There is no received wisdom in Buddhism, nothing we must accept purely on the basis of somebody else’s spiritual authority. The Dalai Lama has said that Buddhism must give up any belief that modern science disproves. The Buddha himself famously said, “Be a lamp unto yourselves,” and told his students they must test everything he said against their own experience. But it is easy to misinterpret this advice. Our modern egos are keen to take advantage of it.

While we shouldn’t accept what others say at face value, this doesn’t mean we should just accept what we tell ourselves. We have to test the teachings of Buddhism against our direct life experience, not against our opinions.

And while modern science can prove or disprove old beliefs about astronomy or human physiology, it cannot measure or test the nonmaterial. Buddhism values the rational mind and seeks not to contradict it in its own sphere. But it doesn’t tell the whole story.

Finally, it is the rare person who can navigate the spiritual path alone. While retaining our self-respect and judgment, we must be willing to accept the guidance, even leadership, of those who are further along the path. In a society that exalts the individual and questions the hierarchy of the teacher-student relationship, it is a challenge to find a middle way between too much self and not enough.

Melvin McLeod

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