Books and Teachers

Whether you're exploring Buddhism for the first time or you're already on the path, feel free to ask questions of any kind here.

Books and Teachers

Postby smcj » Tue Sep 03, 2013 7:47 pm

If you have a good teacher you won't need any books. If you have all the books in the world, you will still need a teacher.

Books can be an asset and may supplement your limited time with your teacher, but they can't be your only guidance

Edit: This was broken off from another thread by a moderator, which I am fine with. But if it seems like a little abrupt it is because it has been taken out of a context. Most threads are started with a question, request, or invitation to comment. So in order to make this more proper;

Please feel free to comment.
A human being has his limits. And thus, in every conceivable way, with every possible means, he tries to make the teaching enter into his own limits. ChNN
smcj
 
Posts: 2078
Joined: Wed May 29, 2013 6:13 am

Re: Books and Teachers

Postby Astus » Tue Sep 03, 2013 8:37 pm

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)
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“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; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
User avatar
Astus
Former staff member
 
Posts: 4207
Joined: Tue Feb 23, 2010 11:22 pm
Location: Budapest

Re: Books and Teachers

Postby smcj » Wed Sep 04, 2013 3:00 am

I've read a lot of books, and I've met a lot of teachers. Admittedly, among the several dozen teachers I've met, most did not interest me. Only 6 would I call "my teacher".

If some genie appeared and told me I had to choose between losing what I had learned from books, or losing what I had learned from my teachers, I'd turn my back on the books in an instant. I wouldn't even have to take any time to think about it.

Fortunately no such genie is going to appear, and I do not have to make such a choice. I have the wonderful luxery of keeping the understanding gained from both. But when I practice, I do it from the understanding imparted by my teachers.

YMMV.
A human being has his limits. And thus, in every conceivable way, with every possible means, he tries to make the teaching enter into his own limits. ChNN
smcj
 
Posts: 2078
Joined: Wed May 29, 2013 6:13 am

Re: Books and Teachers

Postby Indrajala » Wed Sep 04, 2013 3:28 am

smcj wrote:If you have all the books in the world, you will still need a teacher.


If you're literate and sufficiently dedicated, I'm convinced you can achieve liberation through scripture and implementation of the teachings therein without a teacher present. The meaning of the core teachings of the Buddha are self-evident and if you need further clarification Abhidharma and commentaries are sufficient. Moreover, the meditation methods outlined by the Buddha such as śamatha and the four dhyānas do not require initiation or even formal guidance if you understand the practice.

I know that won't work for everyone as some people feel strongly compelled to seek guidance and clarification from teachers, which is perfectly acceptable and should be encouraged.

I'm just saying liberation from saṃsāra is possible without a teacher. In fact, pratyekabuddhas manage to achieve liberation without even the teachings of a buddha present in the world. So, in our case, we have the teachings of the buddha, which is quite advantageous.


Books can be an asset and may supplement your limited time with your teacher, but they can't be your only guidance


Wisdom read and wisdom heard are not really so different.
Flower Ornament Depository (Blog)
Indrajāla's Contemplations (Blog)
Exploring Classical Chinese (Blog)
Dharma Depository (Site)

"Hui gives me no assistance. There is nothing that I say in which he does not delight." -Confucius
User avatar
Indrajala
 
Posts: 5863
Joined: Fri Feb 12, 2010 3:19 pm
Location: Nepal

Re: Books and Teachers

Postby smcj » Wed Sep 04, 2013 3:51 am

Wisdom read and wisdom heard are not really so different.

In my experience, they are completely different. A book can't see through you, know your mind, and know which teaching or practice is right for you--for starters.
A human being has his limits. And thus, in every conceivable way, with every possible means, he tries to make the teaching enter into his own limits. ChNN
smcj
 
Posts: 2078
Joined: Wed May 29, 2013 6:13 am

Re: Books and Teachers

Postby Indrajala » Wed Sep 04, 2013 6:33 am

smcj wrote:
Wisdom read and wisdom heard are not really so different.

In my experience, they are completely different. A book can't see through you, know your mind, and know which teaching or practice is right for you--for starters.


If you can find a proper guide, then cool, go for it. We just need to be careful not to be caught up in our own projections, projecting onto someone all the good qualities of a real guru when in actual fact they're a flawed human like the rest of us.
Flower Ornament Depository (Blog)
Indrajāla's Contemplations (Blog)
Exploring Classical Chinese (Blog)
Dharma Depository (Site)

"Hui gives me no assistance. There is nothing that I say in which he does not delight." -Confucius
User avatar
Indrajala
 
Posts: 5863
Joined: Fri Feb 12, 2010 3:19 pm
Location: Nepal

Re: Books and Teachers

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Wed Sep 04, 2013 6:57 am

I went to a retreat not too long ago where the Lama (a Tibetan, not westerner) actually spent a long time talking about how important it was to respect texts, based on the rationale of something like focusing on the teaching being more important and vital than the teacher. That without a direct teacher, one can still learn the Dharma, but without the Dharma, the teacher doesn't matter. Anyway you get the idea.

