How To Evaluate A Teacher?

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NatureTalk
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How To Evaluate A Teacher?

Post by NatureTalk »

As a thought experiment, let's imagine we're interested in the kinds of psychological topics which Buddhism addresses and so we want to find a teacher who can help us advance our understanding. We're open minded at this early point in our investigation so maybe the teacher we choose will be Buddhist, or maybe someone from some other tradition, we're not sure yet. How should we evaluate a teacher? How to choose one over another?

I know very little about Buddhism so I will leave other members to address this question within that realm. I know a bit more about what might generally be called "new age gurus" so I'll address that instead.

I've noticed that such teachers are typically surrounded by adoring students. The teacher is perhaps sitting on a pillow in the spotlight on stage, the center of attention and respect etc. Often the teacher is being somehow financially supported by the students, and thus doesn't need to get the kind of mundane job you and I might have.

When I see this very common setup I can't help but sometimes think to myself, "Geez, even I could be enlightened within that situation". I really don't feel sarcastic or cynical so much as I would be attracted to a different kind of teacher. Like for instance...

Let's say I'm working double shifts at a burger joint shoveling fries over the counter all day. It's greasy, it's loud, everyone's impatient, the boss is kinda demanding, the pay sucks. I'm getting worn out, grouchy and annoyed. And then I look over at my co-worker and....

They're having a good time. There's a relaxed smile on their face, they're humming some nice little tune, and seem entirely content with whatever anyone asks them to do. And their contentment isn't just today, it's not just this moment or that moment, but a consistent pattern every time they show up to work, for the whole shift. Nobody adores them, nobody supports them, they live in a dumpy little one bedroom apartment and ride a bike to work. And that's cool with them, no problem.

Ok, so this is perhaps a ridiculously demanding criteria for a teacher. Or maybe not. Don't we want some teacher who can help us be at peace with the real world, and not just ideal situations? Wouldn't the best evidence that a teacher can teach us how to be at peace in the real world be that the teacher themselves can do it?

What say you?
Malcolm
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Re: How To Evaluate A Teacher?

Post by Malcolm »

The worst way to evaluate a teacher is to be concerned with how much they will benefit oneself. The best criteria is to observe how much they benefit others.
NatureTalk wrote: Wed Jan 13, 2021 3:19 pm As a thought experiment, let's imagine we're interested in the kinds of psychological topics which Buddhism addresses and so we want to find a teacher who can help us advance our understanding. We're open minded at this early point in our investigation so maybe the teacher we choose will be Buddhist, or maybe someone from some other tradition, we're not sure yet. How should we evaluate a teacher? How to choose one over another?

I know very little about Buddhism so I will leave other members to address this question within that realm. I know a bit more about what might generally be called "new age gurus" so I'll address that instead.

I've noticed that such teachers are typically surrounded by adoring students. The teacher is perhaps sitting on a pillow in the spotlight on stage, the center of attention and respect etc. Often the teacher is being somehow financially supported by the students, and thus doesn't need to get the kind of mundane job you and I might have.

When I see this very common setup I can't help but sometimes think to myself, "Geez, even I could be enlightened within that situation". I really don't feel sarcastic or cynical so much as I would be attracted to a different kind of teacher. Like for instance...

Let's say I'm working double shifts at a burger joint shoveling fries over the counter all day. It's greasy, it's loud, everyone's impatient, the boss is kinda demanding, the pay sucks. I'm getting worn out, grouchy and annoyed. And then I look over at my co-worker and....

They're having a good time. There's a relaxed smile on their face, they're humming some nice little tune, and seem entirely content with whatever anyone asks them to do. And their contentment isn't just today, it's not just this moment or that moment, but a consistent pattern every time they show up to work, for the whole shift. Nobody adores them, nobody supports them, they live in a dumpy little one bedroom apartment and ride a bike to work. And that's cool with them, no problem.

Ok, so this is perhaps a ridiculously demanding criteria for a teacher. Or maybe not. Don't we want some teacher who can help us be at peace with the real world, and not just ideal situations? Wouldn't the best evidence that a teacher can teach us how to be at peace in the real world be that the teacher themselves can do it?

What say you?
"Nonduality is merely a name;
that name does not exist."
—Kotalipa
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Ayu
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Re: How To Evaluate A Teacher?

Post by Ayu »

:good:
NatureTalk wrote: Wed Jan 13, 2021 3:19 pm ... Wouldn't the best evidence that a teacher can teach us how to be at peace in the real world be that the teacher themselves can do it?
But how to evaluate that genuinely?
What people are thinking about themselves and what picture they are giving may differ widely. Where is the source of their statement to be 'at peace'? Truth? Wish? Have-to? And how long does this peace last?

