Sangha or Teacher: Which is Most Essential?

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism

Re: Sangha or Teacher: Which is Most Essential?

Postby David N. Snyder » Wed Sep 09, 2009 4:19 am

In another thread, Ben just posted this great passage which reminded me of this thread:

One should cultivate a friend who is intelligent,
learned, a master of the dharma, noble.
(*Having understood the dharma)
[and] abandoned doubt, (*one should wander) alone (*like the rhinoceros.)

If one should find a wise companion,
a well-behaved, strong fellow,
[then] (*overcoming) all dangers,
one should wander along with him, satisfied at heart, mindful.


If one should not find a wise companion,
a well-behaved, strong fellow,
[then] (*like a king who) has abandoned (*the realm) [which he had] conquered,
one should wander alone like the rhinoceros.


-- Gandari version of the Rhinoceros Sutra: http://www.ebmp.org/p_wrk_samples.php


I have placed in bold the relevant parts, which make the case for both sides in this discussion. If one can find a good teacher, great! If one cannot, then it is better to go alone, study and practice.
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Re: Sangha or Teacher: Which is Most Essential?

Postby retrofuturist » Wed Sep 09, 2009 4:47 am

Greetings TheDhamma,

I see that sutta extract more referring to acquaintances, even spiritual acquaintances, than anything to do with a student/teacher relationship (for or against).

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Sangha or Teacher: Which is Most Essential?

Postby kc2dpt » Wed Sep 09, 2009 4:55 am

TheDhamma wrote:In another thread, Ben just posted this great passage which reminded me of this thread:
...
If one can find a good teacher, great! If one cannot, then it is better to go alone, study and practice.

Good quote.
- Peter

Be heedful and you will accomplish your goal.
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Re: Sangha or Teacher: Which is Most Essential?

Postby zavk » Wed Sep 09, 2009 5:32 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings zavk,

Evans begins by re-examining existing translations of key terms in the sutta to argue that the uncertainty experienced by the Kalamas is a kind of 'indecisiveness' rather than what is usually interpreted as 'doubt'. Accordingly, he argues that the Kalamas were not really asking 'What teaching is true?' but 'Whose teaching is true?' In other words, the Kalamas were not merely seeking an effective doctrine but also an effective teacher.


I'm not sure whether it's the same article or not, but I've also heard it speculated that the Kalamas did indeed want to know the "who?", but not so that they could take that "who" as a teacher, but so that they could maximise the returns on their dana, by giving to those who were the most enlightened (believing that the merit generated was proportional to the spiritual greatness of the recipient).

Metta,
Retro. :)


Hi Retro,

Yes Evans does discuss this in his paper. I think it is not unreasonable to suggest that back then such cosmological attitudes and religious practices were the norm. By pointing this out, Evans is drawing attention to the fact that any interpretation of the sutta must be sensitive to the context within which it was written. By doing so, he draws attention to the fact that assumptions about rebirth always already frame the sutta. This means that we cannot easily evoke the 'method' suggested by the Buddha as a means to explain away the thorny issue of rebirth (as some people have from time to time). Anyway, this is tangential to the discussion at hand. So back to the topic....
With metta,
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Re: Sangha or Teacher: Which is Most Essential?

Postby christopher::: » Fri Sep 11, 2009 12:00 am

I really like that wandering rhino analogy....

A question- How do you all view the Zen & Tibetan views of Sangha and teacher?

If I understand correctly (and i might not) what you all have said in the Theravadin tradition the term "Sangha" is primarily used to refer to the Noble Sangha (those who have actualized the Buddha's dhamma to a high degree) and the ordained Sangha- bikkhus, monks, those who choose to live the way of the Buddha, completely. Also, we use the term to refer to communities of practitioners, like ourselves.

A "teacher" is not something existing outside or above this, teaching is a component or function of Sangha. Members of the Noble Sangha and ordained Sangha live and also "teach" the dhamma as discovered and taught by the Buddha.

In Zen and TB, in Mahayana i guess, it seems like there is the view that added wisdom has been learned since the time of the Buddha, wisdom which is understood best by "teachers" and so at times a "teacher" is placed separate or above sangha...

I don't mean to make waves, and my understanding could be inaccurate. But somehow the idea of teacher as primary seems to have taken root in Zen and Tibetan schools. Maybe its not even an important difference, as there is no problem with this, as long as the teacher is indeed highly realized and lives the dhamma....

Your thoughts?
"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?

Postby retrofuturist » Fri Sep 11, 2009 12:25 am

Greetings Chris:::,

I think your Theravada summary is pretty good.

