Why is it so important to have a spiritual teacher if we have all the answers within ourselves and have the faith that we can practice the dharma on our own?
We all have innate, unborn qualities. That is not to say that, in a Buddhist sense, we are already enlightened, but the seed of this potential is planted inside each and every one of us. It is inherently present. To really sit down and tell ourselves things such as “I am inherently pure and decent,” can be difficult even though we can relate to these truths during unemotional moments. But if we have a hard time accepting these truths when we are in crisis and have doubt in ourselves, then this is a clear sign that we do need someone to guide us, someone to show us, someone to explain and teach us what it is, and that it is like that.
In terms of the question of whether we need a teacher or not, it is not that we have to go to the end of the world to really find the answer. I believe it is right here, right now. We can just ask ourselves individually, “Do we really have the potential or not? Do we really understand the truth?” Or, we can change the terms by saying, “Do I know the nature of mind? Do I know the universe and phenomena?” and so on.
For this, we may need proper guidance. And then, of course, there come many questions such as “How do we find an authentic guide?” and “How do we know that this is the right path?” and so on. For that I think it is important to focus on the basic qualities of the teachers or guides and also use our own basic qualities to assess with a good degree of clarity, i.e., without emotion. So, whether Theravada, Zen or Mahayana teacher, there are certain standards or certain basic qualities that he or she should possess in order to guide.
These qualities as defined by The Buddha are quite simple and straight forward:
They will teach at any level from beginner to advanced.
They will will teach the universal law of cause and effect.
They will teach with compassion.
They will teach with no expectations or rewards expected.
They will teach without disparaging themselves or others.
A teacher shows us our Buddha nature, guides us through the upcoming games of ego, and encourages us to explore the vast potential every one of us possesses. In life, we learn things like playing the piano or driving a car through the example and guidance of a teacher. Recognizing the nature of mind is much more difficult than learning about ordinary things, so as The Buddha taught work within an participate with others for these very actions and mindsets create a sangha we all may grow from.
Peace and Love, Jim