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From Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche teaching I came to understand that non-judgmental observation of situations and aversion of attachments is the way to get rid of sufferings. Then how would a teacher evaluate a student's knowledge on anything?

In traditional schools and colleges there are grading systems. Students are assigned grades according to their exam results. How are students evaluated in Buddhist monasteries?

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I believe (based soley on what you've written) that Mingyur Rinpoche is talking about our first reaction to new stimuli: in the first moment of perception there's an unlanguaged, felt sense (vedana) that whatever we are perceiving favors or threatens us which gives rise to attachment or aversion. Simultaneously, there's an awareness of what we perceive (samjna) followed by a host of associations that go with it (prapanca) which leads to further kleshas and conceptualizations (anusaya) which incline (cetana) us (anusaya) toward action (karma). This process is what keeps us trapped in samsara.

On the other hand, determining whether someone understands the lesson they've been given on the five skandhas, or the Utarratantra Shastra - while entailing the same processes - inclines the mind toward liberation. That is, what drives the process is the wish that whomever is receiving the teaching may understand it and benefit from it.

Having been a monk, and having been in both the role of student and teacher in a monastic college (and Mingyur Rinpoche visited my monastery twice while I was there), I can tell you that the point of a Buddhist education is to sharpen one's prajna in order to recognize the constituents of experience and to recognize reality for what it is. Seeing things as they are - as opposed to how we think they are makes us much less reactionary, and much more content.

So, in the end, there is absolutely no contradiction between assessing whether or not a student grocks the meaning of a text, and striving to meet whatever one encounters with equanimity.

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  • Hi @Gyatso Lodro, Thank you very much for the write up. Just wanted to ask if you could futher explain the sentence " Simultaneously, there's an awareness of what we perceive (samjna) followed by a host of associationsthat go with it (prapanca) which leads to further kleshas and conceptualizations which incline us (anusaya) toward action (karma)". I am having a little difficulty understanding what you meant by that line. I would really appreciate it if you could help. Thank you! – incredible sulk Dec 24 '20 at 3:49
  • What is your understanding, so far as it goes? Also, from what text (and page number) are you paraphrasing Mingyur Rinpoche? – Lodro Gyatso Dec 24 '20 at 11:05
  • I have heard this numerous times from Mingyur Rinpoche from the video clippings of his YouTube channel. You are right in saying that Mingyur Rinpoche talking about our first reaction to new stimuli. – incredible sulk Dec 24 '20 at 13:46
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    What I described is the process that mind undergoes in each moment of awareness. Samjna is often translated as perception - although aperception, in my opinion is a superior translation, given that sam + jna = collected knowledge - i.e. mental associations (like associating summer with trips to the beach). In the first moment of aperception we identify/name what we perceive (i.e. we re-cognize it). In subsequent moments concepts that we associate with that term arise, and grow in complexity, forming a narrative about what we percieve. This conceptualizing is called prapanca in Sanskrit. – Lodro Gyatso Dec 24 '20 at 15:51
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    Re. meditation and study - yes, you absolutely will benefit if you read and listen with mindfulness and awareness. Additionally, you can regard study as a sort of anuüasyana (contemplative meditation), a component of the three prajnas (hearing, contemplation and meditation [where 'meditation' means 'familiarization]. Good luck! – Lodro Gyatso Dec 26 '20 at 14:04
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By “knowledge” I assume you mean direct meditative insights, rather than simply conceptual knowledge, foreign names for linguistic streams of blah blah, or as Mingyur Rinpoche likes to phrase it: “bal-a bal-a bal-a.” If that is the case only a realized being can evaluate your progress. There’s this pertinent story about Padmasambhava that is exemplary:

“While demonstrating some of the extraordinary signs of his realization near the Mahabodhi Stupa in Bodhgaya, an old lady asked him, "Who is your teacher? To which lineage do you belong?" Guru Rinpoche replied, "I have no teacher and have no need of one. Neither do I belong to any particular lineage. I am a totally enlightened being, primordially aware." The old woman immediately responded by saying, "Oh, that's not right. Without the blessings of a teacher, you cannot be enlightened. You must have a connection with a master. Lacking that, no one will accept your words." He quickly understood the import of the old woman's statement in relation to making the teaching available to others. To demonstrate the supreme means of approaching the Dharma, "the Supreme Knowledge Holder" (Padmasambhava) began to seek out lineage masters and followed teachings according to their instructions. This indicates that even if you are already a highly enlightened being, it is still necessary to have lineage connections.” (“The Eight Manifestations Of Gurupadmasambhava,” by Khenchen Palden Sherab)

I should add that there are many, many Maras in this world who will jump on you if you utter anything smacking of a claim to having accomplished much of anything with your practice, no matter how sincere, dedicated, and long term it may have been. Ignore them. But if you feel that you have accomplished some stage or other on the path to enlightenment, evaluate your understanding against relevant sutras or tantras. If your understanding exactly matches what you read, then you are most likely fooling yourself, confusing a conceptual understanding for an immediate (not filtered by conceptual thought) meditative (actual meditation, not day-dreaming, or listening to someone droning on about something or other spiritual) insight. These insights do not map cleanly into concepts. Instead, evaluate how your practice affects your actions, thoughts, and affections. That’s where the rubber meets the road. But if you want to be officially recognized 🤷‍♂️ then follow Guru Rinpoche’s example.

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  • Hey James, Thanks for that. The last paragraph makes a lot of sense to me. Do you know how students are taught in Tibetan monasteries and how they are evaluated? – incredible sulk Dec 7 '20 at 14:00
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In Tibetan Buddhism, there appears to be the concept of Tibetan Buddhist academic degrees for monks and nuns called Geshe or Geshema, which includes exams. There's also the tradition of Tibetan monastic debates.

Similarly there are Myanmarese monastic exams and also Thai monastic exams in Theravada Buddhism.

Please also see "The gruelling tests of a monk’s knowledge" (Myanmar), "German-born Buddhist Monk Passes 1,000-year-old Monastic Exam in Japan" and "50 Tibetan Buddhist nuns take their Geshema exams".

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    Oh, I see! Thanks @ruben2020 – incredible sulk Dec 24 '20 at 7:07
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    @incrediblesulk Updated answer with more useful articles on monastic exams. – ruben2020 Dec 24 '20 at 7:14

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