illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)
(intro to the series at gplus.wallez.name/h9qNiAafYx4)
Question 10, and its answer provided by the spam:
If “buddha-hood” is actually achievable in this life, how are we to know we are talking to a true “buddha” or “boddisatva”?
If there are those in our midst who have actually achieved this level of enlightenment, how are we to identify them? Why should we trust their own proclamations of “buddha-hood”? How will we recognize them or even distinguish them from non-Buddhist people who display all the attributes consistent with “buddha-hood”?
In a sort of circular logic, showing that the spammer is already short of 'ammunition' against Buddhism, he now basically reverts to his 1/12 question on Truth (gplus.wallez.name/SxhFXNkxRdv). I guess his problem is that he only imagines that 'truth' implies a superior authority deciding what's true or not, or a superior being creating stuff so that what agrees with said creation is true and what doesn't isn't: a narrow-minded approach is self-limiting and prevents understanding other spiritual traditions!
Let's start with the most important: humility is important in all paths and all disciplines, you cannot learn much if you're convinced you're already ô sooo good and ô soooo knowledgeable, bla bla… Humility is all the more key, of course, on a path insisting on letting go the illusion of a soul, of some inherent self, to which qualities could be attached!
If you're not yet spiritually autonomous (which means at the attainment of stream-entry in Buddhism), then stop being so arrogant that you imagine you somehow need a 'true' buddha or a 'true' great bodhisattva as a teacher, no less! That's a ridiculous ask, similar to starting primary school but asserting that your teacher ought to be a Nobel prize winner…
"How are we to identify them?"
Tough luck: you won't be given a list of nice, neat criteria taking away your responsibility to enquire, to find out, to make choices. No…
In fact, there's a sutta in which a wanderer wishes to meet the Buddha but has to stop somewhere for the night. As it happens, the Buddha comes to spend the night at the same place, but the wanderer does not recognise the Buddha!!! — Dhātu-vibhanga sutta (MN 140)
Similarly, right after his awakening, the Buddha went back to teach to the ascetics he had previously associated with, but upon seeing him come, they first decide to reject him for having abandoned his ascetic practices.
You have to avoid rushing toward a teacher just because (s)he has shiny credentials.
If the teacher seems perfect, you're just blinding yourself!
You need to study the teacher (dropping requirements of unrealistic perfection, and having the humility of acknowledging that when you make judgement calls, they might be erroneous…) and pick one wisely (someone you can trust enough, but also someone who challenges your views… if it's for confirmation bias only, you won't learn anything!).
« "It's through living together that a person's virtue may be known, and then only after a long period, not a short period; by one who is attentive, not by one who is inattentive; by one who is discerning, not by one who is not discerning.
It's through dealing with a person that his purity may be known, and then only after a long period, not a short period; by one who is attentive, not by one who is inattentive; by one who is discerning, not by one who is not discerning.
It's through adversity that a person's endurance may be known, and then only after a long period, not a short period; by one who is attentive, not by one who is inattentive; by one who is discerning, not by one who is not discerning.
It's through discussion that a person's discernment may be known, and then only after a long period, not a short period; by one who is attentive, not by one who is inattentive; by one who is discerning, not by one who is not discerning. » — Thana sutta (AN 4.192)
You need to keep your eyes open: a teacher appropriate for a while might not remain so forever! Because you evolve, and because (s)he evolves…
But you also need to refrain from rushing on your way out, just because it becomes challenging! You aim for a challenging but not an abusive relationship. That's tricky to find, and you ought to take your responsibilities in creating and maintaining it.
In Vajrayana Buddhism, some expedient means and pedagogical tricks are at times "unconventional" (to say the least) and so they're meant to stay "secret": the student is meant not to speak of what happens to others… And if the student is not capable of keeping it secret, then (s)he shouldn't ask to follow the vajrayana path. This is often misunderstood though (possibly due to the teacher abusing the student and then misleading the student, to try to protect oneself from fair consequences): it's not really a secret, it's just that the means used can easily be misunderstood when described out of context (and without the rationale / explanations of the teacher supposedly accompanying such an approach) to others.
