Olia wrote:I understand that teachers cannot be expected to pour out their energies to individual students long distance, but has anyone ever known of this happening?
What Maarten is refering to -> Half (of the Holy Life)
The best companionship, the best friend and the best teacher can be found in the Buddha himself. There are vast resources to get to know the Buddha
I don't know of any teacher who is putting much energy into a more personal, individual layperson-teacher relationship in the theravada setting.
Olia wrote:And if so... would it be of benefit? How important is it to have a teacher?
It basically depends on both the teacher and the "pupil". Everyone benefits from learning to take their spiritual life, their practice into their own hand and to take full responsibilty for themselves. Some people like to just follow some other person and give this responsibilty to them. Then they're incredible devastated when the teacher is not perfect in conduct or gives other reason for disappointment. Then there is also the chance that a teacher intentionally or unintentionally misleads people and it gets worse when people just follow blindly (Hence, there is a good chance that the "teacher" is not awakened, so this can happen of course.). Real Spiritual Companionship can also be seen from the point that there is a person who can help us find some answers, who can give us advice and another perspective on how to approach something, who offers company and advice like a friend with good intentions, not like someone who gives out directions and orders like a superior and watches every breath we take.
And remember what the Buddha once said:
"Whatever Dhamma and Vinaya I have pointed out and formulated for you, that will be your Teacher when I am gone."
Mahaaparinibbaana Sutta, [D.16].
So at least from my point of view, one is best advised in watching closely why it seems so important for one to have a strong relationship to a teacher, or why to search for a teacher at all.