|Park Kunsunim: highly trusted teacher|
Ideally you need a meditation teacher, but not any teacher, a knowledgeable teacher and one you trust also. A tall order especially as many who set themselves up as teachers are ego-driven with little or no insight creating an epistemic catch-22.
This catch-22 is a problem since to assess a potential teacher you need to find someone who knows a lot more than you, is more spiritually advanced then you, with much to offer, but to know this you need to be closer to enlightenment than they are. This is analogous to the advice paradox: in order to know who to go to for advice, you practically have to already know what kind of advice you’ll get and that it is the right type, in which case you already know what advice you will hear.
One thing that we should ask ourselves is, “What is in it for Buddhist teachers?” Why do they want pupils so badly? Is wanting students counter-evidence to their suitability? If so, when, and how can you tell?
This being so, and given how rare it will be that an individual will have just enough spiritual knowledge to be able to identify a teacher that is good enough to thoroughly and reliably trust, it is doubtful that beginners are best served by being told to not proceed along the path without teachers. Better advice, perhaps, for beginners would be to be wary of teachers, of those who profess to know the way, but to consider the potential benefits of a trustworthy teacher as one advances enough to be able to recognize one.
Perhaps even better advice is to make sure as you practice and evolve yourself you are surrounded by a variety of teachers who identify with solid traditions which contain a core of people who have gained enlightenment. Lone wolfs are usually alone for a reason and there’s much benefit in organizations with deep roots and solid foundations.
This article was co-authored by BupSahn Sunim and Professor Rick Repetti after a private conversation about the difficulty of finding a suitable teacher. Professor Repetti is professor at New York City University and Kingsborough Community College and has professional interests in the areas of agency, ethics, philosophy of religion, Buddhism, and contemplative practices.