I wouldn't judge a teacher by the saying of his deciples. You don't know anything about their motivation.
For the benefit and ease of all sentient beings. :heart:
NatureTalk
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Re: How To Evaluate A Teacher?

Post by NatureTalk »

Malcolm wrote: Wed Jan 13, 2021 3:27 pmThe worst way to evaluate a teacher is to be concerned with how much they will benefit oneself. The best criteria is to observe how much they benefit others.
Ok, that makes sense.

In your opinion, how might we evaluate whether a teacher can walk the walk that they are talking? Not trying to be cynical here, just logical.

If a teacher can't do what I have to do in my own real world life, or I have no evidence of that, are they perhaps the wrong teacher for me?

This is a rhetorical question, as I'm not personally seeking a teacher at this time, just to be clear.
NatureTalk
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Re: How To Evaluate A Teacher?

Post by NatureTalk »

Ayu wrote: Wed Jan 13, 2021 3:29 pmBut how to evaluate that genuinely?
Yes, that's much of what I'm asking. I used the burger joint example because if someone can be at peace there I'm interested in learning more as I can't do that. At least not every day.

For awhile I was shopping at Home Depot every day and there was this big guy who loaded the lumber in your truck, all day long. He was always cheerful, upbeat, smiling, fun, welcoming etc. I know he was being a good employee, but there was more to it than that. So one day I broke out of the chit chat pattern and just asked him, "How do you do that?" For him the answer was Jesus. Ok, that's interesting, duly noted, thank you.

I'm just expressing my own biases here really. I'm really not being cynical or looking for a scam etc. It's just that, being a somewhat articulate person myself, I know how effortless it can be for some of us to talk the talk. :-)
narhwal90
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Re: How To Evaluate A Teacher?

Post by narhwal90 »

I run into a fair number of Christians of various demoninations, including some fire and brimstone types, who are all about service to others. A good friend of mine is one of the latter, he helps out quite a few people lots of different ways- asks for nothing and expects nothing in return. He sends me bible verses on occasion and likes the bits and pieces I've responded to him with, and we talk shop sometimes both spiritual and physical.

I suggest watching the teacher's actions. Talk is cheap, I think what they put effort into is more important.
NatureTalk
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Re: How To Evaluate A Teacher?

Post by NatureTalk »

narhwal90 wrote: Wed Jan 13, 2021 4:10 pmI run into a fair number of Christians of various demoninations, including some fire and brimstone types, who are all about service to others.
Indeed, real Christians really do exist.

I come from a Catholic background (left the Church 50 years ago) and have always been puzzled by the following. Catholic Charities is the second leading provider of social services to the needy in United States, topped only by the federal government. Impressive!! But....

Good luck trying to find Catholics online who are eager, or even willing, to talk about this great accomplishment, it's almost impossible. I've had forums full of Catholics literally tell me that Catholic Charities is too boring to discuss.

Anyway, whatever, we are a strange species, eh?
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Re: How To Evaluate A Teacher?

Post by narhwal90 »

It seems the ones that are doing are not inclined to be spending much time talking about it. I met those types when I started volunteering alongside them. The talkers don't tend to stay around long.
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Re: How To Evaluate A Teacher?

Post by Johnny Dangerous »

Yes and no. I think seeing a teacher deal with life events with equanimity is a good sign, but it doesn’t mean they are a good teacher, let alone a good teacher for you individually.

Basically, ethics and conduct is one part of the equation, but so is wisdom, and lots of people are ethical, decent compassionate and kind but have no wisdom at all.

In a really basic sense, a good teacher I think shows the maturation of both qualities. Even the union of both qualities, which doesn’t always display the same way.

You don’t know what’s going on under the hood either, maybe they are ok with shoveling fries because they just burned one out back, maybe they are just good at distracting themselves. This is the reason we have to closely evaluate teachers, and not assume the tip of the iceberg is the iceberg.
"...if you think about how many hours, months and years of your life you've spent looking at things, being fascinated by things that have now passed away, then how wonderful to spend even five minutes looking into the nature of your own mind."

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Re: How To Evaluate A Teacher?

Post by practitioner »

I think it is also helpful to look at the teacher's students. Are longer term students compassionate, kind, wise? This is always a good sign.
One should do nothing other than benefit sentient beings either directly or indirectly - Shantideva
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Re: How To Evaluate A Teacher?

Post by Matt J »

I evaluate teachers based on scriptures and personal experience. If a teaching does not appear to be in line with scriptures or personal experience, I tend to look elsewhere. You don't just want a teacher, but a teacher that is good for you and inspires you to practice.
"The essence of meditation practice is to let go of all your expectations about meditation. All the qualities of your natural mind -- peace, openness, relaxation, and clarity -- are present in your mind just as it is. You don't have to do anything different. You don't have to shift or change your awareness. All you have to do while observing your mind is to recognize the qualities it already has."
--- Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche
NatureTalk
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Re: How To Evaluate A Teacher?

