Dear Abbey Dharma,
I have been on the Buddhist path for a large portion of my life. I practiced Zen while I was a teenager and practiced Tibetan Buddhism in my late 20s. Now, in my late 30s, I find myself going it alone after becoming weary of ritual. Do most people go through this weariness at some point? I am still on the path, just without a teacher or lineage. Is this wise?
–Lone Wolf Buddhist
Dear Lone Wolf,
Dear Lone Wolf,
Some years ago, a journalist asked me if I thought “mixing and matching religious practices” was a good or a bad thing. I said that if people were doing that, it might be a sign of the pragmatic spirit that characterizes our times and it might be valuable. These days, with teachings widely available—in magazines and books, in media libraries like Dharma Seed, even in online courses that can be accessed in the remotest corners of the globe—the dharma may become our guide in a way that hasn’t happened before. Committed seekers like you have an incredible array of presentations of the Buddha’s teachings available to choose from.
And there is, in the account of the Buddha’s own passing, the precedent for continuing to practice without a specific teacher. As he was dying, the Buddha encouraged his community to continue on their own: “Therefore, Ananda, be islands unto yourselves, refuges unto yourselves, seeking no external refuge; with the dhamma as your island, the dhamma as your refuge, seeking no other refuge.”
But here is the caveat: he also stressed the importance of the sangha, the community of practitioners, continuing in harmony and mutual support to agree on the teachings and to make decisions about passing them on.
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