Is enlightenment possible without a teacher?

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism

Is enlightenment possible without a teacher?

Postby Stephen K » Wed Jul 08, 2009 5:31 pm

Is Nibbana (or at least sotapatti) possible to attain without a teacher or a kalyanamitta?
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Re: Is enlightenment possible without a teacher?

Postby Individual » Wed Jul 08, 2009 5:49 pm

Stefan wrote:Is Nibbana (or at least sotapatti) possible to attain without a teacher or a kalyanamitta?

There can be no teachings without a teacher, except in the sense of notself.

But all learning, including finding and following the right teacher, is self-learning. A teacher cannot force an student to learn what they have no interest in learning, either through belligerence, psychological manipulation, supernatural powers, or magical rituals.

I don't think that's what you mean, though, but a specific kind of religious teacher. You're asking: Does a person need a guru, a swami, a rabbi, a priest, an ordained Buddhist monk, to be enlightened? And I'd say the answer is no, citing pratyekabuddhas as an example. However, teachers themselves are very valuable, although often our best teachers are merely our closest relatives and friends. But our greatest teacher is always ourselves and it is only a matter of listening to it, with mindfulness, and applying what we know.

From the Dhammapada:

"Though a fool, through all his life, associates with a wise man, he no more understands the Dhamma than a spoon (tastes) the flavour of soup.

Though an intelligent person, associates with a wise man for only a moment, he quickly understands the Dhamma as the tongue (tastes) the flavour of soup."


(So, mindfulness is more important than a steady, long-term teacher-disciple relationship)

"Oneself, indeed, is one's saviour, for what other saviour would there be? With oneself well controlled one obtains a saviour difficult to find."

(So, teachers are only guides, never saviors)

But positive associations are also important! See the quote in my signature.
Last edited by Individual on Wed Jul 08, 2009 5:59 pm, edited 4 times in total.
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Re: Is enlightenment possible without a teacher?

Postby Stephen K » Wed Jul 08, 2009 5:58 pm

I mean that I have no access to a monastery, monks, Buddhist teachers, etc. So, is awakening possible for me, or people like me, who have no teacher, however hard we try, in this lifetime?

In other words, is a teacher absolutely necessary for a student to obtain the fruits and the paths?
Last edited by Stephen K on Wed Jul 08, 2009 6:02 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Is enlightenment possible without a teacher?

Postby Individual » Wed Jul 08, 2009 6:00 pm

Stefan wrote:I mean that I have no access to a monastery, monks, Buddhist teachers, etc.

Sure you do. You have Dhamma Wheel! :hug:
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Re: Is enlightenment possible without a teacher?

Postby Stephen K » Wed Jul 08, 2009 6:05 pm

Individual wrote:
Stefan wrote:I mean that I have no access to a monastery, monks, Buddhist teachers, etc.

Sure you do. You have Dhamma Wheel! :hug:

Thank you! :smile: Though I didn't quite mean an on-line access, but a real-world one. :namaste:
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Re: Is enlightenment possible without a teacher?

Postby AlaskanDhamma » Wed Jul 08, 2009 6:18 pm

Well, didn't the Buddha reach enlightenment by himself after failed attempts to find a teacher?
"Better than a thousand hollow words, is one word that brings peace." -Buddha
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Re: Is enlightenment possible without a teacher?

Postby Stephen K » Wed Jul 08, 2009 6:38 pm

AlaskanDhamma wrote:Well, didn't the Buddha reach enlightenment by himself after failed attempts to find a teacher?

Whoa, are you comparing humble me to Lord Buddha? :tongue:
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Re: Is enlightenment possible without a teacher?

Postby David N. Snyder » Wed Jul 08, 2009 6:54 pm

Stefan wrote:
AlaskanDhamma wrote:Well, didn't the Buddha reach enlightenment by himself after failed attempts to find a teacher?

Whoa, are you comparing humble me to Lord Buddha? :tongue:


:jumping: The Buddha was a samma-sam-buddha, but he did make it without a teacher at the end of his search.

There are online forums (such as Dhamma Wheel) :tongue: and also the Tipitaka and numerous Dhamma books. They can be your teachers. There are numerous meditation manuals out there too, like Bhante G.'s Mindfulness in Plain English, the Visudhimagga, etc.

We are not samma-sam-buddhas, but we have the teachings available right in the here-and-now with the Tipitaka and other books. If there is no one-to-one contact with any teachers, progress can still be made and you could also go on a 3 to 10 day retreat once in a while (traveling) where you will have access to a teacher.
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Re: Is enlightenment possible without a teacher?

