Tendai for the sole practitioner

Tendai for the sole practitioner

Postby Tatsuo » Thu Jun 09, 2011 9:56 pm

This question comes up from time to time when it comes to Zen practice: Is it even possible to practice without a teacher? I would say, that this question may be of much more importance when it comes to Tendai, as there are not many Tendai groups outside of Japan. Is it possible to practice Tendai on a minimal level or would Tendai practitioner/teachers recommend to find another tradition as long as one is not able to travel to the Tendai Buddhist Institute to study Tendai and there is no Tendai group around?
The website of the Tendai Buddhist Institute states many different practices, of which many are not suited for sole practitioners without a teacher, like Kaihōgyō, visualization, koan practice, and mudra/mantra (though I am not sure about mantra practice, as there are mantras, that are propagated without initiation required).
Other practices that are part of the Tendai tradition can be done without the guidance from a teacher, like breathing meditation, loving-kindness meditation, just sitting and nenbutsu. But these practices are of course also part of other (much larger and therefore easier accessible) tradition, which leads us back to the question - Is is possible to practice Tendai without a teacher or would any practice, which do not require a teacher, be an integral part of other traditions? Is "unique" Tendai practice always connected to a Tendai infrastructure (like a teacher, a group of fellow practitioners etc.)?
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Re: Tendai for the sole practitioner

Postby Seishin » Fri Jun 10, 2011 8:43 am

What a coincidence! Just this week we were talking about being part of a sangha in our group meeting. The outcome of that discussion was, yes it's possible to practice on your own, but a sangha and teacher helps keep you grounded.
But lets not forget, this is the 21st Century. We can be in contact with people on a regular bases from anywhere in the world.

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Re: Tendai for the sole practitioner

Postby Tatsuo » Mon Jun 13, 2011 9:17 pm

What does such a group meeting consist of? I imagine it to be somehow like a Zen group meeting with chanting at the beginning, then sitting meditation (maybe kinhin in between two sitting sessions) and chanting at the end of the meeting. This could in fact be practised without a group (if the meditation is regular zazen or easy forms of meditation). But if there are personal meetings with the teacher (like koan practice in Rinzai Zen), this could of course not be done alone (and I would think, that "personal meetings" with the teacher through the internet can not replace a personal dialogue with a teacher in "real life" - though I agree, that meeting other Tendai Buddhists on the internet can help to keep you grounded :) ).
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Re: Tendai for the sole practitioner

Postby Seishin » Tue Jun 14, 2011 11:13 am

Our group meetings consist of a bit of a meet and greet/catch up, then chanting and meditation. Sometimes this is just the standard, but sometimes our teacher will do esoteric practice or nembutsu if the occasion calls for it. Then he'll give us teaching and/or sutra reading, then we will openly discuss either the text or anything on our mind. After this, we then have tea and cakes/biscuits/snacks and informal chats. At this point, there is opportunity to have private discussions with our teacher.

I'm not sure whether this human contact and interaction will ever be replaced by technology, and personally I do not feel it is a good idea, but if that contact is not available on a regular basis, I think technology is a reasonable substitute. Of course, being a lay person, I'm not sure how an ordained person will feel about it.

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Re: Tendai for the sole practitioner

Postby Jikan » Tue Jun 14, 2011 7:23 pm

From what I've seen, it's very possible for a layperson to practice along the lines Seishin describes. Access to a temple opens up a number of practices and experiences that are very much worth engaging in, however.
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Re: Tendai for the sole practitioner

Postby Tatsuo » Thu Jun 16, 2011 11:43 pm

There is of course the possibility to go on retreats. I'm not sure, but I think there is a retreat once a year conducted by the Danish group and I am sure, that there are several retreats in the US. Attending a group can really help with improving ones practice - especially meditation. I think it's best if you have a teacher who knows you and who can help you with problems you have during meditation.
But discussing the teachings/studying is possible through the internet. The Jodoshu has an interesting approach: They established reading groups and the members take turns in summarizing one chapter of a given book - followed by a discussion about that chapter. Of course this requires a lot of commitment, but it seems to work.
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Re: Tendai for the sole practitioner

Postby Seishin » Fri Jun 17, 2011 8:47 am

I kinda like the idea of having webcams in the Hondo which go online during the weekly services. That way anyone can log in and take part at home. I'm not sure though, whether this is disrespectful or not. My knowlesge of Hondo etiquette is a bit weak. :?
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Re: Tendai for the sole practitioner

Postby Indrajala » Fri Jun 17, 2011 9:06 am

Seishin wrote:I kinda like the idea of having webcams in the Hondo which go online during the weekly services. That way anyone can log in and take part at home. I'm not sure though, whether this is disrespectful or not. My knowlesge of Hondo etiquette is a bit weak. :?


If Saicho were alive today he'd have live Skype webcasts I'm sure.
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Re: Tendai for the sole practitioner

Postby rory » Fri Jun 24, 2011 9:57 pm

I think that's a splendid idea about a webcam!and I'm going to suggest it to our main temple in LA, along with a yearly retreat. I know a Jodo priest in Australia is talking about meeting his far flung members via webcam.
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Re: Tendai for the sole practitioner

Postby jikai » Sun Jul 03, 2011 1:18 pm

rory wrote:I think that's a splendid idea about a webcam!and I'm going to suggest it to our main temple in LA, along with a yearly retreat. I know a Jodo priest in Australia is talking about meeting his far flung members via webcam.
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I am in a similar position to the one you mentioned. I am training in Tendai while living in Sydney -although my teacher who is the only Tendai Priest in Australia lives in Brisbane (quite a distance from each other).

I do so by travelling either to Brisbane, at times my teacher has come to Sydney. We keep regular contact through email and of course the phone and for perhaps more important situations I am required to attend the Tendai Mission of Hawaii (with which we are affiliated).

I think in many ways, this idea of meeting via webcam would be a fantastic way to spread the teachings, particularly in these early stages. I think regardless of where in the West we choose to look, Tendai is not an easy path to follow due to limited access. At least in
Tendai's initial stages, that is to say until it can be made widely available, technology must and should be utilised.

In regards to the question at large, I think that long term a teacher is certainly necessary. However, I think that for the lay practitioner, if they are dedicated enough to practise Tendai 'solatarily', they have the 'ability to be' sole practitioners...having said that, from experience, it is immensely difficult and I have only truly become an 'orthodox Tendai' practitioner under the guidance of a teacher.
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Re: Tendai for the sole practitioner

Postby Jikan » Mon Jul 04, 2011 5:52 pm

I completely agree on the appropriate use of technology in this instance. The day before yesterday we had the opportunity to converse with Ichishima sensei by skype while at gyo, and it was very helpful.
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