Teacher Characteristics?

An open and inclusive investigation into Buddhism and spiritual cultivation

Teacher Characteristics?

Postby Heaviside » Thu Mar 21, 2013 1:01 am

I hope I have chosen the right subforum for this posting! It has to do with the personality of one whom you think of as a prospective teacher.

Listen or view some on-line presentations by folks who profess to teach Theravada. Many of them sound tense, while others seem to be calm and collected. Now it seems to me that a "centered" personality is the Buddhist ideal, so I think I should trust the calmer presenter as the more advanced. True or False? Why?

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Re: Teacher Characteristics?

Postby LonesomeYogurt » Thu Mar 21, 2013 1:18 am

Sometimes people just aren't natural teachers and will come off as awkward no matter how advanced they are spiritually. In the same vein, some are so talented as speakers that their confidence can mask their relative inexperience.

The only real measure of a good teacher is their level of greed, hatred, and delusion - and unless they break out in a rage a slap a guy during a talk, it's probably only the "delusion" part that you'll be able to see and judge.

If you've encountered a specific teacher you're wondering about, I think it would probably be best to ask about them directly.
Gain and loss, status and disgrace,
censure and praise, pleasure and pain:
these conditions among human beings are inconstant,
impermanent, subject to change.

Knowing this, the wise person, mindful,
ponders these changing conditions.
Desirable things don’t charm the mind,
undesirable ones bring no resistance.

His welcoming and rebelling are scattered,
gone to their end,
do not exist.
- Lokavipatti Sutta

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Re: Teacher Characteristics?

Postby tiltbillings » Thu Mar 21, 2013 1:31 am

One thimg you don't want to have in ateacher is: "I have it all figiured out, I understand what the Buddha truly meant, those guys over there? They don't have a clue." That is a good sign to look elsewhere.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

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Re: Teacher Characteristics?

Postby Heaviside » Thu Mar 21, 2013 3:31 am

LonesomeYogurt wrote:Sometimes people just aren't natural teachers and will come off as awkward no matter how advanced they are spiritually. In the same vein, some are so talented as speakers that their confidence can mask their relative inexperience.

The only real measure of a good teacher is their level of greed, hatred, and delusion - and unless they break out in a rage a slap a guy during a talk, it's probably only the "delusion" part that you'll be able to see and judge.

If you've encountered a specific teacher you're wondering about, I think it would probably be best to ask about them directly.


Well, two examples who come to mind are Gil Fronsdal for being the more-or-less high strung type and Bhante Vimalaramsi for the calm, cool, and collected type. No negative reflections on either, just an observation of personality differences.

I do agree with tiltbillings: if a teacher disparages others I am a bit suspicious of what he or she is professing.

P.S. In honesty, I should mention that my critique of Fronsdal was based only upon his intro talk for Anapanasati meditation. After listening to the second installment, I think the first talk was atypical. But I have heard others who were obviously extremely edgy---and that struck me as odd for one who presumably "has it all together."
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Re: Teacher Characteristics?

Postby nem » Sat Mar 23, 2013 5:41 am

Please review the Canki Sutta for instructions on how to evaulate a teacher, including how to evaulate the Bhudda himself.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.095x.than.html

The teachers that I have found most "Bhudda-like" are Gil Fronsdale who speaks at Sati Center, Ajahn Sumedho of Amaravati in UK, Ajahn Brahm of Perth, and Rodney Smith of Seattle Insight. But beyond those, the monks at my local Sri Lankan Therevada center are much more level and centered without agenda. Gil is really beneficial especially in his sutta course from Sati Center where he asks us so much to question the content of the Nikayas and what is the teaching of the Bhudda, versus what is there in the Nikaya. Once you listen to his talks, you see that much of what is in the suttas, are details that could not have possibly been known by the people recording the suttas, so you delve into those and see what is the overall message that we can gain from the Bhudda, through the suttas, and what was added later. Ajahn Sumedho, is just bare earth and shows us how to practice in the body. Ajahn Brahm deals more with the day-to-day practical issues for laypeople, and how to know things in accordance with dhamma. Rodney Smith at Seattle Insight, is a great resource for understanding higher dhamma in layperson's terms. I was a little apprehensive about his talks because he speaks sometimes with aversion, speaks of Christianity or Global Warming..it seems the Bhudda would not concern himself with how some religion taught us, or what is happening to the earth. In Canki sutta, he showed that there is no ground for teachings of the Brahmins which came before the Christians, and no need to discuss them or have aversion to them, just acknowledge that they are there and that's all. He was beyond that, where Rodney Smith is not. Rodney had affiliated himself as lead teacher of Seattle Insight which has accepted groups for "people of color" which basically encourages people to believe that somehow because of ethnicity that they need their own dhamma study group? What happened to the 32 characteristics...skin, bile, bones, don't mean anything!!!!! lol. It misses anatta. It seems people are missing the point of the teachings. Gotama never taught, man and woman, black and white and yellow, He taught, see that there is no self and that's the core of his teaching. if they start from the idea that they are separate, and Rodney accepts that and wants to be affiliated with a center which has such things going on..hmmm. But maybe Rodney is deep enough, that he does not worry about these things that are going on beside him, and he is teaching the dhamma there in Seattle for the benefit of those who have ears to hear. His talks and his book "Stepping out of self deception" are excellent. Very deep teacher...combining his book, with the publication "Abidhamma in everyday life" from Nina van Gorkom available free in pdf online, is good training. Most teachers are speaking of mindfulness, attaining jhana, brahma viharas. There are very few people offering detailed training about dependent origination which is where the Bhudda really offers something more than Vedanta, where he attained the real perfection. Rodney is one of those teaching no-self and dependent origination. The training of Gotama never started to come together for me, until I started to study dependent origination. Then, Rodney, he sees it and teaches it.
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Re: Teacher Characteristics?

