Role of the teacher in Theravada

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism

Re: Role of the teacher in Theravada

Postby Paññāsikhara » Tue Sep 07, 2010 5:48 am

Kenshou wrote:
...has anyone actually done this (no modern books, teachers, recordings, ...)?


Gotten started with just suttas? I'd say that I did. Thanissaro's translations on you-know-where were the first real Buddhist literature I had ever read, besides some insubstantial and vague summaries on the different schools of Buddhism and what they're all about. But it's when I started reading suttas that things really began to make sense, so I'd say that's how I initially stuck my foot through the door. I don't restrict myself entirely to that body of literature, but it put gas in the tank well enough, so to say.

Whatever works!


Then Thanissaro is in effect one of your teachers. Not only did he translate the texts on that site, but also the very fact that he chooses to put some texts there, but not others, is also an important thing to keep in mind. In other words, even just straight out reading on AtI is coming through a kind of filter of sorts.

I don't mean, by this, to imply that this is a bad filter, or that one shouldn't do this. I just wish to point out that it is not some kind of "personal un-mediated interaction with the suttas" at all. We should at least acknowledge this part of the process.
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Re: Role of the teacher in Theravada

Postby Kenshou » Tue Sep 07, 2010 6:07 am

Oh, I certainly don't deny any of that at all. I take an interest in language and the problems of translation aren't entirely new to me, but it is still of course a relevant issue for you to bring up. These days I try to read a couple different translations of a text if I can, and get a working knowledge of the underlying pali here and there on particularly ambiguous, controversial or important issues, which has helped a lot.

Thanissaro helped me get the gist and take an interest in it, is all.
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Re: Role of the teacher in Theravada

Postby Sanghamitta » Tue Sep 07, 2010 6:49 am

5heaps wrote:
Lazy_eye wrote:Again, my question has to do with the necessity of a teacher. I think most of us would agree that having a teacher is a good thing. But it seems to me that in certain Mahayana traditions, personal contact with the teacher is an absolute prerequisite, almost to the point that it becomes more about the teacher than the teachings.

the vajrayana idea of a teacher is based on their understanding of ultimate truth. cant separate the 2 and unfortunately their idea of the ultimate is difficult

for standard mahayana its the same as theravada, good teachers are the difference between making big progress or not

Mahayana and Theravada need not be antagonistic, but they are not the same.
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Re: Role of the teacher in Theravada

Postby 5heaps » Tue Sep 07, 2010 9:44 am

Sanghamitta wrote:but they are not the same.

i didnt say theyre the same i said the role of teachers is the same. if you say its not, why do you say that
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Re: Role of the teacher in Theravada

Postby Lazy_eye » Wed Sep 08, 2010 4:03 am

Paññāsikhara wrote:I generally agree with what has been said above. However, I would like to add a comment or two.

1. One of the problems with "rely on the texts" is that for 99% of people, it is "rely on an interpretation of the texts". Very few can read the Pali texts themselves, and have sufficient grounding in the language, the idioms, the culture and so forth, to really read it in context. (I'm sure we've seen plenty of examples online when somebody with a Pali dictionary pulls out a word or two here and there, and makes all sorts of crazy claims about them. Enough said.) Therefore, to rely on a "translation / interpretation", we are most of the time already relying on a teacher, ie. the translator. We should acknowledge that, at least. It's more of a problem when we don't acknowledge it, and say boldly "But the sutta says ...", and then give everyone a dose of the opinions of translator X.

2. The "sensei model". Perhaps someone is using the wrong term here. "Sensei" is a general honorific, referring to anybody of an elder generation to oneself. Perhaps the more appropriate term would be "roshi" (though this is also very broad). Roshi is closer to guru, and sensei is quite a long way from it.

3. The majority of Mahayana teachings talk more about a relationship between student and "spiritual friend" (kalyana-mitra) rather than a guru. Just that the forms popular in the West are not exactly representative of Mahayana as a whole.


Thank you for these observations, Venerable. "Sensei" was, I'm afraid, a bit of linguistic laziness. Roshi is probably the intended term. What I had in mind, and what I assumed the previous poster had in mind, were characters who adopted an air of infallibility and impunity, exploited their students without shame, and invoked Zen rhetoric about tossing out sutras, etc, as a means of shielding themselves doctrinally from any sort of accountability. The Richard Baker ("I need that luxury car so I can meditate while driving!") scandal comes to mind.

Probably this behavior arose from a wilful misreading/decontextualization of Japanese Zen practices (I'm not familiar enough with Zen to know), but it's easy enough to imagine how authoritarian tendencies within the tradition paved the way for such abuse.

