Good evening everybody. For tonight I chose the subject of this Dharma talk to be on the qualities of the Guru and the devotion of the disciple. This is because we have just celebrated the birthday ceremony of His Holiness, the 17th Karmapa. As His Holiness’s birthday was not very long ago, I thought that the subject would be beneficial, since we have all entered into the lineage of the Karma Kagyu, and are followers of the Karmapa.
The Karma Kagyu places a lot of emphasis on Guru Devotion – it says the Guru is just like a mould, and if the mould has a very clear carving and design inside, whatever you put in and print comes out very nicely and very beautifully. If the mould doesn’t have any design inside, then when you print it, it just comes out as a shape only, and you can’t see the beauty of the design.
Therefore, for the person who practices Mahamudra and the preparation for Mahamudra, it is essential to find a qualified Guru. A qualified Guru means a Guru who has all the knowledge and is able to teach you the Mahamudra, from the very basic level to the very advanced levels. The Guru is also one who is able to show you the nature of the mind and from there one can start to attain Liberation. All these have to be linked to the Guru – the disciple has to link up with the Guru, and the Guru’s knowledge has to be transferred to the disciple. The disciple must also be the perfect vessel to receive the teachings.
Meaning of Guru
When you say the word, “Guru”, what do you think it means? I think many, many races, even Malays, also use the term “Guru” which refers to the teacher. In Hindi, “Guru” also means teacher; in Sanskrit as well. In Tibetan, they call it “Lama”, while in Chinese, we call him “Shi Fu” or “Fa Shi”. The meaning of Guru, if we just simply translate or interpret it in ordinary life, is just “teacher”. The person who teaches you how to cook, or how to read or anything relating to worldly knowledge is also a teacher, and he or she can be identified as a Guru to you.
But does anybody know what Guru literally means? In Sanskrit, “Guru” literally means something very heavily loaded; a person who is heavily loaded is called a Guru. What does that mean? It does not mean that his physical body size is big; it is not that he is carrying a big stone, but the load refers to his knowledge, his abilities or skilful means, and to his compassion – all of his good qualities. So therefore these knowledge and qualities are very heavy, heavier than anything in this world.
And usually, we are lacking in these good qualities – we are not fully loaded with them, and that is why we need to find someone who is fully loaded with these. The Guru is loaded with these because of his life-time’s practice and development which gradually lead to his accumulation of such large qualities of knowledge and other qualities, such that an ordinary person cannot be compared to him.
Rinpoche giving talk on Guru Devotion
at KKDS, Kuala Lumpur (90kb)
Looking for the Guru
That is what “Guru” means. And we need to look for these qualities in a Guru; we shouldn’t look for a Guru whose appearance is nice, handsome, or who is sweet-talking, because although someone may possess these qualities, he may not have the qualities of being loaded with knowledge and compassion. So sometimes, judging the Guru fails if we just choose a Guru based on his appearance, his expression, the style of his talking, and then we take that person as the Guru straightaway, and develop a Guru-disciple relationship on the basis of feeling very nice and positive about these qualities.
But that shouldn’t be the way according to the Dharma. According to the Dharma, how do we look for a Guru who has these qualities? We should look for a Guru who firstly, has the knowledge, who is well-versed in the Sutras and Tantra, and who is well-versed in his practice. Of course, you cannot find one who is completely like the Buddha, because you have to find the Guru from humans. And humans cannot be a Buddha, because they are not full of perfections. But somehow, if you look into the positive side of a person, you are able to find quite a lot of good qualities. Even the worst person, if you look into the positive side of the person, has some good qualities somewhere. Therefore, you have to look at the positive side and what knowledge or achievements the Guru has.
Judging from that, you find that the Guru is well-versed and knowledgeable – not only knowledgeable – but who is also a practitioner. On top of that, the Vajrayana Guru also needs to have an unbroken lineage; that means the Guru must have received initiations from his Gurus that continue up to where it started. The lineage is alive and unbroken. Also, that Guru must master each and every Tantric ritual, Mudra and visualization. He must be a master of all these in order to be a Vajrayana Guru to his disciple. That is the first part in looking for a Guru – the knowledge part.
Secondly, if a person has that much knowledge, but does not have enough compassion, then it will not benefit others. Therefore, we must also look at the level of compassion; whether the Guru is very compassionate with all his disciples and to all sentient beings, because compassion is a very important quality of the Guru – not only with the Guru, but with everyone. When we are lacking in compassion, we need a lot of training in compassion from the Guru. To do that, the Guru himself must have great compassion so that he is able to train and influence the disciple. In that way, to choose a Guru, the second quality we must also look for is whether that Guru is compassionate or not; whether the Guru has the qualities of knowledge and compassion or not.
Abilities or Skilful Means
If this Guru has great fields of compassion and knowledge, eventually, after the application of all these, he will achieve the ability to help others, and the ability to teach others very effectively. He will have the ability to change the minds of others – such as the negative mind into the positive one by his teachings, or by showing them compassion. Likewise, there are many kinds of abilities, from the ordinary levels of ability, the ordinary level of the human Guru’s ability, to the abilities of the Buddha. When that Guru has these abilities, then you should engage with the Guru.
As long as you seek someone who has these qualities as your master, you will never be neglected; you will be fully guided and protected from defilements, negative emotions and forces, and you will be directly led towards Enlightenment.
So, it is these three qualities together – knowledge, compassion and the ability. If the Guru has these, then the disciple should accept that person as his Guru. And once you have accepted him, you need to be fully reliant on the Guru. If you are fully reliant on the Guru, then are you able to receive all these qualities from the Guru.
We should not look into the negative side of the Guru, because we have the kind of habit which always tends to look into a person’s faults and defective side. Because when emotionally, the negative thoughts towards somebody have been developed, we will see that person as terribly negative, with many bad qualities. But most of the teachings say that it is our own negative qualities which we project onto people, and which we then see as negative. Therefore, once we engage with and take someone as a Guru, we should not look at him in a negative angle and find his faults. Instead, we should look from the positive angle to find the qualities of the Guru; we should always feel that these qualities the Guru has are so important and perfect, that you yourself also need these qualities for oneself, in order to ease the sufferings of sentient beings and to benefit them.
