There is the doctor’s coat, the three-piece suit, and the Major League Baseball cap that is tilted in a certain way.
But there are other cultural uniforms that signify authority, or so we are taught. The somber gray-haired sage, the well-learned scholar. And it is primarily with these “authorities” that the Dhammatthavagga is concerned with.
The bottom line in this chapter of the Dhammapada is don’t demure to someone because they carry the trappings of authority; one has authority only if their words match their deeds or teachings.
In the Lakkhana Sutta (AN 3.2) the Buddha instructs how to discern between a fool and a wise man.
“A person endowed with three things is to be recognized as a wise person. Which three? Good bodily conduct, good verbal conduct, good mental conduct. A person endowed with these three things is to be recognized as a wise person.”
In the Dhammatthavagga, we have a series of verses that primarily focus on how one shouldn’t rely on appearances to determine whether someone is wise, because a fool can be disguised in such a manner.
“A head of gray hairs
doesn't mean one’s an elder.
Advanced in years,
one's called an old fool.
But one in whom there is
he’s called an elder,
his impurities disgorged,
Similarly, just because someone wears the ochre robes doesn’t mean that he ought to be followed. The world is filled with charlatans. And many of these tricksters write books, very important books, and they need to promote these books, so they talk a good talk to promote what they say so you will buy their book.
“A shaven head
doesn't mean a contemplative.
The liar observing no duties,
filled with greed & desire:
what kind of contemplative’s he?
But whoever tunes out
of his evil qualities
— large or small —
in every way
by bringing evil to consonance:
he’s called a contemplative.”
I’ve been searching for a sutta and I can’t find it, but it’s one where the Buddha outlines clearly how to determine whether someone is a suitable teacher. It’s really frustrating that I can’t find it. But the gist of the sutta is first determine whether the teacher knows the Dhamma and second determine whether the teacher follows the Dhamma, regardless of whether he or she knows it. So if you find someone who knows the Dhamma, but does not follow it, then that person is not a suitable teacher. Likewise, someone who does not know the Dhamma and does not follow the Dhamma is also unsuitable. But if someone doesn’t know the Dhamma, but follows the Dhamma, that person may be worthy of following. So there are good people out there that are worthy of following, even if they don’t know squat about the Dhamma. Living the Dhamma matters more than knowing it.