Sangha or Teacher: Which is Most Essential?

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Sangha or Teacher: Which is Most Essential?

Postby christopher::: » Sun Sep 06, 2009 4:13 am

A good teacher is an absolute blessing, I don't doubt that. Those fortunate enough to have found a teacher they can work with in 3D are very lucky. But the 3 jewels are Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, not Buddha, Dharma, Teacher....

What was Buddha's view about the importance of having a teacher to work with one-on-one, vs the support of a sangha? For a layperson practitioner, is the support of a sangha more important then having a teacher, are they equally important or is a relationship with a teacher more essential?

How does the Theravadin tradition view this?

: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 mikenz66 » Sun Sep 06, 2009 7:22 am

What do you mean by Sangha, Chistopher? To me it means either the ordained monks and nuns or the noble disciples. Since my teachers are members of the ordained Sangha your question vanishes...

Here is something from one of the Thai Forest teachers:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/thai ... legem.html

There is, of course, a modern use of the word "Sangha" to refer to a group of practitioners, who may or may not include your teacher...

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

Postby christopher::: » Sun Sep 06, 2009 7:52 am

mikenz66 wrote:What do you mean by Sangha, Chistopher? To me it means either the ordained monks and nuns or the noble disciples. Since my teachers are members of the ordained Sangha your question vanishes...

Here is something from one of the Thai Forest teachers:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/thai ... legem.html

There is, of course, a modern use of the word "Sangha" to refer to a group of practitioners, who may or may not include your teacher...

Metta
Mike


Hi Mike. That link is extremely helpful. I feel a bit awkward admitting that all this time spent with fellow Buddhists at E-sangha, here and ZFI i still have some confusion. It's probably because it's been online fellowship, with people from a number of different schools and traditions.

Anyway, I was asking in regards to the modern Western use of the term "Sangha" as well as the traditional approach and how the term was used by the Buddha. And wondering about differences that exist. Here in Japan most Buddhist layperson's that I've met do not have personal teachers, whereas most Western Buddhists either have teachers or are seeking one. Those that do not yet have a teacher (like myself) are often told (usually by Tibetan & Zen Buddhists) that we need to find a personal teacher in order to practice the dhamma correctly.

I was wondering how the situation is viewed with Theravadin practitioners.

I'm working thru that article. So, thanks!

: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 zavk » Sun Sep 06, 2009 8:05 am

Hi Christopher and friends

Here is what Charles Prebish has to say about the development of the term 'sangha' in pages 204-206 of his book Luminous passage: the practice and study of Buddhism in America.
With metta,
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Re: Sangha or Teacher: Which is Most Essential?

Postby mikenz66 » Sun Sep 06, 2009 8:17 am

christopher::: wrote:I was wondering how the situation is viewed with Theravadin practitioners.

I think you'll get a lot of different answers. For me teachers are essential, but having one particular "guru" is not. To me it's like being at University learning from various professors...

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Re: Sangha or Teacher: Which is Most Essential?

Postby Ben » Sun Sep 06, 2009 8:56 am

Hi Christopher
I like what Mike said.
But with regards to myself - I've had the same teacher since I took refuge the first time 24 years ago. While I havent seen my teacher in about 20 years, I still derive benefit from continuing to practice as per his instructions and attend retreats organised along his guidelines. I've also found that as I have progressed and my knowledge increased, my reliance on the teacher has lessened. For me personally, having a teacher, being able to concentrate on the instructions of one teacher, was crucial for me in the beginning.
As regards to the value of a sangha (community of practitioners), I think it is invaluable in providing support to individual practitioners. I mean, have a look at Dhamma Wheel which operates as a virtual sangha and the support it provides its members in lieu of a teacher or real-world sangha.
Kind regards

Ben
Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.

Taṃ nadīhi vijānātha:
sobbhesu padaresu ca,
saṇantā yanti kusobbhā,
tuṇhīyanti mahodadhī.

Sutta Nipata 3.725


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Re: Sangha or Teacher: Which is Most Essential?

