Is a Teacher required to practice meditation?

General discussion of issues related to Theravada Meditation, e.g. meditation postures, developing a regular sitting practice, skillfully relating to difficulties and hindrances, etc.

Is a Teacher required to practice meditation?

Postby octathlon » Sun Oct 09, 2011 7:35 pm

* MODERATOR NOTE *

This topic has been split from the following thread:

does anyone here do kasina meditation?

posting.php?mode=edit&f=17&p=153067

:anjali:
Bodom


PeterB wrote:I was taught it in a Theravadin context Mike, by a Theravadin Bhikkhu and he made no reference to Jhana states at all. It was as you said, specific to the clarification of emotions.
Kasina practice should not imo be done without hands on guidance.
But then imo neither should any other Buddhist practice.
With no exceptions.

Did you mean to say "any other Buddhist meditation practice"? I don't have access to a teacher where I live (Theravadin nor any other kind**) and I have pretty much given up on a regular meditation practice. As people keep saying here, little progress is possible without a teacher which seems to have proven true at least in my case.

But as far as Buddhist practice, I still try to follow the 5 precepts, read the suttas /commentaries and books by teachers, and try to be mindful in general.

[Edit: **correction to the above-there is a Korean Zen center in a town about 30 miles from me]
Last edited by octathlon on Sun Oct 09, 2011 10:16 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: does anyone here do kasina meditation?

Postby cooran » Sun Oct 09, 2011 7:55 pm

Hello ocathlon,

Retreat Finder
http://www.retreatfinder.com/Directory/ ... avada.aspx

It is only in the last three or four years that I have had a monastery within an hour or so’s drive. Before that, I used to travel interstate to attend a 10 day Retreat each year – this set me up to continue practice, with the help of friends on the internet. I still have to travel to do Retreats, but at least I now meet other Buddhists in person regularly. Other than a yearly retreat, is there any regular meeting of a Theravada meditation group near you for sutta study or meditation? There may be well-experienced meditators who can assist with practice questions.

With metta
Chris
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Re: does anyone here do kasina meditation?

Postby bodom » Sun Oct 09, 2011 7:58 pm

octathlon wrote:
PeterB wrote:I was taught it in a Theravadin context Mike, by a Theravadin Bhikkhu and he made no reference to Jhana states at all. It was as you said, specific to the clarification of emotions.
Kasina practice should not imo be done without hands on guidance.
But then imo neither should any other Buddhist practice.
With no exceptions.

Did you mean to say "any other Buddhist meditation practice"? I don't have access to a teacher where I live (Theravadin nor any other kind) and I have pretty much given up on a regular meditation practice. As people keep saying here, little progress is possible without a teacher which seems to have proven true at least in my case. .


Having a "teacher" is ideal but is not an absolute requirement. Having good experienced friends to discuss your practice with such as here at Dhamma Wheel is a blessing. Please dont give up your sitting practice because you dont have access to a teacher. Mindfulness of breathing can be undertaken by anyone and will produce good results without a teacher sitting over you watching every breath.

Buddhadasa Bhikkhu:

The next consideration is what they call an "acariya (teacher, master)". But in truth, even in the old training systems, they did not talk much about "acariya." They called such a person a "good friend (kalyana-mitta)." To say "friend" - an advisor who can help us with certain things - is correct. We should not forget, however, principle that no one can help someone else directly. Yet nowadays, everyone wants to have a teacher to supervise them! A good friend is someone who has extensive personal experience and knowledge about the meditation practice or whatever else it is that we are striving to do. Although he is able to answer questions and explain some difficulties, it is not necessary for him to sit over us and supervise every breath. A good friend who will answer questions and help us work through certain obstacles is more than enough. To have such a kalyana-mitta is one more thing to arrange.


http://www.what-buddha-taught.net/books ... athing.htm

: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: does anyone here do kasina meditation?

Postby PeterB » Sun Oct 09, 2011 9:38 pm

octathlon wrote:
PeterB wrote:I was taught it in a Theravadin context Mike, by a Theravadin Bhikkhu and he made no reference to Jhana states at all. It was as you said, specific to the clarification of emotions.
Kasina practice should not imo be done without hands on guidance.
But then imo neither should any other Buddhist practice.
With no exceptions.

Did you mean to say "any other Buddhist meditation practice"? I don't have access to a teacher where I live (Theravadin nor any other kind) and I have pretty much given up on a regular meditation practice. As people keep saying here, little progress is possible without a teacher which seems to have proven true at least in my case.