Anyway, it actually surprised me as it seems to me that usually Tibetan Buddhism seems so teacher-centric, even for sutra stuff.

To me Sutra and such is just fine without a teacher, though it's great to be able to ask questions about them. Meditation though, even for the "simplest" forms, personally the difference between when I was practicing from books vs. experiences with teachers has been like night and day.

Still, I have a hard time trying to pick on over the other, as I never even would have gotten interested in Buddhism or pursued if not for years of reading books. Sometimes just sitting around thinking about things i've read is not the most glamorous thing, but I think it has a deep effect.
"Just as a lotus does not grow out of a well-levelled soil but from the mire, in the same way the awakening mind
is not born in the hearts of disciples in whom the moisture of attachment has dried up. It grows instead in the hearts of ordinary sentient beings who possess in full the fetters of bondage." -Se Chilbu Choki Gyaltsen
User avatar
Johnny Dangerous
Global Moderator
 
Posts: 2393
Joined: Fri Nov 02, 2012 10:58 pm
Location: Olympia WA

Re: Books and Teachers

Postby Indrajala » Wed Sep 04, 2013 7:05 am

Johnny Dangerous wrote:I went to a retreat not too long ago where the Lama (a Tibetan, not westerner) actually spent a long time talking about how important it was to respect texts, based on the rationale of something like focusing on the teaching being more important and vital than the teacher.


The actual refuge is Dharma. Texts are fallible vessels of Dharma, indeed, but they're less prone to disappoint you than human beings. Placing faith in ordinary beings is unwise. Ideally your guru is enlightened, but ideals are seldom in line with reality.

The sangha refuge incidentally is actually comprised of arhats and noble bodhisattvas, though since we don't know who they are it is a kind of ideal you take refuge in.
Flower Ornament Depository (Blog)
Indrajāla's Contemplations (Blog)
Exploring Classical Chinese (Blog)
Dharma Depository (Site)

"Hui gives me no assistance. There is nothing that I say in which he does not delight." -Confucius
User avatar
Indrajala
 
Posts: 5863
Joined: Fri Feb 12, 2010 3:19 pm
Location: Nepal

Re: Books and Teachers

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Wed Sep 04, 2013 7:14 am

Indrajala wrote:
Johnny Dangerous wrote:I went to a retreat not too long ago where the Lama (a Tibetan, not westerner) actually spent a long time talking about how important it was to respect texts, based on the rationale of something like focusing on the teaching being more important and vital than the teacher.


The actual refuge is Dharma. Texts are fallible vessels of Dharma, indeed, but they're less prone to disappoint you than human beings. Placing faith in ordinary beings is unwise. Ideally your guru is enlightened, but ideals are seldom in line with reality.

The sangha refuge incidentally is actually comprised of arhats and noble bodhisattvas, though since we don't know who they are it is a kind of ideal you take refuge in.



Yes, I don't think he meant the texts per se...he was just using them to make a point, I was just surprised to hear it from a Tibetan teacher, though maybe that's not so unusual as I think?
"Just as a lotus does not grow out of a well-levelled soil but from the mire, in the same way the awakening mind
is not born in the hearts of disciples in whom the moisture of attachment has dried up. It grows instead in the hearts of ordinary sentient beings who possess in full the fetters of bondage." -Se Chilbu Choki Gyaltsen
User avatar
Johnny Dangerous
Global Moderator
 
Posts: 2393
Joined: Fri Nov 02, 2012 10:58 pm
Location: Olympia WA

Re: Books and Teachers

Postby JKhedrup » Wed Sep 04, 2013 10:11 am

If you can find a proper guide, then cool, go for it. We just need to be careful not to be caught up in our own projections, projecting onto someone all the good qualities of a real guru when in actual fact they're a flawed human like the rest of us.


This is the very real issue. I actually think that relying exclusively on texts can create a whole set of problems.

But not as many problems as relying upon a guru in not properly qualified- I cannot tell you the number of disillusioned Buddhists I have met who were harmed due to placing faith in the wrong teacher. The heart of the problem is that for whatever reason there seem to be fewer fully qualified masters who are well trained in morality, concentration and wisdom, and more deceivers who are willing to use spirituality for material comfort and influence.