The Milindapañha (a later text) from the Theravāda tradition mentions 25 qualities for a teacher: « He must always and without fail keep guard over his pupil. He must let him know what to cultivate, and what to avoid; about what he should be earnest, and what he may neglect. He must instruct him as to sleep, and as to keeping himself in health, and as to what food he may take, and what reject. He should teach him discrimination (in food), and share with him all that is put, as alms, into his own bowl. He should encourage him, saying: “Be not afraid. You will gain advantage (from what is here taught you).” He should advise him as to the people whose company he should keep, and as to the villages and Vihāras he should frequent. He should never indulge in (foolish) talk with him. When he sees any defect in him he should easily pardon it. He should be zealous, he should teach nothing partially, keep nothing secret, and hold nothing back. He should look upon him in his heart as a son, saying to himself: “I have begotten him in learning.” He should strive to bring him forward, saying to himself: “How can I keep him from going back?” He should determine in himself to make him strong in knowledge, saying to himself: “I will make him mighty.” He should love him, never desert him in necessity, never neglect him in anything he ought to do for him, always befriend him—so far as he can rightly do so —when he does wrong. »
Teachers need alms (to cover food, clothes, a roof, and medicine… aka. the "four requisites") but they're not "merchants of the temple" or "sellers of the Dharma"… it's a fine line to walk, challenging many assumptions of the students (who easily use the line "the Dharma should be free" to de facto perpetuate their own stinginess and avarice and refrain from practising)! It's a matter of personal opinion, but I would add that any teacher who "milks the reputation" of their own teachers, pretending to have inherited high qualities just because their own teacher had some, is likely to be a 'seller'. Teachers who rely on some establishment to bring students in, or a pretense of secret teachings (which are not truly secret, cf. above), is also milking the previous generation of teachers.
See also www.youtube.com/watch?v=fp-Ph7pGQ-c, gplus.wallez.name/K6NZcWtzScK, gplus.wallez.name/PUQ2AeReGEM, gplus.wallez.name/YA1HbEx27F7 and gplus.wallez.name/B1aMWtGRUb9
"Why should we trust their own proclamations of 'buddha-hood'?"
You shouldn't! Trust is earned. But you might start observing them, and see if it appears likely they could teach you a thing or two, and if that's the case, then ask for permission to study under them… then follow the instructions instead of closing down quickly by assuming you know (yourself) better!
« don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought 'This contemplative is our teacher.' When you know for yourselves that 'These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness' — then you should enter & remain in them. » — kalama sutta (AN 3.65)
See also gplus.wallez.name/LQUReK7kpJm
The key is to enquire, reflect and study whatever the teacher says. If it 'works', then it's likely it's (at least temporarily) a useful teacher. Otherwise, no (at least not for your individual present circumstances…).
Examples are given, e.g. « How is truth discovered? Here a bhikkhu lives near some village or town. Then a householder or his son goes to him in order to test him in three kinds of ideas, in ideas provocative of greed, of hate, and of delusion, wondering "Are there in this venerable one any such ideas, whereby his mind being obsessed he might not knowing, say 'I know,' unseeing, say 'I see,' or to get others to do likewise, which would be long for their harm and suffering?" While thus testing him he comes to find that there are no such ideas in him, and he finds that "The bodily and verbal behavior of that venerable one are not those of one affected by lust or hate or delusion. But the True Idea that this venerable one teaches is profound, hard to see and discover; yet it is the most peaceful and superior of all, out of reach of logical ratiocination, subtle, for the wise to experience; such a True Idea cannot be taught by one affected by lust or hate or delusion." » — Canki sutta (MN 95)
And if you study the Dharma, and follow the eightfold path (incl. virtue, not just meditation from time to time), then you should be able to know if a teacher teaches in accordance with the Dharma or not!
The Dharma is what counts, ultimately, not the teacher… and upon dying, the Buddha did not appoint a successor (too bad for the crappy 'lineage' logical fallacy of Zen schools): he told students to rely on the Dharma, on the teachings!
Any teacher is only here to help understanding the Dharma, maybe pointing out which sūtra or commentary to read in priority when a student struggles with a particular point; a teacher is an enabler, a facilitator, but not the star!
"How will we recognize them or even distinguish them from non-Buddhist people who display all the attributes consistent with 'buddha-hood'?"
This is a stupid question, showing how the spammer makes assumptions about legitimacy coming from some external god: if someone displays all the attributes consistent with 'buddha-hood', then (s)he is a buddha!
Being a buddha doesn't require excluding other buddhas, claiming "I'm the one" (or even "I'm among the ones"). It doesn't require a direct connection to some god either. It doesn't require miracles. It only requires seeing reality as it is.
If someone behaves like a buddha, consistently, not just to show off, then (s)he is a buddha… even if (s)he never heard the Dharma: the notion is so clear that there's a specific label for it, pacekka-buddha (or pratyekabuddha in Sanskrit)!