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My students' formal feedback about teaching makes me feel defeated. What would be a Buddhist view of this pain?

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In Buddhism we learn that all conditioned things are anicca (impermanent), dukkha (unsatisfactory), and anatta (uncontrollable). So we try not to cling to conditioned things; because there is nothing permanent, satisfactory, or controllable about them to cling to. This is at the core of the Buddha's truth of suffering.

Conditioned things (in this case wanting a satisfied feeling from positive feedback) will not bring us lasting happiness. We know this. People's opinions of us can change like the wind, so we can't make it overly important to the extent of having it drag us down and depress us when we aren't perceived the way we wish to be perceived or on the opposite end having it pump up our ego too much when we are perceived favorably.

From pages 20 -21 of Venerable Yuttadhammo's book Lessons in Practical Buddhism:

Likewise, when we receive praise, we can easily become caught up in it, addicted to the esteem of others, and tossed about whenever we receive dispraise. Some meditators become angry and obstinate when criticized by their teachers, refusing to listen and even leaving the meditation centre without finishing their training simply because of their inability to withstand criticism. Others become caught up in their worldly accomplishments, relishing the praise that comes from involvement in the world, and so are unable to focus their minds on meditation, thinking only of the pleasure that comes from being among those who shower them with praise.

Getting caught up in praise or criticism is considered one of the Eight Worldly Vicissitudes.

"Monks, these eight worldly conditions spin after the world, and the world spins after these eight worldly conditions. Which eight? Gain, loss, status, disgrace, censure, praise, pleasure, & pain. These are the eight worldly conditions that spin after the world, and the world spins after these eight worldly conditions. AN 8.6

The Buddhist way is the way of Upekkha; not getting too excited either way. Remaining neutral in the face of the Eight Worldly Vicissitudes is one of the ways Wikipedia describes Upekkha. In the state of mind of being calm and not having a strong or quick emotional reaction, it's easier to consider the possible merit of what the students' feedback was. Generally there is room for improvement with everyone and as others have stated, the fact the students took the time to give you that feedback is a good thing regardless of whether they gave it skillfully or not.

Whatever conditions caused you to be perceived as a teacher needing improvement are not permanent either. With wise consideration of the feedback you received, you can determine how best to proceed. Best wishes.

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Most people have some story about who they are. They call this their identity, their role in life.

Think of this identity as a table with many legs. Each leg is one facet of their identity - for example, it maybe husband to the best wife, teacher to a loving children, son to wonderful parents, patriot of the greatest country, football fan of the greatest team, lover of the best food and so on.

We even call this the well rounded person, and we want to be very proud about the many interests.

Good. Now what happens when one of them is no longer true?

Since life is impermanent, any one of these legs can collapse.

  • When one loses one's parents to old age, one is no longer a son.
  • When one retires from one's job, one is no longer a teacher
  • When countries cease to exist, one is no longer a patriot or even a citizen of the old country
  • When one's wife leaves, one is no longer a husband

and so on.

We can all admit, we have seen this happen, time and again.

Most people will watch one leg collapse and quickly prop up the table with a new interest. This is why some people take up dancing or something to fill their time when they get divorced. Or reminisce old stories about the good old times after they retire. This is their identity surviving always in new forms.

Meanwhile there is constant agony over the uncertainty about when one leg or the other is going to collapse, and they will rush to support it, and make sure it doesn't collapse.

When we aren't doing so well at work, we try to give the boss no excuse to be angry with us, is it not? We may never want to turn up late, or miss a day at work and so on. There is some fear here, and that is us trying to prop up that weak leg.

Now imagine we had no legs. Nothing to hold up. Then there'd be no fear, no pride, no ego, no sorrow. We can be whatever we want.

The nature of the mind is to produce thoughts, sometimes they can be pleasurable, and at other times they are painful.

When we identify with our thoughts, because they strengthen or weaken our identity - such as - "I am a very good teacher, or I am a sincere teacher, or I am a no good teacher" - whatever the story, positive or negative, this gives stickiness to the thoughts that relate to the story.

Then we can't let go of them. Even when they are hurting us, we hold on, obsessed with them, too attached to them, the thoughts are stuck to us.

Everything in this world is impermanent, yes?

Therefore the wisdom is not to derive our identity from such impermanent objects.

We aren't a teacher or a husband or a son or whatever - we are empty. We really are, don't take my word for it, or even the word of the Buddha, or the Buddhists, ask yourself. Were you born a teacher? Were you born a husband?