Faith and Devotion
That kind of feeling should be developed towards the Guru. That is about the qualities of the Guru. And then, when you’ve found someone with those qualities, what are you supposed to do? How are you supposed to take him as a Guru? It comes into Guru-devotion. Who will develop this devotion? The disciple is the one who has to develop this devotion; the disciple also must be the perfect vessel to receive the teachings, because the Dharma is unlike other ordinary knowledge. It is very important knowledge that one has to apply in order to be liberated from the sufferings of samsara. Therefore, the Dharma is not something simple, but should be taken very seriously. We should not just listen to the Dharma like we listen to a story or idle talk. Instead, we should listen to the Dharma just like when very, very hungry animals are just released into the grasslands. At that moment, that animal is so hungry that it does not have any other thought except to eat as much as it can. Once you have that type of attitude, you should listen to the Dharma very seriously, try to digest whatever one has listened to, and apply it to make a difference or change our lives.
In that way, the disciple must have faith and devotion; faith, devotion and trust are somehow interrelated. In the Karma Kagyu, this is usually called Guru-devotion. Some call it faith, but whatever it is, it is alright to phrase it as devotion. I don’t know exactly what it means in English, but as long as it leads to that understanding, it is fine.
Next, I will talk about devotion. Devotion must come from oneself towards a Guru and not vice versa. What is devotion? One must know what this is in order to develop devotion to a Guru. Devotion is very difficult to identify; it looks like an emotion but yet it is something different from an emotion. Emotions such like feelings of love, etc everybody will have, whether it is aggressive or mild. But devotion is something which not everybody can have and it is difficult to identify.
For example, sometimes we feel something very wonderful and it looks like devotion, but when we really check, it may be just a feeling or emotion. Sometimes, it is an emotion that causes the feeling of sadness to arise and that is accompanied by strange feelings. And sometimes, emotions of happiness arise and these too are accompanied by a different feeling. I will explain to you the feeling of devotion and how it should be.
There are many examples or cases where a person listens to some chanting that has a very nice melody, and tears will fall. People may interpret that feeling as devotion and say that this person is very devoted because he cries when he listens to the chanting. However, sometimes this may not be devotion; it may just be an unbearable feeling that causes tears to fall; it may be a kind of attachment to the melody or to the meaning of words that is very touching, and that touching feeling creates certain kinds of vibrations which make that person feel very different and feel like crying.
But our version of devotion is very practical; it is not that kind of emotion or feeling. In fact, it is practical in the sense that devotion can be identified as faith. There are three types of faith: the longing type of faith, pure faith and the faith of trust or confidence.
These three are the main ways of identifying devotion and if you have them, you will be moved by them. Whatever expression you have that is caused by these three faiths is devotion. An expression can be anything – crying or laughing can be an expression; doing nothing or not showing any expression is also an expression. As long as one has devotion and this arouses the feeling and causes some kind of vibration within oneself, that is actually devotion. In the arising of one’s faith and devotion, pure faith will have to be developed first, then longing faith followed by confidence faith.
The Development of Pure Faith
To develop pure faith, one must be able to see the qualities of the Guru. You cannot expect that the Guru is a Buddha or a god who is totally free from defects. Yet, you must also have the ability to see the positive side of the Guru as well. Normally, we have the tendency to only see the negative side of things or persons, ignoring their positive qualities. In this way, we will only find lots of faults and find lots of bad or wrong things to say about the Guru. But in the first place, I told you there are certain qualities that a Guru must have: in practice, he must have the knowledge, compassion and skilful means.
If you look from the positive angle, you will see these qualities and realize how much of these qualities the Guru has, and the level of these qualities. If you find that these qualities are very great and overwhelming, you must use that as a judging point. You look into yourself to search for all such qualities too, and if you try to measure how many of these qualities you have, of course, you will find that you do not have many of these.
When you do not have these qualities or because your abilities are limited and not that accomplished, you will see that because of this, there are a lot of problems and suffering; you will see your own imperfection and the perfection of the Guru. In that way, you realize that the Guru is very pure, perfect and great.
Accordingly, you will develop pure devotion and faith, which will become the cause for the development of the next devotion of longing faith. Of course, if the Guru does not have these qualities, then he is not suitable to be a Guru. But if you do not look at the positive side and keep looking at the negative side, then that is your own problem and fault.
But if you look at the positive side and find a lot of such qualities, then it means this Guru really has such qualities, and you start to see the Guru as someone very pure and perfect. You develop pure faith because you see the Guru as being filled and overloaded with so many qualities.
If you don’t have that kind of view or perception, then devotion cannot arise; devotion naturally develops through understanding; devotion is not something that can be forced to arise or develop. So, to develop that kind of devotion, the first step is to learn how to see the positive side of the Guru – the positive side does not mean the Guru’s physical body, his appearance, his voice, his style of talking, actions, his expression or whatever. All these are not important things – they are just certain qualities of humans, that’s all. The main thing is the inner wisdom the Guru has, together with the qualities I mentioned.
The Development of Longing Faith
Second is the development of longing faith. It is a kind of desire but it is not negative. Defilements are not defilements if used properly. Therefore, the desire is a good thing, it is perfect. It means “I do not have all the qualities that Guru has and I long to have them as well”. It is a kind of desire, faith and devotion of longing. When the Guru has so many qualities which I do not have, I must get all these qualities in order to be like the Guru and benefit sentient beings.
So, developing all these qualities, one makes up one’s mind and promises that “I will definitely develop these qualities of knowledge, compassion and skilful means or abilities. The wish to develop such skill and knowledge become so unbearable such that even a day without this knowledge and skill is too long. I must have these qualities as soon as possible”. Just like a child who wants his parents to buy him toys; the child will nag and nag at the parent, wanting the parent to buy the toy immediately. Until they are able to get it, they will feel very impatient. Similarly, when you feel you do not have these qualities, you too feel very miserable and feel you must have the qualities of the Guru.
