An entry from my e-book


9th August 2014

The Benefits and Limitations of Teachers and Lineages
Tom Radcliffe said that realization would be impossible without the direct guidance of a living teacher and lineage.
I replied with a long post on my opinions on lineage and teachers based on my experience:
"There are actually exceptional people who did not rely on teachers to come to the realization of anatta/emptiness/D.O. etc. Thusness is an example of such a person -- he awakened through contemplating on the Buddha's teachings and the texts of certain ancient masters. Having said that, his capacity of wisdom is probably much higher and students like me could never have awakened by myself without relying on a real life teacher. So the advise that one should find a good teacher still stands, just that there are some rare exceptions to the rule.
Though I find the guidance of teachers to be valuable in leading towards a foundation in practice, I also find that it can be limiting. Therefore I do not recommend focusing on only one teacher's teaching completely but have a more broad/widened understanding and knowledge of dharma while at the same time still working with those teachers. (From my observations as over the years I have met with many teachers in various traditions, all of whom have sort of acknowledged my insights/realizations/experience in one way or another.)
For example most Buddhist and non-Buddhist teachers I have personally encountered or had experiences with were were limited to the "I AM" (Eternal Witness) and "One Mind" (substantial nondualism where subject/object are undivided) perspective. So they can only guide their students to that realization. That is definitely useful, but a lot more insights need to unfold IMO. But some students are stuck due to some blind faith or devotion to certain teachers, for example Thusness had some trouble at the beginning trying to bring out 'Simpo' (a friend of mine) from the I AM realization into deeper realization like nondual, anatta, D.O. and emptiness at the beginning, because of his great faith or devotion to a particular teacher who was very much into the I AM. This is where faith to a teacher, or the teacher of the student, can become a great limitation for that student. But fortunately, Simpo did eventually come to experience the truth that Thusness was pointing out to him, and later came to deeply appreciate the subtleties of the Buddhadharma. I myself have been in a sort of similar situation before but I digress, and so has many others that I've seen.
Then there are teachers like Daniel Ingram, whose insights into anatta etc and their practice advices I greatly appreciate, nevertheless would consider themselves (and people like me) as having attained arahantship due to their vastly different interpretations of the models of enlightement. Daniel Ingram, if you do not know who he is, is a qualified lineaged teacher from a well known Mahasi Sayadaw Vipassana tradition and given permission to teach from their lineage teachers.
If I had believed their claim that I have attained arahantship, it may have led me to a place of complacency -- feeling I'm done, done with the path/whatever. And in a way I can definitely see how that can manifest -- because the insights I've experienced have a sense of unshakeable stability as I pointed out before. But fortunately, I have come to see like Yor Sunyata, both from my own experience -- both of experiencing the wisdom that led to freedom from afflictions in daily life as well as even in states of dream, dreamless and sleep paralysis, as well as the insight into the total exertion of karmic propensities itself -- as well as the traditional suttas, that the other fetters or afflictions can and do cease further on in one's path. Therefore I am convinced, I am confident, that the freedom-from-fetter model as advertised by the Buddha is valid just-as-it-is rather than 'unrealistic' (as some teachers like Daniel and many others might think), and there is in fact still a long way to go to full awakening/liberation.
You said, "I think many people stop short of the goal due to not having a way to examine the current state of affairs and this is where a teacher and study is helpful." -- yes it is very easy for some unlearned run-off-the-mill person who have no access to maps, to teachers, etc, to mistake whatever they experience for enlightenment. Some people may even think their LSD experience or whatever was enlightenment, or mistaking A&P with enlightenment, etc. If they have an experienced teacher or mentor, those good advisers can certainly cut the bullshit out of the student easily than have them stuck in whatever place for a long time. While that you said is true, it can also be true, as in the example I gave above, that "many people stop short of the goal due to HAVING examined the current state of affairs with a TEACHER according to their (teacher's) maps". That teacher may consider himself, or be considered by others to be arahants, but doesn't in any way necessarily means that what they have attained is truly what the Buddha had in mind about "Arahants".
