Sangha or Teacher: Which is Most Essential?

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism
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tiltbillings
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Re: Sangha or Teacher: Which is Most Essential?

Post by tiltbillings » Mon Sep 07, 2009 5:01 am

Dan74 wrote: No one here is yet to cite any examples of great Theravada teachers who had not done an apprenticeship with another great teacher.
Sunlun Sayadaw comes to mind:

http://books.google.com/books?id=VK89AA ... aw&f=false" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
>> Do you see a man wise [enlightened/ariya] in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.<< -- Proverbs 26:12

This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond. -- SN I, 38.

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” HPatDH p.723

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Re: Sangha or Teacher: Which is Most Essential?

Post by DNS » Mon Sep 07, 2009 5:28 am

tiltbillings wrote:
Dan74 wrote: No one here is yet to cite any examples of great Theravada teachers who had not done an apprenticeship with another great teacher.
Sunlun Sayadaw comes to mind:

http://books.google.com/books?id=VK89AA ... aw&f=false" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
Also, paccekabuddhas, "silent, lone" buddhas without teachers or guides.

But, I thought we were talking about lay practitioners, not teachers. Teachers are usually put to a higher standard and are expected to have a good preceptor and/or teacher of their own.

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Re: Sangha or Teacher: Which is Most Essential?

Post by retrofuturist » Mon Sep 07, 2009 5:50 am

Greetings Chris:::, all,

In taking refuge in the Buddha, I take him as my teacher... I take the Dhamma as the teaching, and the (Ariyan) Sangha as the exemplars of those who have used the Dhamma to achieve the results the Buddha taught.

I have been taught many things by many people on the Dhamma but do not have a student-teacher relationship with any of them. My relationships are predominantly in the form of kalyana-mittas (spiritual friends).

In time, I may come to have an actual "teacher", but I don't see it happening in the near future for two main reasons. The first, and most obvious one, is a matter of time and proximity. The second, is that I'm yet to encounter anyone with whom I'm completely in accord and in agreement with other than the Buddha himself. Inevitably I foresee a situation where this hyptohetical teacher says one thing, which I simply cannot bring myself to agree with because I believe the Buddha taught otherwise... an impasse would be reached. It wouldn't be fair to me and it wouldn't be fair to the teacher.

Thus, for the foreseeable future, the Buddha will remain my teacher, but I will be forever open to others shining the light onto the Dhamma and illuminating it in such a way that they focus my awareness onto salient aspects of the Dhamma, even though I am not formally their student and they are not formally my teacher.

On the other hand, I can potentially see a situation in the future where if I'm interested in furthering my meditation beyond a certain point, a teacher may come in handy... but that will be a case of meditation technique, rather than doctrine.

Metta,
Retro. :)

P.S. Thanks for the kind words Ben.
"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"One discerns wrong view as wrong view, and right view as right view. This is one's right view." (MN 117)

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Re: Sangha or Teacher: Which is Most Essential?

Post by Dan74 » Mon Sep 07, 2009 6:16 am

A friend has a very similar attitude to yours, Retro, and I respect it 100%.

But on the other hand, I don't find it necessary that the teacher and I agree on every aspect of Dharma, nor that my teacher be perfect or even better than me in every way. In a way if I hold such high standards, I am unlikely to ever find a teacher, or find one I will not eventually be disappointed in.

Chogyam Trungpa was a teacher many here would shudder at having I guess. His ethics were very strange to say the least, he died of alcohol related illness, and yet he left an amazing legacy with Shambala, Naropa University, people like Pema Chodron and Judy Lief mentioned on the Death thread. These people's practice was profoundly transformed by Trungpa as was thousands of others.

Of course I am not recommending such characters for everybody. Just to say that when our conceptual framework is too tight, the practice will inevitably be shacked by them. And on the other hand a frustrating difficult teacher who challenges us may succeed in knocking us out of whatever rut we may have dug for ourselves.

Anyway enough :soap:

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Re: Sangha or Teacher: Which is Most Essential?

Post by mikenz66 » Mon Sep 07, 2009 6:18 am

I think it's great that some people manage to make progress without live teachers. I think that I would personally have found that impossible. However, I'm confused about Retro's statement about disagreement. To me a key feature of live teachers that I trust is that they can point out problems with my practise or interpretations.

