What should you do when you don't have a Zen teacher yet?

Re: What should you do when you don't have a Zen teacher yet?

Postby Jinzang » Mon May 23, 2011 12:58 am

Astus wrote:If what you said were true about teachers making sure everyone got it right there couldn't exist any schools within Buddhism as all would agree. But there are not just many traditions generally but within Zen you find quite a lot of disagreements between groups and teachers. If it is a matter of making sure somebody properly understands the teaching there should be exams, tests and diplomas, but that is only a modern phenomenon in East Asian Buddhism that people study at universities. Also, if understanding can be measured one could even take online tests. Then again a personal instructor would not be necessary.

There is not so much doctrinal variation in Buddhism as you are saying. There are maybe half a dozen broad traditions. Not so much for a 2500 year old religion. For example, when a Hinayana practitioner in India took offense at Xuan Zang's Mahayana learnings, Xuan Zang was able to silence him with his knowledge of abhidharma. Two traditions, geographically isolated, yet sharing enough in common that the two could debate on common ground.

I think Buddhist teachers function more like sports coaches or art teachers than academic professors. That is, you have an ability within yourself that can be brought out through practice. The coach doesn't give you the ability, instead the coach helps you develop it. It's not a matter of imparting knowledge from the learned to the ignorant that can be measured in testing. "A special transmission, outside of the scriptures," remember?

I've heard complaint here that even when one belongs to a center, one has a hard time getting to talk to the teacher. Every group I have belonged to (admittedly all Tibetan Buddhist) the teacher has given regular talks with question and answer afterwards. And the questions did not have to be on the topic of the talk. So if you didn't mind asking in public, you could get whatever bothered you answered.

But I hear from one of the members of our group that in a Zen group he belonged to previously, no one ever said a word to one another. They would meet in silence, recite their prayers, meditate, and leave without saying anything. Sounds like a funny way to run a "community."
Having obtained the supreme freedoms
and conjunctions of the precious human existence,
endowed with faith, energy, and intelligence,
Having attended on a worthy spiritual friend
and received the pith of the holy instructions,
May we practice these properly, just as we have received them,
without obstacle or interruption.
In all our lives, may we practice and enjoy the holy dharma.
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Re: What should you do when you don't have a Zen teacher yet?

Postby Jnana » Mon May 23, 2011 2:17 am

Jinzang wrote:As long as you do not have a teacher and take what they tell you to heart (not just pass in one ear and out the other), you are stumbling in the dark.

Good teachers are rare. However, there's no shortage of teachers who are stumbling in the dark themselves (some moreso than others of course).

All the best,

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Re: What should you do when you don't have a Zen teacher yet?

Postby Astus » Mon May 23, 2011 10:17 am


There is not so much doctrinal variation in Buddhism as you are saying.

No, not that much. But even if you just look at Zen in China you find how there were different factions and how the interpretation of certain teachings differed. But you can do the same with Korean and Japanese Zen too, not to mention comparing these Zen forms. Also, there were not just debates about doctrine but political and economical issues too - likely to be more often the subject of arguments than teachings.

I think Buddhist teachers function more like sports coaches or art teachers than academic professors.

I think there are different Buddhist teachers depending on what they focus on but what is common in them is that they are all teachers of religion. They teach (or supposed to teach) faith, morality, doctrine and practice (where practice means not just yogic/meditation stuff but many other things). From the time of Dahui Zonggao the practice of huatou was assigned to many lay men and women who were to maintain the big doubt throughout their daily activities. The book "Swampland Flowers" is actually a selection of Dahui's correspondence with his lay students who may or may not have visited him in person. And it's enough to consider when one is an abbot of hundreds of monks and has a high reputation the schedule is pretty full for the following years. Even among the monks it was a privilege to meet the abbot (i.e. the Zen master) besides formal encounters. The position that would fit best your definition of a coach is the monk in charge of the meditation hall to supervise regular sessions, technically that person is the meditation (but not Zen) master.

"A special transmission, outside of the scriptures," remember?

That is a Zen slogan misunderstood and misused too often. Special transmission is no transmission because there is nothing to transmit, it simply means seeing the nature is the transmission of mind, thus it is not within the scriptures, that is verbal explanations and concepts. But to think that there are actually people who dispensate enlightenment, that is absurd.
"If the Buddha-Nature is seen, there will be no seeing of a nature in any thing."
(Nirvana Sutra, T12n374p521b3; tr Yamamoto)

"Neither cultivation nor seated meditation — this is the pure Chan of Tathagata."
(Mazu Daoyi, X1321p3b23; tr. Jinhua Jia)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T2076p461b24-26)
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Re: What should you do when you don't have a Zen teacher yet?

Postby Dharmakid » Tue Aug 23, 2011 2:29 am

Please forgive me for not having read the entire thread, therefore not knowing all of what has been said. I just want to offer my experience for the OP.

Before I had a teacher, I would do the following daily:

-Take refuge in the Three Jewels
-Take the Five Precepts
-Take the Four Great Vows
-Recite the Heart Sutra
-Dedication of Merit
-Listen to a teaching or read a Zen text and commentary
-Put effort into present-moment mindfulness as much as I could throughout the day

I would intersperse bows throughout the session, and, when chanting, I would follow along to Japanese audio and text.

Surprisingly, when I began practicing with a seido, his guidance was quite similar to my already established daily practice. Of course, he gave me a much better understanding of Dharma and practice than I had before starting with him.

Hope this helps.
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