No, these things came into our lives at some point, and will leave our lives at some point. When we stop identifying with them, we are free, and our thoughts on them no longer matter.

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Your student's criticism is nothing to get upset about; on the contrary, criticism is a great treasure! It is very fortuitous that you post this now, as Ven. Yuttadhammo just posted a video about this very issue a few days ago. Of course, being a teacher of (presumably) people younger than yourself, you must take the things they say, especially in a forum of anonymity where they submit feedback anonymously with no repercussion for what they might say, with a grain of salt. But with that being said, there probably is an air of truth to some if not a lot of it.

If there were criticisms levied against you, those were clearly things that, to some degree, came to your student's minds at some point, and had some impact in coming between them and fully listening to what it was that you were trying to convey to them.

This is a great lesson in two regards: First and most importantly, as Buddho already alluded to more-or-less, this is a great chance to see the attachment you have to your "ego". You feel harmed, defeated, dejected, at the idea that the thing you call yourself might dare be suggested to be less than what you thought it was. "I'm a great teacher!", "I do this well", etc etc. Letting go of these hang-ups will only open up potential for growth, and this ties-in with the more mundane issue of you becoming a better teacher by learning to take criticism and use it wisely and for your and your students benefit. I hope this helps, good luck, teaching others is a great thing!

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What would be a Buddhist view of this pain?

This answer is based in Theravada Buddhism in the tradition of Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw.

As i understand it there are 2 aspects to this. The first aspect is about the feedback from the student. The content of this feedback must have had some amount of value to the student or else it would not have been mentioned.

The feedback is actually a treasure for you. It gives you an oppertunity to work on your teaching skills and improve them and to become an even better teacher.

For other people to point out our flaws is great treasures for us. Sometimes we might not even be aware of a flaw we have. When getting this information it enables us to work on it and overcome it.


The second aspect is more of a practical aspect, i.e. how to deal with the flaws/feedback from other people.

In the Mahasi-method attention is placed on the dhammas, i.e. the objects that Citta knows, the objects that consciousness takes. One is observing the objects with objectivity and non-interference. Interfering with the objects is what creates suffering. One does not identify or take ownership of the objects. If one identifies with the objects, e.g. by saying "I am feeling defeated" or "I am feeling sad" one is adding a Self to the equation. A self that is not to be found anywhere. That idea of a Self is itself a mental formation, an object that is taken by consciousness.

The objects do not belong to anyone. There is no experiencing entity. There is no thinker behind the thought. There are just impersonal mental and physical phenomena arising and ceasing.

Mahasi Sayadaw made a simily about this. Picturing one sitting in a car at a rail way crossing. One sits in the car watching the train go by. One is watching all the different rail road cars which is like the different mental and physical phenomena arising to mind. One does no go out of the car to chase down a particular rail road car one just sits in the car watching them go by. In the same way one just sits in insight meditation watching the different mental and physical phenomena arise and cease without chasing after them or running away from them.

In the Mahasi-method one uses a mantra to stay centered in the present. One "notes" phenomena in order for the mind to not follow after the objects getting immersed in them. The noting is done to remind oneself to stay objective. If a feeling of sadness arises one notes it as "sadness, sadness" or "feeling, feeling". One notes it in the mind but keeps the attention on the object. One sends out the mind to the object.

We also have an anchor in the method of practice. That anchor is the feeling of the rising and falling of the abdomen. After one has noted an object a couple of times one goes back to the rising and falling and notes "rising, rising" or "falling, falling". When a phenomena arises, e.g. a feeling or mental formation one goes to note that phenomena.

By doing this one is keeping oneself objective and centered in the Citta. One sees that there is only an object arising and mind arising to that object.

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Accept the feedback of the student only if it fulfills the right speech conditions laid down by Buddha ..

  1. Was it True?
  2. Was the intention of the person behind the feedback good?
  3. Was it beneficial for everyone involved?
  4. Was it said in an affectionate manner? 5.Was it said at the right time?

If what was said does not fulfill the criteria above than it is not right speech. For example , if you know for a fact that the intention behind the feedback was not to help you develop but to malign you or discourage you , you should ignore it completely.

If it fulfill all the criteria above ,you should feel yourself as extremely fortunate. Buddha said that it is only the wise , who can understand when someone tries to correct their faults. It is only the evil people who hate such feedback.

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