This is why, while one should definitely work with teachers, at the same time, one should learn the Buddha's teachings, scriptures, and judge teachings according to them. The Buddha made it very clear that his words must take precedence over any monk's (or any practitioners' or teachers') words. For example,
"In Anguttara Nikaya Sutta 4.180, the Buddha taught the great authorities. He advised that when any monk says that such and such are the teachings of the Buddha, we should, without scorning or welcoming his words compare those words with the Suttas and Vinaya. If they are not in accordance with the Suttas and Vinaya, we should reject them."
"To some of you, Ānanda, it may occur thus: 'The words of the Teacher have ended, there is a Teacher no longer'. But it should not, Ānanda, be so considered. Indeed, Ānanda, that which I have taught and made known to you as the Dhamma and the Vinaya will be your Teacher after my passing away."
-- Mahāparinibbāna Sutta
"If he does not teach according to the words of the Buddha
even if he is a guru, one should remain indifferent. "
-- Sakya Pandita
Also as the Buddha stated in http://dharmafarer.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/40a.16-Ahita-Thera-S-a5.88-piya.pdf -- even famous teachers may have wrong views.
This is where Refuge in the Three Jewels become very important -- because we should not rely on on our own ideas of the dharma, nor even what some other teachers might say about enlightenment, but rather we rely on the Buddha himself -- the perfectly enlightened one -- and the Dharma he taught as contained in the scriptures, and the Sangha -- which in this case refers to the Arya sangha -- the sangha of the awakened noble ones that realized the Buddha's dharma. We rely on their teachings and dharma.
Having said that, I am not suggesting that one must find a fully awakened or liberated or perfect-in-every-way teacher. What if one never finds one in the world? A good teacher is imo, someone who can lead you to the next step. If you are finding I AM realization, then a teacher that can lead you to that is a good teacher, even if it is not the Buddhist sort of enlightenment. Then you can move on to other teachings and practices. That's fine. Learn from them, but don't be limited by them.
As I mentioned in this group before, one day many years ago I felt great despair at the thought of not having found any teacher that I feel could lead me forward in my practice swiftly to full awakening, "why isn't there someone like a Buddha or fully awakened being nowadays that I could learn from and quickly lead me to complete liberation?" There was a sense of disappointment as I felt my insights have already surpassed those teachers I have met (with the exception of a few like Thusness -- whose continued guidance I was greatly indebted to, and without which I could not have seen the subtlety of Buddhadharma). Then, I fell asleep... I had a dream of clarity. In that dream, I went up an elevator to a place, where every single person I met had the face of my teacher! The same face.
Then even in that dream itself, I suddenly understood: every person, every thing, every event, is your teacher! The whole universe is your teacher. We should practice with that mindset. First of all, it humbles oneself because of a change of perspective in how we relate to the universe, secondly, one expands one's attitude of "who I can learn from" from a narrow minded idealized vision of what a teacher should be, to the whole universe. Every person or thing in the universe, even from their mistakes etc, can become your teacher. We should be grateful for every single teacher, even the person who taught you how to tie your shoe laces."
Tom Radcliffe said, "There are no exceptional people - at least I've never met one."
I replied, "I've only met one person who realized anatta/emptiness/D.O. without living teachers to point it out to him -- Thusness. However, as pointed out, he also had teachers (mainly not from the Buddhist tradition) before he encountered the Buddhadharma. Also, he took refuge with his father under H.H.Sakya Trizin, however, he does not practice Vajrayana.
On another point... I think I haven't shared about this before... but I might take this opportunity to share. Some of my experience with working with lineage teachings.
I was from very young being introduced to Dharma in Ren Cheng Buddhism under Venerable Shen Kai (I took refuge when I was 2 and started attending classes at 12). He passed away in 1996 but we have access to his writings in written form and recorded forms. His dharma successor, Missionary Chen Ming An had been teaching his dharma since, and we also have a local dharma teacher Li Zhu Lao Shi who has been guiding us. Ven. Shen Kai hold the Linji Ch'an lineage (also the more commonly known Ven. Sheng Yen was his dharma brother, both studied under Ch'an Master Dongchu), however, Ven. Shen Kai do not call 'Ren Cheng Buddhism', 'Ch'an' but integrates its teachings with it. It can be considered to be a new school of Buddhism.