How to get those qualities? To develop them, it is natural that you must engage with that person who has those qualities. Just like if you want to get some money from somebody, you must engage with the person who has money; you cannot depend on a person who does not have money and expect money from him. You will not get any money from him. In the same way, it is the Guru who has these qualities, and you have to look at this Guru in order to get these qualities yourself.
The Development of Confidence Faith
So this longing-faith will develop very, very forcefully – you want to have these qualities, and you know somebody who has these qualities, so the next step is to jump into it. That is the trust, the confidence-faith where we must rely on the Guru – “I need these qualities so I have to look for the person who has these”. Supposing you want to get something that is very important for yourself, you can’t look for it from someone who doesn’t have it, because that person himself doesn’t have it. You have to look for someone who has it. Similarly, now you have to look for this from that master, and to obtain that knowledge from him.
The first quality you need is trust or the confidence, feeling that “If I rely on this Guru, I won’t be disappointed because through my investigation and understanding in various ways, I’ve checked that this Guru has such and such qualities. And because of all these qualities, if I rely on him, he will also bestow all the teachings and all his qualities that are shown to me. Therefore, I can easily develop all these qualities myself”.
Within that moment, you are engaged with that Guru and since that moment, one should fully rely on the Guru, have full confidence in the Guru, and have full trust in the Guru’s teachings. Confidence and trust are very important – if you lack these, the teachings may not be able to enter into your vessel and it becomes doubt; when it becomes doubt, one may not be able to apply the teachings. And if you don’t apply it, you will not be able to get the result.
In order to develop Confidence Faith and to develop these qualities of the Guru, we go to the Guru and request the teachings. We have to take each and every one of his words as words of wisdom; we listen, contemplate and meditate on them. The teachings that we receive are very important and they are the key to the path of Enlightenment. Therefore, one should not waste a single word of the teaching but firstly, listen properly, secondly contemplate and taste them and thirdly, apply them to yourself and your experience.
In that way, one should not doubt the Guru’s words or doubt the Guru’s attitude towards oneself, because we know that the Guru is skilful; the Guru has the abilities and skilful means which can manifest in many ways. Sometimes, he can appear very loving to you or sometimes, he can also have a different attitude towards you such as the way Marpa appeared to Milarepa. Accordingly, there are also many hundreds of examples not only in our lineage but also in other traditions.
Therefore, one should never doubt the Guru’s attitude towards you. Instead, one should regard it as lesson and take it positively. This is confidence faith or trust faith. If you start to doubt the Guru or if you start to think otherwise, it means that you do not trust the Guru or that you do not have the confidence towards the Guru, which means the devotion is no more there.
Although you can say that someone is your Guru, but when the devotion is no longer there, the Guru-disciple relation is somehow not strongly established. If that happens, you will not benefit much from the Guru; the Guru may give teachings, but the teachings are not properly preserved in your vessel because the vessel is already cracked or damaged or is already contaminated by certain poisons and whatever essence is poured into this vessel will also be contaminated.
This is a very important point we need to be aware of as in most cases, we tend to damage it on that side. The faith or devotion of confidence is very difficult to develop, but once you can develop this devotion, all the qualities of the Guru will spontaneously start to pour into you and you will be filled with all these qualities.
After examining all the qualities of the Guru, one should not have doubts after that with his teachings. His behavior and his actions sometimes may be terrible or not to you, but somehow, if you do not think of it in an emotional way, actually, it doesn’t matter. What you want, ask for and are getting are his positive qualities, and the other part of his behavior and so on is actually not really to your interest. Therefore, if you can just leave it as neutral, it will be very safe for you, and it won’t create any problems. Because as I say, you cannot really find a Guru who is an Enlightened one at this moment. Because of the degeneration of this time, all those great masters or enlightened beings are no longer here, although there may be some. But then, we may not also have the fortune to meet up with an enlightened Guru. So, somehow, we will meet a Guru who is on the Bodhisattva’s path – which level of the Bodhisattva depends on our own karmic link and our own accumulation of merits. According to that, we come into contact with teachers.
Therefore, if he is not an enlightened master, he is still a human master. Being born as a human is nothing very wonderful; generally, the formation of the human body and then, the human senses are due to defilements. Of course, when you talk about the twelve links of interdependence, all start from ignorance, and from ignorance, gradually -from the very, very subtle levels, to the levels of the gross – beings or persons are established. So the main cause of being human is neither wonderful, nor just because of ignorance. Therefore, being humans, the Guru may have a lot of good qualities, but they may also have some negative signs such as being hot-tempered, etc. But this part is not really of your interest and it does not contribute either, therefore one can just leave it neutral and focus your attention more on the positive side of the Guru.
Should we rely on the Teachings or the Guru?
In this way, one will not create any kind of negative consequences through the connection with the Guru and disciple and yet, one can absorb the qualities of the Guru every moment. And then, one can achieve these qualities and eventually, even more than that – one can attain Enlightenment. That is why, for the Vajrayana and particularly, the Karma Kagyu lineage, reliance on the Guru is the most important part. Other traditions – not the Vajrayana tradition, but the Theravada tradition and so on – do not emphasize so much Guru Devotion. They emphasize more, the Sutras and the teachings itself. This may also have its good points because if the Guru does not have all the qualities I mentioned, then it is rather dangerous to engage with someone who does not have such qualities. This can be misleading such as when the Guru does not have compassion, yet the Guru has a lot of knowledge of the Sutras and Tantra. When a person does not have compassion, he lacks a very important quality, and if they lack that, they can do anything – they can even harm because if they don’t have compassion, they can do anything.
Therefore, in that kind of situation, the teachings should be the main way of learning, and the teacher is just a teacher, who can only give you a clearer idea of what the Sutra says. And that will be perfectly ok and safe. If the Guru is knowledgeable but lacks compassion or the abilities – or some are lacking of all – then, it is important to rely on the teachings. Then you’ll have to look into this when the situation comes.
