May 12, 2019

Posted by in BUDDHISM IN OTHER LANGUAGES | 3 Comments



Reverend Guru,

I take delight in reading your “Letter to disciples No.284: Thinking about Appellation”, from which we have a chance to contemplate what is the right appellation and what is the wrong one in the door of Buddhist Dharma. Once we get through it, could we learn and practice in accordance with the right orbit of Dharma. I would like to extend my sincerest gratefulness to you for having benevolently pointed out and cleared up misconceptions of appellations in Buddhism:

1) Wrong thought: Naming the Buddhist teacher as “Sifu” (falls in the trap of eight worldly concerns by using the name that is used in worldly subjects): “Students from Daoist temples throughout China praised their masters as “Sifu”, who is positioned higher than their parents (of course they didn’t dare to compare with the Emperor!?). Later, students of T’ai Chi called their master as “Sifu” to emphasize the master’s higher status! This title was then widely used all over martial arts schools and pagodas in China which in nature is just a term that reeks of “eight worldly concerns””.

2)Right thought: Naming the Buddhist teacher as Guru, who guides the disciple on the journey of enlightenment (supramundane path): “A master is called “Sifu” in Taoism (Daoism) but he will be titled as “Guru” in Buddhism. In a famous work named “Fifty verses of Guru Devotion” by Agvaghosha, there are no such words as “Sifu”, “Martial art master”, “Monk”.”

3) From (2), the question is: Who is Guru? Is this title need applying by someone? Answer: The Guru is the one who possesses the knowledge of liberation and is guiding his disciples on the path of liberation, thus he needs no one to grant him such title unless in some certain necessary social circumstances: “These indicate that the appellation “Đạosư” (Guru) is officially used in Buddhism, either for bhikkhu or layman, because Maitreya asserted: “Only diligent practitioners gain spiritual achievements”. Accordingly, it should be perceived that only the kalyanamitra is honored as “Guru”, irrespective who they are. Hence, the appellation “Guru” of mine is based on and proven by the teachings of Buddha and siddhas.

Relying on the wisdom of you, Guru, Yidam and Dakini, I would like to share some of my understanding from your teachings: First of all, it’s the necessity of the clarification of appellation: In Confucianism, there’s a saying: “The name is not correct, then spoken words do not ring true. Spoken words do not ring true, then things are not complete”. Mundane activities also need “correct name”, let alone this supramundane one! Therefore, the article “Thinking about Appellation” is truly necessary for all Buddhist practitioners as well as us. Why so? “One false step leads to another”! If the practitioner makes mistake right from the beginning by calling his Guru as “Sifu”, then his feeling and attitude towards his Guru is merely equal to the parents which will be the cause for being reborn into the six realms. This is really a waste of cultivation effort, or as the above saying in Confucianism, “spoken words do not ring true, then things are not complete”.  So what is the true meaning of the appellation “Guru”? Is it compulsory for a person to live monastic life to be called “Guru” (orbhikkhu or sramana)? Is it necessary for a person to wait for the permission of the other to be called “Guru” (or bhikkhu or Sramana)? Following are two stories in the Buddha’s time that lively answer these queries. They are quoted from the “Buddhist Legends” (Dharmapada), Chapter “The Righteous, Dhammaṭṭha Vagga”:

“6. It is not Tonsure that makes the Monk”

This religious instruction was given by the Teacher while he was in residence at Jetavana with reference to Hatthaka.The story goes that whenever Hatthaka was defeated in an argument, he would say, “Pray come to such and such a place at such and such a time, and we will resume the discussion.” He would then precede his opponent to the appointed place and say, “See! the heretics are so afraid of me that they dare not meet me; this is a confession of defeat on their part.” This and much else of the same sort he would say. These were the tactics he invariably employed with one opponent after another, whenever he met defeat. The Teacher, hearing that Hatthaka was doing thus and so, sent for him {3.391} and asked him, “Hatthaka, is the report true that you are doing thus and so?” “It is true,” replied Hatthaka. Then said the Teacher, “Why do you do so? A MAN WHO UTTERS SUCH FALSEHOODS HAS NO RIGHT TO THE NAME OF MONK MERELY BECAUSE HE GOES ABOUT WITH HIS HEAD TONSURED. BUT HE THAT CONQUERS SINS BOTH SMALL AND GREAT, IS A MONK INDEED.” So saying, he pronounced the following Stanzas