Postby Stephen K » Wed Jul 08, 2009 7:17 pm

Thank you Dhamma!

But the question still remains: is nibbana possible without a teacher? I know I can make progress without one, but that's not exactly what I am asking.
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Re: Is enlightenment possible without a teacher?

Postby Kare » Wed Jul 08, 2009 7:35 pm

Stefan wrote:Is Nibbana (or at least sotapatti) possible to attain without a teacher or a kalyanamitta?


There are rumors about a guy called Gotama who did it ... :D

Of course it is helpful to have access to a teacher. A living person who can answer your questions and give guidance is most useful. But remember that the Buddha said (in the Mahaparinibbanasutta): "Whatever Dhamma & Vinaya I have pointed out & formulated for you, that will be your Teacher when I am gone."

So if you have no living teacher available, study the Tipitaka. Let the words of the Buddha be your teacher.
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Re: Is enlightenment possible without a teacher?

Postby kc2dpt » Wed Jul 08, 2009 7:37 pm

There are those who realize Nibbana without any instruction from a Buddha. Those who then teach others are called sammasambuddha. Those who do not teach are called pattyekabuddha.

Then there are those who realize Nibbana after hearing only a brief teaching from a Buddha or Buddha's disciple.

Then there are those who realize Nibbana only after much instruction from a Buddha or Buddha's disciple.

Then there are those who never realize Nibbana no matter how much instruction they receive from a Buddha or Buddha's disciple.

Which are you? Who can say? Maybe the instructions you have at your disposal (books, videos, audio talks, web forums) will be enough for you to realize Nibbana. Maybe it won't be enough. Who can say? :shrug:
- Peter

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Re: Is enlightenment possible without a teacher?

Postby Stephen K » Wed Jul 08, 2009 7:43 pm

Peter wrote:There are those who realize Nibbana without any instruction from a Buddha. Those who then teach others are called sammasambuddha. Those who do not teach are called pattyekabuddha.

Then there are those who realize Nibbana after hearing only a brief teaching from a Buddha or Buddha's disciple.

Then there are those who realize Nibbana only after much instruction from a Buddha or Buddha's disciple.

Then there are those who never realize Nibbana no matter how much instruction they receive from a Buddha or Buddha's disciple.

Which are you? Who can say? Maybe the instructions you have at your disposal (books, videos, audio talks, web forums) will be enough for you to realize Nibbana. Maybe it won't be enough. Who can say? :shrug:

:thanks:
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Re: Is enlightenment possible without a teacher?

Postby Individual » Wed Jul 08, 2009 8:00 pm

AlaskanDhamma wrote:Well, didn't the Buddha reach enlightenment by himself after failed attempts to find a teacher?

Failed attempts to find a teacher in his lifetime as Gautama, but under previous lives, he had teachers, such as one of the previous Buddhas, Dipankara.

The Five Precepts of Buddhism appear to be partially derived from the "fourfold restraint" of the Jains (Niganthas) and some, but not all, of the meditation techniques the Buddha taught may have been influenced by his initial teachers, since while studying under them, he was said to be able to attain up to the 7th jhana and he saw great wisdom in them at the time (MN 26). Without this preliminary meditation practice, it seems it would be implausible for his enlightenment to have occurred. Without the being taught the basics of meditation, discovering the 8th jhanas and nibbana would not be possible.
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Re: Is enlightenment possible without a teacher?

Postby Rhino » Wed Jul 08, 2009 11:28 pm

Stefan wrote:Is Nibbana (or at least sotapatti) possible to attain without a teacher or a kalyanamitta?

It depends on your "personality". The teachings of the buddha are available in the world. Some people needs teachers to understand them, some not. Imho you'll have to find it out by yourself.

This reminds me of the Sutta Nipata, Khaggavisana Sutta
If you gain a mature companion,
a fellow traveler, right-living & wise,
overcoming all dangers
go with him, gratified,
mindful.

If you don't gain a mature companion,
a fellow traveler, right-living & wise,
wander alone
like a king renouncing his kingdom,
like the elephant in the Matanga wilds,
his herd.

