Leaving a Teacher

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism

Leaving a Teacher

Postby Khalil Bodhi » Sat Oct 31, 2009 11:24 am

For several years now I have been attending courses and retreats on a regular basis with a lay teacher who is a follower mainly of Thanissaro Bhikkhu. For some time I have been bothered by some of his interpretations of the Dhamma (such as describing metta as an unconditioned heart quality and an insistence on anapanasati to the detriment of all other meditative techniques just to name a few). There are several other things about his teachings/lifestyle that make me believe that I will not benefit much more from further serious involvement but I do owe an immeasurable debt to this teacher. He has been and still is the most serious and conservative lay teacher in my area and he introduced me to the kamatthana tradition and a whole world of practice and study to which I was oblivious. It is for all of these reasons that I feel somewhat like a traitor but I see now that the direction the group is going is too much at variance with the actual teachings in the suttas and, dare I say, of the Buddha, for me to feel comfortable closely associating with the group. The community has been my spiritual home for almost 5 years and it is a scary thought to be without it but I really don't think I have a choice. Fortunately one friend of mine that I've made in my time with the group feels the same and has agreed to undertake weekly meditation and sutta study. So, at least I'm not totally going it alone. Anyway, has anyone else dealt with these issues before? If so, how did it turn out? Did you find your practice strengthened? If anyone needs further details for my decision I'd be happy to discuss them via PM because the last thing I would want to do is tarnish the reputation of a teacher who has done so much good for me and continues to do so for others. Metta.

Mike
To avoid all evil, to cultivate good, and to cleanse one's mind — this is the teaching of the Buddhas.
-Dhp. 183

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Re: Leaving a Teacher

Postby Ben » Sat Oct 31, 2009 11:36 am

Dear Mike
it must be heart-rending. But, I think your willingness to make the hard decision to find a teacher who is more closely aligned to the Buddha's teachings or go alone, indicates your developing maturity. I don't know whether there is anything I can say but you have my support.
Keep in mind the Rhinoceros Sutta

bhayea mitra paḍibhaṇavaṃta
baho-ṣuda dhaṃma-dhara uraḍa
(*annae dhammaṃ vi)yigitsa prahae
ek(*o care khargaviṣaṇagapo)


One should cultivate a friend who is intelligent,
learned, a master of the dharma, noble.
(*Having understood the dharma)
[and] abandoned doubt, (*one should wander) alone (*like the rhinoceros.)

sayi labhea ṇivago sahayo
sardhacare sas̱ovihari dhiro
(*abhibhuya) sarvaṇi pariṣeaṇi
carea ten' atamaṇa svad(*ima')


If one should find a wise companion,
a well-behaved, strong fellow,
[then] (*overcoming) all dangers,
one should wander along with him, satisfied at heart, mindful.

ṇo ya labhea ṇivag(*o) sahayo
sardhacare sas̱ovihari dhiro
(*raya va ratha) viyidaṃ prahae
eko care khargaviṣaṇagap(*o)


If one should not find a wise companion,
a well-behaved, strong fellow,
[then] (*like a king who) has abandoned (*the realm) [which he had] conquered,
one should wander alone like the rhinoceros.

-- Gandhari version of the Rhinoceros Sutta, http://www.ebmp.org/p_wrk_samples.php


Ben
"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: Leaving a Teacher

Postby Khalil Bodhi » Sat Oct 31, 2009 11:53 am

Ben,

Thank you for your kind words. Having the support of the community here certainly makes it much easier to make this decision. May you be well and thank you again.

Mike
To avoid all evil, to cultivate good, and to cleanse one's mind — this is the teaching of the Buddhas.
-Dhp. 183

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Re: Leaving a Teacher

Postby catmoon » Sat Oct 31, 2009 12:33 pm

Besides, you'll be in good company. Look at all those Zen masters who wandered from monastery to monastery. Or Buddha himself, in his early days. There's lots of precedent for changing teachers.
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Re: Leaving a Teacher