Not that there aren't institutional problems within Theravada as well. But my perception is that influential teachers such as Bhikkhu Bodhi, or lay counterparts such as Goldstein and the IMS folks, follow the "spiritual friend" model in their demeanor, tone, approachability, etc.

I should probably have clarified in the OP that by Mahayana I also meant Vajrayana.

:anjali:

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Re: Role of the teacher in Theravada

Postby David N. Snyder » Wed Sep 08, 2010 10:05 am

Well said, Lazy Eye.

That is what I meant in my posts too, that in Theravada there does not appear to be an absolute necessity for a teacher, beneficial yes, certainly in most cases. Also that I do not advocate texts alone, but teachers should be more of a spiritual friend and guide, and not an authoritarian or seen as infallible.
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Re: Role of the teacher in Theravada

Postby Annapurna » Wed Sep 08, 2010 4:34 pm

I've never seen any teacher as infallible... ml parents told me not to be overly impressed, and ...I mean you notice they are human...
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Re: Role of the teacher in Theravada

Postby samadhi_steve » Wed Sep 08, 2010 7:50 pm

The main point would be not to rely on a teacher to walk the path for us. However guidance, whether it be in sutta or text can be highly beneficial.

In essence the Buddha is our initial teacher who points us in the direction of the Dhamma as our ultimate and final teacher.

The path must be walked by oneself but there are tools that can help one along the way.
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Re: Role of the teacher in Theravada

Postby rowyourboat » Wed Sep 08, 2010 9:39 pm

Snp 2.8 PTS: Sn 316-323
Nava Sutta: A Boat
translated from the Pali by
Thanissaro Bhikkhu
© 2001–2009
Alternate translation: Ireland
Translator's note: Although it is often lost in translation, this poem in the Pali has a clearly articulated over-all structure. The first seven verses — coming under the "because" (yasma) — state reasons, while the last verse, under the "so" (tasma), draws the conclusion: find a good teacher and practice the Dhamma.


Because:
when you honor
— as the devas, Indra —
one from whom
you might learn the Dhamma,
he, learned, honored,
confident in you,
shows you the Dhamma.

You, enlightened, heedful,
befriending a teacher like that,
practicing the Dhamma in line with the Dhamma,
pondering,
giving it priority,
become
knowledgeable,
clear-minded,
wise.

But if you consort with a piddling fool
who's envious,
hasn't come to the goal,
you'll go to death
without having cleared up the Dhamma right here,
with your doubts unresolved.

Like a man gone down to a river —
turbulent, flooding, swift-flowing —
and swept away in the current:
how can he help others across?

Even so:
he who hasn't
cleared up the Dhamma,
attended to the meaning
of what the learned say,
crossed over his doubts:
how can he get others
to comprehend?

But as one who's embarked
on a sturdy boat,
with rudder & oars,
would — mindful, skillful,
knowing the needed techniques —
carry many others across,

even so
an attainer-of-knowledge, learned,
self-developed, unwavering
can get other people to comprehend —
if they're willing to listen,
ready to learn.

So:
you should befriend
a person of integrity —
learned, intelligent.
Practicing so
as to know the goal,
when you've experienced the Dhamma,

you get bliss.
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Re: Role of the teacher in Theravada

Postby bodom » Wed Sep 08, 2010 10:01 pm

'With regard to external factors, I don't envision any other single factor like admirable friendship as doing so much for a monk in training, who has not attained the heart's goal but remains intent on the unsurpassed safety from bondage. A monk who is a friend with admirable people abandons what is unskillful and develops what is skillful.' - Itivuttaka 1.17


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The heart of the path is SO simple. No need for long explanations. Give up clinging to love and hate, just rest with things as they are. That is all I do in my own practice. Do not try to become anything. Do not make yourself into anything. Do not be a meditator. Do not become enlightened. When you sit, let it be. When you walk, let it be. Grasp at nothing. Resist nothing. Of course, there are dozens of meditation techniques to develop samadhi and many kinds of vipassana. But it all comes back to this - just let it all be. Step over here where it is cool, out of the battle. - Ajahn Chah
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Re: Role of the teacher in Theravada

Postby bodom » Wed Sep 08, 2010 10:06 pm

Kalyanamitta Sutta
Discourse on Having Good Friends
Dutiya Vagga, Kosala Samyutta, Sagatha Vagga Samyutta, Samyutta Nikaya, Suttanta Pitaka

"Quite so, Great King; quite so, Great King. The dhamma has been well expounded by me. (But) that Dhamma is (fully beneficial) only for those who have good friends, who have good companions, and who are fully inclined towards virtue. It is not (beneficial) for those who have wicked friends, who have wicked companions, and who are inclined towards wickedness.".....

'In this way, indeed, Ananda, a bhikkhu who has a good friend, who has a good companion, and who has an inclination for virtue cultivates Ariya Path...