But as far as Buddhist practice, I still try to follow the 5 precepts, read the suttas /commentaries and books by teachers, and try to be mindful in general.

You are quite right octathlon I should have made it more clear.
No Buddhist meditation practice should be attempted without hands on guidance imo.
Not until one is well established in any particular practice.
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Re: does anyone here do kasina meditation?

Postby octathlon » Sun Oct 09, 2011 10:08 pm

Seems there is a difference of opinion about practicing meditation without a teacher. But I think I have pulled the thread off topic, for which I apologize, so I will save any more personal comments for another time and place.
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Re: Is a Teacher required to practice meditation?

Postby Nicro » Sun Oct 09, 2011 10:21 pm

I think you can practice meditation without a teacher directly there, no problem.
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Re: Is a Teacher required to practice meditation?

Postby octathlon » Sun Oct 09, 2011 10:34 pm

Another variation on this question I would be interested in is: As a practitioner of Theravadin Buddhism, is it preferable to go to a teacher of another school such as Zen rather than have no in-person teacher at all? Would all the differences in approach, beliefs and practices just cause more confusion and problems?
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Re: Is a Teacher required to practice meditation?

Postby Kim OHara » Mon Oct 10, 2011 12:02 am

octathlon wrote:Another variation on this question I would be interested in is: As a practitioner of Theravadin Buddhism, is it preferable to go to a teacher of another school such as Zen rather than have no in-person teacher at all? Would all the differences in approach, beliefs and practices just cause more confusion and problems?

As I have said before, I sit with a Tibetan group because there is no Theravadin group within reach. I haven't found any real clash in basic breath meditation approaches, and I take the rest with the proverbial grain of salt - some I use, some I don't (and I don't argue about any of it - it's their group!). They are nice people to share time with and I'm sure that without their example and encouragement my meditation would have lapsed completely, probably years ago.
I think that answers your first question with a fairly big 'yes,' especially since you are reasonably well versed in Theravadin teachings, as I am.
I'm not so sure it would be such a good idea to mix traditions at either a lower or a higher level of knowledge and practice. At a lower level, I would say any group/teacher is better than no group/teacher and any Buddhist tradition is better than none, but mixing them is not recommended. At a higher level, I think the practitioner may be better able to follow and maintain a routine like Cooran's, i.e. solo practice supported by regular retreats.

:namaste:
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Re: Is a Teacher required to practice meditation?

Postby Ben » Mon Oct 10, 2011 12:23 am

I think its important for those seeking to integrate meditation in their daily lives they should attend a residential retreat or get some form of instruction from a qualified teacher. It not only provides some depth of practice but instruction, supervised practice and some degree of getting the practice established and getting it right. In some forms of practice, particularly vipassana, all sorts of subconscious crap comes to the surface. And my observation over several decades is that many people benefit from having hands-on assistance to help them deal with the more difficult and also the pleasurable aspects of meditative experiences in a balanced way. And samatha practice has its own pitfalls as well for the unwary.

And, that is not to say that there are some people who make extraordinary progress by teaching themselves and practicing in the absence of a teacher. I just think that most people will benefit more from a retreat or regular teacher contact.
kind regards

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Re: Is a Teacher required to practice meditation?

Postby octathlon » Mon Oct 10, 2011 12:32 am

Ben,
Obviously we would all agree that it is better if we have a teacher, but are you saying along with Peter that it is required, e.g. if a teacher is not available, it is better not to practice meditation?
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Re: Is a Teacher required to practice meditation?

Postby Ben » Mon Oct 10, 2011 12:52 am

Hi Octathlon,
To be honest, "required" is not a word I would use. I apologise if it appears I am eel-wriggling.
I have been involved in the one tradition for the best part of 30 years. And during one spell when I took an extended "holiday" from practice I couldn't imagine practicing under the guidance of anyone else - let alone from a book or CD.

I have seen some people excel on their own but I have seen many more who, in the absence of teacher or retreat, misunderstanding something and develop a wrong view to which they become very attached. That is where I think the problem lies (from my perspective at least). And I believe for those people it may have been better just to concentrate on dana, sila and pariyatti than attempt meditation without support.

I also recognize that some people may not be proximate to a meditation centre and teacher and that their only access to meditation practice is via CD or book. In such a case I would recommend that they make contact with people who are experiencd in the meditation practice one is doing who are willing to be their practice "buddies" and be ok with answering questions.
kind regards

Ben
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Re: Is a Teacher required to practice meditation?