But when we talk about the Vajrayana, the Guru is very important. We’re referring to the Guru who has all these qualities. When the Guru has all these qualities, this Guru will not harm you and will not have any intention of cheating you. He is concerned with the disciple more than himself, because of his compassion and he is able to teach properly and accordingly, because he has the abilities and qualities to do so. In that situation, relying on the Guru is the main practice and the Sutras and Tantra can be a reference that gives you the understanding when the Guru is not present, or if you have not completely absorbed the Guru’s teachings.
One should not cling to certain views or only one view, and then be forced to engage in that view. For example, I have heard many times from various people that the Guru is not important, and that the teachings are more important. That is what the Lower Vehicles say, so does that mean that the Vajrayana is wrong because the Guru is so important in the Vajrayana? They take it in that way but in the Vajrayana, they think that the Guru is everything, so the Theravada and the lower vehicles see that as wrong. Actually, neither position is wrong; both are correct! The reason why both are correct is because it depends on the situation, where the person is, and then accordingly, they need to follow up in the way which can benefit them most, whichever is most appropriate.
Different levels of Perceiving the Guru
In this way, we may perceive the Guru as a teacher, as an ordinary teacher or we may perceive the Guru as a special teacher or as an enlightened being; how we perceive him or her will depend on one’s own level. If you have just taken Refuge or have just received some basic Dharma knowledge, normally you will just perceive the Guru as an ordinary human teacher; you see him as a nice or good teacher who teaches you what is good and what is not good, what you should do and what you should not do. That is the kind of good advice that the Guru would give you and it is something good.
When one is on the Mahayana path, the Guru will explain loving kindness, compassion and also the nature of mind, such as emptiness and so on. Then you will see the Guru as someone extraordinary or perfect. At the time, the Guru will be someone more than a teacher to you.
Next, when disciple starts to receive Vajrayana empowerments and instructions, he or she will see the Guru not just as an ordinary teacher or an extraordinary teacher, but as the living embodiment of the Buddha himself.
These are the three different levels, moments and ways of perceiving a Guru. Although a Guru can be one or many of them, we perceive them in these ways.
At the beginner’s level, we do not have the ability to perceive the Guru as the enlightened one or as an extraordinary perfect teacher; we just take him or her as a teacher from whom we receive advice and whose advice we benefit from following. He will be the one who points the direction towards positive actions and thoughts.
After developing these positive actions and thoughts, we come to the second stage of development where we take Guru as an extraordinary teacher. At that time, we receive the Guru’s advice and teachings on emptiness, the nature of mind. And at that moment, the teaching or the blessings that we receive will be greater then the beginner’s level.
Finally, we receive the Vajrayana teachings and open the gate of the Vajrayana by receiving empowerments and transmissions. At that point, we perceive the Guru as the Enlightened one and similarly, we receive blessings directly form the Enlightened one which makes our path towards Enlightenment very rapid and smooth.
Seeing the Guru as Buddha
That is how we engage the Guru. Once you have received the empowerment, you have become a Vajrayana student, and becoming a Vajrayana student, you have to observe the Vajrayana commitments, which I think all of you may know. If you are in a good state of mind, you’re supposed to see the Guru as enlightened. How do you see the Guru as an enlightened person, because what you see is just a human person? But the enlightened person should not be perceived in the person of the Guru; instead, the Enlightenment aspect should be sought from the wisdom of the Guru – the qualities of the Guru as I mentioned just now – compassion, knowledge and abilities and so on.
If you look into that side of the Guru, then you can’t find any difference between the Guru and the enlightened state. In that way, the Guru’s mind is an enlightened mind, therefore the Guru is the Buddha. And the teachings that he gives all show the path towards Enlightenment and give you the truth of the ground, path and fruit. Then, there’s no difference from the Dharma; the Guru’s speech is inseparable from the Dharma, the Buddha’s teachings. And the physical Guru is himself observing his own principles, such as certain types of self-Liberation commitments or vows – he has to be there, but he must be in one. More suitably, he is in the Sangha. Even if the Guru is married, he may be observing the five precepts or something. Therefore, he still is under the category of the Sangha, under the category of those within commitments or vows. Therefore, the Guru’s physical body is no different from the Sangha. In that way, we should perceive the Guru as the manifestation of the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha and that Buddha, Dharma, Sangha from a Vajrayana perspective we also should perceive as the Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya, and Nirmanakaya.
The Guru’s mind is an enlightened mind which has all the wisdom; all the Enlightenment qualities are there, so it is no different from the Dharmakaya state. And the speech that liberates and benefits each and every sentient being, and guides them to the path of Enlightenment is no different from, and is the manifestation of the Sambhogakaya. The body which physically shows and leads and gives the example and so on is no different from the Nirmanakaya. So even in reality, the Guru who is inseparable from the Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya, Nirmanakaya which are the manifestations of all the qualities of the Buddha, is in the person of the Guru. And therefore, with that kind of understanding and view, we perceive the Guru as an enlightened manifestation, and each and every action and word which comes towards you is a path directing and training you. That kind of understanding should be developed so that you are able to receive those enlightened qualities or blessings.
Why emphasize seeing the Guru as Buddha?
According to Mahayana and general Buddhist tradition, we don’t really have to be so serious about emphasizing the Guru as the enlightened one, as you may not have the ability to think or see it in such a positive way. In that kind of situation, it is important to find the qualities of the Guru and look at them from the positive angle and see these qualities are very important. But besides this, one should regard every action and word of the Guru as guidance, and showing the path. It is just as though one was blind and someone had eyes, and you are going into a very terrible place where there is a lot of danger. When you have to pass through such terrible and dangerous places, you are completely dependent on the person who has eyes to bring you across the path. So you have to have the confidence and trust in that person, and you should always think of that person’s kindness.
In the normal state of mind, to perceive the Guru is something very important. But in reality, we are blind actually, not because of the physical eye’s blindness, but mentally. Due to this ignorance which covers us, we are always not able to see through it. The truth is always covered and therefore, we are always going towards the wrong directions and falling into the suffering state. If this kind of person is not blind, then who is? We are indeed very, very blind, always trying to look for happiness but always getting suffering. So there must be something wrong with your eyes – not this physical eye – but the more important eye that is inside you.
