We all need teachers and mentors in our lives—good solid ones. I’m deeply grateful to have been blessed with a multitude of awesome teachers and mentors. Flowing from this blessing is my desire to be a good teacher and mentor to others, especially the younger generation. That is why I am a university professor and have been one for many years. Before that, I was a therapist and have been blessed to counsel, coach, and facilitate healing for many patients and clients through tough times. Both these streams of expertise—teaching and therapy—have now meshed into my missionary ministry at Awarezen and Asian Centre for Creative Theology (ACCT). I teach, facilitate, mentor, coach, and avail myself as a spiritual companion. This would not have been possible without my teachers and mentors.
My ultimate Teacher and absolute Mentor is none other than the Lord Himself—Jesus Christ. There is none like Him. And He has blessed me with teachers and mentors throughout my life since I was a young boy. My first teacher was my mother, a kind and gentle woman who first taught me how to read and write in English and Chinese.
Asian FormationIn my young teens, the Buddha became my teacher and role model, a spiritual hero who fired my imagination and whom I sought to emulate. As years passed and as I delved deeper into the Dhamma, I found more teachers in the form of Nagarjuna (c.160-250 CE); Buddhapalita (470-550 CE); Chandrakirti (600-650 CE); and Shantideva (685-783 CE) of India. They honed my philosophical reasoning. Then came two luminaries of the Gelug tradition: Tsongkhapa Losang Drakpa (1357-1419 CE) and Panchen Losang Chokyi Gyaltsen (1570-1662 CE); and two luminaries of the Nyingma tradition: Longchen Rabjampa (1308-1363 CE) and Dudjom Lingpa (1835-1904). All four were from Tibet.
Three other teachers, two from China and the other from Japan, stood out for me: Sixth Patriarch Huineng (六祖慧能 638-713 CE) and Hongzhi Zhengjue (宏智正觉 1091-1157 CE) and Eihei Dogen (永平道元 1200-1253 CE). They were the ones who taught me most about classical Chan/Zen (禅). Of course, there were many others but these were the ones who were most influential and formative for me. In addition, I was inspired by my Buddhist Studies to examine great thinkers and sages from my Chinese heritage as well. Laozi (老子 ?6th-4th century BCE) and Zhuangzi (庄子 369-286 BCE) were my mentors in the Dao (道), though I read some of Kongzi (孔子 551-479 BCE) and Mengzi (孟子 372-289 BCE). I am an infant when it comes to the Dao, but whatever I gleaned from these teachers, I cherished in my heart and sought to embody them.
Time-travelling into postmodernity, I have been indeed blessed to have received teachings and transmissions from four main teachers: Godwin Samararatne (1931-2000) who impacted me more than anyone else in this life; Sri Sri Anandamurti (1921-1990) whose innovative ideas and revolutionary spirit in spirituality and social renaissance turbo-charged my growth; Dada Kamaleshvarananda who taught me much of what I know about Ananda Marga yoga and tantra; Geshe Tashi Tsering (b.1937) who has taught me most of what I know about sutra and tantra in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and whose warm caring as a teacher was memorable; and Shengyan Shifu (圣严师父 1931-2009) who illuminated for me the heart and wisdom of Chan (禅) more than anyone else from this era. Apart from these four, I am grateful to Bhante Shravasti Dhammika (b.1951) who was my first Dhamma teacher in Pali Buddhism. He gave me a solid foundation for later studies into early Buddhism, particularly the Pali suttas and Chinese agamas.
Two other teachers deserve mention. Their transcribed teachings have elicited deep insights in me reverberating to this day: Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950) and Jiddu Krishnamurti 1895-1986).
Western FormationSchooled in the western liberal academic tradition, I owe much to philosophical giants of the Greek civilization and their intellectual descendants, more so in the continental than the analytic traditions for me personally. Socrates (470-399 BCE) taught me that an unexamined life is not worth living; Aristotle (384-322 BCE) gave me the rudiments of logic; Plato (470-399 BCE) cajoles me with this metaphysics. While cursorily learning from Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) whose transcendental idealism struck a chord especially with svatantrika madhyamika dialectics, and from the likes of David Hume (1711-1776) and Rene Descartes (1596-1650), I must admit I'm a rather poor student of western thought, partly because I am biased towards Asian philosophical thinking where intuitive insight and spiritual perception went deeper into my heart than pure cognitive operations.
Yet, to this day, I persist in continuing my reading of contemporary philosophers like Jurgen Habermas (b. 1929) whose critical theory resonates in many ways; Michel Foucault (1926-1984) and Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) whose poststructuralism provokes and calms me at the same time! I've been intrigued by Emmanuel Levinas (1906-1995) a French philosopher of Lithuanian Jewish ancestry whose contributions to ethical philosophy in his notion of alterity continues to draw me. In my own doctoral investigations, I owe most to my teachers in the phenomenological and hermeneutical traditions: Edmund Husserl (1859-1938), Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), and Hans Georg Gadamer (1900-2002). Of these, Gadamer was most influential to me and formative of my own thinking. Besides, we share the same birthday albeit 70 years apart!