Postby Alex123 » Mon Oct 10, 2011 1:37 am

Hello Ben, all,

We live in 21st century. There are many good Dhamma books and suttas available some of which are for free. Why can't a person read a lot of good books and practice based on them? I understand that traditionally, centuries ago, there were NO books and no internet available so the only way one could learn was from a Teacher or a monk. Today the situation is different. It is possible to know more than a teacher by having read Nikayas, Abhidhamma, Visudhimagga, and many good meditation books. Regarding "personalized instructions". Typically on the interviews in popular methods the suggestions were all the same "just observe!" or "don't forget to label that". It seems rare to find someone who has different suggestions for different occasions and who can tweak instructions specifically for you rather than repeat the standard teaching in that Center. These are not hidden instructions and one can learn them, and more from books.

I also have a hunch that progress in meditation does NOT equal knowledge of more theory. So the meditation master doesn't have to know more than a newbie, the difference is in the skill at applying the basics. It is like in a case of a boxer. A beginner boxer who later becomes an advanced boxer can know exactly the same moves as before, but the advance boxer is better because of having practiced those moves hundreds of thousand times more than a beginner and can use them better.

IMHO,

With best wishes,

Alex
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Re: Is a Teacher required to practice meditation?

Postby Ben » Mon Oct 10, 2011 1:40 am

Alex123 wrote:Hello Ben, all,

We live in 21st century.


As so do I.
"One cannot step twice into the same river, nor can one grasp any mortal substance in a stable condition, but it scatters and again gathers; it forms and dissolves, and approaches and departs."

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Re: Is a Teacher required to practice meditation?

Postby daverupa » Mon Oct 10, 2011 1:57 am

Teachers, it seems to me, are helpful due to their ability to use idiom, metaphor, and other linguistic tools in a modern way, updating these mental models for use by a students mind which is chronologically distant from the original language.

Papanca is a good example for what I mean here. A single word which was once couched in a readily available connotative and denotative environment, but which nowadays brackets together a rather foreign constellation of these elements. Yathabhutananadassana is another example, as are many Pali compounds. They can be understood, however complex they are, as they are still subject to the universal human grammar, but it takes a certain experiential skill to do this accurately and with benefit.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: Is a Teacher required to practice meditation?

Postby chownah » Mon Oct 10, 2011 2:09 am

Paccakabuddhas practice whatever their practice is without the aid of a Theravada teacher.....I assume that thier practice includes meditation....I guess one could say that it is not Theravada meditation....but regardless of whatever name or category one wants to use (or not use) as a description it seems that their meditation works....maybe they have non-buddhist teachers who teach them meditation....or maybe they learned on their own....or maybe they read about it in a book....I don't know.....

It surely helps to have a teacher to learn how to meditate but mindfulness of breath is a pretty simple thing and I imagine that it could be learned form a book or by email but I don't know as I did not try to learn that way......of course there is more to meditation than mindfulness of breath and so maybe a teacher is needed to help with what comes next....but again maybe it can be learned by text.....my view is that the only serious mistake that a self taught meditator can make is to think that they have discovered something and to get attached to it.....my view is that it is best to just experience whatever arises and consider it to be something on the way to other more insightful experiences....

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Re: Is a Teacher required to practice meditation?

Postby ground » Mon Oct 10, 2011 3:20 am

If there isn't a teacher it may be required to meet one and if there is a one it may be required to take leave of the teacher.
What indicates what is required?
The hindrances.
Monks, there are these five hindrances. Which five? Sensual desire as a hindrance, ill will as a hindrance, sloth & drowsiness as a hindrance, restlessness & anxiety as a hindrance, and uncertainty as a hindrance. These are the five hindrances.
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html




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Re: Is a Teacher required to practice meditation?

Postby mikenz66 » Mon Oct 10, 2011 4:54 am

Hi Alex,
Alex123 wrote:We live in 21st century. There are many good Dhamma books and suttas available some of which are for free. Why can't a person read a lot of good books and practice based on them? I understand that traditionally, centuries ago, there were NO books and no internet available so the only way one could learn was from a Teacher or a monk. Today the situation is different. It is possible to know more than a teacher by having read Nikayas, Abhidhamma, Visudhimagga, and many good meditation books. Regarding "personalized instructions". Typically on the interviews in popular methods the suggestions were all the same "just observe!" or "don't forget to label that". It seems rare to find someone who has different suggestions for different occasions and who can tweak instructions specifically for you rather than repeat the standard teaching in that Center. These are not hidden instructions and one can learn them, and more from books.