I'll leave it for those of other schools to comment on your characterisation of other traditions.

"The view that added wisdom has been learned since the time of the Buddha" is questionable in Theravada as the Buddha is revered as a sammasambuddha (fully enlightened Buddha) and in terms of enlightenment is thus unsurpassable. Attempting to elevate any such newfound wisdom over the words of the Buddha is risky business indeed. To me at least, it seems inconsistent with the notion of going for refuge to the Buddha.

Perhaps back to the more general topic at hand slightly, the Buddha also gave the instruction that those skilled in vipassana should seek complementary guidance from those skilled in samatha, and that those who are skilled in samatha should likewise seek guidance from those skilled in vipassana. Thus, two people could reasonably be teaching different aspects of the Dhamma to each other. The most important thing is that we learn - not the formal hierachial relationship between subject and object (which is obviously void of any inherent existence).

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


Dharma Wheel (Mahayana / Vajrayana forum) -- Open flower ~ Open book (blog)
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Re: Sangha or Teacher: Which is Most Essential?

Postby christopher::: » Fri Sep 11, 2009 1:11 am

Hi Paul,

I'm not really sure how important my questions may or may not be. I just seem to find myself at a decision point now, being drawn closer to Theravadin Buddhism... with roots still firmly planted in Zen... stuck perhaps forever between worlds, lol....

BTW, as you probably know, in Zen and Chan the focus is on Dhyana with meditation....

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dhyana

There was a discussion over at ZFI comparing Vipassana and Zen meditation, which I have not read yet. I'll take a look at it.

Are Vipassana and zazen the same or different?

:namaste:
"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?

Postby retrofuturist » Fri Sep 11, 2009 2:03 am

Greetings Chris:::,

If you were going to look at your question from a Theravada angle, it would be "To what extent is zazen vipassana, and to what extent is zazen samatha?"

For example, anapanasati (mindfulness of breath) is neither exclusively samatha or vipassana but can be geared more towards one than the other.

Satipatthana (foundations/frames of mindfulness) is primarily vipassana, but does have an element of samatha about it too.

Maybe you would like to create a new topic to explore this angle, as would best suit your current line of enquiry? That said, the best way to answer your question for yourself would be to go an a meditation retreat where you start with anapanasati and then switch to vipassana... such as a 10-day Goenka retreat.

Metta,
Paul. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


Dharma Wheel (Mahayana / Vajrayana forum) -- Open flower ~ Open book (blog)
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Re: Sangha or Teacher: Which is Most Essential?

Postby christopher::: » Fri Sep 11, 2009 10:21 am

Hi Paul.

While i would love to do that a 10-day retreat is not a possibility, presently. But I do think its a good idea for me to seek some guidance here with the approach i've been taking, and how i can improve on it.

Thanks for your input..!

:namaste:
"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?

Postby appicchato » Fri Sep 11, 2009 10:46 am

christopher::: wrote:I just seem to find myself...being drawn closer to Theravadin Buddhism...


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

Postby christopher::: » Fri Sep 11, 2009 12:00 pm

appicchato wrote:
christopher::: wrote:I just seem to find myself...being drawn closer to Theravadin Buddhism...


:thumbsup:


And of course, Theravadin Buddhists...!

:bow:
"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?

Postby PeterB » Sat Sep 12, 2009 9:12 am

Can I make a suggestion
Chris ?

That you consider confining your questions to practitioners of each tradition ? I think if you ask what Theravadins think of Zen or vice versa etc most likely outcome is reasons why they do not follow that tradition although they can see its merits. Or even more likely a tactful silence because people dont want to cause offence. Apart from a few followers of a certain young western teacher that is who appear to see causing offense as a duty of Right Speech :smile: .

So positive reasons on here as to the Theravada, and on ZFI re Zen, and on E Sangha if you still can access it, re the Vajrayana etc..Just a thought. Minimises crossed lines of communication.

metta.
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Re: Sangha or Teacher: Which is Most Essential?

Postby christopher::: » Sat Sep 12, 2009 9:22 am

Hi Peter. I kind of agree. To be honest, i'm not sure if my question as phrased here really needs answering... More and more it seems to me that any situation can be helpful, or unhelpful. Teacher or no-teacher, Sangha as teacher, Working with the sutras directly, being guided by a wise friend, listening to dharma talks, reading the words of wise departed teachers. As long as the guidance is coming from those who understand the dharma a bit better then yourself, it's potentially helpful. But we have to put any guidance into practice- moment to moment, day to day, and that- more then anything else- seems most "essential"... That's what i've kinda noticed lately.... I have to do this, follow the way that the Buddha taught, the path that works...