We praise companionship
— yes!
Those on a par, or better,
should be chosen as friends.
If they're not to be found,
living faultlessly,
wander alone
like a rhinoceros.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/snp/snp.1.03.than.html
With best wishes

Only in a vertical view, straight down into the abyss of his own personal existence, is a man capable of apprehending the perilous insecurity of his situation; and only a man who does apprehend this is prepared to listen to the Buddha's Teaching.
Nanavira Thera - Notes on Dhamma
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Re: Is enlightenment possible without a teacher?

Postby Ben » Thu Jul 09, 2009 2:11 am

Hi Stefan

I don't think there is any barrier to you attaining sotapanna in this life because you are not physically proximate to a teacher. You have access to the teachings and you have access to online support from monastics and other lay practitioners. So, you've got everything you need. So you just need to apply yourself diligently.
My only suggestion would be try to attend a residential retreat when you can. Its not absolutely necessary but it will be of great assistance in helping you to establish yourself and gain some depth of experience in a meditation object/s.
And I might add that my experience has been that the more mature I have become in my practice, the more self-reliant and independent I have become. So at some point in one's development, the teacher becomes less important.
Metta

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saṇantā yanti kusobbhā,
tuṇhīyanti mahodadhī.

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Re: Is enlightenment possible without a teacher?

Postby zerotime » Thu Jul 09, 2009 3:35 am

Stefan wrote:Is Nibbana (or at least sotapatti) possible to attain without a teacher or a kalyanamitta?


definitely yes. Sometimes even it can be better. You need deep faith, sincerity with yourself, humility and intensity in your purpose. You don't need a lot of knowledge of Buddhism just pursuing that teaching that you feel is in the core of the matter. After testing nibbana then you will need the advice of wise people beyond your point.
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Re: Is enlightenment possible without a teacher?

Postby mindfullmom » Fri Jul 10, 2009 4:13 pm

Hi Stefan,

I have had those very same questions myself. I live in an area where there is no opportunity in close proximity to learn teacher or benefit from a sangha. Well, there is one but I have found out it is not reputable. I have practiced for about three years on my own and have come to realize that much can be accomplished on my own. I think sometimes we box ourselves into the limited idea that we need to pursue the path the way it has been traditionally pursued, ie, with live in-person teachers and support. If the masters of the past had access to a magical "machine" (computer) that had every teaching inside it that they could look at any time of night or day, and could provide them with conversations as well, would they have travelled great distances to find a teacher? I wonder.

Maybe the conditions are not ripe yet for you and I to have live teachers near enough to us but we were fortunate enough to be born in a time and place where we have the internet. :toast:
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Re: Is enlightenment possible without a teacher?

Postby kc2dpt » Fri Jul 10, 2009 6:52 pm

Thus have I heard. At one time the Lord was hosting a web forum at http://www.jeta-wood.savatthi.gov/anathapindika. Then a devata who was a former blood-relation of Bahiya of the Bark-cloth IM'd Bahiya thus: "Yur no arahant foo. Email arahant@savatthi.gov." Then Bahiya of the Bark-cloth, profoundly stirred by the IM of that devata, then and there departed from http://www.supparaka.gov/seashore, stopping only to check his bid for a zafu on eBay. At that time a number of bhikkhus were in chat. "The Buddha is AFK," they said.

- Ud 1.10 (sort of)
- Peter

Be heedful and you will accomplish your goal.
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Re: Is enlightenment possible without a teacher?

Postby acinteyyo » Fri Jul 10, 2009 6:57 pm

Hi Stefan,

Ajahn Chah said: "We will come to understand that everything in the world is a teacher."

it may be helpful ;)
best wishes
Pubbe cāhaṃ bhikkhave, etarahi ca dukkhañceva paññāpemi, dukkhassa ca nirodhaṃ. (M.22)
Api cāhaṃ, āvuso, imasmiṃyeva byāmamatte kaḷevare, sasaññimhi samanake lokañca paññāpemi lokasamudayañca lokanirodhañca lokanirodhagāminiñca paṭipadan. (AN4.45)

:anjali:
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Re: Is enlightenment possible without a teacher?

Postby Nibbida » Tue Jul 14, 2009 3:03 am

Ben wrote:My only suggestion would be try to attend a residential retreat when you can. Its not absolutely necessary but it will be of great assistance in helping you to establish yourself and gain some depth of experience in a meditation object/s.


Yes, yes, yes. Even once a year, even if only for a weekend. I didn't know this until I went on my first retreat. My practice continued to deepen for months afterward.

"Is enlightenment possible without a teacher?" is an interesting theoretical question, but I find that more attention to the process than the destination works wonders for me as well. Keep meditating and it will happen eventually.
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