Finding a “qualified” teacher is the number one advice people get whenever they utter an interest in starting up Vajrayana or Dzogchen/Mahamudra practice.
Many people think “qualified” means nothing else than being authorised to teach by an established lineage. Of course, all the abuse scandals of past, present and future show that established lineages don’t necessarily guarantee “quality” regarding Vajrayana teachings.
Another misleading thing I’ve seen happening is that people often think that they will get Dzogchen or Tantra instructions from authorised teachers who don’t have any experience or insight in it. They go to their nearest Nyingma center and think, the local Geshe there will provide them with practice instructions. Not knowing that Geshe is solely an academic title.
Also we shouldn’t forget that people like Padmasambhava, Milarepa or Longchenpa didn’t have such established lineages around like the ones that have been built on their names since. That institutionalized “qualification” of an established lineage wasn’t around back then. There were only certain yogis claiming to be of this or that oral tradition. How could one trust their claims?
How did Milarepa trust Marpa’s claims? How did Yeshe Tsogyal trust Padmasambhava’s claims?
So the question of what constitutes a “qualified” teacher has not changed a bit since. Milarepa had to find an answer to this when he started just like we have to do today.
That’s why I’d like to ask everyone here and their experience of this matter:
What makes a qualified teacher actually qualified?
How do/did you answer that question for yourself?
Of course, it is difficult to generalise what a good and qualified teacher is. I may discuss it from my perspective, what makes a good teacher for me.
For me, a qualified teacher must master the basics of what he teaches, he needs a certain grounding and steadfastness.
A good teacher knows most of the problems of his students from his own experience, if he doesn’t know them, he tries to put himself in their shoes in order to be able to support them. But he also says it honestly when he is overwhelmed and can no longer support.
A qualified teacher helps the student to come into his own power and to develop his own potential. He does not expect the student to go his own way. He sees himself as an inspirer, encourages and challenges.
A good teacher admits his human weaknesses and mistakes and is open to the impulses of his students. He is authentic and sincere towards his students, but also expects the same from his students.
A qualified teacher does not only know the theory, he has penetrated the practice with his heart and feels joy in passing on this knowledge.
For me, the most important thing is that a qualified teacher does what he loves and that you feel this love and joy through his actions.
A qualified teacher reflects on his actions and learns equally through his students. He avoids creating dependencies and lets everyone go their own way at their own pace. He knows his limits and communicates them when necessary.
For me personally, these points are very important. It is more something intuitive, I have to feel I can trust the teacher and then I can surrender to the teaching and the teacher.
Bodhichitta is also crucial for me, when I feel that the teacher acts for the benefit of all beings and wants the best for each of his students, it is easier.
I think that a good teacher can talk about anything in dharma in a very simple and understandable language. That is always a sign of understanding things, knowing through one’s own experience. It is difficult to find good, lucid, clear talks about the meaning of emptiness, for example.
I love your reply and all the points you make.
I think your mentioning of intuition and feeling is very crucial. Yet I also see that this is a VERY mature place to evaluate a teacher from. Most people are very closed off from their intuition and feeling. They’re nowhere near this place of maturity.
But even if most people are not at this level of maturity yet, I actually think, in Vajrayana there’s no way around developing that maturity to benefit from the teachings and realize them. Only the people who put in the effort to unravel their intuition and start to have some level of trust in their own feeling again, are truly ready for Vajrayana teachings. Because without any trust in your own feeling, you won’t even notice the blessings of the Gurus and Deities, not to mention recognicing the nature of mind.
So this is kind of an interesting point. The feeling and intuition skills that one develops by really checking out a prospective teacher, is the very capacity to realize the Tantric teachings themselves.
If you really start to examine the qualities of a teacher in an honest and direct way, you get in contact with your own discernment. You begin to trust your feeling more. By trusting your feeling more, you begin to really see if the teacher has qualities of realization or not. And even if it turns out that he doesn’t, you have made huge leaps in your practice. You have developed basic self-trust which is an absolut pre-requisite for Vajrayana and Dzogchen practice. Actually, at this level, it’s already not only a pre-requisite but the practice of Vajrayana itself.