Postby Heaviside » Sat Mar 23, 2013 6:31 pm

Heaviside wrote:
LonesomeYogurt wrote:Sometimes people just aren't natural teachers and will come off as awkward no matter how advanced they are spiritually. In the same vein, some are so talented as speakers that their confidence can mask their relative inexperience.

The only real measure of a good teacher is their level of greed, hatred, and delusion - and unless they break out in a rage a slap a guy during a talk, it's probably only the "delusion" part that you'll be able to see and judge.

If you've encountered a specific teacher you're wondering about, I think it would probably be best to ask about them directly.


Well, two examples who come to mind are Gil Fronsdal for being the more-or-less high strung type and Bhante Vimalaramsi for the calm, cool, and collected type. No negative reflections on either, just an observation of personality differences.

I do agree with tiltbillings: if a teacher disparages others I am a bit suspicious of what he or she is professing.


P.S. In honesty, I should mention that my critique of Fronsdal was based only upon his intro talk for Anapanasati meditation. After listening to the second installment, I think the first talk was atypical. But I have heard others who were obviously extremely edgy---and that struck me as odd for one who presumably "has it all together."


Dhamma Greetings Again!

Well, let me correct an error: Fronsdal was not the person I was originally thinking of. I should have referred to Rodney Smith at the Seattle Insight Meditation Center. Have a look at this video:

http://www.seattleinsight.org/Talks/Bro ... fault.aspx

Please don't think I am being spiteful about Mr. Smith. He seems to be a sincere person and is rather fluent. But notice his many nervous mannerisms, such as tics, twitches, and false starts. I have many of these same characteristics, so I feel particularly qualified to recognize them in others as being a reflection of psychological "unsettledness" and nervousness. One of my motivations for practicing meditation is to find a remedy for these problems, so it concerns me that a teacher of meditation practice exhibits these selfsame problems. His example seems to be telling me that my quest is futile.

Can anyone comment on my original question in light of this further explanation? Thanks.
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Re: Teacher Characteristics?

Postby nem » Thu Mar 28, 2013 4:27 am

Heaviside wrote:
Heaviside wrote:
LonesomeYogurt wrote:
P.S. In honesty, I should mention that my critique of Fronsdal was based only upon his intro talk for Anapanasati meditation. After listening to the second installment, I think the first talk was atypical. But I have heard others who were obviously extremely edgy---and that struck me as odd for one who presumably "has it all together."


Dhamma Greetings Again!

Well, let me correct an error: Fronsdal was not the person I was originally thinking of. I should have referred to Rodney Smith at the Seattle Insight Meditation Center. Have a look at this video:

http://www.seattleinsight.org/Talks/Bro ... fault.aspx

Please don't think I am being spiteful about Mr. Smith. He seems to be a sincere person and is rather fluent. But notice his many nervous mannerisms, such as tics, twitches, and false starts. I have many of these same characteristics, so I feel particularly qualified to recognize them in others as being a reflection of psychological "unsettledness" and nervousness. One of my motivations for practicing meditation is to find a remedy for these problems, so it concerns me that a teacher of meditation practice exhibits these selfsame problems. His example seems to be telling me that my quest is futile.

Can anyone comment on my original question in light of this further explanation? Thanks.


I bought Rodney's dhamma book, just to maybe figure out what I heard him speaking about in about 20 hours of listening to his talks where he seems to chase his own tail. In the forward, he credits Krishnamurti as one of his inspirations. I have also listened to a lot of Krishnamurti talks, which are of the same type as Rodney's teachings, and then thought, yes I see they are coming from the same direction. They both speak from an advanced level dhamma, of dependent origination and not-self. They say that you don't need to meditate, discard all gurus, because there is no "you" to meditate, there is no "you" to reach any goal like nibbana. So, look at the translations from the Pali Canon, available on Amazon or Accesstoinsight.com. The Buddha, understanding right speech and timeliness of speech, did not speak of such high dhamma, to people except advanced bhikkus who were already at that level to understand what this is all about. Like I said before, there are criterion in the Canki sutta, that you can use to evaulate a teacher. If he doesn't meet those, just come back and study the canon and meditate, maybe find a teacher for talks in depth, and eventually you will see that both Rodney Smith and Krishnamurti are really speaking the dhamma despite their shortcomings in making people understand, They just delivered it to the wrong audience at the wrong time.