The perspective of Ren Cheng is (like many other Chinese Mahayana teachers) to emphasize on 'Yi Men Shen Ru' which is to focus on one dharma door and enter deeply. Otherwise, according to this perspective, one may be looking through the various doors but never get into the center of that building. There is very great devotion and faith among the followers in the teacher of the tradition. Having a teacher or master in a lineage allows a student to have access to a large pool of teachings which are highly consistent -- than for example, asking a total beginner to search from piles of often contradictory or confusing teachings by different teachers and different writings, not knowing where to start. As Missionary Chen Ming An personally told me when I conversed with him for about an hour the last time, the good thing about lineage and lineage Master is that such a teacher can distill the countless sutra teachings into an essential path for the practitioner. Otherwise how does the practitioner know what or how to apply the teachings?
Working with a teacher also means intimate guidance which definitely helps a lot with one's own practice and understanding. While I find that focusing on a lineage/tradition/teacher may be important at a beginning, it can also become restrictive later. This is because it prevents broadening of one's dharma knowledge by focusing exclusively on the teachings of one particular lineage or teacher. Therefore, another perspective from the Tibetan side is equally valid IMO -- that one should be like a bee, happily collecting nectar from different flowers. Then there is also a potential problem: one may become like some run-off-the-mill Buddhists going to countless initiations here and there, collecting 'teachings' and 'initiations' but never being able to apply any of them in practice. Those are two extremes we should avoid IMO -- being restricted, or practicing spiritual materialism and making a junk shop out of a huge collection of dharma.
Back to what I was saying... The teachings taught in RC has been to put the Buddhadharma in a plain, practical way for lay people to understand and apply them in their daily life. It is certainly useful in that way and has attracted a huge following. The emphasis of the teachings is on grounding one's practice and awareness and insights in one's daily living, in the midst of the daily encounters and interactions, which I do find to be quite important (in fact even more so recently). I find that their teachings have given me some grounding and basic knowledge in the Buddhadharma. It was very useful in pointing a person to path that leads to spiritual progress rather than being misdirected or misled in many possible ways. The pointers to Awareness and the path of practice based on that direct realization of Awareness was pretty clear, direct and straightforward. This can lead to some fundamental insights and realizations. It is also the teachings in RC that started my whole spiritual path to begin with. So in many ways I am also indebted to the teachings in RC.
At the same time, their teaching was pretty much restricted to the Awareness teachings perspective. That is, the I AM/Eternal Witness and One Mind perspective. If I focused exclusively on their teachings that may be the limit of my insights and progress. In 2009 the local dharma teacher advised me to stop going to online forums -- or actually, to solely focus on studying the tradition's teaching. I think there are some valid reasons to it -- for example, a dharma teacher may be worried that I may be influenced by 'wrong views' from my exposure to the views and teachings posted online.
However, to the contrary, because I did not restrict myself to the teachings or opinions of certain traditions, I could study the dharma and have my own understanding outside the authority/'jurisdiction' of any particular traditions. And as a result, I have found that my understanding of dharma has expanded, and I have come to my own understanding and conclusions based on the teachings of the Buddha and many other teachers and guides. I studied the suttas -- read the whole of Majjhima Nikaya and a few other suttas books. I found that self-study to be invaluable to one's understanding and practice of dharma. I have also met and conversed with a number of teachers from various traditions -- Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana. And although I have not conversed with non-Buddhist teachers, for a time in the past I was also very much into Advaita Vedanta.
Also, very fortunately, over the years, Thusness have been instilling right view in me, so that while I was contemplating on the Bahiya Sutta one day, realization of anatta manifested. And then there were other breakthroughs and insights since.
So... working with a teacher in a lineage has its own benefits and limitations. In my opinion, lineage is by no means a magical pill that bestows full realization or Buddhahood, but it can often lead to a good foundation. Then at some point, having a certain grounding, one should progress oneself."