:heart: :buddha1: :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?

Postby PeterB » Sat Sep 12, 2009 10:25 am

I dont think that Sangha is an abstract Chris, it is always present to in human form. I think its arguable whether cyber Sangha is actual Sangha or an aid to Sangha..The Buddha taught in the most hands-on way possible. I think that this wasnt just because of the era in which he lived, but because the nuances of thought and comunication are only possible in face to face encounters with people, the body language, the subtlties of tone and inflexion. I am always struck for ezample in the way that reducing Ajahn Chahs words to written form takes almost all the life from them..they become lifeless in comparison to the vivid living quality of hearing those words spoken. Its the same with the words of Ajahn Sumedho and Ajahn Brahm..the words on the page are pale reflections of the person who is communicating Dhamma beyond the words. I am not talking about anything mystical here..I am talking about people whose words and gestures and actions show their internalisation of the Dhamma.
On a personal note in terms of things Sangha, I have in a sense come full circle. I have spoken elsewhere of the fact that I started my Buddhist life at Wat Buddhapadipa when it was in Sheen in London, I first took Refuge there and was taught Vipassana. After a serious illness I found myself without any kind of emotionality or strategy going back to my Theravada roots. Due to reasons connected to work matters , my wife and I are now spending part of each week in an apartment a short journey from Wat Buddhapadipa in its present location in Wimbledon...Life's a funny business..

:anjali:

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Re: Sangha or Teacher: Which is Most Essential?

Postby christopher::: » Sat Sep 12, 2009 12:14 pm

PeterB wrote:On a personal note in terms of things Sangha, I have in a sense come full circle. I have spoken elsewhere of the fact that I started my Buddhist life at Wat Buddhapadipa when it was in Sheen in London, I first took Refuge there and was taught Vipassana. After a serious illness I found myself without any kind of emotionality or strategy going back to my Theravada roots. Due to reasons connected to work matters , my wife and I are now spending part of each week in an apartment a short journey from Wat Buddhapadipa in its present location in Wimbledon... Life's a funny business..



That's wonderful to hear, Peter..!

I dont think that Sangha is an abstract Chris, it is always present to in human form. I think its arguable whether cyber Sangha is actual Sangha or an aid to Sangha.. The Buddha taught in the most hands-on way possible. I think that this wasnt just because of the era in which he lived, but because the nuances of thought and comunication are only possible in face to face encounters with people, the body language, the subtlties of tone and inflexion. I am always struck for ezample in the way that reducing Ajahn Chahs words to written form takes almost all the life from them..they become lifeless in comparison to the vivid living quality of hearing those words spoken. Its the same with the words of Ajahn Sumedho and Ajahn Brahm.. the words on the page are pale reflections of the person who is communicating Dhamma beyond the words. I am not talking about anything mystical here..I am talking about people whose words and gestures and actions show their internalisation of the Dhamma.


Well, first, you could be absolutely 100% right. My view though is that it depends. We do not have access to the voice of the Buddha, to videos of him, and will never be able to sit in his presence. And yet his wisdom has come across time, some of it very simple and practical. You don't need to be near him to benefit, one simply needs to follow his instructions.

A good example of this would be a link Retro provided me with recently on Buddha's advice concerning sexual craving. It's the best thing I've heard yet, some I'd heard from teachers before but seeing Buddha's advice in one short "recipe" format I realized right away where i'd been tripping up, why i've been struggling, and now have a wise, flexible yet clear strategy (four strategies actually) to implement.

Another example would be a video I saw very recently, of one of my favorite Buddhist teachers talking with his key disciple, a man who would later go on and become involved in sexual scandals. The teacher, who died a long while ago and is still highly respected, did not seem to pick up on some his disciples issues. Somehow he was successfully conned..!

His wisdom though, his teachings and advise, were spot on. He successfully taught many students face-to-face, but thousands of others have also benefited from his teaching, thru books mostly.

So it just seems to me that it all depends. To have a great teacher is a great great gift. But even those with great teachers don't always learn from them... It's always up to each of us to put the dharma into practice. You do that and one can be liberated. Fail to follow the Buddha's dharma to the letter, and one will suffer.

Just my view.