Metta
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Re: Sangha or Teacher: Which is Most Essential?

Post by Dan74 » Mon Sep 07, 2009 6:21 am

To me a key feature of live teachers that I trust is that they can point out problems with my practise or interpretations.
:goodpost:

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Re: Sangha or Teacher: Which is Most Essential?

Post by retrofuturist » Mon Sep 07, 2009 6:48 am

Greetings Mike (and Dan too, I guess),
mikenz66 wrote:However, I'm confused about Retro's statement about disagreement. To me a key feature of live teachers that I trust is that they can point out problems with my practise or interpretations.
What do (or would) you do if you were to disagree with your teacher on a particular doctrinal issue?

What if you assessed your teacher's instructions against the Four Great References (as detailed in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta) and found them to be lacking? What do you do then?
The Four Great References

7. And there the Blessed One addressed the bhikkhus, saying: "Now, bhikkhus, I shall make known to you the four great references. [37] Listen and pay heed to my words." And those bhikkhus answered, saying:

"So be it, Lord."

8-11. Then the Blessed One said: "In this fashion, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu might speak: 'Face to face with the Blessed One, brethren, I have heard and learned thus: This is the Dhamma and the Discipline, the Master's Dispensation'; or: 'In an abode of such and such a name lives a community with elders and a chief. Face to face with that community, I have heard and learned thus: This is the Dhamma and the Discipline, the Master's Dispensation'; or: 'In an abode of such and such a name live several bhikkhus who are elders, who are learned, who have accomplished their course, who are preservers of the Dhamma, the Discipline, and the Summaries. Face to face with those elders, I have heard and learned thus: This is the Dhamma and the Discipline, the Master's Dispensation'; or: 'In an abode of such and such a name lives a single bhikkhu who is an elder, who is learned, who has accomplished his course, who is a preserver of the Dhamma, the Discipline, and the Summaries. Face to face with that elder, I have heard and learned thus: This is the Dhamma and the Discipline, the Master's Dispensation.'

"In such a case, bhikkhus, the declaration of such a bhikkhu is neither to be received with approval nor with scorn. Without approval and without scorn, but carefully studying the sentences word by word, one should trace them in the Discourses and verify them by the Discipline. If they are neither traceable in the Discourses nor verifiable by the Discipline, one must conclude thus: 'Certainly, this is not the Blessed One's utterance; this has been misunderstood by that bhikkhu -- or by that community, or by those elders, or by that elder.' In that way, bhikkhus, you should reject it. But if the sentences concerned are traceable in the Discourses and verifiable by the Discipline, then one must conclude thus: 'Certainly, this is the Blessed One's utterance; this has been well understood by that bhikkhu -- or by that community, or by those elders, or by that elder.' And in that way, bhikkhus, you may accept it on the first, second, third, or fourth reference. These, bhikkhus, are the four great references for you to preserve."
Staying with DN16 for a moment...
And the Lord said to Ananda: 'Ananda, it may be that you will think: "The Teacher's instruction has ceased, now we have no teacher!" It should not be seen like this Ananda, for what I have taught and explained to you as Dhamma and discipline will, at my passing, be your teacher'
The Buddha is cool...

:buddha2:

Metta,
Retro. :)
"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"One discerns wrong view as wrong view, and right view as right view. This is one's right view." (MN 117)

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Re: Sangha or Teacher: Which is Most Essential?

Post by appicchato » Mon Sep 07, 2009 7:19 am

retrofuturist wrote:In taking refuge in the Buddha, I take him as my teacher... I take the Dhamma as the teaching, and the (Ariyan) Sangha as the exemplars of those who have used the Dhamma to achieve the results the Buddha taught.

I have been taught many things by many people on the Dhamma but do not have a student-teacher relationship with any of them. My relationships are predominantly in the form of kalyana-mittas (spiritual friends).

In time, I may come to have an actual "teacher", but I don't see it happening in the near future for two main reasons. The first, and most obvious one, is a matter of time and proximity. The second, is that I'm yet to encounter anyone with whom I'm completely in accord and in agreement with other than the Buddha himself. Inevitably I foresee a situation where this hyptohetical teacher says one thing, which I simply cannot bring myself to agree with because I believe the Buddha taught otherwise... an impasse would be reached. It wouldn't be fair to me and it wouldn't be fair to the teacher.