Postby Khalil Bodhi » Sat Oct 31, 2009 2:05 pm

Catmoon,

Thanks for your reply but, at present, I'm aeons away from being a Buddha or enlightened master. I guess I just worry because I realize how easy it is to go astray without guidance and I know that simply relying on what "feels right" is rarely a good indication of the right thing to do. Thank you again for your compassionate reply. Be well.
:anjali:
To avoid all evil, to cultivate good, and to cleanse one's mind — this is the teaching of the Buddhas.
-Dhp. 183

Uposatha Observance Club:http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=148031379279&v=info
Kiva-Theravada Buddhists:http://www.kiva.org/team/theravada_buddhists
Dana on the Interwebs:
http://greatergood.com
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Re: Leaving a Teacher

Postby BlackBird » Sat Oct 31, 2009 7:48 pm

For what it's worth, you've appeared fairly johnny on the Dhamma to me Mr. Bodhi. A lot of the members here at Dhamma wheel, including myself don't have regular access to a teacher who can answer our questions, but there are a few people here who really know their stuff and have many years of practice under their belt, so perhaps (due to the medium) not an ideal substitute to your teacher, but pretty good in the mean time.

It's good to seek out the true Dhamma :twothumbsup:

Keep ya chin up my friend
:group:

Metta
Jack
"For a disciple who has conviction in the Teacher's message & lives to penetrate it, what accords with the Dhamma is this:
'The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows, not I." - MN. 70 Kitagiri Sutta
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Re: Leaving a Teacher

Postby Khalil Bodhi » Sat Oct 31, 2009 7:53 pm

Thanks Jack. May you be well. :anjali:
To avoid all evil, to cultivate good, and to cleanse one's mind — this is the teaching of the Buddhas.
-Dhp. 183

Uposatha Observance Club:http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=148031379279&v=info
Kiva-Theravada Buddhists:http://www.kiva.org/team/theravada_buddhists
Dana on the Interwebs:
http://greatergood.com
http://freerice.com
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Re: Leaving a Teacher

Postby IanAnd » Sat Oct 31, 2009 11:41 pm

Khalil Bodhi wrote:For several years now I have been attending courses and retreats on a regular basis with a lay teacher who is a follower mainly of Thanissaro Bhikkhu. For some time I have been bothered by some of his interpretations of the Dhamma (such as describing metta as an unconditioned heart quality and an insistence on anapanasati to the detriment of all other meditative techniques just to name a few). There are several other things about his teachings/lifestyle that make me believe that I will not benefit much more from further serious involvement but I do owe an immeasurable debt to this teacher.

...Anyway, has anyone else dealt with these issues before? If so, how did it turn out? Did you find your practice strengthened?

Hello Mike,

I've been through the same thing, twenty years ago, so I can sympathize with your plight. Without going into great detail, the spiritual teacher I left was hampered with ego and control problems. Not that he wasn't a very gifted and inspiring teacher. But, I had seen this going in, yet there was little I could do about it as what he had to teach me was miles better than anything else I could have gotten at the time in those same circumstances. He helped bring me out of a depression, so I became quite devoted to him for a period of time (nine years). My goal at the time was to reach some kind of realization (I wasn't really sure what that meant at the time, but something better than the place I was in back then), and my devotion to the practice he taught me (meditation combined with the Latin Mass — he was an old Catholic priest) was dedicated and sincere. My only goal at that time was to be able to get to a better place mentally and be able to stay there, to be free of constraints and to be happy.

Suffice it to say there came a time (a specific incident) wherein I could no longer tolerate being around his dysfunctional "family." It also happened to coincide with my re-acquaintance with Buddhism and a couple of quotations that I happened to come upon during that time which had a stirring effect on me. Both quotations were telling me that the path I was currently on at the time was fraught with problems should I decide to continue along it, and that I should make a change. The first quotation was one I read in a magazine by Jiddu Krishnamurti:

"I maintain that Truth is a pathless land and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect....I do not want followers, and I mean this. The moment you follow someone you cease to follow Truth....I am concerning myself with only one essential thing: to set man free. I desire to free him from all cages, from all fears, and not to found religions, new sects, nor to establish new theories and new philosophies."