So, we need someone who has that very important eye open, and who is able to lead you. If that person is able to lead you, then you are free from the danger, because he is able to show you the right path and direction. Eventually, you are also able to open your own eye, and then you will be free from samsara, you will be free from suffering forever. For that, the Guru is very important, because he is the one who shows you the path; he’s the one who leads you on the path; and eventually, he is the one who gives you that eye to see the truth.
Engaging the Guru
Therefore, in our tradition, it is not that we have no choice and have to engage the Guru. But it is important, and there is the need in our present stage – to develop up to that state of Enlightenment, it is compulsory that we need to engage the Guru and therefore, we are looking for the master, looking for the teacher.
How we should look for the Guru, and how we should see the Guru, and how we should engage the Guru – we shouldn’t make any mistake in that, because the Guru-disciple relationship is something very, very important. If it goes correctly, with a little effort, you can achieve Enlightenment. Accordingly, it is also very dangerous and serious if you do not engage the Guru properly; it has very serious consequences, as what you have learnt from the samayas. It says that if you don’t perceive someone that you have received teachings as the Guru, then there will be serious consequences such as falling into the lower realms and having to suffer there. There are a lot of uncomfortable things mentioned, which I don’t want to elaborate on. So somehow, it is that important for us in our life, therefore, we should not take this as some kind of pleasure, fun or with the attitude that “since someone is doing it, I should also be doing it”. Because, then, that doesn’t really serve any purpose; even if you have a Guru, it doesn’t mean anything.
If you have a Guru and engage that Guru with the proper manner accordingly, that makes a lot of difference and that totally changes your life from the very ordinary person to the very high level practitioner – that is very sure.
This Precious Human Rebirth
Therefore, firstly, after knowing all these factors, if we now look into our own present situation – we will see that we are indeed very fortunate to be born into this fortunate era, this fortunate time where the Lord Buddha has taught various levels of teachings. And the teachings still exist and compassionate teachers and intelligent and knowledgeable masters who have every ability to lead the disciple towards Liberation and Enlightenment still exist and can be found. On top of that, we enter the path of the Mahamudra lineage, which is the Karma Kagyu tradition.
Mahamudra is the essence of all the Buddha’s teachings, particularly India’s 84 great saints most of who practiced Mahamudra. Through Mahamudra, they attained the state of Enlightenment or they attained the state of Vajradhara. So, the Mahamudra we are practicing is the kind of nectar which comes from those Buddhas and the great saints, when they attained Enlightenment. So, they are expressing the ground, path, results and fruit of the Mahamudra – how it is, how it looks; they extracted this from all their realizations. And that oral transmission is still alive. That kind of lineage which we are in – accidentally or intentionally, which I don’t know – but somehow, which you happen to be in -can’t be accidental because everything must have a cause and effect and condition. Today, what you are comes from a certain cause, and you have definitely established that cause in the past and that’s why you are getting this effect and this result now.
Therefore, you should say, due to the great accumulation of merit in the past, and today, we happen to enter into this path, and we gather every favourable condition to learn and to engage with this path. So, if that kind of situation is not taken seriously, then I think it would be very wasteful. It’s like a person dying of thirst who is in front of the river – which is quite crazy, but is possible. Maybe that person is too lazy to move a little bit nearer to the bank of the river to drink, whichever way. We should not use that example in our real life – drink as much water as you can and then feel fresh so you can move. That is the very good choice and very smart way of doing it. So, when you have all these things here, where all these favourable conditions are present, you should engage this path – you should very seriously engage – and develop yourself and to make progress and development day by day, year by year.
Practicing Every Moment
In that way, to be born as a human in this fortunate time, and meeting with all these favourable conditions becomes meaningful as it can lead to the end of suffering. We should always try to think this way and put a little diligence into our day to day practice. The application of the teachings can actually be done every moment. That is what the Lojong has always advised – when you are talking with someone, you should also train your mind; when you are doing something, you can also train your mind at the same time. When you are dong nothing, you also can train your mind; when you are doing something, you can also train your mind; when you are sick, you also can train your mind; when you are healthy, you also can train your mind. So, every moment is an opportunity for us to train our mind. Every feeling, every emotion which arises are all opportunities for us to realize and understand and then accordingly, we can train ourselves.
With that, life becomes very meaningful. In whatever you are doing – whether you are in the temple and doing practice or if you’re not able to go to the temple always to practice, but are somewhere outside doing your own thing, then the opportunity for constant development is always present. And when you have that kind of presence of constant development, then you have no fear of whatever arises; when suffering comes, it is also a part of the practice; when happiness comes, it is also part of practice; miserable things happening are also part of the practice. So, you are protected. In every situation, you should feel happy. Why should you feel suffering? Why should you feel miserable? Because there are a lot of good things even in the bad things, and sometimes, the bad and miserable things happening have so much positive qualities that even the good things are nothing. In that sense, the happiness of good practitioners is immeasurable, and cannot be described. Whatever miserable thing is happening, that state of mind is always full of joy; when good things happen, s/he is also full of joy.
Courage in the Face of Difficulties
What the mental training explains – how to develop the qualities – looks very difficult in the beginning. Therefore, we always think this is just written in the books – this is what all the masters simply say – but it is not practical for real life because it is too difficult. We always think that way and somehow, we try to ignore it. But when it comes to talking about it, we can talk about it in a big way! But actually, this is very, very possible – it is absolutely possible, and the hardship you experience in developing this does not last very long. It just needs some time of constant development and then eventually, it will come effortlessly. Then, you don’t have to put in effort but you just pay attention and that state of mind will arise.
Anything that looks difficult does not mean that it cannot be done – that can be definitely done. And the more difficult it looks, the bigger results and fruits can be obtained. This is very natural – very easy work yields a small salary in your working life; very big and very important tasks yield a big salary and income. Even in our real life, we also experience that kind of example.
