Evaluating a Teacher

The quality of this teacher is possibly the most important element of a Practice Community. A teacher is an invaluable resource that can guide us in a proper way so that we are able to transform our suffering and have our own insight into reality. When we can see positive qualities in our teacher, such as compassion, wisdom, equanimity, loving-kindness, and joy, then it awakens those same qualities within ourselves. As we see these qualities in his or her actions, speech, and presence, we begin to understand how to manifest these same qualities ourselves. This process is called “direct transmission”.

How do we identify a good teacher? Some questions to ask ourselves when evaluating a teacher might be: Do the teacher’s words match their actions? Do they contradict themselves? Do they embody the qualities of compassion and wisdom? Are they joyful? Do they bring their practice into everyday life? Do they engage with the outside world to help bring positive transformation to society? Do they embody qualities that we would like to see in ourself? Do their experienced students show maturity and some of the same qualities of the teacher? Do we feel a connection with the teacher? Does the teacher offer only a single practice or do they have a variety of practices for different types of people?

Above all, we should trust ourselves and our common sense when making our decision. Sometimes we know right away, but in other cases it may take time for us to find the answers to some of the questions above. How might we go about answering those questions? Ask questions, spend time with the teacher, ask other students what they think, read what they have written, look at their actions. Through those types of actions, we can check whether their teachings match with our own experience and values. By checking whether their actions match their teachings, we can see whether their practice is authentic or not. We can look at their students to see if they have have been able to transform themselves under their guidance.

Just like in any relationship, confidence in a teacher and a Sangha(meditation community) is built up over a long period of time measured in years. It is not wise to blindly trust and put our faith in a teacher that we know nothing about. We must verify for ourself whether a teacher is authentic or not. This is the only way that doubt can be removed.

The importance placed upon the teacher in Buddhism sometimes makes some people feel uncomfortable. We may wonder why one person is so important? This is natural and healthy scepticism, because it will give us the energy to investigate for ourselves whether the teacher is authentic or not. While the teacher is important to Buddhist practice, no one worships him or follows what he says blindly. There may be Sangha members who have found his/her example to be inspirational and respect them greatly, but this is not blind faith. It is trust born out of directly seeing the teacher’s integrity for themselves.

A Buddhist teacher has motivations that are much different than the type of people we usually encounter in everyday life. He or she has given up everything in the pursuit of peace and enlightenment, has achieved great progress in this endeavour. An authentic teacher’s only wish is to help relieve others of their suffering.