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Finding a teacher

ZaniaZania Explorer
edited September 2016 in Buddhism Basics

Sometimes I have moments of clarity and feel like I'm where I am meant be on "the path" but mostly I feel confused a lot. I tend to have a pile of dharma books, usually 5 or 6, that I voraciously read at the same time thinking that if I can just get all this information into my head then something will click and I will 'get it'.

It's not like I'm a beginner at this as I have been meditating twice daily for 5 or 6 years as well as attending some retreats and trying to attend sangha when possible but a lot of the time I feel like something isn't right. Like this practice that I'm doing is not changing anything or going anywhere. I don't feel happier I know that much.

I hear teachers speaking and writing of "insight" and how vipassana allows us to "see things as they are" etc. But when I sit I don't see much at all. It's like there is nothing much to see. Sometimes I feel a sense of spaciousness and stillness but most of the time it's just thought and some sensation. It really doesn't seem profound in any way. Is it supposed to? The way people speak it all sounds very profound and mystical and so I guess this has led me to expect something to happen, the penny to drop.

So I have been told perhaps I need a teacher. I'm not sure how I get one or what having one entails. Can I just go up to a teacher or monk at a Sangha and say "hey wanna be my teacher"? Once I find someone who agrees to be my teacher does this mean I get private lessons? Or that I can call them for help when I need to? Do I need to pay them?

I have a bit of a fear about asking people for help. I feel like I am an annoyance to them or that they might think I'm an idiot and reject me. So being able to actually ask someone to be my teacher is no easy feat.


  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Moderator

    In my opinion - and this IS just my opinion - you need to stop, pull back and relax a little.
    I think there may be a distinct... "over-zealousness" here, where you are so intent on being a "Good Buddhist" that you can't see the wood for the trees.
    You're voraciously reading everything you can, to intellectually gear yourself towards 'doing it right'; you're sitting meditating and trying to focus on what it is to meditate, seeking a goal, accomplishing a specific pattern or task, trying to understand and 'do' something you think is the right way to go...

    Why push yourself so hard?
    What do you think you have to succeed at doing?

    There is no race, no goal, nothing to accomplish, nothing to understand.
    The important is to Be.
    Right now.

    You don't have to be a Buddhist of any specific level.
    You don't have to 'know' everything.
    The phrase 'Let Go and Let Be' is appropriate here.

    Loosen the Lute strings a bit, and make music....
    You sound so desperately sad, so alone, so frustrated...

    It's ok. It's fine. Everything you are doing is just pummelling you into a pulp....

    Breathe, and leave it aside for a while.
    You must be exhausted....

    Just Be you.
    Go about your daily business focusing on the 4 the 8 and the 5.

    Keep it simple.
    Live Buddhism in your thoughts, words and deeds.
    That's already a challenge.
    Don't load yourself with more than you need.
    Buddhism is about shedding stuff, not getting more of it....

  • BunksBunks Australia Veteran

    I think it's helpful to find a teacher.

    I practice the Tibetan Buddhist path and I have found it very helpful to find one or two teachers to focus on and a local Sangha to attend.

    Do you have access to a teacher in person or someone on line who has resonated with you? It doesn't need to be just one but I'd suggest you narrow it down to no more than three.

  • SpinyNormanSpinyNorman It's still all old bollocks Veteran

    @Zania said:> So I have been told perhaps I need a teacher. I'm not sure how I get one or what having one entails. Can I just go up to a teacher or monk at a Sangha and say "hey wanna be my teacher"? Once I find someone who agrees to be my teacher does this mean I get private lessons? Or that I can call them for help when I need to? Do I need to pay them?

    It depends where you are, but the first step is probably to find out what Buddhist groups are meeting in your local area. Most western Buddhists have rare contact with the founding teacher of their school, it is usually with senior students who run centres and groups. The usefulness is in having access to people with more experience than you, and having regular face-to-face contact with other Buddhists is also helpful.

  • KeromeKerome Did I fall in the forest? Europe Veteran

    My local sangha doesn't provide teachers... sadly. I may have to look further afield.

    But yes, past experience suggests a real life teacher can be jolly useful. I wouldn't settle for a digital substitute, or one who is accessible only in 10 minute slots at most once a month...

  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Veteran
    edited September 2016

    Every sangha and center run things differently. My teacher has a few senior students that we can easily access and ask questions of. My teacher is available as well, but he spends 6 months a year in Asia and aside from that there simply isn't always time to meet with everyone individually. He has a youtube channel so we can access retreats even if we cannot attend. Someone is always available whether by phone or email, or on our group FB page. I find it invaluable to have a teacher who provides focus and understanding of the dharma on a level I cannot simply because I haven't spend decades being immersed in it. It's like learning a foreign language. You can use all sorts of online tools to technically learn a language, but you miss all the little intricacies and slang and those little things that make good communication what it is. You can only get that by immersing yourself. Not all of us can just immerse ourselves in Buddhism, but having a teacher who has done so is the next best thing. Trying to do so when we don't have that foundation just confuses us and messes us up, for the most part (IMO).