Postby Cittasanto » Sun Sep 06, 2009 9:10 am

In the Maha-pari nibbāna Sutta, the Buddha taught:

"Now, Ananda, if it occurs to any of you -- 'The teaching has lost its authority; we are without a Teacher' -- do not view it in that way. Whatever Dhamma and Vinaya I have pointed out and formulated for you, that will be your Teacher when I am gone."


the Dhamma and the Vinaya are the teachers
the Sangha are good friends

your question seams pointless taking this into account!
This offering maybe right, or wrong, but it is one, the other, both, or neither!
Blog, - Some Suttas Translated, Ajahn Chah.
"Others will misconstrue reality due to their personal perspectives, doggedly holding onto and not easily discarding them; We shall not misconstrue reality due to our own personal perspectives, nor doggedly holding onto them, but will discard them easily. This effacement shall be done."
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Re: Sangha or Teacher: Which is Most Essential?

Postby christopher::: » Sun Sep 06, 2009 9:21 am

Thank you Ben, Mike, Manapa and zavk,

Yes, i also find the "college professor" and "good friends" models helpful, with the virtual sangha of fellow practitioners to be essential. Which was in part where my question came from. Until the day comes (hopefully) where i connect with a specific teacher, as Ben has, i've gained a lot over the past 25+ years from meditating on my own, as well as from the teachings of a wide range of Buddhist teachers (past and present), as transmitted in audios and books.

I've needed that kind of detailed "instructional" input, but in terms of continuous back-and-forth assistance its the community of fellow dharma practitioners that i've interacted with online-- especially those who are further along in their practice then myself- that has been something new, something very crucial, which i did not have prior to 2005....

:group:

P.S. No offense, but what may seem pointless to you, Manapa, was simply not yet clear to moi. We're all at different points on the learning curve.

: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 Dan74 » Sun Sep 06, 2009 11:51 am

Are there any living or dead respected Theravada masters who had not done some intensive practice with a teacher?

From where I stand, it seems that just about everyone is bound to benefit immensely from working with a realized (read: deeply insightful) teacher. Conversely, practicing with little or no guidance from a one-to-one interaction with a realized teacher, is bound to get just about everyone stuck, stagnating and/or going down the wrong path.
Simply because the momentum of wrong thought is so strong, the delusion so deep, the tricks of the self so effective that we do need a teacher at least to inspire us to practice, to hold up the mirror and to help cut through the BS.

I guess this view is not going to be popular here, but of course it's just a view.

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Re: Sangha or Teacher: Which is Most Essential?

Postby Cittasanto » Sun Sep 06, 2009 12:23 pm

christopher::: wrote: :group:

P.S. No offense, but what may seem pointless to you, Manapa, was simply not yet clear to moi. We're all at different points on the learning curve.

:heart:


Don't forget why and for what reason!

something seams pointless taking certain things into account, not that there is no point.
Last edited by Cittasanto on Sun Sep 06, 2009 11:14 pm, edited 1 time in total.
This offering maybe right, or wrong, but it is one, the other, both, or neither!
Blog, - Some Suttas Translated, Ajahn Chah.
"Others will misconstrue reality due to their personal perspectives, doggedly holding onto and not easily discarding them; We shall not misconstrue reality due to our own personal perspectives, nor doggedly holding onto them, but will discard them easily. This effacement shall be done."
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Re: Sangha or Teacher: Which is Most Essential?

Postby genkaku » Sun Sep 06, 2009 1:09 pm

Teacher.
Sangha.
Another play-in-the-sandbox dichotomy.

When I asked my teacher once what a "teacher" was, he swept up the fairy tales this way: "Except for me, everything is the teacher."
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Re: Sangha or Teacher: Which is Most Essential?

Postby David N. Snyder » Sun Sep 06, 2009 3:33 pm

In some other traditions, there seems to be an emphasis on acquiring a teacher and having allegiance to this teacher. That may be helpful for some. But like genkaku's post above, I think everything and everyone can be your teacher. Why limit it to one person? As we know, there are some teachers with less than perfect Vinaya and other faults. Seeking teachers is certainly helpful, but I have personally found that having several is better than one, at least for me. I consider all of the monks and nuns and upasakas and upasikas to be my teachers. I learn from all, or at least attempt to.

