Author Topic: Is a Teacher Really Necessary?  (Read 22686 times)

Offline heybai

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Is a Teacher Really Necessary?
« on: September 17, 2010, 08:07:10 pm »
I am following Spiny's lead in posting a simple, but I think important, question.  Some of us have been reading and studying on our own for years now without the benefit of face-to-face meetings with a teacher.  Some people are house bound, or live in remote areas.  Are the internet, books, podcasts and the like enough?   Spiny recently asked if the Internet was a virtual teacher.  I am not asking if the Net can substitute for a personal, real-world, association with a realized teacher (it cannot), but whether or not a teacher of any sort is required.

Can we follow the Path through self-study, without the formal support of a qualified Dharma teacher?
« Last Edit: September 17, 2010, 08:14:16 pm by heybai »

Offline t

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Re: Is a Teacher Really Necessary?
« Reply #1 on: September 17, 2010, 08:23:47 pm »
Quote
Mahaparinibbana Sutta
Now the Blessed One spoke to the Venerable Ananda, saying:
"It may be, Ananda, that to some among you the thought will come: 'Ended is the word of the Master; we have a Master no longer.'
But it should not, Ananda, be so considered.
For that which I have proclaimed and made known as the Dhamma and the Discipline, that shall be your Master when I am gone.


Having the above in mind....now look into this....
Quote
The Buddha Speaks on Amitabha Sutra
Shariputra, just as I now praise the inconceivable merit and virtue of all Buddhas, all those Buddhas also praise my inconceivable merit and virtue, saying these words: Shakyamuni Buddha can accomplish extremely difficult and rare deeds in the Saha Land during the evil time of the Five Turbidities: during the time turbidity, the views turbidity, the affliction turbidity, the living beings turbidity, and the lifespan turbidity.
He can attain anuttara samyak sambodhi and for the sake of living beings proclaim this Dharma, which the whole world finds hard to believe.


Get my point? I have been looking for one for over a decade now....

Offline heybai

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Re: Is a Teacher Really Necessary?
« Reply #2 on: September 17, 2010, 08:41:49 pm »
Yes, t, I get your point.  Thank you for the quotations.   I am always appreciative of your knowledge.  :jinsyx:

So, the Dhamma is the central and foremost.  Agreed. 

And there may be greater struggle going it without a teacher in whom we place our trust, but how much harder?




GoGet

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Re: Is a Teacher Really Necessary?
« Reply #3 on: September 17, 2010, 09:44:29 pm »
I am following Spiny's lead in posting a simple, but I think important, question.  Some of us have been reading and studying on our own for years now without the benefit of face-to-face meetings with a teacher.  Some people are house bound, or live in remote areas.  Are the internet, books, podcasts and the like enough?   Spiny recently asked if the Internet was a virtual teacher.  I am not asking if the Net can substitute for a personal, real-world, association with a realized teacher (it cannot), but whether or not a teacher of any sort is required.

Can we follow the Path through self-study, without the formal support of a qualified Dharma teacher?

I think it depends on the direction your study and practice takes.

I think a qualified Dharma teacher is pretty important.  It gives direction, consistency to the path.  You don't have to be near him/her to study with them or recieve practice instruction either, especially nowadays.

Dilgo Kyentse Rinpoche once taught that (and I paraphrase) the relationship between the guru (or the teacher I think) and the student is beyond meeting and parting.

There are many opportunities to work with fine, highly qualified teachers and never set foot in their presense.  You have webcasts, archived video, auidio, DVDs, online education curricum, email correspondence.  Nothing says you can't study with multiple, teachers, either.

Considering the power of modern communication and information sharing, it would be silly not to take advantage of it with the Dharma.

I'm a student of the Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche.  He wants all of his students to complete an extensive study curriculum including all three yanas.  I took 1/3 of the classes online - exams and everything.  I take full advantage of Rinpoche's online video and audio offerings.  He had a piece on Huffington Post a couple weeks ago.  I can order books, CDs, DVDs, even sadhanas and restricted texts.

Reggie Ray is another teacher who works with the web a lot.   I think he does online/phone student interviews, too.

And those are just two examples I'm familiar with.

There are still times when the student must attend to study in person.  Certain teachings and many, if not all empowerments are given like that.  That and it's just good to see your teacher in the flesh at times.  Many teachers have an annual retreat for their students. Save your pennies and go every year or two.  Along with the blessings of teachers immediate presense, it's a lot of fun being around your fellow students.

All that said, I don't think you absolutely have to have a teacher, but I think it has certain advantages that when considering the easy availability ............ geez...while the hell NOT?

Offline heybai

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Re: Is a Teacher Really Necessary?
« Reply #4 on: September 17, 2010, 10:10:59 pm »
All that said, I don't think you absolutely have to have a teacher, but I think it has certain advantages that when considering the easy availability ............ geez...while the hell NOT?