The second was from the famous Kalama Sutta from a book I had picked up at the library, Three Ways of Asian Wisdom, with regard to the section that starts out: "Believe nothing," the Buddha said to his followers, "just because you have been told it, or it is commonly believed, or because it is traditional or because you yourselves have imagined it. Do not believe what your Teacher tells you merely out of respect for the Teacher. But whatsoever, after due examination and analysis, you find to be conducive to the good, the benefit, the welfare of all beings — that doctrine believe and cling to, and take as your guide."

Both quotations just set me back in my place, and I soon knew what I had to do: I had to pick up my things and leave the situation I was then in. It was hard, but not as hard as staying in a dysfunctional situation. I knew that when I stepped foot off the property, that I would never be able to look back and probably would never talk with these people again. That this was not a happy parting of the ways. But so be it.

It wasn't for another ten or so years that I finally was able to obtain translations of the discourses of the Buddha and begin reading, first hand, what he had to teach. That, combined with what I had learned as a monastic and about the path of meditation in general, held me in good stead. By the time I left the religious order, I didn't trust anyone to ever get that close to me again, so I began my path alone. Yet, as luck would have it, the Internet was developing and became a source for information and answers to questions I had about the practice. I trusted only other monastics, meaning that I read everything I could get my hands on by reputable Buddhist monastics (Bht. Gunaratana, Nyanaponika Thera, Bhikku Bodhi, Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Mahasi Sayadaw, Soma Thera and others) as I trusted their knowledge of the practice and the path.

After two years of private retreat wherein I did nothing but read, contemplate the suttas, and practice meditation, I began to see real progress in my level of understanding and maturity in the path. I was finally getting the kind of instruction I had been wanting to pursue while in the religious order. But this time, it was coming directly from the horse's mouth, with a little help from my friends: other scholarly monastics experienced in the subtleties of the practice. So, yes, it is possible to move on and not only that, to prosper in your practice and to thrive.

It has been nine years since I began this re-dedication to the practice, and I can truly say that I am in a place of true confidence and contentment with regard to what I have learned.
"The gift of truth exceeds all other gifts" — Dhammapada, v. 354 Craving XXIV
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Re: Leaving a Teacher

Postby Ben » Sun Nov 01, 2009 12:59 am

Thank you IanAnd for sharing your very inspiring story.
metta

Ben
"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."

- Hereclitus


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Re: Leaving a Teacher

Postby Khalil Bodhi » Sun Nov 01, 2009 9:48 am

Yes, thank you very much indeed IanAnd. Your story is definitely inspiring and helps to reframe my own situation and give me some perspective. If I may ask, do you currently practice in a community or do you continue to practice alone? :anjali:
To avoid all evil, to cultivate good, and to cleanse one's mind — this is the teaching of the Buddhas.
-Dhp. 183

Uposatha Observance Club:http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=148031379279&v=info
Kiva-Theravada Buddhists:http://www.kiva.org/team/theravada_buddhists
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Re: Leaving a Teacher

Postby IanAnd » Sun Nov 01, 2009 7:16 pm

Khalil Bodhi wrote:If I may ask, do you currently practice in a community or do you continue to practice alone?

Solitude and seclusion are best. But only when you have reached a point in your practice where you can appreciate them, when you understand why the Buddha recommended seclusion.

For people who are still in their formative stages of learning, some kind of sangha community is probably best. It helps one to put some kind of solidity to the practice and to see what is possible through a relationship with other advanced practitioners.

As for myself, I live and practice in solitude. There is no sangha community where I live. So, I don't have much choice. But then, I've always been a solitary person, so it's not a problem for me.
"The gift of truth exceeds all other gifts" — Dhammapada, v. 354 Craving XXIV
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Re: Leaving a Teacher

Postby Khalil Bodhi » Mon Nov 02, 2009 12:20 am

Thank you IanAnd. May you be well.

Metta,

Mike
To avoid all evil, to cultivate good, and to cleanse one's mind — this is the teaching of the Buddhas.
-Dhp. 183

Uposatha Observance Club:http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=148031379279&v=info
Kiva-Theravada Buddhists:http://www.kiva.org/team/theravada_buddhists
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Re: Leaving a Teacher

Postby Dugu » Mon Nov 02, 2009 5:42 am

Good for you Khalil. :smile:
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