(264) No tonsure can make a monk of a man who is undisciplined, who speaks falsehood;If a man be affected with desire and cupidity, how can he be a monk? (265) But he that overcomes sins both small and great, wholly and entirely,He is rightly called, from victory over sins, a monk. (Buddhist legends – Eugene Watson Burlingame). 


This religious instruction was given by the Teacher while he was in residence at Jetavana with reference to a certain Brahman. 
The story goes that this Brahman retired from the world and became a monk of an heretical order. As he went about on his rounds for alms, he thought to himself, “The monk Gotama addresses as “monks” his own disciples who go about on rounds for alms; he ought to address me also as a monk.” Accordingly he approached the Teacher and said to him, “Sir Gotama, I also support life by going about on rounds for alms; address me also as a monk.” But the Teacher said to him, “BRAHMAN, I DO NOT CALL A MAN A MONK MERELY BECAUSE HE RECEIVES ALMS. FOR A MAN WHO ADOPTS AND PRACTICES ALL THE FORMS IS NOT THEREFORE A MONK. BUT HE THAT WEIGHS WELL ALL THE AGGREGATES OF BEING AND ACTS ACCORDINGLY, HE IS A MONK INDEED.” So saying, he pronounced the following Stanzas, 

(266) Not therefore is a man a monk because he receives alms from others.He that adopts the religion, forms and all, is not on that account a monk.(267) Whoever in this world casts out both merit and demerit, lives a life of chastity, walks wisely through the world, he is a monk indeed. Based on the meaning of the story, the Buddha’s teachings can be reasoned as follows: 

-He said: “Brahman, I do not call a man a monk merely because he receives alms” = “Brahman, I do not call a man a monk merely because… he is granted with that title”. In reality, many bhikkhus or bhikkhunis took a vow on secluding themselves from the mundane world but they are seen to organize big birthday parties or anniversary ceremonies (take them as main activities rather than flexibly and skillfully help all sentient beings), or “quarreling with each other like cats and dogs” at sacred places…. .

Such actions fall in the following failure as warned by Master Gampopa: “If, after having entered the door of the Holy Order, one (his mind) returns to the life of a householder, one resembles a moth plunging into the flame of a lamp; and this is a grievous failure.” This means they are practicing outward renunciation rather inward renunciation. That’s why they will never be called a true bhikkhu even though they have their head tonsured or granted with many titles with official certificates. On the contrary, Buddhist laymen or lay Bodhisattvas (here is the Guru) who are living a mundane life but do not attach to them for discerning that “However it appears, these are one’s own mind. The mind itself is primordially free from limitations of conceptual proliferation (means distinction between monastic or lay life). Knowing that as it is, on the dualistic notions of object and subject, not to fixate, is the practice of a Bodhisattva” (Thogme Zangpo). Therefore, he remains a true bhikkhu without having been granted with any title! Regarding the act of “granting title”, how can an ordinary person be able to “grant title” to a person who owns supramundane (for instance, Guru with six spiritual inventions that head to enlightenment and liberation)? In the past, the Buddha once said “I am Buddha” to five brothers of Kondañña (Aññā Kondañña). Need the Buddha wait for someone to grant him this title? Absolutely not! By using such appellation, it means the Buddha has a clear discernment on the nature of things and phenomena (seeing things as they are). The Buddha always says true words. He will never exaggerate about himself, thus it’s not that kind of over-estimating conceit (adhimāna). Contrarily, it will be a self-disrespect conceit (omāna) if he waits for someone to grant him that title. Those who take the actions of “granting title” or “promoting title” as the measure for the value of “content” are seen to be psychologically dependent on traditional appellation – a sense of slavery. How can them be called true disciples of the Buddha? Therefore, through this instance, again you’ve shown us that “There is no difference between the Buddha and Guru”. You are truly a Guru who follows the steps of Tathāgata.  