Post by NatureTalk »

narhwal90 wrote: Wed Jan 13, 2021 5:42 pmIt seems the ones that are doing are not inclined to be spending much time talking about it.
Yes, agreed, and so the most authentic practitioners often tend to be largely invisible.

The popularity of a teacher is determined not by the teacher, but by the students. And the students, being students, may often be looking for the wrong things for the wrong reasons. And so a teacher who is good at talking about the wrong things and wrong reasons may attract may attract an impressive following. And the impressive following bestows additional authority upon the teacher further expanding the teacher's reach.

To trust a popular teacher is basically to trust the crowd who made them popular. And the crowd has likely shown up because they have various problems which they are looking for a solution to.

Therefore, in one way of looking at it, the patients are in charge of the asylum. :-)
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Re: How To Evaluate A Teacher?

Post by Bodhiquest »

Hypothetical extreme examples aren't really helpful, IMO. The teacher who's at the center of a stage and adored by many might not be working shifts at a job, but might be constantly training their direct disciples, trying to improve their own practice, researching, writing, translating, giving advice to dozens of people trying to contact them every day for all kinds of stuff, etc. The guy who's calm and smiling at the burger joint might just be high on weed, or be a person who's unable to take anything (and, consequently, anyone) seriously.
The aforementioned kind of teacher might have worked double shifts at some point in their lives, or they might have been mistreated for decades at a Chinese prison (many examples of both, and more, exist). They might have an impressive following because they are worthy of it, or it might be because of all the wrong reasons and there might be a real cult situation. Likewise a teacher might be more obscure simply because of conditions, or it might be because they shouldn't even be teachers in the first place. And so on and so forth. There are too many variables involved for this kind of surface observation to have any real value.

A core idea in Buddhism however is moving towards freedom from conditions. The practice is supposed to work on root problems in the mind, which means that, for example, if an excellent practitioner gets rid of hatred (one of the Three Poisons), then they will not harbor aversion to anyone under any circumstance. Burgers or no burgers, prison or no prison. The example the Buddha gave to illustrate this was that of a person being sawed in half by bandits and still not harboring hate against them—that's the level he personally was at.

In any case, I think that to evaluate a teacher one would first need to have some foundational understanding of what they claim to teach.
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Re: How To Evaluate A Teacher?

Post by PadmaVonSamba »

In Vajrayana Buddhist traditions, the lama usually sits on some kind of throne.
This has nothing to do with the lama. The throne is for the teachings. The guru is the messenger.
“Don’t shoot the messenger”.

My lama has left this realm for now. But he had hundreds of students, many who I always thought behaved as young teenage girls worship their favorite boy-band singers. But that’s not the teacher’s fault. For as many students as he had, he was twice as much humility. Not a “celebrity” whose many books are displayed at Barnes & Noble in the ‘self help’ or ‘spirituality/religion’ aisles. And what I learned from him was how to see everything (and everybody) as teacher. Even, as you say, the co-worker or guy flipping burgers.

Another lama I met and became friends with through one of his students, he was also very low-key. He had a few students here and there who he looked after. As it turned out after a few years, we learned that he was actually a very “important” lama as far as lamas go, used to run a monastery. Highly respected. Spends all of the money people give him on a humanitarian projects he started in India. So, you never know.

Also, I know a Thai monk, who I used to tutor in English language, who is an Ajahn (elder or higher ranking) in fact who currently is not monking, but working in a kitchen In Louisiana, to raise money to help some people who got swindled in a fake immigration scam. When he’s helped them, he’ll go back to being a monk again. So, maybe that guy who reeks of french fry grease but has a big smile is actually...???

Buddhas are everywhere!
EMPTIFUL.
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NatureTalk
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Re: How To Evaluate A Teacher?

Post by NatureTalk »

PadmaVonSamba wrote: Thu Jan 14, 2021 6:24 pm But he had hundreds of students, many who I always thought behaved as young teenage girls worship their favorite boy-band singers. But that’s not the teacher’s fault.
Did he tell them to cut it out? Did he tell them that unless they did they needed to get lost?
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PadmaVonSamba
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Re: How To Evaluate A Teacher?

Post by PadmaVonSamba »

NatureTalk wrote: Fri Jan 15, 2021 1:57 am
PadmaVonSamba wrote: Thu Jan 14, 2021 6:24 pm But he had hundreds of students, many who I always thought behaved as young teenage girls worship their favorite boy-band singers. But that’s not the teacher’s fault.
Did he tell them to cut it out? Did he tell them that unless they did they needed to get lost?



That’s just how I perceived it.
Why should he tell people to get lost?
They were just expressing their sincerity.
But yes, he did remind people to calm down.
EMPTIFUL.
An inward outlook develops outward insight.
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