I also like Greg Goode's article: https://greg-goode.com/article/from-the-age-of-the-guru-to-the-age-of-the-friend/#

From the Age of the Guru to the Age of the Friend

(I wrote this article back in 2005, and it’s been floating around the Internet ever since.  Since 2005, social media have been a major factor affecting how we engage spirituality.  It’s now easier to be a friend, and easier to be a guru as well.  But I haven’t updated the article itself. I’ve just checked the hyperlinks to make sure they are still valid, and added some Amazon suggestions at the end.)
Recently a guru admitted to me,
You know, when I stopped believing that I was enlightened and others weren’t, all the fun went out of giving satsang!
The age of the guru is over. This is the age of the friend. The message of self-knowledge and liberation is outstripping any guru’s ability to contain it. People have been discovering that the message is independent of the messenger. The message has become detached from its older, exclusivistic, privileged stage settings. No longer must it travel down from a hierarchy. These days the message of liberation spreads horizontally from person to person. It moves more like an ocean than a waterfall. It grows more like a rhizome than an oak tree.
Of course there are still gurus. There will be gurus as long as there are friends. There will always be some gurus able to serve as wonderful teachers and inspiring examples. But these days the friend is providing more and more of the same services. The friend is spreading the message of self-knowledge, opening hearts with lovingkindness, and inspiring others with enthusiasm.

Morphing the Guru Model

The turn from the guru to the friend is not just a matter of inspiration; it’s also a matter of information. We’ve got freer access to what was formerly more selective and closed. The message of self-knowledge has reached interested parties wherever there’s communication. And this communication no longer needs to flow through the narrow-band guru-frequency, but has overflowed and become broadband.
This has caused the guru model itself to morph into something more democratic and decentralized. There are more teachers with less charisma. In California, supply exceeds demand to the point where a student can choose from any number of retreats on a given weekend. Retreat leaders have had to lower their fees to keep competitive. And then during the following week, the students e-mail the teachings out to all their friends, who then tell others.
The connotations of the term “guru” are changing. Traditionally this Sanskrit word has been interpreted to mean dispeller (ru) of darkness (gu). It was understood primarily in personal terms, and the guru was worshipped as an incarnation of God — a sacred, exclusive conduit to self-realization. These days, the metaphor has gone stale. No longer do people accept the image that they’re in darkness until assisted by a purportedly perfected human being. In spiritual circles, the “guru” word is more and more taken to point to the seeker’s own innermost self.

Exclusivity not Politically Correct

No longer can people believe that liberation speaks only Tibetan, or that the world was created from holy Sanskrit syllables. People are saying, “If it can’t be said in my language, then it isn’t so universal after all.” Even as recently as thirty years ago, seekers of self-awareness had to trek to India or the Himalayas to see someone who could impart a message of liberation. These days there are many routes:     Barnes & Noble, Borders, Amazon, Yahoo, Google, mobile phones and BlackBerries. Teachings that used to be limited to a select few are now being joyously shared between friends in any language. Even decades ago, you had to go to ashrams or temples and maybe wait three days before the keepers would let you enter. Now the same message can be found in coffee shops, living rooms, cyber chat-rooms and even prisons. A few of the younger gurus are beginning to adapt their teachings to this new democratic tone. They’ve backed off from the stance of exlusivity and have come closer to celebrating friendship and enlightened ordinariness. And other gurus are digging in their heels and sticking to the old story.

