From the time when Buddhists started to write down the words of the Buddha the Dharma has been preserved in a literate medium. Customs, robes, styles, rituals, languages, cultures changed, while the texts were preserved to remain the authentic source. Shakyamuni died, the disciples died, teachers died, but their thoughts were kept in the canon. We can't meet Nagarjuna, Vasubandhu, Zhiyi, Gampopa, Dogen, Tsongkhapa, or even modern teachers like Yinshun and Tulku Urgyen. Famous masters today, like Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama, are unreachable for most of us. What we have from all of them are their written teachings.
Besides the texts there is also a living, breathing tradition, the Sangha. It is very beneficial to become a part of that, to remove ourselves from the ideal images we might cherish in the confines of our rooms. To see that all Buddhists are human beings, and we are not alone with our troubles and doubts. It is only natural that we want to know others who share our views and interests. It is good to learn from those more experienced in the Dharma than us. In fact, those are also reasons for people joining this very forum.
"all of the buddhas and all of their teachings of peerless perfect enlightenment spring forth from this sūtra."
(Diamond Sutra, tr. C. Muller; ch 8)
"So then, if someone wants quickly to know full enlightenment, he should indefatigably and continually hear and study this very perfection of wisdom. For he will understand that in the past, when he was a Bodhisattva, the Tathagata trained in the perfection of wisdom; that also he should train in it; that she is his Teacher. In any case, when the Tathagata has disappeared into final Nirvana, the Bodhisattvas should run back to this very perfection of wisdom."
(The Perfection of Wisdom in Eight Thousand Lines, tr. Conze; ch 3, p 107)
"One should know that such a Bodhisattva is reborn here after he has deceased in other world systems where he has honoured and questioned the Buddhas, the Lords. Any Bodhisattva who, after he has deceased in other world systems where he has honoured and questioned the Buddhas, the Lords, is reborn here, would, when he hears this deep perfection of wisdom being taught, identify this perfection of wisdom 4 with the Teacher, [I771 and be convinced that he is face to face with the Teacher, that he has seen the Teacher. When the perfection of wisdom is being taught, he listens attentively, pays respect to it before he hears it, and does not cut the story short. Such a Bodhisattva should be known as one who has practised for long, who has honoured many Buddhas."
(ch 7, p 138)
"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)