On some Buddhist chat rooms the beginner is told to first find a teacher, as if learning what Zen Buddhism is generally about is a great mystery. However, Buddhist and Zen scholars often do quite well without a teacher. Alan Watts did okay, and many others who were interested in Zen and Buddhism. If you wish to study the history is Zen a teacher really isn’t required.
While it is true that many Zen monks in the early formation of the Zen school traveled around China interviewing great teachers who some believed were enlightened, their stay wasn’t long with this teacher. The most difficult part of finding the right teacher is how does one distinguish an awakened teacher from one who isn’t awakened? With this new problem, hasn’t one merely shifted their personal difficulty of making heads or tails of Zen to, how do you tell a real Zen teacher from one who is not enlightened?
I must admit I did this, too—and learned the hard way. I guess I thought this Zen abbot could help me discover what Zen was really about; maybe even help me gain satori. It is not that easy. Even if a beginner should find a nice teacher, one with whom they feel comfortable, this is no guarantee that they will have satori. Going from our defiled, maculate mind to the pure, immaculate Mind proves to be extremely difficult and subtle. It doesn’t dawn on you (at least in my example) that Zen is asking the adept to see the very substance of their thoughts which is also the substance of this universe! How mind blowing is that?
Finding a teacher, using myself for an example, only works best when you are capable of learning what to search for within your own mind which is like looking for a small, pure diamond in a huge pile of black sand. If the beginner isn’t ready to look for pure Mind as if it were like this diamond, not even the best teacher will be able to help. We first must spiritually mature. That may take a few years. Reliance on a teacher before this maturity develops as it should is almost a waste of time.