    I don't pay any kind of membership fee or anything like that. I added a few retreats and interacted with his students for a long while before I decided he'd be a good teacher for me. Then I took refuge vows with him and he stated that when he gives the vows to students, he is taking on the responsibility for their proper development in the dharma. He takes it seriously, but he does expect the student to lead the way. There is no kind of charge for asking questions. Teachings are free. Retreats where he travels there is a suggested donation to help with travel expenses and so on, but it is not required to attend and no one is ever turned away. Things always balance out, as there are always those who have a bit extra to donate and those who cannot afford to.

    That said, I totally agree with @federica . I think you are trying too hard to achieve an ideal of Buddhism or meditation. It's not like learning algebra where if you just hammer it into your skull more, it'll click and you'll be good. You do have moments of clarity and sudden understanding but it's not quite the same, as buddhism is a life long practice and not something to conquer and be able to say (even just to yourself) that you've done it. The more you push to try to achieve things, the more you are going to find that they elude you in Buddhism. There is nothing to achieve. Everything you need is already there, it's not something you need to reach for. You just need to uncover it. Practice will allow that to happen but pushing for it won't.

  • @Zania said:
    I have a bit of a fear about asking people for help. I feel like I am an annoyance to them or that they might think I'm an idiot and reject me. So being able to actually ask someone to be my teacher is no easy feat.

    Believe it or not people are willing to put in great ineffective effort, rather than what is required. @federica offered great advice and she is self taut (tee hee - bit of inappropriate spelling for the mindful)

    As we all know flogging a dead horse is not likely to revive the deceased. If you require personalised vipassana training, then that is your requirement ... and you know full well what is required.

    However the good news is what you require may be calm, a holiday from voracious consumption of dharma.

    I am not you but here would be my holiday plan:

    • Do some Youtube led meditations. Perhaps from other traditions.
    • Do walking meditation or prostrations for a while.
    • Wear a party hat whilst meditating. Go bother the Sangha!
  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Moderator

    What does your other thread have to do with this one?
    Honestly @Zania you really do sound as if you're trying to achieve a heightened sense of consciousness with such extreme and excessively zealous effort that the exertion is leaving you frustrated, disappointed and yearning, like a hungry puppy with an empty bowl...

    Please, calm yourself.
    There is nothing to do, no level to achieve, no mastery demanded of you.

    Maybe if you were to try to expand upon this all-consuming desire to achieve... what?

    Maybe if we could understand your urgency and desire...What it is that propels you... why this is of such vital importance...?
    But there is even a risk that it is actually your eagerness and sense of urgency that may actually be what is detrimental to your progress.

    The thing holding you back from advancement, is not lack of knowledge or understanding.
    It may just simply well be you.

  • In order to have a break through we have to be prepared to break. Not break down but break up. When we break up we are broken.

    Where and what are the peaces/pieces? I am very happy with my practice. I am very happy to meditate. I am very happy to be a heretic Buddhist of some sort or another. I am not even remotely perfect dharma material ...

    There's this wonderful story about the first meeting between Kalu Rinpoche and Zen master Seung Sahn:
    The two monks entered with swirling robes - maroon and yellow for the Tibetan, austere gray and black for the Korean - and were followed by retinues of younger monks and translators with shaven heads ...
    The Tibetan lama sat very still, fingering a wooden rosary (mala) with one hand while murmuring, 'Om mani padme hung,' continuously under his breath. The Zen master, who was already gaining renown for his method of hurling questions at his students until they were forced to admit their ignorance and then bellowing, 'Keep that don't know mind!' at them, reached deep inside his robes and drew out an orange. 'What is this?' he demanded of the lama. 'What is this?'
    This was a typical opening question, and we could feel him ready to pounce on whatever response he was given.
    The Tibetan sat quietly fingering his mala and made no move to respond.
    'What is this?' the Zen master insisted, holding the orange up to the Tibetan's nose.
    Kalu Rinpoche bent very slowly to the Tibetan monk next to him who was serving as the translator, and they whispered back and forth for several minutes. Finally the translator addressed the room: 'Rinpoche says, What is the matter with him? Don't they have oranges where he comes from?'

    Maybe you know some jokes?

  • genkakugenkaku Northampton, Mass. U.S.A. Veteran

    In Zen, the story that illustrates the meaning of sangha may be a good one for defining a teacher as well. The story goes: A potato farmer harvests his crop, sticks the spuds in a burlap bag and tosses them into a nearby stream. The current rubs the potatoes together and removes excess dirt.

    Everyone is in a burlap bag...
    All the time.
    With or without a "teacher," there is no lack of current.

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