Practice and development also are similar. The only problem lies in our courage – we do not have much courage and because of our habitual tendencies. Our habitual tendencies are always towards the wrong direction. We feel so comfortable going in that direction that if we just try to change or turn away from that direction a little into another path, it is very, very difficult and we are not able to change it. We don’t have the patience to do it -that is our weak point. The main weak point is the habit of defilement, the emotional habits. That habit is caused by the three poisons – ignorance, desire, hatred – which can be divided into other sub-defilements – which are the main thing. But then, if you try to apply a little force to change it, it can be changed.
When it changes, the defilements can eventually be transformed into wisdom and transformed into the state of Enlightenment. The work can be done, because to be in a state of Enlightenment simultaneously benefits sentient beings. So it’s not really something impossible, but it is a way of thinking and how we should change our direction, and how we should put in a little effort at the initial stage to tackle those habits. And then eventually, things become easier and easier.
All this should be kept in mind – the important points of the Guru-disciple relation, the qualities of the Guru and the devotion of the disciple – how to put it together and to learn and to practice to attain Enlightenment. That is what the entire Dharma is about, and for a person to succeed, from being an ordinary sentient being to Buddhahood.
Question and Answer Session – Kuala Lumpur
Q:Is there any visualization for the Lower Vehicle?
Rinpoche: There is no visualization in the Lower Vehicle; what you see is what you see. You don’t need to see the Guru as the deity or whatever. The Guru is in front of you – how he looks like in real life is the Guru. Just appreciate his kindness and knowledge, and receive his teachings with full of respect; wanting to be sincere towards the Guru. In the Vajrayana, you visualize the Guru as the Buddha, the Vajradhara. That is according to which practice you are doing – you have to follow the instructions.
Q:(not clear, but according to Rinpoche’s response, it runs along the lines of whether the person you take Refuge from, initiations, etc from is your Guru.)
Rinpoche: Taking Refuge is from one Guru, Vajrasattva intiation is from another Guru; Chenrezig initiation is asnother Guru; Manjushri intiation is from another Guru. It becomes very complicated overall. Actually, taking Refuge is under the Lower Vehicle so whoever gives you Refuge is your Guru, but he is not your Vajrayana Guru that you have to rely on and see as Vajradhara. It may not be necessary to do that, but he’s an important Guru because he’s the one who gave you Refuge and who was the witness of your taking Refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. So, he’s an important Guru, but it’s not that serious.
Actually, when you take Refuge, you do not take Refuge to that Guru – that mistake is always made. That master is just a witness only; he’s just assisting you in your taking Refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. The Refuge Guru is actually an assistant and witness. Of course, you should also take him as a Guru because he is showing you something, he’s also explaining to you something. If you listen to four sentences from someone and the Guru-disciple relation is established there, then accordingly, you have to observe the Guru-disciple relation. But that is not what you call your root Guru. The root Guru is not your Refuge Guru.
How do you interpret the root Guru? It’s something important you have to know.
Audience:He’s the one who shows you the nature of your mind.
Rinpoche: Yes, that is more or less true. But when? I think there are two more things. Literally, whatever we say – we can say root Guru, or we can say personal Guru – they basically mean the same thing. But the actual root Guru is the one who leads you to realize the nature of your mind through his teachings or through any methods which awaken realizations into the nature of the mind. Whichever master who points that out is the root Guru and the Vajradhara to you. But before that, is a very long way and path that is very dangerous and very difficult. Along this, you still need one Guru, and he is more or less your personal Guru in that he must know your mentality and how to train you, and who has the patience to train you to keep going on. This is also the personal Guru.
Generally, everybody describes that as the root Guru but in actual fact, he is the personal Guru. The actual Guru is one who points to the nature of your mind, but that’s a long way. So that personal Guru is very important.
There’s a slight difference between the initiation Guru and the personal Guru. The initiation Guru should also be taken very seriously – as long as you receive that initiation accordingly and perceive, observe and keep the commitments -the Guru who gives such an initiation is also our Vajrayana Guru and in future, you should never think any negative or harmful thoughts about that Guru. Because the consequences will be very serious.
But the Guru who gives you Refuge or initiations are not your root Gurus, but they are very serious Gurus because anything to do with the Vajrayana should be taken very seriously. On top of that, the root Guru is even more serious. Compared with these two, the ordinary Guru, who teaches you basic or general Dharma, is less serious although it is also in a way, quite serious because according to the teachings, if you receive four sentences but you don’t engage with the Guru, one may be reborn as a dog or something.
Q:Is Guru Devotion a form of attachment?
Rinpoche: Yes. Use attachment to counter attachment! Use the iron to cut the iron! It is perfectly fine. When a person has reached non-attachment, it somehow naturally becomes non-attachment; it is impossible – he will not be attached. The attachment which we already have – how to make use of that attachment to progress and then later, to realize the nature of the attachment and to dismantle all this attachment – that is the tool we use to overcome defilements. It is not that “this is no good so we must throw it away, that is no good so it must be thrown away”, because at last, we have nothing left. This is no good because it is interpreted through ignorance, and defilements. But if interpreted through wisdom, then, “this is also something, that is also something”. So, all this becomes very important, and all this can combine and produce very wonderful things.
That is the Vajrayana way – using defilements to transform the defilements, and then using that defilement to ignite wisdom. That is how the Vajrayana works. You just can’t abandon everything. Because, what are you going to do next? Nothing! You have this negative thought and you say it’s not good because it causes a lot of negativities, so throw that away. Your desire of wanting to have this and that – you’ll also say, “this is no good, this is defilement, this is attachment, throw all that away”. Eventually, there is nothing functioning because you have thrown all your qualities away. How can you expect something which is not functioning and cannot be used for anything to be used to attain Enlightenment and become full of wisdom? It is impossible. So, wisdom and Enlightenment are actually within our present defilements, within this present mind. It’s always there, and we have to use proper methods to clear that ignorance and to come to our real true nature.
We don’t have to make any efforts to move towards Enlightenment or bring that Enlightenment towards you – Enlightenment is already there since beginningless time, and when you realize that, it means you are already there. That’s it.
Q:?? (question is unclear, but is about what if the Guru rejects the disciple?)
