Sunday, 21 May 2017


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.
Legendary teacher:
Taego Kunsunim

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.


  1. My overall impression is that this article is fundamentally ignorant of theBuddhist tradition, the traditional qualifications of a guru, the traditional qualifications of a student, the difference between a spiritual friend, a teacher, and a true Guru, as well as many other points. It is misleading, presents false assumptions, but does make a few good points regarding scholarly qualifications. For those who do want to understand the Teacher/student relationship in Buddhist practice, I refer you to Alex Berzin's book of that same title. Available online. Moreover, the student teacher relationship differs slightly depending on the cultural tradition you are studying with. Your own work is to understand well the historical place of Buddhism, its historical and cultural development throughout Asia, what the Buddha actually taught, what the stages and points of practice are, and develop as an experienced meditator in the tradition you choose, but be familiar with all of them. When you have a solid two to three years of sitting and study under your belt, then you might reasonably consider a serious guru/student relationship. Don't come to that table empty handed. Make sure you have a good background first. And don't neglect the development of your own education and private family life while you work on your spiritual practice. You need both. We practice best in community.

    1. That comment looks like coming from the Tibetan Buddhist perspective.
      However that is a very small Buddhist minority, and there are no Gurus in most of it. The specific function of the Guru seen in Tibetan Buddhism is typical for tantric, not for Sramanic traditions. Hence it can be seen in tantricised forms of Buddhism as well as modern tantricised Hinduism, but not in forms of Buddhism that spread out of India before those changes started to take hold.

      Authors of the article are a zen monk and university professor, not Tibetan Buddhists, so it makes no sense to expect such an angle or to suggest authors dealing with (a much later) tantric approach to practice.