"Be passerby" -- Jesus, the Gospel of ThomasIt would be a happy thing to have a meditation practice that encouraged travel, experimentation, and friendly sharing of experiences, rather than commitment to a particular "master", "guru", tradition, or "form".
This would actually be a simple thing to make. Organizationally, it isn't much of a challenge.
Given the wanderings of Buddha (and Jesus, and Mohammad, and Lin Chi, and Lao Tzu, and Bodhidharma), you would think that it would be obvious that there is a benefit to the kind of independence and inquisitive spirit that such a structure-of-no-structure would invite.
In fact, independence is a requirement of the true path.
There are things you get from travel, and from remaining an "outsider", wherever you go. You may approach things like a scientist.
You do all the work, and more. You offer what you can.
But, you are always an observer.
Do this, and the first thing you see is that every teacher, in every tradition, makes the bold claim that his form is the "true" path. Yet, they all provide wildly different definitions of terms like "sunyata","emptiness", "dependent origination", and so on.
All claim that it is, ultimately, useless for their students to dabble in other traditions, with other teachers.
All present their teaching as something dreadfully important, and support their ideas with claims to lineage, etc.
As an observer, that is a funny thing to see.
Despite what these "masters" say, Buddha's "leaving home" isn't about leaving your mom's house and moving into a monastery to devote your life to a teacher.
That is a laughably shallow interpretation. That is just making a new "home" -- a new identity, a new coat, and a new social construct into which one conforms.
Buddha, instead, is telling us to "gather no moss".
Commitment to any tradition will lead to more differentiation, never less. Show up in a monastery as yourself, and you will be called a layman. But who holds "monk/layman"?
You will never be called "layman" outside of a monastery.
It is a very common thing to see a meditation teacher make claims that "commitment" is the most important thing there is, in a meditative practice.
Commitment to what, though?
Commitment to whom?
I knew a woman at SFZC who would ask me about my travels. She would get sort of wistful when I would answer. I finally asked her why doesn't she take a trip, and she said her teacher wouldn't let her. He had told her that if she ever sat with another teacher, he would end her "training".
I never like hearing this sort of thing.
Here, in Thailand, the English monk who now teaches at Dipaphavan often begins his retreats with a discourse on commitment. He has been with the monastery for 30 years or so. Sometimes,he laughs at visiting students, while offering his view that they are just there "for a taste", and that there is a "fat chance" of them ever building the resolve to make the type of commitment that is required to make "real progress" in meditation.
Those are his words, in quotes -- not mine.
In Zen, all you have to do is look at the web pages of the "teachers" to see how much they value commitment to form. 16 years, studying under one teacher, is a number I have seen noted, in Japan, and I have seen this number repeated in Denmark and at ZMC. The idea expressed is that such devotion is required for a student to approach the level of understanding of the "master".
I have to say, I couldn't imagine ever considering that anyone devote their lives to me. It is just something I would never ask of anyone. It is something I could never, in my life, wish for, or want.
Think about this: If a "master" could help to bring you to "real insight", then it is, of course obvious that the "teacher" become less and less necessary, over time.
If a "master" could free you (a claim they all make), then he would delight in the very opposite of this "commitment". He would delight in your independence.
That is a simple thing to see.
Because of this, I consider it an outrageously selfish thing, this talk of commitment to tradition, or form.
Rinzai Zen Buddhism offers a pretty good example of what has happened. That 16 year commitment (to a teacher) comes from Rinzai Zen.
But take a look at the three historical characters who, supposedly, served as inspiration for the tradition.
There is Lin Chi, who always "came and went", and who implored his students "if you meet a great Buddha, kill the Buddha" and "Kill your parents"
And there is that independence, again.
Lin Chi, in stark few words, is expressing that one must depend on oneself. This is a requirement, if one is even going to begin. Lin Chi recognized a deep need in people -- the need for approval, and the need, and hope, for someone, or something "above" to provide guidance. As long as this need is there, a "student" will forever be looking in the wrong place.
Then there is Bodhidharma, the first patriarch, who wandered up the coast of eastern India, and on into China. Bodhidharma is considered the founder of "Zen", and he too expressed the need for a relinquishing of all "form", and a dependence on one's own capacities. This is evident from the little regard he gave to the great Buddhist teachers, who devoted their lives to building temples and shrines. "No Merit", said Bodhidharma.
Lastly, there is the life of Buddha himself, who went from place to place, all his life, until the day he died, and who taught "leaving home". Buddha never even created monasteries. His followers would assemble during the rainy seasons -- but only because it was raining!
So Lin Chi, Bodhidharma, and Buddha were saying something very different from the Zen master's "devote your life to me".