Rinpoche: How to request the root Guru and be accepted? From what I think, to request is a kind of respect and acknowledgement to the Guru that you want to learn from the particular Guru and you humbly request to be his disciple. But whether the Guru will accept you or not – if he does not accept you, what is the reason? I think somehow, in most cases, acceptance by the Guru is not really a problem; it’s not really a situation where the Guru will not accept someone as a disciple. If he does that� What are the qualities of the Guru which I mentioned – the second quality – compassion – if the Guru doesn’t have compassion� I think the worst people to those who are very good, are all his subjects, but the worst people need the Guru more than those who are perfect. In relation to that, if the Guru is a good one, there’s no way the Guru will not accept you. He will definitely accept you. But, requesting is something humble – that is the proper way of showing your gratitude and sincerity.
So the Guru will accept you no matter what. Sometimes, it may take a little bit of time; if the Guru is very skilful, the Guru may not reject you completely, but he may not immediately say, ok, ok. But that is a very good and wonderful thing – that is to let you develop a little patience and develop a little understanding about the Guru’s qualities. Whichever way – somehow, the Guru will accept any disciple. But the disciple must choose the proper Guru – that is very important. The Guru does need to choose his disciples, because all are his subjects as far as his compassion extends to all people. Only there is no way of communicating with most people, otherwise most people can also be the disciple of Guru Rinpoche!
Q:If the disciple already has a root Guru – can he still receive teachings from other teachers?
Rinpoche: Every Guru is a Guru whom you should learn from and respect. The root Guru is the root yidam, and both very close to you mentally. Therefore, the main stream of advice which you are calling is from your root Guru, but the other Guru’s teachings are somehow complimentary to your main practice. In that way, don’t think that if you are receiving teachings from other Gurus, your root Guru will be jealous. You should not think that way. It will never happen like that. In fact, they will always encourage you to gain more knowledge from various teachers as that is always good for your development.
But our minds should be strong and firm; if we are in this path, we should take that as our main stream and we don’t change – today, this teaching is so nice, this initiation looks so wonderful – then, that is an attempt to move towards that direction but we can’t. After a while, you receive another more attractive teaching from another more attractive Guru and you attempt to change again. That gets you nowhere and you become disappointed. So one should not be like that; one should follow one main stream and then engage the other teachings and advice to boost or to compliment your main stream practice. Your main stream practice teaches you how to develop compassion, it teaches you how to develop wisdom, it teaches you how to be kind. Your mainstream practice must always be progressing, no matter what. But at the same time, you can also benefit from various teachers and their teachings for your development. I think that is the way.
Question and Answer Session – Singapore
Q:When one receives an empowerment from a teacher, does that mean that the teacher whom one received the initiation from is one’s Guru or one’s root Guru?
Rinpoche: It depends whether the empowerment is received accidentally or with deliberate purpose. If you received the empowerment accidentally, the teacher is not the Guru or the root Guru. But if the motivation to go for that empowerment comes with full understanding and you know the greatness of the initiation, and you’ve also happily understood and made all the commitments, then he is regarded as your Guru.
But a root Guru is different from a Guru. The root Guru is someone who shows you the nature of the mind. The nature of the mind can also be shown through the initiation. If you are very fortunate or if you are very intelligent and the Guru is very skilful, the nature of the mind can be shown through the initiation; within the initiation, you will be able to realize the nature of the mind, such as when Marpa gave Milarepa the Hevajra initiation. At that moment, Milarepa suddenly saw Marpa no longer as Marpa but as Hevajra. From there, Hevajra spoke to Milarepa and within that moment, Milarepa totally and completely realized and actualized his ordinary state of mind and transformed into the state of Enlightenment.
Realization within an initiation is possible, but it is very rare, especially during this degenerate age where good masters also have some defects here and there, and for the disciple, do not talk about it! It is quite difficult, but it is quite possible. If it is not through an initiation but when you engage with the Guru for long period and receive many teachings, in the end, there will be a certain point where the Guru will guide you on how to see or to realize the nature of mind. From there on, if you practice, you will really able to realize that truth. The person who points to you the nature of mind is your Vajradhara; he is your root Guru.
The person who guides and leads you along the path, who cares for your progress is your personal Guru. But it is very hard to say that he is your root Guru. One can have only one Root Guru, and it is at that moment when he shows you and when you recognize your true nature of the mind. So far, nobody here has a root Guru; otherwise you would not be here!
But on the other hand, it is very common that we take someone as our personal Guru, and we call this Guru our root Guru.
There is nothing wrong in taking someone as one’s root Guru even when he is actually your personal Guru. He does not actually have the effect of a root Guru, he is actually more of a personal Guru, but he can be called a root Guru. But the actual root Guru is someone who shows you the nature of mind.
Therefore, whatever name which you give is fine, as long as you yourself are not confused; we can call him our personal Guru or root Guru – it is fine. But you must know all these factors well.
Q:Can Rinpoche explain the three bodies of Buddha?
Rinpoche: The three bodies, the Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya and Nirmanakaya are the functions of Enlightenment. When one attains Enlightenment, one accomplishes these three functions.
First, the function of Dharmakaya is for oneself; that is to remain in the state of Enlightenment. Next, the function of Sambhogakaya is to benefit higher levels of Bodhisattvas, while the Nirmanakaya is the function which benefits the rest of all sentient beings.
An example would be the sun and its rays: the sun is like the Dharmakaya which benefits the world, while its rays are like the Sambhogakaya and the benefit, its warm feeling given to others is like the Nirmanakaya.
In that way, when one attains Enlightenment, one spontaneously performs all these functions effortlessly; this is how Enlightenment will bring benefits and Liberation to all sentient beings.
If that example is being applied to oneself: presently, the mind itself is imperfect. But once the mind is perfect, it is the Dharmakaya; our thoughts are imperfect, but if perfect, is the Sambhogakaya; our actions are now imperfect; but if perfect, it is the Nirmanakaya. When these transform to the state of Enlightenment, these three become the Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya and Nirmanakaya.
