Can you practice without a teacher?

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doublerepukken
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Can you practice without a teacher?

Post by doublerepukken » Thu Sep 07, 2017 3:27 am

Hello all,

I have tried to do zazen in the past, but have been discouraged because everywhere I look, there's a strong emphasis on finding a teacher for feedback etc. Because of that, I started just following the Pure Land path because it seemed more accessible; I would like to eventually do zazen again though. Can you sit without a teacher or is this just a bad idea? I live in a pretty isolated area (I have tried to go to Zen centers in the past but I haven't been able to for one reason or another usually transportation issues/money), and pretty soon I'm going to be moving to Thailand for a job (I'm pretty much a Mahayana person) so my prospects of finding a Zen Teacher are going to be pretty non-existent. After that I'm thinking about moving to Japan but apparently its also very difficult to study Zen in Japan, sadly. Anyway, any help or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

:namaste:

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Astus
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Re: Can you practice without a teacher?

Post by Astus » Thu Sep 07, 2017 8:56 am

Dogen writes:

"If you want to study the supreme Buddhist Truth, you have to visit excellent Buddhist masters in far-off China. Reflect upon the vigorous road that is far beyond intellectual thinking. If you cannot find a true master, it is better not to study at all."
(Gakudo Yojin Shu)

Brad Warner comments:

"Notice, though, that Dogen never said don’t do zazen without a teacher, he just said don’t study Buddhism without one. Although doing zazen is a form of studying Buddhism, it won’t do most folks any harm at all to sit zazen on their own. Just don’t get too gung-ho about it."
(Do I Need a Teacher?)

After all, zazen is a fairly simple practice, and you can find several detailed instructions. If you actually do zazen you can recognise for what role you need a teacher for.

Huineng said:

"If you do not become enlightened by yourself, then you must seek a great spiritual compatriot, someone who understands the Dharma of the Supreme Vehicle, to indicate directly the correct path for you. ... If you can become enlightened yourself, don’t rely on external seeking — don’t think I’m saying you can only attain emancipation through [the help of] a spiritual compatriot other than yourself."
(Platform Sutra, ch2, BDK ed, p 33)
1 Myriad dharmas are only mind.
Mind is unobtainable.
What is there to seek?

2 If the Buddha-Nature is seen,
there will be no seeing of a nature in any thing.

3 Neither cultivation nor seated meditation —
this is the pure Chan of Tathagata.

4 With sudden enlightenment to Tathagata Chan,
the six paramitas and myriad means
are complete within that essence.


1 Huangbo, T2012Ap381c1 2 Nirvana Sutra, T374p521b3; tr. Yamamoto 3 Mazu, X1321p3b23; tr. J. Jia 4 Yongjia, T2014p395c14; tr. from "The Sword of Wisdom"

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Dan74
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Re: Can you practice without a teacher?

Post by Dan74 » Thu Sep 07, 2017 9:03 am

Having a teacher means you reach out, go on retreats when you can and develop a relationship, so that you can ask questions about your practice. The teacher doesn't have to live near you.

And in general yes, it's important to have a teacher. There are too many pitfalls on the way.

_/|\_

Anonymous X
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Re: Can you practice without a teacher?

Post by Anonymous X » Thu Sep 07, 2017 9:06 am

doublerepukken wrote:Hello all,

I have tried to do zazen in the past, but have been discouraged because everywhere I look, there's a strong emphasis on finding a teacher for feedback etc. Because of that, I started just following the Pure Land path because it seemed more accessible; I would like to eventually do zazen again though. Can you sit without a teacher or is this just a bad idea? I live in a pretty isolated area (I have tried to go to Zen centers in the past but I haven't been able to for one reason or another usually transportation issues/money), and pretty soon I'm going to be moving to Thailand for a job (I'm pretty much a Mahayana person) so my prospects of finding a Zen Teacher are going to be pretty non-existent. After that I'm thinking about moving to Japan but apparently its also very difficult to study Zen in Japan, sadly. Anyway, any help or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

:namaste:
Of course you can practice zazen even if you don't have a teacher. I did and know many others that have before they ever met or sought out a teacher. I wouldn't worry too much about having a teacher. There is a wealth of information in various books and very simple and informative instructions for any beginner. The main thing at this point is your 'interest' in the subject. Sitting zazen, or doing basic 'mindfulness practice' has its own rewards, even without a teacher. Here in Thailand, there are many centers where you can learn to sit and find others to talk with. Don't worry about Hinayana vs Mahayana. It's more trouble than it's worth. Seeing things the way they are is the whole point of sitting.

Miroku
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Re: Can you practice without a teacher?

Post by Miroku » Thu Sep 07, 2017 9:49 am

Having a teacher is essential. Teacher is ideally an embodiment of the three jewels. Good teacher can help you understand scriptures, overcome faults in your meditation and tell you what to do so you really can make progress on the path. Often we think we can do it all by ourselves but without a teacher or at least a community of more experienced practitioners it can be really dificult.