Along the way, I could not help but venture an excursion into Arabic philosophy, given the intricate connections between Western and Middle-Eastern intellectual cultures in classical and medieval times. In recent years, I have been curious about Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406) and Al-Ghazali (1058-1111). I was thrilled to find an Islamic bookshop in Arab Street about two years ago where I procured a translation of Al-Ghazali's "The Alchemy of Happiness." Sorry to say my reading of this huge tome has been painfully slow, given the mountain of books occupying my attention every day.
But what richness and beauty there is in our collective human intellectual and spiritual heritage, that it seems such a waste that our modern education system completely ignores and even disdains such explorations among our younger generations!
One key teacher of mine in the western academic tradition is A/Professor Rod Bucknell, who is a dear old friend and my doctoral research advisor nearly two decades ago. He introduced me to the world of academic Buddhist Studies in general and to Pali-Agama textual studies in particular. For his teaching and friendship, I am ever grateful.
Biblical FormationSince my faith encounter with the Lord in 2014, I have embarked on an intense relentless process of educating myself in the Christian biblical tradition. In my youth, I have exposed myself to Christian literature and learnt from teachers such as Augustine of Hippo (354-430 CE), St Teresa of Avila (1515-1582), St John of the Cross (1542-1591), St Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), Brother Lawrence (1614-1691), William Johnston (1925-2010), John Main (1926-1982), John Stott (1921-2011), Thomas Merton (1915-1968), Thomas R. Kelly (1893-1941), and Richard J. Foster (b.1942). But that was not enough, I had to learn more broadly, more deeply, and more systematically from Christian theologians and Bible teachers of the historic Christian faith.
Reading across denominational lines and historical periods, I was led to prominent Reformed theologian with ecumenical reach Thomas F. Torrance (1913-2007). I regard Torrance as my theological mentor whose writings I may never hope to fully grasp. Piqued by Torrance's writings, I was led to look more closely at the Church fathers especially Athanasius of Alexandria (296-373 CE), Cyril of Alexandria (376-444 CE), and Gregory of Nazianzus (329-390 CE). I remember my University of Queensland library having an entire collection of works by the early Church fathers, but alas I could only read a tiny portion before I had to leave Australia.
Reformed theology captured more and more of my attention. I became intrigued with and began reading more about Reformation heroes John Calvin (1509-1564), Martin Luther (1483-1546), and Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531). In particular, I see John Calvin as a main teacher of mine. Calvin's "Institutes of the Christian Religion" is a prized tome on my bookshelf, even as I continue to plough through it. English Puritans like John Owen (1616-1683) and American revivalist in the Puritan heritage Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) gradually became part of the mainstay of my learning. Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck (1854-1921) is another of my theological heroes and teachers.
Many other theologians have influenced my thinking, but it would not be practical to list them here. I only wish to mention two: Michael Horton (b.1964), an American theologian and ordained Reformed minister known for his scholarship in Calvinism; and Veli-Matti Karkkainen (b.1958), a Finnish theologian and ordained Lutheran minister expert in Pentecostal-Charismatic theologies. I feel blessed to have them as teachers on my journey of theological inquiry. Seminal teachers in the Reformed epistemology tradition such as Cornelius Van Til (1895-1987) challenge me outside my habitual ways of philosophical thinking.
The process of spiritual and theological formation in Christ continues endlessly. I am profoundly thankful to two leading Bible teachers and pastors who, through their writings and sermon teachings (many of which are freely available), have blessed, enlightened, encouraged, inspired, and nourished me. Timothy Keller (b.1950) and John Piper (b.1946) have contributed to my formation in more ways than one. I celebrate their ministries Gospel in Life and Desiring God, heartily recommending them to anyone wishing to explore gospel truths more seriously.
And last but not least, I give credit to my spiritual elder brother in Christ, Wilfred Yeo, who writes and publishes at The Leaven Table. Wilfred is one of the early pioneers in the Anglo Chinese School Clock Tower incident in the 1970s, an event that ushered in a new wave of charismatic renewal in the Singaporean church. Many involved in that renewal have since gone on to become pastors and leaders in the church. Wilfred, in his own inimitable style and generosity of spirit, has given me much guidance and counsel in the early years of my Christian walk. Our families continue to assemble and fellowship regularly (ekklesia) in cyberspace.
One more thing: one does not need to agree with everything that our teacher transmits to us to honour and respect them. There is always something one can learn from our teachers. We can allow God to guide us into truth wherever it is found.
All in all, I feel incredibly privileged and blessed by God in the repertoire of good teachers and mentors I’ve had in my life. Gold and silver I have not, nor properties and cars, nor cash and country club, but I have been given something infinitely more valuable, less evanescent, seemingly intangible, and genuinely priceless—knowledge and wisdom of the Spirit of the living Christ blowing across cultural divides and inseminating truths deep within the heart. This is true prosperity transcending vacuous mirages of wealth and health promoted by the materialistic world and its swathe of cultist false preachers. For all this and more, I am thankful and give praise to the Lord. He is the Lord of All.
May I continue to grow in ever more exquisite delight in Christ, my supreme Treasure, so that bubbling forth in effervescent wonder and exultant joy, I may impart a portion of that spirit and soul, or a ray of that wisdom and insight, to future generations; by which I would have them animated to the brimming fullness of their inner capacity, as easily as I endow blank pages with words.