While it is true that routinely one might be told to "just keep going", the key thing about a competent real teacher is that s/he can tell when "just keep going" isn't going to work and give appropriate advice/correction.
Alex123 wrote:I also have a hunch that progress in meditation does NOT equal knowledge of more theory. So the meditation master doesn't have to know more than a newbie, the difference is in the skill at applying the basics.

I don't think theory is so important in any case (if by theory you mean being able to quote lots of suttas and/or commentaries). It's experience, as you say below.
Alex123 wrote:It is like in a case of a boxer. A beginner boxer who later becomes an advanced boxer can know exactly the same moves as before, but the advance boxer is better because of having practiced those moves hundreds of thousand times more than a beginner and can use them better.

And, again, the key thing that's obvious with competent teachers is that they have seen what the student is describing, both for themselves, and with a number of other students, and can therefore give good advice.
Sample exchange:
    I'm noticing X, that seems odd...
    Do you notice Y as well?
    Yes (Hmm, how did he know that? Does he read minds?).
    OK, that's normal, try doing Z instead...

I don't have the experience to give advice about what is or isn't sensible to do without some backup from teachers (at least occasionally). Certainly, one can now get quite a lot of good advice by listening to retreat talks and discussions from the internet, where students ask typical questions, which may well turn out to be your question... I find that sort of discussion very helpful, but I'm not sure how helpful I'd find it if I hadn't had previous personal instruction...

:anjali:
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Re: Is a Teacher required to practice meditation?

Postby tiltbillings » Mon Oct 10, 2011 8:03 am

"Is a Teacher required to practice meditation?" No; however, a teacher can help greatly, especially when stuck or down a blind alley.
Typically on the interviews in popular methods the suggestions were all the same "just observe!" or "don't forget to label that".
And sometimes one simply needs to be told that over and over again.

Also, all the books in the world cannot protect one from the all too easy self-delusion that arises from wanting something special in one's practice, especially when one has an unusual experience or has a jhana experience. Way too easy to make more out those things than is really there.

Being your own meditation teacher is not unlike being your own lawyer.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: Is a Teacher required to practice meditation?

Postby PeterB » Mon Oct 10, 2011 8:07 am

I would go further Mike. I think a lot of the online advice is positively UNhelpful.
Particularly from those who proffer advice on subjects like Vipassana when it it is clear that they have not received hands-on instruction themselves.
I could draw up a short list of same...probably so could anyone who has attended Vipassana retreats. It stands out a mile.

But of course I wont. :smile:
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Re: Is a Teacher required to practice meditation?

Postby Alex123 » Mon Oct 10, 2011 9:34 pm

tiltbillings wrote:
Typically on the interviews in popular methods the suggestions were all the same "just observe!" or "don't forget to label that".
And sometimes one simply needs to be told that over and over again.


Why can't a discerning person tell him/herself that? Not everyone needs a "babysitter" (no offense). Today many people have access to very good books, so it is possible to have a lot of good theoretic knowledge. I believe more in the suttas than some modern interpreters today. Just like a person can delude himself, so can the teacher delude himself, unless the teacher is an Aryan. Even if a teacher is an Ariyan, even that is no guarantee that the person can teach and teach well. Even Pacceka Buddha cannot teach Dhamma to others even though being higher than Arhat and any alive teacher today. So what can we say about simple lay teacher Joe working in a Radio Shack or something? The best he can do is directly quote the scriptures to which many of us have access today.

tiltbillings wrote:Also, all the books in the world cannot protect one from the all too easy self-delusion that arises from wanting something special in one's practice, especially when one has an unusual experience or has a jhana experience. Way too easy to make more out those things than is really there.
Being your own meditation teacher is not unlike being your own lawyer.


Meditator should not consider him/herself being anything, nor should desire to become anyone or anything. VsM offers plenty of warnings about "corruptions of insight" so as long as one is honest with oneself, this will be deal with. In any case Dhamma has to be followed by each person for him/herself.

PeterB wrote:I would go further Mike. I think a lot of the online advice is positively UNhelpful.


Right. It is good to look in the most original books that one can get access to... In DN16 the Buddha told us that Sutta-Vinaya is the teacher when He is gone.
The Buddha didn't appoint any person to be The Teacher.
I was not; I was; I am not; I do not care."
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