QUESTION: What did the Buddha say about obedience?
SHORT ANSWER: Pay heed to the Dharma
LONG ANSWER: The definition of a Christian monk is a person who lives a life of poverty, chastity and obedience. Poverty and chastity are important values in Buddhism too, but what about obedience? The word obey is closely related to a word for listen - to heed what you are told and carry it out. A disciple of Buddha is called a shravaka, which literally means a listener. The basic duty of a Buddhist is to pay heed to the Dharma and put it into practice. In Buddhism, obedience is primarily obedience to the rules and principles. I remember talking to a person about their relationship to their teacher and this person said, “Rimpoche never told me to do anything, but from time to time, he would say, ‘Would you like to do so and so’. If you said 'OK, I’ll do it,' you found yourself more and more deeply involved. If not, not.” I think this exemplifies the matter quite well. As a teacher I make suggestions sometimes. I do not mind whether people take them up or not, but if they do then they get more deeply involved and if they don’t, well, things take longer. In Buddhism it is not a matter of surrender. You keep responsibility for your life and your sense of responsibility deepens. The teacher gradually gives you more. The teacher may be doing something and the good disciple notices and helps. The person who is wrapped up in himself does not notice and is too preoccupied to be able to do much in any case. That person needs more time. Thus, in real Buddhism there is no punishment except for collecting the natural consequences of one’s own actions. In a Buddhist community the teacher is like the Queen Bee. The Queen Bee does not give instructions, but all the other bees are dedicated to supporting her work and making it easier. In one sense, the Master is just another human being living in the community, but in another very important sense, the community is simply those people who want to help, learn from, support and be with that teacher.