'Indeed...through me as a good friend, beings who are subject to rebirth escape from rebirth...

"Therefore...under my Teaching you should try to conduct yourself thus: 'I shall have good friends, I shall have good companions,...


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:anjali:
The heart of the path is SO simple. No need for long explanations. Give up clinging to love and hate, just rest with things as they are. That is all I do in my own practice. Do not try to become anything. Do not make yourself into anything. Do not be a meditator. Do not become enlightened. When you sit, let it be. When you walk, let it be. Grasp at nothing. Resist nothing. Of course, there are dozens of meditation techniques to develop samadhi and many kinds of vipassana. But it all comes back to this - just let it all be. Step over here where it is cool, out of the battle. - Ajahn Chah
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Re: Role of the teacher in Theravada

Postby JeffR » Thu Sep 09, 2010 3:51 pm

When I first started learning meditation my teacher was a Buddhist monk. I was skeptical of the Buddhist teachings, which he taught me the basics of before giving any instruction on the meditation itself. What turned me around was when he asked me if I believed him. He then instructed me not to believe anything he told me, take it in faith and find out the truth in it for myself before believing it. In taking that advice , I was able to look into the teachings in a different manner; really looking into them with my heart. And I found truth and good sense in them. (Having been raised in a strict Christian [Catholic] environment, I was conditioned that I HAD to believe without question no matter how bogus the teachings sounded and questioning would earn me a ticket to Hell).

This is an instruction from the Buddha in one of the Sutta's (I don't know which one, but remember reading it). I think it is best to have more than one teacher and to follow this advice given by the Buddha, not to believe until one knows the truth for themselves. Going it alone isn't going to work well.

-Jeff :buddha2:
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Re: Role of the teacher in Theravada

Postby rowyourboat » Sat Sep 11, 2010 8:33 am

"There is the case where a monk lives in apprenticeship to the Teacher or to a respectable comrade in the holy life in whom he has established a strong sense of conscience, fear of blame, love, & respect. This, monks, is the first cause, the first requisite condition that leads to the acquiring of the as-yet-unacquired discernment that is basic to the holy life, and to the increase, plenitude, development, & culmination of that which has already been acquired.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
The bits in bold are often repeated in the suttas. IMO it is important to have strong positive relationship with your teacher, especially when going through the more difficult vipassana nanas. You need to really believe it is going to be worth it.

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Re: Role of the teacher in Theravada

Postby starter » Sat Sep 11, 2010 9:11 pm

Ven. Thanissaro (VT):

"There is no real substitute for spending time in close contact with a really wise person, but the suttas can often be the next best thing".
"Because the Dhamma consists primarily of qualities of the mind, any written account of the Dhamma is only a pale shadow of the real thing. Thus, to gain a sense of the Dhamma's full dimensions, you must find people who embody the Dhamma in their thoughts, words, and deeds, and associate with them in a way that enables you to absorb as much of the Dhamma as possible."

Hi friend, what do you feel about VT's opinion? I feel we should regard the Buddha's teachings as the best thing (not the next best), and examine the teachings of even a really wise teacher using the reliable suttas [since probably not all suttas are genuine original teachings of the Buddha], which can be distinguished by using the standards that the Buddha has taught us.

By the way, I was just reading MN 8, and got a feeling that only non-returners and arahants who have quenched their cravings should try to teach others ... ""it is impossible that one who is himself sunk in the mire should pull out another who is sunk in the mire. ... It is not possible, Cunda, that one who is himself not restrained, not disciplined and not quenched [as to his passions], should make others restrained and disciplined, should make them attain to the full quenching [of passions]."

Would you please recommend some really wise teachers, if you've found any? Thanks for the helpful comments.

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Re: Role of the teacher in Theravada

Postby rowyourboat » Sat Sep 11, 2010 9:27 pm

There is a sutta (cant seem to find it now) where the buddha states that it is best to get teaching from an arahanth, if not a non returner, if not a once returner, if not a stream entrant, if not someone who is learned in the dhamma. So I guess it is about getting the best instruction that we can. Having said that the buddha also says that it is only some arahanths who know how to teach.

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Re: Role of the teacher in Theravada

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Sep 11, 2010 9:32 pm

I agree with Ven Thanissaro. In my experience, just being with people more advanced on the path is extremely beneficial, and can cut through all kinds of doubts and problems. Sure it is important to check things against the Buddha's words, but I certainly didn't start by reading, and I don't think I would have got far by just reading.

I also think that it is not helpful to build up the idea that the only useful teachers are going to be famous ones. Seek out a monastery or a lay group and just observe people. I've probably learned more about dana and sila from observing the lay people who tirelessly bring breakfast to the monks at my local Wat than from any text. My monastic teachers come and go. Some I find more helpful than others, but I've learned a lot from all of them. I've done some short retreats with more famous people, which has been useful motivation, but for me there's no substitute for having a relationship with someone who knows me.