-The Buddha taught: “For a man who adopts and practices all the forms (stay in pagoda, tonsuring head, wearing yellow robe…) is not therefore a monk” = Not all websites which adopt all the forms of Buddhism is not therefore a true Buddhist site (for instance, they (Thu vien Hoa Sen) do not fully comprehend the real meaning of right view on “worship” by inserting repugnant advertisement images in Dharma documents; do not delightfully praise good deeds and merits of others, specifically of the Vajra Guru.  

It’s not my intention to “praise” you for fear of falling into the cult of personality but it’s a chance for me to contemplate the teaching of Padmasambhava: “The enlightened one does not have any definite appearance for easy recognition; the defrauder on the contrary owns much hypocrisy that’s hard to recognize. Do not mistake between copper and gold.” A Guru in the “form” of layman but his knowledge and actions are definitely full of supramundane right view – he should be seen as “pure gold” or more than that, the sparkling “diamond” of the Mahayana tradition.  

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is IMG_20190415_074823-602x1024.jpg

Thank you very much for your precious teachings. May all sentient beings drink the nectar of holy teachings.
May Guru and your consort live long for the sake of us and all sentient beings.


I bow to your lotus feet!
Disciple Mat Kien



  1. Dear Holy Guru,

    I delighted to read brother Mat Kien’s article: “Mat Kien: More about appellations “Guru” and “Sifu””. Thank you brother Mat Kien for sharing, the quoted from the sutra shows that the name “Guru” is not exclusive to the monks, it is completely equal in Buddhism. Through this article, I have the opportunity to praise the virtue, wisdom, and Bodhicitta of Holy Guru who teaching and leading us on the path of liberation. I would like to express my gratitude for your teaching.

    May you and your consort live long for the sake of all sentient beings.

    May brother Mat Kien have good health and make progress on the path to enlightenment.

    May all sentient beings achieve the happiness of the Buddha’s nature.

    Om Mani Padme Hum!

  2. Tantra Upatissa
    Tantra Upatissa says:

    Dear Guru thanks for sharing this article.

    By reading this article I came to know the meaning of Sifu in Tai Chi and Daoism.

    Also I came to know the difference between Guru and Sifu.

    Guru is higher than Sifu concept and can help other beings to get enlightened.

    There is no need for a Guru to be certified, if Guru possesses all the qualities to become a Guru.

    Thanks to Dear Mat Kein for writing this meaningful article. May you have good health and all your good wishes may fulfill.

    May Guru and his consort live long for sake of other beings and get enlightened.

    May all beings be free from suffering and get enlightened.

    Om Mani Padme Hum..

  3. Tantra Sagovana says:
    Dear Guru,

    My name is Tantra Sagovana.

    Thank you for sharing this article.

    In this article Mat Kien says that, as Guru has explained, the proper appellation for a teacher of Buddhism who guides his followers on the way to enlightenment is ‘Guru’.

    That ‘Sifu’ is a worldly title for teachers of martial arts and is not an appropriate appellation for a teacher of Buddhism who guides others on the path to Enlightenment.

    That a true Buddhist practitioner is not merely a person who has a shaved head and wears robes but is the Buddhist who has right view and maintains their mind according to Dharma.

    And that the one who has the necessary spiritual knowledge and capability does not need to be granted a title by anyone.

    May all sentient beings be free from suffering and get enlightened.

    Om Mani Padme Hum.

    Tantra Sagovana (Ahmed Khan)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed. Protection Status