Absolutely.  No reason to pass up  the rich opportunities, several of which you clearly outline,which many of us have access to and enjoy to a greater or lesser extent.  I was presuming that the teacher relationship would require some kind of in-person contact, but you are correct:  our media choices allow for creativity and physical distance is greatly mitigated technology (which continues to improve). 

On the other hand, I can imagine situations when contact with a teacher might not be possible.  [T] alluded to the problem of compatibility.  There may be many fine teachers out there, but perhaps only one or two nearby who may be working within traditions a person does not feel attracted toward.  We don't want to get snobby, but finding a suitable teacher can be a delicate task and ought not to be taken lightly.   


Offline gregkavarnos

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Re: Is a Teacher Really Necessary?
« Reply #5 on: September 17, 2010, 11:42:26 pm »
I was practicing for ten years (exclusively anapanasati) before I started loking for a teacher.  What "made" me seek a teacher was the fact that I was experiencing various things during my mediation sessions that I could find no explanation for in any books (the internet was not such a valid option in Greece back then).

When I started Vajrayana practice it became obvious to me that a teacher is 100% imperative, you cannot avoid having a teacher(s) in Vajrayana.  Now whether one communicates with their teacher via snail mail, internet, skype, phone, etc... I don't think that this is the issue BUT having direct contact with ones teacher over an extended period of time (retreat or seminar) means that as ones knowledge/experience develops one can have ones questions answered immediately and further instruction provided and thus one can "progress" faster in ones practice.

Anyway if anybody here has ever had a long distance personal relationship (friendship, family, or other) you know that, without a doubt, that NOTHING beats, or can adequately replace, face to face contact and communication.
 :namaste:
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Offline Dairy Lama

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Re: Is a Teacher Really Necessary?
« Reply #6 on: September 18, 2010, 02:38:38 am »
Can we follow the Path through self-study, without the formal support of a qualified Dharma teacher?

Yes.  In a way it's a more courageous approach to take.

Spiny 
"My religion is very simple - my religion is ice-cream"

Offline heybai

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Re: Is a Teacher Really Necessary?
« Reply #7 on: September 18, 2010, 03:41:38 am »
Anyway if anybody here has ever had a long distance personal relationship (friendship, family, or other) you know that, without a doubt, that NOTHING beats, or can adequately replace, face to face contact and communication.
 :namaste:

Quite right.  Ideally, if at all possible, it would be my preference to meet my teacher in person on at least one occasion.

Offline heybai

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Re: Is a Teacher Really Necessary?
« Reply #8 on: September 18, 2010, 03:47:25 am »
Can we follow the Path through self-study, without the formal support of a qualified Dharma teacher?

Yes.  In a way it's a more courageous approach to take.

Courageous because the Path is more truly one's own?

[I quite like this Socratic thing --  :D]

Briery O'Newman


Offline Caz

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Re: Is a Teacher Really Necessary?
« Reply #9 on: September 18, 2010, 04:12:14 am »
Anyway if anybody here has ever had a long distance personal relationship (friendship, family, or other) you know that, without a doubt, that NOTHING beats, or can adequately replace, face to face contact and communication.
 :namaste:

Quite right.  Ideally, if at all possible, it would be my preference to meet my teacher in person on at least one occasion.

Your In Taiwan right ? I here Shar gaden opened up a new centre there ?  :pray:
http://emodernbuddhism.com/

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Offline heybai

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Re: Is a Teacher Really Necessary?
« Reply #10 on: September 18, 2010, 04:27:48 am »
Anyway if anybody here has ever had a long distance personal relationship (friendship, family, or other) you know that, without a doubt, that NOTHING beats, or can adequately replace, face to face contact and communication.
 :namaste:

Quite right.  Ideally, if at all possible, it would be my preference to meet my teacher in person on at least one occasion.

Your In Taiwan right ? I here Shar gaden opened up a new centre there ?  :pray:

Yes, Caz, it is not far from where I sit, although I haven't been there.  I believe it is more of an outreach center for the monastery in India.  It is a "Dharma Center" -- not a temple.

It's not that there are a shortage of committed Buddhists where I am.  I am looking for my niche, so to speak.   This thread also poses the question in principle: Can/should one go it alone without a teacher. 

I think the advice (I would give myself for starters  :D) is that yes, it is possible -- Greg did it for ten years, for example -- but it is always preferable to work with a good teacher (when studying anything, not just the Dharma).   

If that is true, what hindrances is one likely to face when going it alone? 

Spiny also suggests that for some, working without a teacher or in a formal setting may be preferable.  I imagine that would be the minority view on this forum, but it is intriguing.

Offline gregkavarnos

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Re: Is a Teacher Really Necessary?
« Reply #11 on: September 18, 2010, 09:37:41 am »
Yes.  In a way it's a more courageous approach to take.
Courageous?  If there is a good teacher available then going it alone is not courageous, it just plain foolish!

