how do you find a Zen teacher?

August 13th, 2020


A question that comes up nowadays: How do I find a teacher?

This question is an important one. I would even say it is the most important one. Unless we limit our interest in Buddhism to philosophy, history or literature, a teacher is essential. Buddha was a teacher. He did not formulate a doctrine or creed. He simply sat down and meditated, and for forty years taught others to sit down and meditate. Out of that we have this question.

So let me tell you that just asking the question is answering the question. You have raised a thought, and that thought will manifest direction and motivation for you. There is no need to figure anything out, such as distance or location or likelihood. You raised the question and then you sent it to me, someone who answers from the most fundamental view of a teacher. You need one. You do not need to know how you will find one.

In short, you are being led. Yes, you go and look. You listen. You’ll know your teacher when you hear him or her speak (as if they were speaking to you alone). You will work, however, to actively limit and prohibit your chances of meeting your teacher, in the ways you already have, such as “I live in the middle of nowhere, everyone is too far away, you can be a Buddhist without a teacher, I don’t know the kind of Buddhism I want, I have no time, yada, yada, yada.” All of those excuses will make you stop before you start, talking you out of the direction you know you need to go. Even now, with most of us staying at home and doing all kinds of things remotely—meeting, sitting, and talking—you still have to be willing to open your eyes and see.

Finally, beware of teachers who say they are self-taught. They have mythologized themselves.

Just continue to meditate on the thought: who is my teacher? — and let yourself be guided.

When I met Maezumi Roshi I lived three states away. I attended a retreat not to meet a teacher (Lord, no!) but just to get instruction in how to sit. So imagine my surprise and deep recognition when I saw him standing in front of me. Right in front of you is the only place you’ll ever find your teacher.

Body, Breath & Mind dharma talk


  1. I have been a regular practitioner at a Buddhist center in NYC for a year and some change now. I’ve completed a series of classes with wonderful teachers, and done a couple weekend retreats. I’ve continued my daily practice and mindfulness, but recently I took some time off, sort of unintentionally, having no particular classes to go to and having to work at night during open sessions. Although I’ve had connections with some teachers, I haven’t had the strong urge to take vows there and continue on that particular path. My formal Buddhist meditation instruction is still relatively new, and my exploration of other lineages is very new. After reading your books, Maezen, and listening to podcasts from Jack Kornfield, Ram Dass, and more, I realize that my path is opening up and I’m discovering new things about myself and where I might want to step next. I was searching “vipassana NYC” and other google combinations when I saw the tweet that led me to this page. Auspicious coincidence! Thanks for sending this out right now, it’s very helpful.

    Comment by Michael — July 30, 2015 @ 7:31 am

  2. “Have faith in yourself as the Way.”
    Yes to that.
    Today I wondered: “What if nobody loves or likes me?”
    And I realised I love and like me, and that that is all I need. Anything else is extra.
    It has taken me so long to feel that way about myself and to let go of the perceived thoughts of other people. To appreciate myself.
    But ofcourse these things go in circles, I might feel different next week.
    Kind regards.

    Comment by Simone — July 30, 2015 @ 3:16 pm

  3. Thankyou for this post, I have been pondering this very question for awhile now, how do I find a teacher, I need to take this further? So thanks for reminding me that just by being aware of the need and not being attached to the outcome I will infact find just what I need when the time is right.

    Comment by Kate — July 30, 2015 @ 3:39 pm

  4. Dear Maezen,
    I have been drawn to your work, and, do I dare say….it is over for me. Finally.
    And thank goodness!
    I know where you are. You know where I am.
    We meet on the cushion.
    One day we will meet in person. Or not.
    I’m just so happy you’re there.
    in gassho
    Mary Myotai

    Comment by Mary Sherman — July 30, 2015 @ 5:22 pm

  5. Yes…

    Comment by John "'Michael" Christopher — August 3, 2015 @ 4:24 pm

  6. Brilliant. Thank you!

    Comment by Katie — August 1, 2017 @ 4:58 pm

  7. The self mythologizing dig got home. I’m out there on social media and the first thing I do when I see a tweet or a fb post about sometime pontificating about “zen” is to look up where they came from. Usually it’s from their own fevered imagination.

    Comment by Mary Rosendale — August 13, 2020 @ 8:48 pm

  8. Thank you for this Maezen. I am struggling to practice. I genuinely don’t know what I should make my practice. I’m searching, but I’m scared to practice until I get some genuine instruction due to personal reasons. I’ve experienced some rough stuff.

    Comment by Thomas — February 4, 2021 @ 9:41 pm

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