The liar

I was just reviewing some of the e-mails I’ve received from people who tracked down information on Dr. Ajari here, and at the risk of perpetuating old gossip, here’s one of my favorites:

These are some things I’ve heard but I have no idea as to their validity.

Dr. Ajari carried the Dali Lama on his back when he (the D.L.) was fleeing the Chinese invasion of Tibet. …

Dr. Ajari would awaken at 2 or 3 am to practice because this was the most powerful time.

Dr. Ajari was hired by the Sony Clan to go into lengthy retreats atop a Japanese mountain for the health of their family and business.

Don’t worry friend — no one seems to be able to validate many of these stories! I was going through some other e-mails, too, and nearly all of them refer to one or more difficult if not impossible to confirm stories that I’d put in the category of Dr. Ajari Myths. In fact, one person wrote to me about “Dr.” Ajari because, he said, the man didn’t have an M.D. or Ph.D. (I wrote back to say that I had not yet attempted to confirm his academic credentials, but I, too, question them.)

My point? Some of you think Dr. Ajari was a liar.

Your words, not mine. Still, some of you who knew him are going to read that and be pretty unhappy with me for writing it. Others might relish seeing those words typed out with the blunt force of short words in a simple sentence. And other still will say what a longtime student of his told me:

It doesn’t matter if he lied. Or not. He was a great teacher.

“People would get caught up, saying how could he have been jumping out of planes in the Congo when he was supposed to be carrying the Dalai Lama out of Tibet? Some people said, ‘They’re lies, lies!’ But they’re just stories.”

I won’t attribute that quote at the moment, but it came from someone who lived with Dr. Ajari for nearly two decades. He said that if you got stuck in the facts and chronology and is he a liar?!?, you were probably missing an important dharma lesson that had little to do with veracity of the facts.

If there is far more myth than fact here, does it matter? We expect honesty to be one of the many virtues our religious leaders possess. Is it bad if your spiritual teacher lies to get a point across? Or is trust, a requisite factor in the student-teacher relationship, destroyed by a lie?

Or is this debate an exercise in dualism?