Warts and Information

Public figures are now commonplace. We know more about more people. We see their warts and indiscretions. This is inevitable in today’s infoculture where bloggers and paparazzi themselves can get famous. The older guru model can’t survive this much information. According to the older and exalted versions of the guru model, the guru is a unique and perhaps perfected example of humanity. Maybe divinity in temporary human clothing. Some have even said that the guru is beyond God. But as information increases, it becomes much harder for this image to survive. High perfection becomes low comedy with each new revelation of vegetarian gurus caught eating chiliburgers, celibate gurus discovered having affairs with their PR chiefs, or miracle-wielding gurus photographed with trinkets in the folds of their sleeves.
Information on gurus abounds in ways that were unthinkable a while ago. There’s up-close and personal information in books such as Feet of Clay, Mother of God, or Enlightenment Blues. There are websites such as Jerry Katz’s famous Nonduality.com, which has helped deconstruct the older guru model by its sheer breadth of expression, and by listing so many gurus, including literary and movie characters. Then there’s Sarlo’s Guru Ratings pages, which freely give subjective and personal scores to gurus, along with the gurus’ anti-sites where possible. There’s Jody Radzik, who for years has been a fly in the ointment, reminding people that a guru’s image of perfection is created by the student’s idealizations. Recently Jody has come up with guruphilac.org, an newsy info blog with guru refugee-sites and other poop and scoop that makes it much harder to idealize the guru.

What About Enlightenment by Transmission?

But it’s not always about the message. Another angle to the guru model is the notion of enlightenment by transmission (EBT). In the EBT model, the special thing is the guru’s very presence. It has nothing to do with information or the words spoken, but everything to do with the special state the guru is thought to be in. The evidence for this state is thought to be the certain glow and energetic vibrancy which can be felt by devotees in the presence of the guru, especially in large group meetings. According to the EBT model, if the disciple gets physically, emotionally or psychically close to the guru, this state can be transmitted from the guru to the disciple. The transmission can be instantaneous or progressive over years. But thinking is starting to change on this aspect as well.
People are asking about the relations between this energy and enlightenment. “Is this energy really what constitutes enlightenment, or is enlightenment something else altogether?” “If this energy can be transmitted, then why does the blissful feeling dissipate in me and not remain?” “Why do I feel the same way now in the presence of my guru that I felt many years ago at a Bruce Springsteen concert?” “After spending three decades in the guru’s presence, why don’t I possess this energy so that I can then go on to transmit it to someone else?” “What is the relation between me and the energy? Whose energy is it? Am I the energy or the experiencer of the energy?”
In the West since the 60’s and the Vietnam phenomenon, there’s less reliance on authority, lower patience for rigid hierarchies, and diminished credulity towards metanarratives (as Jean-Francois Lyotard wrote in The Postmodern Condition.) Causal explanations tend to be more rhizomatic and less arboreal – we don’t look as much for single causes, we look more for interactive scenarios and networks of relations.
This kind of orientation has changed how people respond to the EBT model as well. There’s more knowledge about psychology, group dynamics and human energetics. What used to be more mystical has become more naturalized. What used to be attributed to a very special person is now seen as more of a social phenomenon. These days for example, the contributions of the observer and her conditioning play a much larger role in psychological explanations. This includes the EBT model. What might have been seen a century ago as the guru’s divine energy might now be seen as dependent on projection from people with very strong and similar beliefs. The guru’s special glow might now be seen as the same kind of charisma possessed by politicians and celebrities. Where the guru is concerned, projection and charisma depend on expectations, which take their shape depending on images in social settings and spiritual writings. There’s not as great a tendency to see the guru as a single, personal root cause. There are still interpersonal spiritual experiences and people who help transform others. But today’s thinking permits these things to happen more and more among friends.

No Power Loss

Does the message or experience of liberation get diluted if it reaches you through night-shift clerk at the local 7-11? Isn’t it better to go directly to the source? More and more people are saying “No – the source is everywhere.” People are understanding liberation as something that can be communicated by anyone, with every breath. Red flags go up whenever someone demands that only certain people can be the source. The source can be found at the convenience store, and people are now seeing that it’s the same thing that comes from the wise old bearded guy on top of the hill. There’s a twinkle in his eye because it’s what he’s been saying all along.
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