You can meditate by yourself or even learn how to do it from books. But without teacher it is so easy to get stuck or make a mistake and end up on a road to deeper samsara. Which I guess is something you want to avoid since you are on a buddhist forum. :D
Child, if you are not hypocritical and out of control, that is conduct.
~ Padampa Sangye

You say such clever things to people, but you do not apply them to yourself.
The faults within you are the ones to be exposed.
~ Padampa Sangye

ItsRaining
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Re: Can you practice without a teacher?

Post by ItsRaining » Thu Sep 07, 2017 10:50 am

If you are considering going to Thailand learning meditation from them isn't a bad idea. Although they follow the Theravada basic practices like Samantha and Vipasyana are found in both the Mahayana and Sravakayana. It can be good to have some basis in meditation before starting specific Zen practices like Hua Tou or Silent Illumination. But if you are interested in Zen there are a lot of good resources to learn from available, though it is going to be a lot harder with no one to support you or inform you of the right and wrong, it is not impossible if you have no other access to a teacher. If no Zen teacher is available then going to other teachers is a good choice as well.

If you want a guide to Zazen (I'm assuming you mean the Silent Sllumination of the Soto/Cao Dong school) this is a really good book that details how to go about doing the practice.

https://www.amazon.com.au/Method-No-Met ... B00C5KK72E

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jkarlins
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Re: Can you practice without a teacher?

Post by jkarlins » Thu Sep 07, 2017 11:02 am

Yes, but what "having a teacher," means depends on various things.

If you a Vajrayana Buddhist you need a teacher you have a connection with. If you're not, it helps to study a little bit with a teacher. But if you are not, it is not as important.

The other thing is, you could learn from a teacher by talking to them once, or for a short time, then go on to practice what you've learned. You're not making a lifelong commitment right away. I've studied with teachers briefly and gained a lot from it.

Jake

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seeker242
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Re: Can you practice without a teacher?

Post by seeker242 » Thu Sep 07, 2017 11:25 am

doublerepukken wrote: I would like to eventually do zazen again though. Can you sit without a teacher
Yes, not doing it would be worse than doing it. :smile:
One should not kill any living being, nor cause it to be killed, nor should one incite any other to kill. Do never injure any being, whether strong or weak, in this entire universe!

jorden
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Re: Can you practice without a teacher?

Post by jorden » Thu Sep 07, 2017 6:01 pm

Astus wrote: Brad Warner comments:

"Notice, though, that Dogen never said don’t do zazen without a teacher, he just said don’t study Buddhism without one. Although doing zazen is a form of studying Buddhism, it won’t do most folks any harm at all to sit zazen on their own. Just don’t get too gung-ho about it."
(Do I Need a Teacher?)
In the rest of Warner's article he basically says people practising without a teacher will end up in an evil cult.
Brad Warner wrote: On the other hand, there are very few examples of people who’ve studied and stuck with a qualified teacher in an orthodox school of thought who’ve gone totally off the deep end.
(Do I Need a Teacher?)
A few examples come to mind though, mostly involving exactly the qualified orthodox teachers themselves...

Matylda
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Re: Can you practice without a teacher?

Post by Matylda » Thu Sep 07, 2017 8:42 pm

doublerepukken wrote:Hello all,

I have tried to do zazen in the past, but have been discouraged because everywhere I look, there's a strong emphasis on finding a teacher for feedback etc. Because of that, I started just following the Pure Land path because it seemed more accessible; I would like to eventually do zazen again though. Can you sit without a teacher or is this just a bad idea? I live in a pretty isolated area (I have tried to go to Zen centers in the past but I haven't been able to for one reason or another usually transportation issues/money), and pretty soon I'm going to be moving to Thailand for a job (I'm pretty much a Mahayana person) so my prospects of finding a Zen Teacher are going to be pretty non-existent. After that I'm thinking about moving to Japan but apparently its also very difficult to study Zen in Japan, sadly. Anyway, any help or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

:namaste:
To practice nenbutsu is very fine as far as one follows exactly Honen's or Shinran's teachings. As or zen the teacher is an imperatice. Though zazen instructions seem to be simple and easy, it may be very tricky. In zazen it is very easy to fall into trap of self conceit, or self deceit.

tingdzin
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Re: Can you practice without a teacher?

Post by tingdzin » Fri Sep 08, 2017 9:02 am

To do real Zen practice of any depth you will eventually find that having a teacher is indispensable, to avoid wrong paths. IMO, though, it definitely helps for a beginner to become thoroughly accustomed to proper zazen posture (which can be learned from books) and to get into the habit of setting aside practice time every day, even if you aren't getting "Zen practice" exactly right to start with. Delaying practice until you can find a teacher might mean you never find one, while doing all you can without one, while keeping the strong aspiration to find one, may make a big difference.

You might also put a question here asking about possible Zen teachers in Thailand. Bangkok has a large Japanese community, although they're kind of (of course) snooty about outsiders. Who knows -- it might be different with Zen practitioners.

deemoid
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Re: Can you practice without a teacher?

Post by deemoid » Sun Sep 10, 2017 7:44 pm

the risk is that we'll just take the bits of dharma that we like, and that are therefore not challenging, and so don't have the power to transform us like those prescribed by a skillful teacher. See this useful video for a fuller explanation by my teacher...https://youtu.be/BDcUj8nhCqo

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