Thus, for the foreseeable future, the Buddha will remain my teacher, but I will be forever open to others shining the light onto the Dhamma and illuminating it in such a way that they focus my awareness onto salient aspects of the Dhamma, even though I am not formally their student and they are not formally my teacher.

On the other hand, I can potentially see a situation in the future where if I'm interested in furthering my meditation beyond a certain point, a teacher may come in handy... but that will be a case of meditation technique, rather than doctrine.
This wanderer is in total accord with the above...FWIW... :thumbsup:

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Re: Sangha or Teacher: Which is Most Essential?

Post by Ngawang Drolma. » Mon Sep 07, 2009 7:39 am

-An excerpt from an articled called "Good Company - Friendship in the Spiritual Community"-

There is an intriguing account of a conversation between the Buddha and his disciple Ananda, whose name appears frequently in the Buddhist scriptures. He was the Buddha's younger cousin, and the two must have known each other since Ananda's boyhood. In the last 25 years of the Buddha's life, Ananda was the Buddha's personal attendant, storing up the Buddha's words so that they could be passed on to later generations. We can also see from these accounts that the Buddha and Ananda were close friends.

At the start of the discourse in question Ananda approaches the Buddha, intent on sharing a thought. Something – perhaps the cumulative affect of day-to-day association with the Buddha – has suddenly made him realise that such 'lovely companionship' is far more crucial to spiritual progress than he had imagined. He enthusiastically declares, 'Lord, this spiritual friendship, spiritual companionship and spiritual intimacy is no less than half of the spiritual life.' 'Say not so, Ananda,' the Buddha replies. 'It is the whole, not the half of the spiritual life.'

The rest of the article is here.

:namaste:

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Re: Sangha or Teacher: Which is Most Essential?

Post by christopher::: » Mon Sep 07, 2009 7:43 am

Ngawang Drolma wrote:
He enthusiastically declares, 'Lord, this spiritual friendship, spiritual companionship and spiritual intimacy is no less than half of the spiritual life.' 'Say not so, Ananda,' the Buddha replies. 'It is the whole, not the half of the spiritual life.'
Thanks for that, Drolma.

:clap:

I liked these sections, from your link, and feel very grateful for the support and guidance i've received from dhamma sisters and brothers, especially in recent years.

:group:
Many of those Buddhists who are familiar with this concept of spiritual friendship or kalyana mitrata think of it in terms of a 'teacher-disciple' relationship (or 'vertical' friendship). As a result they pay little attention to a vital dimension of spiritual friendship that could be called 'horizontal' friendship: that is, friendship with one's peers. Those who are fortunate enough to enjoy intimate, day by day contact with their teacher may not feel they are missing anything. Few, however, are so fortunate. My own experience has taught me that a small circle of spiritual peers, enjoying intimate friendship and in close mutual association, can aid one another's progress greatly, provided they also have some contact with more mature friends. The ideal situation is actually to live with spiritual friends, or to work with them, or both...

Anyone who has taken up the spiritual life in earnest knows that it isn't easy, and may frequently feel tempted to give up the struggle. We may lose confidence in our ability to meditate. If we have given up worldly opportunities to work for the Dharma, we may find ourselves wistfully thinking that we could easily have more money and more comfort. We may doubt the tradition we are following, or the Dharma itself. Worst of all, we may feel estranged from our fellow practitioners.

Often in such cases, only a trusted friend can bring our spiritual ideal back to life. As well as reviving the flame when it is sputtering, friends can feed it up into a blaze. Mere association with them constantly nourishes that part of us that loves the good. Conversely, if we spend time with people who have no interest in spiritual life, our own feeling for it will fade and our whole spiritual ideal may start to seem unreal.

Our peer friends can help us in refining our ethical awareness. In some regards they will be more sensitive than we are. Through frequent contact with us, they may be much more aware of our ethical blind spots than our mature friends (with whom, in an unfeigned way, we tend to be 'at our best'). Peers can help us to overcome these blind spots, not by pointing accusing fingers, but through benevolence and intimacy. Sometimes we are unable (or unwilling) to recognise that something we have said or done is contrary to our spiritual aims, but a friend can help us to see this, without offending us.