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Re: Role of the teacher in Theravada

Postby Cittasanto » Sat Sep 11, 2010 10:10 pm

We need to remember that the Buddha is not around to teach us!

The suttas are good! and can help in a great many ways, but they are not enlightened beings!

If there was an impecable teacher I knew of and I could spend time with them I would, period, that doesn't mean the suttas are out the window, but it does mean that they have back up, an interperter who can point out the flaws in my own interpretation and practice without having to go down blind alleys myself!
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Re: Role of the teacher in Theravada

Postby rowyourboat » Sat Sep 11, 2010 10:29 pm

SN 12.16 PTS: S ii 18 CDB i 545
Dhammakathiko Sutta: The Teacher of the Dhamma
translated from the Pali by
Maurice O'Connell Walshe
© 2007–2010
The Pali title of this sutta is based on the PTS (Feer) edition.
[A monk said:] "'Dhamma-teacher, Dhamma-teacher' they say, Lord."

"If, monk, anyone teaches a doctrine of disenchantment[1] with decay-and-death, of dispassion[2] [leading to] its cessation, that suffices for him to be called a monk who teaches Dhamma.[3]

"If anyone has trained himself in this disenchantment with decay-and-death, in dispassion[4] [leading to] its cessation, that suffices for him to be called a monk who is trained in what is in conformity with Dhamma.[5]

"If anyone, through disenchantment with decay-and-death, through dispassion [leading to] its cessation, is liberated from grasping, that suffices for him to be called one who has attained Nibbaana in this life."[6]

[The same three distinctions are made in respect of birth... ignorance]

Notes

1.
Nibbidaa: sometimes rendered "revulsion," but this suffers from the defect of suggesting too strong an emotional reaction. "Disenchantment" covers it better.
2.
Viraaga is quite literally "dis-passion." The syntax of this sentence is rather curious, but the meaning is clear enough.
3.
This gives a clear indication of the minimum standard required for anyone (today, in the West, often a lay person) setting up as a teacher of Buddhism. It denotes a "worldling" (puthujjana, i.e., one who has not "entered the stream") who has the basic intellectual knowledge mentioned here.
4.
This one is a sekha "trainee," i.e., one who has at least "entered the stream" (and thus knows in part from experience), but is not an Arahant.
5.
His training is proceeding along the right path.
6.
He is an asekha ("non-trainee," i.e., one who has finished his training), an Arahant.
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Re: Role of the teacher in Theravada

Postby Paññāsikhara » Sun Sep 12, 2010 2:28 am

mikenz66 wrote:... there's no substitute for having a relationship with someone who knows me.


Yes, well said.

This is particularly the case for strange people like me, whose psychological build doesn't tend to match the average norm. :tongue:
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Re: Role of the teacher in Theravada

Postby cooran » Sat Sep 10, 2011 8:44 am

Hello all,

These articles and definitions may be of use:

Kalyāna-mitta: 'noble or good friend', is called a senior Bhikkhu who is the mentor and friend of his pupil, wishing for his welfare and concerned with his progress, guiding his meditation; in particular, the meditation teacher kammatthānācariya is so called. For details see Vis.M III, 28,57ff. The Buddha said that noble friendship is the entire Noble life S. III, 18; XLV, 2, and he himself is the good friend par excellence: Ananda, it is owing to my being a good friend to them that living beings subject to birth are freed from birth S. III, 18.
http://what-buddha-said.net/library/Bud ... dic3_k.htm


Kalyānamitta Sutta
1. Kalyānamitta Sutta.-Just as the dawn is the harbinger of the rising sun, so is friendship with the good the forerunner of the Noble Eightfold Way. S.v.29.
2. Kalyānamitta Sutta.-Friendship with the good is the most useful condition for the arising of the Noble Eightfold Way. S.v.31.
3. Kalyānamitta Sutta.-There is no better means of perfecting the Noble Eightfold Way than friendship with the good. S.v.32.
http://www.palikanon.com/english/pali_n ... itta_s.htm

SD vol 8 no 1 Spiritual friendship - [How fellowship is vital to the spiritual life]
[Excerpts from The Buddha and His Disciples: Profiles and perspectives in self-discovery]
http://dharmafarer.org/wordpress/wp-con ... p-piya.pdf

Spiritual Friendship - a textual study – Theme: The nature and duties of friendship - An essay by Piya Tan
http://dharmafarer.org/wordpress/wp-con ... y-piya.pdf

Spiritual Friendship – Ajahn Sucitto
http://sucitto.blogspot.com/Friendship

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