacher of all beings—is noted for its deeper sense. Experience is a good teacher
to all. Man can learn anything he wants from the natural world as well as from the
living teachers. Whoever or whatever gives some knowledge to us should be
regarded as our teacher. Both teachers and students have particular obligations
to be adapted according to Buddhist literatures. A cynicism of a teacher on
students takes place depending on situations of both—disposition of a teacher
and different quality of students.
General References:
(1) Oxford Advanced Learner’s Compass dictionary, the 7th Edition
(2) Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary
(3) Pali Dictionaries and commentaries
(5) Samacitta Vagga, Dukanipata, Anguttra Nikaya
(6) Sabrahmaka Sutta, Devaduta Vagga, Tika Nipata, Anguttra Nikaya
(7) Mahakhandhaka, Mahavagga Pali, Vinaya Pitaka
(8) Pilotikatissa Theravatthu, Dandavagga, Dhammapada
(9) Mahajanakajataka, Jataka commentary
(10) Bodhikatha, Mahakhandaka, Mahavagga Pali, Vinayapitaka
(11) Pancasatabhikkhu Vatthu, Magga Vagga, the Dhammapada
(12) Singala Sutta, Pathikavagga Pali, Dighanikaya, Suttanta Pitaka
(14) Burmese Proverbs
(15) Ancient Code of Ethics

Ven Sihananalankara

269, Vicarage Farm Rd

Heston, Hounslow