I have seen people beeing adviced to find a teacher countless time.

I am interessed in the practicalities of finding a teacher, since I live in France and I have never met any buddhist in my entire life.

I assume in other countries where buddhism is more widespread things are a lot different. Please excuse the naivety of my question.

What is a teacher ?

Is it the kind of person who owns of diploma or certification and teaches for a living, like one whould teach maths, history or biology in high school ?

So finding a teacher would be like attenting a class ?

Or is it more like finding a mentor, somebody who is more exerienced and who whould guide you along the path, like a friend.

Perhaps it is a mixture of both, a person who provides advices for a living by having face to face chats with it's pupils.

I can imagine the concept beeing more abstract. A teacher can be a book, or a community on the internet.

Knowing that, where do I need to go in order to find teachers ?

Are there places buddhist like to meet, like churchs for christians ? People often mention retreats or retreat centers, what are they ?

Do I need to travel to India or Tibet ? Judging from what I've heard, it seems like a must.

Please note that I am not intersted about the question of finding the right teacher, for now I just want to find teachers.

up vote 1 down vote accepted

Is it the kind of person who owns of diploma or certification and teaches for a living, like one would teach maths, history or biology in high school ?

I think that:

  • Traditionally, teachers are monks, who: live in a monastery; have studied (the doctrines) and practised (meditation and monastic discipline) before they begin to teach; teach (groups of lay people and/or other monks); are supported by local lay society (see e.g. Alms -- Buddhism).

  • Sometimes, former monks (ex-monks) are teachers.

  • Or, there are lay organisations.
  • I think it can also be studied academically (e.g. at some universities).

Are there places buddhist like to meet, like churchs for christians ?

Yes of course.

  • People's homes (or gardens) -- a small group of neighbours might meet in each other's homes
  • Temples -- a place for large groups of people: sometimes for large, scheduled (i.e. at a specific time) meetings; sometimes just open all day to visit any time; there may be things there like a library or a bookstore, a cafeteria (i.e. réfectoire) open the public, and icons -- murals, statues, maybe altars, a bell, and so on. These buildings may be purpose-built as temples, or sometimes a structure converted to a temple from a previous use (e.g. originally built as a house).
  • Monasteries -- maybe like a temple except that people live there; this might be a temple (i.e. mostly a temple where some people live), or it might be mostly a monastery (i.e. mostly designed for people living there, with living quarters and grounds and meeting rooms), or a bit of both (lots of people living there and lots of visitors). The number of residents might vary, from very few (perhaps in a house) to many. By "people living there", I mean monks and nuns, but maybe also lay helpers and students.
  • Retreats or retreat centres -- a "retreat" is where a lay-person might go to stay for a while ... a week-end, or a week, or more. So they'll have sleeping quarters and an eating hall and so on. There's probably a schedule, e.g. with time for instructions, time to meet instructors individually, time for meditation. Some of these are organised by monks (or by their lay helpers) and hosted in a monastery; there are also lay organizations, for example Vipassana as taught by S.N. Goenka

Do I need to travel to India or Tibet ?

I don't know. I'd expect something of a language barrier if you do, and that a good beginning would be to find somewhere more local (in your own country):

Also, I just don't know whether Tibet is actually a feasible place to study Buddhism (for political reasons) -- obviously you'd want to double-check that before going! But apart from India and Tibet there are many other countries in east Asia and south Asia that are traditionally Buddhist. Different countries tend towards different schools of Buddhism. On the other hand I'd expect it's possible to find almost any/every school (or country-of-origin) represented somewhere in France.

Three more comments:

  • Monks (monasteries) traditionally depend on laypeople for material support. Monks may move to a new place to live (thus creating a new monastery), if or when they're invited there by the lay folk. Thus, wherever you find monasteries there's usually also some support from lay people ... and (especially in the West) there be lay Buddhists with no monastery nearby.
  • There are also some 'lay' organizations, of lay Buddhists which aren't organised around monks or nuns. I'm thinking of the Triratna Buddhist Community, or Soka Gakkai International.
  • There's a lot to be found on the internet:

    • Publications (e.g. translated scriptures)
    • Talks (e.g. YouTube videos, often called "dhamma talks")
    • Discussions (this site here is especially for "Questions and Answers", there are several other sites that allow more dialog or discussion)

When I say, "find a teacher" I just mean, don't rely on your understanding of books alone. Go to an actual resident Buddhist master of any denomination, like a teaching Theravada bhikkhu or a Zen Master or a Tibetan Buddhism Master (Rinpoche). They usually reside at a temple (or a private residence turned into a temple) and have little sanghas formed around them. Talk to them, hang around them, and validate your insights against theirs. More often than not they got enough realization to at least check where you are obviously mistaken and point out the blind spots.

Sometimes they do lecture, like actual teachers, or do Q&A - and at other times they build personal connections with students and become mentors. Expectedly, the depth varies.

As for diploma, a good rule of thumb is to prefer someone within a tradition, who can point out their lineage, to someone who is merely self-proclaimed (with rare exceptions). They usually have some paraphernalia and entourage, e.g. my Zen master had a scroll on the wall listing his entire lineage of teachers all the way back to the Buddha, not to mention that he had converted a barn into an actual traditional meditation hall in Korean Seon tradition.

Of course being a part of tradition does not always mean the teacher is good and has complete realization. You can never know for sure, until you are a teacher yourself - but a good rule of thumb is to see if they can cut through masks and bullshit and gently touch the student's heart.

If you search www.buddhanet.info you should be able to find someone in your locality; I see a Vajrayana temple in Ardennes.

Finally, if you don't have anyone nearby, or anyone you like and can connect with, at least find a more senior fellow practitioner that can provide some guidance and support.

Give Plum Village a try if you live in France.

  • 1
    This didn't answer either of the questions which were asked, though, does it, i.e. about teachers. Also mainland France is like 1000 km across -- Plum Village likely isn't local. – ChrisW Sep 15 at 8:56
  • @ChrisW I got the vibe he/she was asking about teachers. figured I’d drop the name of a renowned monastery in his home country which he/she could probably get to in a few hours tops via train, founded by one of the most respected zen teachers alive – ch_da_guru13 Sep 16 at 3:06
  • Their web site is plumvillage.org -- it has a lot of information about visiting, for a day or for a one- or two-week retreat. – ChrisW Sep 16 at 8:40

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