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

Postby PeterB » Sat Sep 12, 2009 2:50 pm

Of course we are fortunate in many ways to live in an era where so much teaching is avaialable to us in so many forms. I wouldnt want to downplay that at all, although it has a downside as well in terms of possible confusion. An embarressement of riches.
I think that books and videos are particularly helpful when it comes to learning theory, or the kind of skillful means that you refer to. I am less convinced about learning meditation methods this way. I think hands-on is infinitely preferable, and for most of us pretty much indispensible even if our relationship to that teacher never goes betond that particular learning experience. Most of the most valuable tips and instructions I have received have been little pushes in the back,( literally ) or demonstrations of the actual angle of the chin and so on. Little things that made a huge difference.
I think that there is another dimension to a hands-on relationship which is less easy to define. I am not talking guru talk here. Or magical thinking. But when we interact with the Ajahn Chahs and the Ajahn Sumedhos and the Ajahn Brahms, or for that matter with Bhikkus and Bhikkunis who may be completely unknown to the world. Or with the lay people who help prepare the Dana meal and so on, our wrong views are confronted, and our right views and right speech are reinforced in a way that cannot happen by other means. The Buddha made Sangha the third Refuge, because it corresponds to a whole dimension of human functioning in terms of relationship that needs to be informed and illuminated by his Dhamma. Because he had insight into the social nature of the human animal . It is not only a matter of data or information, or knowledge. It includes inspiration and seeing the fruit of practice before our eyes. As the Buddha made plain to Ananda spiritual friendship is all of the Dhammic life.
In the end we put out the effort and conditions arise and ripen, that will include the nature of any companionship we will find .

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Re: Sangha or Teacher: Which is Most Essential?

Postby christopher::: » Sat Sep 12, 2009 3:47 pm

Well, yes of course, Sangha is essential. And from Sangha we find teachers, without which we are not going to be able to learn key methods, get ourselves going properly. Like learning to drive a car, or tune and play a guitar. We need guidance, an advanced practitioner observing, guiding, right by our side...

I agree 100% about the social support of a Sangha, how crucial that is. It's just a question of how much one-to-one hands on guidance may be needed, and for how long. I do wonder sometimes about a kind of dependency relationship some people get into, with a sense of pride developing for being a student of so-and-so, belonging to the so-and-so school, etc... On the fast track! An elite system, special... There's a danger there...

But also a great potential benefit, if one's teacher is really gifted, does teach a method that works, is truly guiding students skillfully- as the Buddha did- so that they learn how to apply the wisdom. Doesnt it really depend on the person, the teacher, motivation, karma, life situations?
"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?

Postby PeterB » Sat Sep 12, 2009 4:06 pm

I think if we find ourselves in relationship to a teacher Chris, it can only be a result of our kamma-vipaka ripening.......To some extent that is true of circumstances too. Our motivation is entirely down to our effort. I think there may be a couple of themes that run through your questions in this area Chris..You seem to have the idea (If I am wrong then just tell me, thats ok ) that receiving teachings means giving an enormous commitment in terms of time and emotional investment ( and possibly money ). I wonder if your view was conditioned by stories of guru figures with Rolls Royces. or simply by highly emotive stories of people who become infantile in the face of their teacher...Well most Buddhist teachers dont operate like that, in fact as far as know NO Theravada Buddhist teachers operate like that. In the Vajrayana you get the occasional displays of Hindu-type worshipping..Most Buddhists though see their teachers with a degree of affection and gratitude for helping them with somthing that in the end they have to do for themselves. But even if we have to row the boat ourselves, it REALLY helps to have someone encouraging us and making informed suggestions..They just need to be a bit more experienced in these matters than us.They dont need to walk on water or breath fire.
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Re: Sangha or Teacher: Which is Most Essential?

Postby christopher::: » Sat Sep 12, 2009 4:55 pm

Hi Peter. I needed some guidance with certain specifics, and i've gotten it recently. The dharma talks with Joseph Goldstein that i've been listening to have been extremely helpful. The conversations here with yourself and fellow DW members, and reading i've done concerning the brahama viharas and techniques for diminishing craving have been very helpful. Conversations about God, little debates tiff and i have had about views and such, have not been as helpful, imo, and right now this conversation is starting to pull me away from where i was focused. What i need now is just to apply the dharma, Buddha's advice, all these strategies, most of which i actually knew before and have applied, but just haven't applied as consistently and with great effort, as i need to...

With that, i should go. Please check out the tangled up in dukkha discussion if you have a chance. Really appreciate all your input, especially when it comes to specifics of how we can free our minds....

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

Postby PeterB » Sat Sep 12, 2009 5:10 pm

My apologies for " pulling you away from where you were focused " Chris.

:anjali:
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