True spiritual friends do not let us off the hook, but at the same time are gentle, sensitive and kindly in their speech, choosing their moment carefully. They try to emulate the sensitivity of the Buddha, who 'knows the time' to say things that are 'true, correct and beneficial' but also 'disagreeable' to the hearer. Friends also help us to eradicate the unwholesome in ourselves by receiving our confessions, and by rejoicing in our merits, reinforcing the good in us. By seeing and loving the best in us, they draw it out more fully, just as rain and sunlight nourish a plant.
:heart:
"As Buddhists, we should aim to develop relationships that are not predominated by grasping and clinging. Our relationships should be characterised by the brahmaviharas of metta (loving kindness), mudita (sympathetic joy), karuna (compassion), and upekkha (equanimity)."
~post by Ben, Jul 02, 2009

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Re: Sangha or Teacher: Which is Most Essential?

Post by mikenz66 » Mon Sep 07, 2009 8:02 am

retrofuturist wrote:What do (or would) you do if you were to disagree with your teacher on a particular doctrinal issue?

What if you assessed your teacher's instructions against the Four Great Standards (as detailed in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta) and found them to be lacking? What do you do then?
It hasn't happened yet. Why pose such hypothetical questions?

My experience has always been that my teachers have sorted out my confusion.

Metta
Mike

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Re: Sangha or Teacher: Which is Most Essential?

Post by retrofuturist » Mon Sep 07, 2009 8:37 am

Greetings Mike,
mikenz66 wrote:Why pose such hypothetical questions?
It's hardly hypothetical when you consider the vast plethora of different opinions, ideas, focuses and interpretations that exist within the Theravada tradition.

Are there two people anywhere in the world, let alone within Theravada, who hold identical perspectives on all matters?

Such universal conformance in all matters seems far more hypothetical than the situation I presented.

Metta,
Retro. :)
"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"One discerns wrong view as wrong view, and right view as right view. This is one's right view." (MN 117)

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Re: Sangha or Teacher: Which is Most Essential?

Post by mikenz66 » Mon Sep 07, 2009 9:59 am

retrofuturist wrote: Are there two people anywhere in the world, let alone within Theravada, who hold identical perspectives
I honestly have not had this problem with the various real-life teachers that I have interacted with. They may emphasise different things but I have never had any significant disagreement with teachers (or serious practitioners) that I know in "real life".

There may be minor path variations, but in the end, are we not supposed to be verifying the same Dhamma?

Mike
Mike

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Re: Sangha or Teacher: Which is Most Essential?

Post by retrofuturist » Mon Sep 07, 2009 10:08 am

Greetings Mike,

I'm pleased it's working for you, then.

:thumbsup:

Metta,
Retro. :)
"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"One discerns wrong view as wrong view, and right view as right view. This is one's right view." (MN 117)

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Re: Sangha or Teacher: Which is Most Essential?

Post by siaophengyou » Mon Sep 07, 2009 11:22 am

christopher::: wrote: Hi Mike. That link is extremely helpful. I feel a bit awkward admitting that all this time spent with fellow Buddhists at E-sangha, here and ZFI i still have some confusion. It's probably because it's been online fellowship, with people from a number of different schools and traditions.

Anyway, I was asking in regards to the modern Western use of the term "Sangha" as well as the traditional approach and how the term was used by the Buddha. And wondering about differences that exist. Here in Japan most Buddhist layperson's that I've met do not have personal teachers, whereas most Western Buddhists either have teachers or are seeking one. Those that do not yet have a teacher (like myself) are often told (usually by Tibetan & Zen Buddhists) that we need to find a personal teacher in order to practice the dhamma correctly.

I was wondering how the situation is viewed with Theravadin practitioners.

I'm working thru that article. So, thanks!

:group:
Dear Christopher,

this is taken from:
http://web.ukonline.co.uk/buddhism/pandita9.htm
The third protection is the one I will dwell on here. It is sakaccha nuggahita, discussion with a teacher, and it is likened to the many processes involved in cultivating a plant. Plants need different things at different times. Soil may need to be loosened around the roots, but not too much, or the roots will lose their grip in the soil. Leaves must be trimmed, again with care. Overshadowing plants must be cut down. In just this way, when we discuss our practice with a teacher, the teacher will give different instructions depending on what is needed to keep us on the right path.
My suggestion would be, go for an intensive retreat, a month or two, perhaps longer if you wish to. Follow the Teacher's instructions faithfully, and you will get maximum benefit of your practice.

metta,

siaophengyou

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