I attend a local Therevada center. Sometimes, I admittedly have an aversion because the bhikkhus speak of "simple" dhamma (okay zen folks, simple dhamma is also advanced...) when I've wanted to hear about advanced dhamma like dependent origination like Smith teaches. But, they know right speech and they know that the audience is mainly people who came there because they want to "be bhuddist" or "learn things" or "be happy." So that's what they teach, 4 truths, noble eightfold path, seven factors of enlightenment, and we are all going to reach nibbana and aim for this. They give people what they need, when they need it. We even have people tonight, who want "dhamma names". So, okay the bhikkhus give them dhamma names and tell them they have a responsibility now with this name to follow the path. It's skillful means to get people who are "not-self" to practice more and realize that the dhamma name, the truths, eightfold path, the enlightenment factors are only tools to see the dhamma. Smith and Krishnamurti just hit with the full frontal assault of emptiness without even leading up to it. Probably they see the public reaction to this, where people would look at them with the blank stare, and this is what makes Smith have nervous ticks, and made Krishnamurti always say "Are you following this? :? I am afraid you are not following this" At times in his talks, Smith says, "many times if you don't understand me, just say, Rodney that was a shooting star, and just let it go and you'll see it again later So, he even knows that sometimes he teaches beyond the capability of the audience, but still does it. They are nervous, because they are teaching advanced things that they do not know how to express in language, to people who are probably not ready to understand it even if the language was intelligible. So, this doesn't make them liars, but just the wrong teachers at the wrong time for some people. So as I mentioned, why not just go back and study the suttas and meditate on those, then study Canki sutta and see if any teacher passes the test there?

I'm studying Fronsdale's sutta course from Sati Center. in there, he speaks of people wanting to be non-dualistic, but in the end we have to make some choice, dichotomous. We have to look at a teaching, and say, forget everything about the teacher or our personal views, is the teaching useful or not? This point, is dichotomous. That said, Rodney's teachings have been beneficial to me, because they speak to me at this time in my practice. Fronsdale as well. Krishnamurti as well. Bhuddaghosa, Shantideva. Therevada, Zen or whatever. It's not about the teacher or his traits or his personal life, as if to take a guru, but about whether the any of the teachings are useful to you in practice, can you directly apply them for realization in practice? We could all find some faults with all of these teachers if we wanted, but then we would miss the point of what they have to offer.
Last edited by nem on Thu Mar 28, 2013 4:53 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Teacher Characteristics?

Postby Digity » Thu Mar 28, 2013 4:42 am

I love Gil Fronsdal. Never thought of him as high-strung, but I tend not to notice these sort of things about people until they point them out to me.

I like the teachers that illustrate they have a deep knowledge of the teachings. I had this one teacher who did seem to have a deep understanding. She was kind of just asked if she wanted to teach and she was like "okay, sure why not". When I heard that I was disappointed. I want a teacher who's passionate about the teachings, not someone who was just willy-nilly about it. Maybe I'm being too hard on her, but I eventually left and found teachers who resonate more with me.
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Re: Teacher Characteristics?

Postby nem » Thu Mar 28, 2013 5:05 am

Digity wrote:I love Gil Fronsdal. Never thought of him as high-strung, but I tend not to notice these sort of things about people until they point them out to me.

I like the teachers that illustrate they have a deep knowledge of the teachings. I had this one teacher who did seem to have a deep understanding. She was kind of just asked if she wanted to teach and she was like "okay, sure why not". When I heard that I was disappointed. I want a teacher who's passionate about the teachings, not someone who was just willy-nilly about it. Maybe I'm being too hard on her, but I eventually left and found teachers who resonate more with me.


On a topic related to yours. In the canonical report of the Buddha becoming enlightened (MN26 I think), and the Buddha decided that "nah, no one will understand this Dhamma, not worth trying to teach" It is reported in the suttas that Brahma came and personally asked the Buddha to teach. Fronsdal doesn't just relate the story in his sutta study course at Sati Center, he questions.. "now why would it say that Brahma has to come down to ask the Buddha to teach..because in Indian society there was this custom...and if the Buddha said yes to anyone other than Brahma it would mean he was not #1 in the world. Then follows by saying that in Indian tradition, you needed to ask someone three times before they would speak of the dhamma to you. This way they know you are dedicated to hearing the teaching. And in Japan you might need to stand outside some zen temples in the snow asking to enter and hear the dhamma, until you are almost with hypothermia, they let you in because of having demonstrated your dedication to receiving teachings... Fronsdale elaborates on all of these cultural things and he questions every word in the sutta and what might have caused it to enter the Canon. From this standpoint, definitely high strung and pedantic, to our benefit as students! :reading:

Maybe you should have asked your teacher 3 times to teach you the dhamma, and she would have had a more enthusiastic response. :D
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