Q:If one has not started or finished the four foundation practices can one have a root Guru after receiving an initiation?
Rinpoche: If the initiations are not received accidentally but done with deliberate purpose and during the initiation, you feel that you are completely in that mandala of the initiation and you keep the samaya bond, the Guru-disciple relation is already established regardless of whether you have started or finished the four foundation practices.
Of course, the four foundation practices are the more proper and easy way in terms of spiritual development.
For example, in order to reach the top of a building, it is easier to reach the final destination if you go from the first step to the second step and so on until you reach the final destination, rather than jump to the top from the ground; you may break your leg and so on! This is more risky and more difficult.
However, even if without any foundation, it is still possible that you go straight into the initiation and find someone who is very perfect and great as a Guru who gives you the teachings and from which you attain the Enlightenment. This Guru can then be your root Guru. I should say this is all possible but normally, this is not the proper way.
Q:Can one receive an initiation without observing the commitments?
Rinpoche: Commitments given in an initiation are part of the initiation; when you do not observe the commitments, then the initiation is not effective.
Q:What happens if during the initiation, one does not follow the process and does not know what is going on?
Rinpoche: Without understanding, you cannot receive an initiation. Taking the initiation has to come with full understanding; the whole process of initiation from the very beginning to the end consists of instructions.
From the Guru’s side, the master has to develop himself as the deity and go through the process of giving blessings and empowerments while from the disciple’s side, one has to develop as a perfect vessel.
And continuously one after another: the body empowerment, the speech empowerment, the mind empowerment, the activities empowerment and the qualities empowerment, etc – which the master gives, the disciples have to receive.
The materials used for the initiation, such as the vase or whatever, are just symbolic; these do not really represent the initiation but they are symbolic. The important thing is that during those moments, the disciple has to be in meditation to receive these. Without all these, it is just a symbolic initiation you have received. It cannot be very effective for one’s own practice, but it is still fine for blessing purposes and for purifying one’s obstacles in order to create some kind of karmic link with the deities.
Q:Can a female attain Enlightenment within a single life time?
Rinpoche: Enlightenment within a single life time can be achieved regardless of whether the person is a male or female. In this practice, there is no difference or any discrimination between both sexes.
The important factor is that whoever is diligent and follows the path correctly can attain Enlightenment within a single lifetime or within several lifetimes.
Q:How does one practice if one has received many initiations of different deities and from different Gurus? How does one visualize one’s Guru?
Rinpoche: When you have received many initiations, you will have many yidams to practice; let’s say you may have one hundred deities but in your practice, it is important that your focus must be on one main personal yidam. The remaining deity practices are just your general practice.
Similarly, in a way, there must be one hundred masters who have given you the one hundred initiations; all these masters are in a way, also your Gurus, but there must be one who is your personal Guru. That one Guru and your personal yidam will be your main focus.
When you visualize your Guru, it does not mean that all these Gurus must appear there. It is not really necessary in that way. You visualize your personal Guru, your personal guide whom you are depending on very much to show the path. The others are just complimentary; they can provide certain favourable conditions to boost your practices and understanding and support your main stream of practice.
Q:Can one’s personal Guru not be the first Guru one has met?
Rinpoche: As long as you are not strongly bonded by the Guru-disciple relation with the first Guru, and subsequently, there is another Guru who is nice and suitable for you, you can take him as your main Guru.
It does not matter – the teachings and the yidam given to you by the first Guru (Guru A) can still be continued even with further instructions you’ve received from Guru B on that yidam practice. It is the same thing because it is not possible that the yidam that you get from Guru A would not be known by Guru B, as Guru B is supposed to be well versed as well.
As I have said earlier, you choose a Guru who is knowledgeable and skillful. It is the same yidam, only the lineage and lineage transmission you have received from the first and the second master are different. Having the same yidam practice from two different lineages is actually a bonus to you; the more you have received, the better it is as you are “richer” in that deity and more informed.
Q:Can you please elaborate when the Guru and disciple relationship is being established?
Rinpoche: If you received an initiation the properly, the Guru-disciple relation is also established at that moment. If you just come to receive the initiation for blessings and for temporary measures to eradicate some problem, then it may not develop into that kind of serious relationship; the initiation becomes just a blessing.
Actually, the Guru and disciple relationship can be established somehow as long as you have received certain good advice from whomever, but this is not the Vajrayana kind of Guru and disciple relation.
Even though it is a Vajrayana initiation, when the person is not developed to the standard of the Vajrayana disciple, you still cannot receive those qualities from the Guru or the kind of bond in a Guru and disciple relation mentioned in the Vajrayana teachings.
Generally, the normal Guru and disciple relation is already established as long as you have heard four sentences that benefit your mind; this already establishes the Guru and disciple relationship.
This teaching is an edited condensation of two talks on Guru Devotion, given by Rinpoche at the KKBC, Singapore and the KKDS, Kuala Lumpur, in June 2002. The two Question and Answer sessions are reproduced after the main talk.
Origin of this text: http://www.kagyu-asia.com
This text belongs to the view of Kagyupa School of Tibetan Buddhism
This teaching is an edited transcript condensed from two talks which Rinpoche gave on Guru Devotion; the first at the KKBC, Singapore and the other at KKDS, Kuala Lumpur, in May 2002. The two Question and Answer sessions that followed the talks are reproduced here after the main talk.
Biography of the author:
Shangpa Rinpoche was born on 12th September 1960 at the border between Tibet and Nepal. At the age of two, he was recognised as an incarnation of the Great Yogi Shangpa Rinpoche, who was a disciple of His Holiness, the 15th Gyalwa Karmapa. After going through many hardships, he and his mother finally arrived in Pokhara, Nepal. His Holiness, the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa, ordained him when he was 9 years old.
From this tender age, he studied all the ritual arts and memorised scriptures under the guidance of the late Dupsing Rinpoche and other learned teachers. When he was 16 years old, he joined the Tibetan Higher Institute of Buddhist Studies in Varanasi and mastered Buddhist philosophy, literature, poetry, the history of Buddhism and Sanskrit, etc. He also received many teachings and emp