And for those who do not have access to a community, online or off, there is always the Dhamma:

"Monks, live with yourself as your island, yourself as your refuge, with nothing else as your refuge. Live with the Dhamma as your island, the Dhamma as your refuge, with nothing else as your refuge."
Digha Nikaya 26
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Re: Sangha or Teacher: Which is Most Essential?

Postby kc2dpt » Sun Sep 06, 2009 8:17 pm

christopher::: wrote:A good teacher is an absolute blessing, I don't doubt that. Those fortunate enough to have found a teacher they can work with in 3D are very lucky. But the 3 jewels are Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, not Buddha, Dharma, Teacher....

In the triple gem, the Buddha is the teacher. Today we have his teaching (the Dhamma) and those that preserve his teachings (the monastic Sangha). There might even still be those that have penetrated and realized those teachings for themselves (the Noble Sangha).

What was Buddha's view about the importance of having a teacher to work with one-on-one, vs the support of a sangha?
...
For a layperson practitioner, is the support of a sangha more important then having a teacher, are they equally important or is a relationship with a teacher more essential?

They are the same thing. Having a teacher is the support of the sangha.

What you seem to be asking is a one-on-one teacher vs a group discussion situation. On the one hand, one can learn Buddhism from a group or from a lone teacher so there is no difference. On the other hand, a group discussion tends to be more unfocused and free-ranging whereas a one-on-one discussion tends to be more focused and goes deeper. In addition, establishing a long term relationship with a teacher allows you to get to know each other and this helps any teaching situation. Compare this to a group of strangers, especially on the internet. Furthermore, if the group can't even agree on what Buddhism teaches, as is common on internet forums, then you're even worse off. One teacher who is actually part of the sangha who knows and respects Buddhism, dedicates his life to preserving and embodying those teachings, is a way different thing than a group of strangers all coming up with their own half-baked interpretations and debating them.

I think everything and everyone can be your teacher.

That depends what one hopes to learn. If one hopes to learn baking, then a baker is a better teacher than "everything and everyone". If one hopes to learn Buddhism, then one who studies, preserves, and practices those teachings is the better than "everything and everyone". One who has penetrated and realized those teachings for themselves is the best teacher of all.

If one is not so much interested in learning Buddhism but is interested in gathering up random life experiences in the hopes of chancing upon something useful or profound... then perhaps everything and anyone is the way to go.
- Peter

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

Postby David N. Snyder » Sun Sep 06, 2009 9:11 pm

Peter wrote: If one hopes to learn Buddhism, then one who studies, preserves, and practices those teachings is the better than "everything and everyone". One who has penetrated and realized those teachings for themselves is the best teacher of all.


Yes, if you can find a teacher like that and have access to one. For many people, it is not that easy to find one near them. For example, Ben is very lucky to personally know S. N. Goenka. Talk about a teacher! He is quite lucky or should I say, earned it with his merits. But for others, it is not so easy to find a teacher or such a good one like Goenka.
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Re: Sangha or Teacher: Which is Most Essential?

Postby kc2dpt » Sun Sep 06, 2009 10:29 pm

For many people, it is not that easy to find one near them.

Sure, we all make do with what we have.
- Peter

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Re: Sangha or Teacher: Which is Most Essential?

Postby Dan74 » Mon Sep 07, 2009 1:00 am

If you want to become a neurosurgeon, or even a good potter, you are not likely to just buy a bunch of books and study them, possibly with some other people and occasionally asking an expert a question or two and hearing a talk. And yet, with Buddhadamma, which is arguably the most subtle and intricate of all disciplines some of us think they can make real progress like this.

Why?

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Re: Sangha or Teacher: Which is Most Essential?

Postby Ben » Mon Sep 07, 2009 1:38 am

Hi Dan
People's circumstances are diffeent, as I am sure you'll agree.
I really take my hat off to people like Retro, and many of our members here, who have been able to navigate the plethora of views and approaches and enticements of samsara and teach themselves meditation and engage in practice with nothing but their own interest, determination, print, audio or video instruction and the goodwill and encouragement of friends and like-minded people at places like Dhamma Wheel. I think it says something about their paramitas.
Metta

Ben
Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.

