Sangha or Teacher: Which is Most Essential?

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism
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Dan74
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Re: Sangha or Teacher: Which is Most Essential?

Post by Dan74 » Mon Sep 07, 2009 1:00 am

If you want to become a neurosurgeon, or even a good potter, you are not likely to just buy a bunch of books and study them, possibly with some other people and occasionally asking an expert a question or two and hearing a talk. And yet, with Buddhadamma, which is arguably the most subtle and intricate of all disciplines some of us think they can make real progress like this.

Why?

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

Post by Ben » Mon Sep 07, 2009 1:38 am

Hi Dan
People's circumstances are diffeent, as I am sure you'll agree.
I really take my hat off to people like Retro, and many of our members here, who have been able to navigate the plethora of views and approaches and enticements of samsara and teach themselves meditation and engage in practice with nothing but their own interest, determination, print, audio or video instruction and the goodwill and encouragement of friends and like-minded people at places like Dhamma Wheel. I think it says something about their paramitas.
Metta

Ben
“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

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Re: Sangha or Teacher: Which is Most Essential?

Post by DNS » Mon Sep 07, 2009 1:52 am

Ben wrote:Hi Dan
People's circumstances are diffeent, as I am sure you'll agree.
I really take my hat off to people like Retro, and many of our members here, who have been able to navigate the plethora of views and approaches and enticements of samsara and teach themselves meditation and engage in practice with nothing but their own interest, determination, print, audio or video instruction and the goodwill and encouragement of friends and like-minded people at places like Dhamma Wheel. I think it says something about their paramitas.
Yes, I agree with Ben. I have also noticed many people who have done well with both programs, with regular contact with a teacher and some who have had little contact with a teacher. It really has a lot to do with the resolve and determination of the individual. I have also seen some become dependent on a teacher where they end up not doing much study on their own. If they have a good teacher, the teacher can still guide them pretty well, but what if their teacher is not so great?

Also, yes, the Dhamma is quite profound, but it is not a livelihood such as surgery and pottery. Of course, find a good teacher if you can, but for those who cannot, I have seen some make great progress with study, online groups and infrequent contacts with teachers.

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Re: Sangha or Teacher: Which is Most Essential?

Post by christopher::: » Mon Sep 07, 2009 3:44 am

I agree with Ben and David. A teacher is a blessing, without a doubt... a good teacher. And if the dhamma were like neurosurgery or law, one needs to sit directly at the foot of a master, or masters, and learn from them, intensively. But with art, sports or music- while instruction is needed along the way- many do indeed make great strides on their own, or with the support of peers. I've seen this with my eldest son with baseball, and with my youngest son, with drawing. Andy's brilliant with a pencil or pen because of all the time and effort he's put in. I've coached him, but very minimally. The main thing i've said, almost like a parrot, is "Keep practicing..! You can do this. If you can't draw something well, try again, observe what you are doing carefully and keep drawing!"

:group:
"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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Dan74
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Re: Sangha or Teacher: Which is Most Essential?

Post by Dan74 » Mon Sep 07, 2009 4:43 am

Ben's post above is uncontroversial - he is simply saying that some people don't have access to a teacher and they can still make progress on the own (sometimes). Good on them!

As for the analogies above (I've opened a Pandora's box of bad analogies it seems) all I can say is that while everything is and can be a teacher, in practice most of us find ourselves repeating the same mistakes over and over again. That there were so many arahat's in the Buddha's time speaks for itself - a great teacher is of great help.

Sure, we have to practice hard, no one can take the steps for us. Sure thinking "I need an enlightened teacher" can be a hindrance. Relying on the teacher to make it all work can be a hindrance. But not recognizing the limitations of our deluded minds guiding our way out of the delusion is a great hindrance, in my opinion.

In the East where Buddhism came from, no one serious about a spiritual path would underestimate the importance of the right guide. No one here is yet to cite any examples of great Theravada teachers who had not done an apprenticeship with another great teacher. The Buddha had a few, Huineng the Sixth Patriarch of Zen did not seem to have done much time with teachers, although historical accounts are unreliable. But if such cases existed, they were few and far in between.

Of course we can try and practice on our own. And we make more or less progress depending on our wholesome roots, our kamma. But we should not delude ourselves into thinking that this is the best way to practice. It may be all we can do under the limitations of family, job, etc, but it's not the best.

That's all I am saying.

_/|\_

PS Chris, even in Art, great masters of the Renaissance were invariably apprenticed to other masters where they learnt both the basics and the secrets, as well as being inspired and initiated into their lineage. Of course we don't need all that now.
Last edited by Dan74 on Mon Sep 07, 2009 5:02 am, edited 1 time in total.
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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
Mike

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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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