The best method to prevent being harmed in this way is to take a decent amount of time to really evaluate a teacher properly. And study the texts to know what the qualities of a proper teacher are. If you cannot find one for the time being, I agree it is good to stick with the scriptures.
A foolish man proclaims his qualifications,
A wise man keeps them secret within.
A straw floats on the surface of water,
But a precious gem placed upon it sinks to the depths
-Sakya Pandita
JKhedrup
 
Posts: 2279
Joined: Wed May 30, 2012 8:28 am
Location: the Netherlands and India

Re: Books and Teachers

Postby Astus » Wed Sep 04, 2013 10:14 am

smcj wrote:In my experience, they are completely different. A book can't see through you, know your mind, and know which teaching or practice is right for you--for starters.


A teacher can give appropriate advice if s/he knows you personally, as a good friend. And that is great. At the same time, if you study texts, in time you can find just the right answers to whatever questions you may have. And being in a community has lot more to offer than just a single wise fellow rephrasing the Buddha's teachings.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“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; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
User avatar
Astus
Former staff member
 
Posts: 4207
Joined: Tue Feb 23, 2010 11:22 pm
Location: Budapest

Re: Books and Teachers

Postby smcj » Wed Sep 04, 2013 11:11 am

A book can't call you on your b.s. A good lama can and will.

I realize that there aren't that many out there, especially these days. The ones that were entirely trained in Tibet before it fell are all gone. The ones that were somewhat trained in Tibet are going quickly. The new crop that were trained in the diaspora doesn't have the same quality. The westerners are trying hard, but few are really becoming accomplished.

So yes, it's a rare bird that is someone that can give you true guidance and refuge. But you don't need that to learn the ABCs.
A human being has his limits. And thus, in every conceivable way, with every possible means, he tries to make the teaching enter into his own limits. ChNN
smcj
 
Posts: 2078
Joined: Wed May 29, 2013 6:13 am

Re: Books and Teachers

Postby Astus » Wed Sep 04, 2013 11:33 am

smcj wrote:A book can't call you on your b.s. A good lama can and will.


Buddhist teachers are not exclusive to Tibet. You can even find a couple of them among registered users here. Who considers what b.s. is another matter. Teachers are not homogeneous, and who is a "good lama" is a subjective decision on the part of the seeker.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“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; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
User avatar
Astus
Former staff member
 
Posts: 4207
Joined: Tue Feb 23, 2010 11:22 pm
Location: Budapest

Re: Books and Teachers

Postby JKhedrup » Wed Sep 04, 2013 12:42 pm

Teachers are not homogeneous, and who is a "good lama" is a subjective decision on the part of the seeker.


Absolutely. But there are some criteria that I think we can hold across the board such as:

More knowledge that the student, consistent in ethics and has compassion for those they are teaching.
A foolish man proclaims his qualifications,
A wise man keeps them secret within.
A straw floats on the surface of water,
But a precious gem placed upon it sinks to the depths
-Sakya Pandita
JKhedrup
 
Posts: 2279
Joined: Wed May 30, 2012 8:28 am
Location: the Netherlands and India

Re: Books and Teachers

Postby Indrajala » Wed Sep 04, 2013 1:07 pm

JKhedrup wrote:I actually think that relying exclusively on texts can create a whole set of problems.


It isn't for everyone, I grant, but some people can manage without having a teacher.

The heart of the problem is that for whatever reason there seem to be fewer fully qualified masters who are well trained in morality, concentration and wisdom, and more deceivers who are willing to use spirituality for material comfort and influence.


It logically follows that placing spiritual authority in classical texts rather than fallible humans is probably a preferable arrangement given the numbers of degenerate individuals taking advantage of people, to say nothing of all the nepotism, corruption and politics you find in Buddhist institutions.


The best method to prevent being harmed in this way is to take a decent amount of time to really evaluate a teacher properly. And study the texts to know what the qualities of a proper teacher are. If you cannot find one for the time being, I agree it is good to stick with the scriptures.


One could also study the texts extensively and be in a position to judge someone as to whether or not they really know the material well.
Flower Ornament Depository (Blog)
Indrajāla's Contemplations (Blog)
Exploring Classical Chinese (Blog)
Dharma Depository (Site)

"Hui gives me no assistance. There is nothing that I say in which he does not delight." -Confucius
User avatar
Indrajala
 
Posts: 5863
Joined: Fri Feb 12, 2010 3:19 pm
Location: Nepal

Re: Books and Teachers

Postby Indrajala » Wed Sep 04, 2013 1:12 pm

smcj wrote:A book can't call you on your b.s. A good lama can and will.