Taṃ nadīhi vijānātha:
sobbhesu padaresu ca,
saṇantā yanti kusobbhā,
tuṇhīyanti mahodadhī.

Sutta Nipata 3.725


Compassionate Hands Foundation (Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • Buddhist Global ReliefUNHCR
Buddhist Life Stories of Australia

e: ben.dhammawheel@gmail.com
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Re: Sangha or Teacher: Which is Most Essential?

Postby David N. Snyder » Mon Sep 07, 2009 1:52 am

Ben wrote:Hi Dan
People's circumstances are diffeent, as I am sure you'll agree.
I really take my hat off to people like Retro, and many of our members here, who have been able to navigate the plethora of views and approaches and enticements of samsara and teach themselves meditation and engage in practice with nothing but their own interest, determination, print, audio or video instruction and the goodwill and encouragement of friends and like-minded people at places like Dhamma Wheel. I think it says something about their paramitas.


Yes, I agree with Ben. I have also noticed many people who have done well with both programs, with regular contact with a teacher and some who have had little contact with a teacher. It really has a lot to do with the resolve and determination of the individual. I have also seen some become dependent on a teacher where they end up not doing much study on their own. If they have a good teacher, the teacher can still guide them pretty well, but what if their teacher is not so great?

Also, yes, the Dhamma is quite profound, but it is not a livelihood such as surgery and pottery. Of course, find a good teacher if you can, but for those who cannot, I have seen some make great progress with study, online groups and infrequent contacts with teachers.
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Re: Sangha or Teacher: Which is Most Essential?

Postby christopher::: » Mon Sep 07, 2009 3:44 am

I agree with Ben and David. A teacher is a blessing, without a doubt... a good teacher. And if the dhamma were like neurosurgery or law, one needs to sit directly at the foot of a master, or masters, and learn from them, intensively. But with art, sports or music- while instruction is needed along the way- many do indeed make great strides on their own, or with the support of peers. I've seen this with my eldest son with baseball, and with my youngest son, with drawing. Andy's brilliant with a pencil or pen because of all the time and effort he's put in. I've coached him, but very minimally. The main thing i've said, almost like a parrot, is "Keep practicing..! You can do this. If you can't draw something well, try again, observe what you are doing carefully and keep drawing!"

: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 Dan74 » Mon Sep 07, 2009 4:43 am

Ben's post above is uncontroversial - he is simply saying that some people don't have access to a teacher and they can still make progress on the own (sometimes). Good on them!

As for the analogies above (I've opened a Pandora's box of bad analogies it seems) all I can say is that while everything is and can be a teacher, in practice most of us find ourselves repeating the same mistakes over and over again. That there were so many arahat's in the Buddha's time speaks for itself - a great teacher is of great help.

Sure, we have to practice hard, no one can take the steps for us. Sure thinking "I need an enlightened teacher" can be a hindrance. Relying on the teacher to make it all work can be a hindrance. But not recognizing the limitations of our deluded minds guiding our way out of the delusion is a great hindrance, in my opinion.

In the East where Buddhism came from, no one serious about a spiritual path would underestimate the importance of the right guide. No one here is yet to cite any examples of great Theravada teachers who had not done an apprenticeship with another great teacher. The Buddha had a few, Huineng the Sixth Patriarch of Zen did not seem to have done much time with teachers, although historical accounts are unreliable. But if such cases existed, they were few and far in between.

Of course we can try and practice on our own. And we make more or less progress depending on our wholesome roots, our kamma. But we should not delude ourselves into thinking that this is the best way to practice. It may be all we can do under the limitations of family, job, etc, but it's not the best.

That's all I am saying.

_/|\_

PS Chris, even in Art, great masters of the Renaissance were invariably apprenticed to other masters where they learnt both the basics and the secrets, as well as being inspired and initiated into their lineage. Of course we don't need all that now.
Last edited by Dan74 on Mon Sep 07, 2009 5:02 am, edited 1 time in total.
_/|\_
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