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Home > Approaching Buddhism > Spiritual Teachers > Forty-six Faults That Cause Interference for Spiritual Study and Practice

Forty-six Faults That Cause Interference for Spiritual Study and Practice

Alexander Berzin
March 2006

In A Filigree of Realizations (mNgon-rtogs rgyan, Skt. Abhisamayalamkara), Maitreya enumerates forty-six faults that cause interference for developing the wisdoms applicable to bodhisattvas (sbyor-ba’i skyon). These faults can occur up to the seventh-level bhumi mind of an arya bodhisattva, as formulated in the Svatantrika scheme. Although they are formulated in terms of studying the Prajnaparamita (Far-reaching Discriminating Awareness, Perfection of Wisdom) literature, these faults can pertain to other aspects of Dharma study and practice as well. 

Twenty Faults Concerning Just Students

Twelve General Faults Concerning Students

(1) Having to spend a long time with great difficulty to understand Prajnaparamita. This refers to both internal and external obstacles causing this fault. 

(2) Learning very quickly, and feeling arrogant about that, but neglecting to learn the details. 

(3) When writing down the Prajnaparamita teachings, or painting a thanka, experiencing physical obstacles such as yawning, laughing, joking, or making fun of it. 

(4) When writing down the Prajnaparamita teachings, experiencing mental obstacles such as doing a sloppy job, only paying half attention, while the rest of our mind is attracted to a person or other things. 

(5) Experiencing obstacles of speech, such as reciting a sutra or doing a puja just to gain respect, money, or personal service. 

(6) Turning away from Mahayana practice to another tradition, when we are already following Mahayana and we see it’s correct, but then getting discouraged when no Buddha predicts where and when we will become enlightened. 

(7) Decreasing our confidence in the Mahayana path when first we have great enthusiasm for it, but then getting discouraged when we see how difficult it is and how long it will take. 

(8) Instead of getting a proper taste of Buddha’s teachings on Prajnaparamita, having deep involvement in (tasting deeply) worldly things. 

(9) Trying to find the omniscient awareness of a Buddha by means of practicing Hinayana

(10) After having understood the main points of the Mahayana teachings, instead of following them, changing to Hinayana because it is easier. 

(11) Believing that from following just the Hinayana teachings, we can gain enlightenment. 

(12) Believing that Hinayana and Mahayana are the same and bring the same results. 

Eight Faults that Cause Mental Wandering

(13) Acquiring many biased, predisposed, or prejudiced thoughts because of being attracted to certain desirable sense objects. 

(14) When copying or writing down books, such as Prajnaparamita, instead of regarding the book itself as just as a book, regarding the book itself as the true wisdom of the Buddhas. 

(15) Trying to find security in unimputedly existing phenomena, such as books. 

(16) Having attraction to and attachment for printed books in general. 

(17) Having attraction to and attachment for oral teachings and recitations as the actual wisdom of the Buddhas. 

(18) Having attraction to and attachment for beautiful places and sights, and for money. 

(19) Experiencing satisfaction at being praised or flattered, and mentally wandering about how wonderful we are. 

(20) Seeking liberation by following the words of mara (demonic forces), who take the form of monks and teach falsely. 

Twenty-three Faults Concerning both Students and Their Teachers

These faults pertain to after we, as students, have thoroughly examined a spiritual teacher and taken him or her as our teacher, then finding and becoming obsessed with thinking about the following faults in the teacher, in comparison to us. Obviously, if we find these faults in a teacher before accepting him or her as our teacher, we need to avoid such a teacher. 

Fourteen Faults on the Side of the Teacher in Comparison to the Student

(21) We, as the student, have great admiration and enthusiasm for Prajnaparamita, but the teacher is lazy and doesn’t make an effort to teach it. The teacher isn’t interested in teaching it and always postpones. 

(22) The student wants to learn Prajnaparamita, but the teacher wants to teach something else. The teacher is insensitive to what the students want or need to learn, and only wants to teach what he or she likes. This can also be that the student wants to study at one location, and the teacher at another. 

(23) The student is content, but the teacher is filled with desires for sensory objects. 

(24) The student follows the twelve positive trainings, such as living in cemeteries, not under a roof, and so on, but the teacher does not. 

(25) The student has positive qualities such as confident belief, but the teacher does not. 

(26) The student is generous, but the teacher is miserly. 

(27) The student wants to make many offerings to the teacher, but the teacher refuses to accept them. 

(28) The student can understand and learn things with just a brief mention of a topic, but the teacher requires extensive and expansive explanations. 

(29) The student has scriptural knowledge of the twelve scriptural categories, but the teacher does not. 

(30) The student has developed the six far-reaching attitudes (six perfections), but the teacher has not. 

(31) The student is expert in ways to attain enlightenment, while the teacher is expert in ways to attain worldly goals. In other words, the student knows more and better methods for reaching enlightenment than the teacher does. 

(32) The student has the ability to remember the teachings very well, but the teacher does not. 

(33) The student wants to write down all the Prajnaparamita teachings, but the teacher is reluctant to write them down or to allow them to be written down. 

(34) The student has overcome the problems of everyday interferences such as sleepiness, doubts, regret, pride, conceit, and mental wandering about such things as beautiful scenery, but the teacher has not. 

Three Faults on the Side of the Student in Comparison to the Teacher

(35) The teacher speaks about the joyless hell realms, and the student freaks out and withdraws from wanting ever to be reborn there in order help the beings trapped in those realms. 

(36) The teacher speaks about the joys of the divine heavenly realms, and the student develops desire for them and wants to be reborn there. 

(37) The teacher wants to teach a small group of students, but the student brings a large crowd of other students with him or her, going against the teacher’s wishes. 

Six Faults on Both Sides

(38) The teacher is unfair, such as wanting the student not to study with any other teachers, and the student disagrees and goes and studies with others. 

(39) The teacher wants and demands certain things from the student, and the student doesn’t want to give them. 

(40) The teacher wants to go to a place that is dangerous to life and wants the student to come with, and the student disagrees and won’t go. 

(41) The teacher wants to go to a place where there is a great famine, and the student won’t come with. 

(42) The teacher wants to go to a place where there are many thieves and robbers, and the student won’t come with. 

(43) The teacher wants to go to a place where people make plentiful offerings and donations, and the student won’t come with. 

Three Faults Concerning So-Called Teachers Who Are Actually Misleading Teachers

(44) When we are studying the authentic Prajnaparamita teachings and a so-called teacher comes and says, “What you’re studying is no good. Come study with me,” when what he or she will teach instead are so-called Prajnaparamita teachings, which he or she has in fact made up. 

(45) When we are meditating properly on voidness and a so-called teacher comes and says, “Don’t meditate like that. Meditate instead on the ugly aspects of the body, or other such things, in order to gain the insight of voidness.” In general, this means meeting a so-called teacher who tells us that our correct methods of meditating are wrong. 

(46) Mistakenly believing that a so-called teacher – “a manifestation of mara” – is actually an enlightened being.