Ideally.


The ones that were entirely trained in Tibet before it fell are all gone.


I don't really think the pre-invasion Tibetans were somehow better than what you have now. They had unique qualities in being raised in basically pre-modern conditions with an entirely Buddhist cosmology and outlook on life, but that doesn't necessarily mean they somehow were more realized than us modern westerners or those Tibetans raised under the PRC. It is easy to aggrandize dead masters, especially in the hagiographical literature which has a tendency to stretch the truth or speak of miracles.



The westerners are trying hard, but few are really becoming accomplished.


So you're basically saying we're an inferior breed of practitioners?
Flower Ornament Depository (Blog)
Indrajāla's Contemplations (Blog)
Exploring Classical Chinese (Blog)
Dharma Depository (Site)

"Hui gives me no assistance. There is nothing that I say in which he does not delight." -Confucius
User avatar
Indrajala
 
Posts: 5863
Joined: Fri Feb 12, 2010 3:19 pm
Location: Nepal

Re: Books and Teachers

Postby Astus » Wed Sep 04, 2013 1:31 pm

JKhedrup wrote:But there are some criteria that I think we can hold across the board


Yes. And those are both sensible and important.

Indrajala wrote:It logically follows that placing spiritual authority in classical texts rather than fallible humans is probably a preferable arrangement given the numbers of degenerate individuals taking advantage of people, to say nothing of all the nepotism, corruption and politics you find in Buddhist institutions.


Buddhist institutions are not the work of Mara. I agree with you that one shouldn't glorify everything that is old and Asian, nor take hagiographies at face value. At the same time, communities seem to be doing fine most of the time, and they are usually reliable sources of the Dharma. Neither saints nor devils.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“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; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
User avatar
Astus
Former staff member
 
Posts: 4207
Joined: Tue Feb 23, 2010 11:22 pm
Location: Budapest

Re: Books and Teachers

Postby Indrajala » Wed Sep 04, 2013 1:33 pm

Astus wrote:Buddhist institutions are not the work of Mara. I agree with you that one shouldn't glorify everything that is old and Asian, nor take hagiographies at face value. At the same time, communities seem to be doing fine most of the time, and they are usually reliable sources of the Dharma. Neither saints nor devils.


In any case, it is unrealistic to expect authority to be placed entirely in the texts because that's not how organized religions operate...

Still, at an individual level I prefer to place faith in abstract Dharma rather than fallible humans.
Flower Ornament Depository (Blog)
Indrajāla's Contemplations (Blog)
Exploring Classical Chinese (Blog)
Dharma Depository (Site)

"Hui gives me no assistance. There is nothing that I say in which he does not delight." -Confucius
User avatar
Indrajala
 
Posts: 5863
Joined: Fri Feb 12, 2010 3:19 pm
Location: Nepal

Re: Books and Teachers

Postby JKhedrup » Wed Sep 04, 2013 2:16 pm

In any case, it is unrealistic to expect authority to be placed entirely in the texts because that's not how organized religions operate...


Yes most religious traditions, including Buddhism, started out as oral traditions.
A foolish man proclaims his qualifications,
A wise man keeps them secret within.
A straw floats on the surface of water,
But a precious gem placed upon it sinks to the depths
-Sakya Pandita
JKhedrup
 
Posts: 2279
Joined: Wed May 30, 2012 8:28 am
Location: the Netherlands and India

Re: Books and Teachers

Postby Indrajala » Wed Sep 04, 2013 2:19 pm

JKhedrup wrote:
In any case, it is unrealistic to expect authority to be placed entirely in the texts because that's not how organized religions operate...


Yes most religious traditions, including Buddhism, started out as oral traditions.


What I'm saying more is that people tend to place spiritual authority in people rather than texts, be they orally or textually transmitted.

Spiritual capital, like social capital, is of little use to people when it is invested in texts. On the other hand, if someone is seen as authoritative, enlightened, wise and capable, they command a lot of spiritual and social capitals.

I think, too, at the end of the day most Buddhists feel the need for a living mentor, which is understandable and needs to be accommodated.

I still believe though that liberation itself doesn't include having a guru as a prerequisite.
Flower Ornament Depository (Blog)
Indrajāla's Contemplations (Blog)
Exploring Classical Chinese (Blog)
Dharma Depository (Site)

"Hui gives me no assistance. There is nothing that I say in which he does not delight." -Confucius
User avatar
Indrajala
 
Posts: 5863
Joined: Fri Feb 12, 2010 3:19 pm
Location: Nepal

Next

Return to Exploring Buddhism

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Norwegian, Sherab Dorje and 15 guests

cron
>