Example:  One time I was digging a 10m long narrow trench to lay down some pipes for drainage (I am a bit of a handyman).  I had stradled the trench and was digging while walking backwards, dig-dig-dig, one step backwards, dig-dig-dig, one step backwards...

An old shepherd that used to bring his flock past where I worked and would spin tales for me about life in the village happened to be walking past.
"What you doing there?" he asked.
"Digging a trench" I answered in a tired and frustrated tone.
"You're doing it wrong" he said.
"Doing it wrong?" I answered in a ‘I’ve got post graduate degrees from university I should know how to dig a trench!’ manner
“Yeah, every time you dig up some earth you throw it onto the patch that you will be digging up next, that way you have to dig double the amount of earth each time!  Turn around and dig while walking forwards.”
BOING!

Now, of course, I would have finished digging the trench even without the instruction, but his advice meant it took me half the time it would have if I just continued slogging away doing it my way.  In both cases I would have “owned” the consequence of my actions (ie I would proudly point to the trench and say to all passers-by:  “I dug that!”) but in this specific case it took me half the effort.

Now this is just digging a Buddha damned trench for Buddhas sake!  Imagine how this translates in the realm of spiritual practice!
:namaste:
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Yeshe Zopa

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Re: Is a Teacher Really Necessary?
« Reply #12 on: September 18, 2010, 10:21:18 am »
I've had teachers who run meditation classes before, but the experience of having a Lharampa Geshe delivering one-to one tuition is so awesome I can hardly describe it.

Having good online resources and maybe teachers  is probably better that having a poor teacher face-to-face, but having a good teacher face-to-face is a rare and wonderful experience.

Sure, we can manage without, but we have so few opportunities in this life, I would travel wherever I could to receive personal instruction from a good teacher.

Of course,  we may all have different ideas about what a good teacher is, but that's another thread. ;)

Offline nirmal

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Re: Is a Teacher Really Necessary?
« Reply #13 on: September 18, 2010, 10:55:30 am »
Om Mani Padme Hom


A teacher or guru is necessary when we are involved in meditation.There can be a lot of hindrances in meditation that we may not be aware of .He could choose the right Yidam for us based on our past life.Then there could be some continuity in our meditation and progress would be faster. He could choose the right mantra for us to chant and decide how much chanting we would have to do so that it balances with our meditation.Just by meditation we might get insight and visions which we may not understand due to the lack of chanting.He can guide us along the path more effectively if he is Enlightened.We would be unfortunate if we were to meet a false guru.

Om Mani Padme Hom

Offline humanitas

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Re: Is a Teacher Really Necessary?
« Reply #14 on: September 18, 2010, 11:01:17 am »
Yes, a teacher is necessary, and always preferable.  Dharmakara said in the monastic world, it is plainly accepted that a teacher is a must.  IF there is no teacher close, one can do it solo, but a teacher is always preferable like a guide scaling Mt. Everest might be desirable lest you are a climbing expert, in which case you might still want a guide so you're not alone when you make a mistake and your guide can let you know (and save your life).

The way I think of it is, if I'm going to go through complex terrain I don't know well, I want someone who knows the ropes to show me what to do so I stay alive and keep navigating.   In the same way if I want to keep my practice alive and healthy, a teacher is an imperative.  Because of ignorance and the physics of ignorance.  

The thing is it's about bending your mind to acceptance.  Naturally=gently when it comes to the dharma.  Like losing weight, you can force it, but you will always revert.  So the only way to successfully lose weight is to commit to a lifestyle where you follow the correct guidelines for your body.  No one forces you to be fat or thin, awake or ignorant.  It's all you and where you are, even with a teacher.  

And it's not like a teacher is in any way superior to you, simply someone who knows the ropes better than you do and the method and can help you get sharper in your ability to encounter samsara as you inevitably will.  Like a guide, you don't think of them as superior, just someone who knows the area better than you do and he can help you get from point a to point b without all the guesswork about which way to turn, or walk into the wrong neighborhood and get robbed/killed in the process of trying to navigate your own way.  

Even with a guide, it's dangerous.  But you trust that guide to have knowledge and wisdom resources conditional to their having "been there" all this time to help you speed your journey along.  It's up to you, faster or slower route, different paces for different places and people.

Your guide already knows how to ask questions.  In getting to know you they learn what questions are burning to be asked within you.  They have accumulated some wisdom because they have been dharma students their whole lives usually.   Where we may be coming into a practice, to the teacher the practice IS their LIFE.

The guide learns from you what you need to better get to point B from where you're stuck at point A.  The guide is constantly learning to show YOU personally the way into yourself, probably because you will feel a connection to that person's way of communicating dharma.  

Just a thought about the role of teacher...

So short answer: YES.  A teacher is always necessary.

Is one always available?  Not always.  So you make do and pick the most beneficial route you have available to you I guess.  :)
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