Is there need for a teacher in Zen?

Oftentimes the question is asked, “Do I need a teacher in Zen?” Without going into some theoretical basis for this question, my own experience will be the foundation for hopefully providing some insight into this timely issue. My earliest exposures to Zen were through works like Thomas Merton’s, Zen and the Birds of Appetite, Zen Catholicism by Dom Aelred Graham, sundry titles from Alan Watts and other contemporary scholars and Zen sages. Then I came under the spell of Osho. I purchased numerous books and videos on Osho’s teachings and his charismatic presence that have wooed thousands over the years. It’s hard to escape from his spellbinding techniques—he really gets inside your head and becomes almost permanently ensconced within. Thankfully, in the year 1999 I came across the Zennist’s Dark Zen and Tozen’s teachings on Tathagata-garbha Unborn Mind Zen. For a more in-depth story of this part of my own spiritual sojourn, the following blog goes into greater detail. Suffice to say that Tozen became my Dharma-teacher and my ensuing spiritual formation provided a profound transformation in my life. I have to say that without a teacher’s “one-on-one” guidance, one’s spiritual growth only remains on the surface—it never becomes firmly “directed” and rooted-within, hence there is no sound spiritual foundation.

For myself, after perhaps untold lifetimes of searching for spiritual-satisfaction, Unborn Mind Zen has become the very core of my identity. In particular it’s singular teaching on the Bodhichild, the mystically-charged Buddhaseed, or gotra. When the bodhi-seed is activated through bodhicitta—this is when the potential for Buddhahood arises. Yea, if one does not discover the dormant gotra (bodhichild with mystical familial ties with the Tathagatas), merely memorizing scripture or invoking mantras and engaging in soteriological practices will be a totally useless endeavor. Even if you find some “surface-level” erudite teacher, if he or she has not discovered the hidden bodhichild then their teaching is done in vain and your inner spiritual formation will be like a still-birth. As mentioned in these blogs before, Tozen as teacher “planted” this mystical seed that is the very heart of Awakening to the Absolute Reality of the Unborn Buddha Mind. In other words, you cannot get pregnant by yourself—there is need of another to inject the spiritual-essence. So, I urge you to assess your own spiritual development and whether or not you are “growing” or merely remaining stagnant; there is indeed the need for a teacher to initially point the way.

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One Response to Is there need for a teacher in Zen?

  1. Karl Milhon says:

    There are no contradictions, only mindsets incapable of encompassing the whole. And mostly because they try so hard to do so… Decrying dualism while embedding it into their every thought, the only tool they have been given to understand, a hammer when a scalpel is needed. Teacher, no teacher, at best they can only point. Does the teaching or teacher impede or help you progress but then again, if truly unborn both have no meaning. Do you try to grasp the teaching so you can reach that which you seek; does that alone get in the way until you realize that your desperation is truly hilarious?

    “The road becomes a river.
    The leaves begin to fall.

    I watch and I await,
    That which is in us all.

    My mind it bends and shapes me,
    Until I let it go.

    And find it there before me in a mist above the snow.”

    “The wind blows.
    I dance across the field.
    A dandy lion in the making.”

    When I was Kavoom, I knew Zenmar. Oh wait, I still am.

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