Benefits of relying on a spiritual mentor
Benefits of relying on a spiritual mentor
Part of a series of teachings on The Easy Path to Travel to Omniscience, a lamrim text by Panchen Losang Chokyi Gyaltsen, the first Panchen Lama.
- The eight benefits of properly relying on a spiritual mentor and the disadvantages of not doing so
- The importance of maintaining a good relationship
- What it means to develop confidence in the mentor based on conviction
Easy Path 03: Benefits of relying on mentor (download)
It’s the third teaching, and what we’ll do is we’ll start with the abbreviated practice that came from the text. The text gave the expanded practice, and last week I abbreviated it, and so we’ll do that abbreviated practice again this time and together. I’ll read the first part, the visualization, and you can visualize, and then we’ll do the prayers together. Let’s start.
Let’s come back to the breath. Watch your breath for a couple of minutes. Let your mind settle down. When we visualize the Buddha, think that the Buddha is the embodiment of all the wisdom and compassion appearing in that physical form. He’s the embodiment of the entire path and all the results of the path, and that is being symbolized, being represented, appearing in the form of Shakyamuni Buddha.
In the space in front of you, on a precious throne, both high and wide, supported by eight great snow lions, on a seat of a multi-colored lotus, moon and sun discs is my kind main spiritual mentor in the form of the Conqueror Shakyamuni.
This whole visualization is made of light. You’re not imagining a statue, but really thinking of the Buddha appearing in your mind’s eye.
The color of his body is pure gold. On his head is the crown protuberance. He has one face and two arms. The right hand touches the earth. The left, in meditation posture, holds an alms bowl full of nectar. He wears the three saffron-colored monastic robes. His body is made of pure light and, adorned with the signs and marks of a Buddha, emanates a flood of light in all directions. Sitting in the vajra posture, he is surrounded by my direct and indirect spiritual mentors, by deities, Buddhas and bodhisattvas, heroes, heroines and an assembly of arya Dharma protectors.
Just have the feeling that you’re sitting in the presence of a huge assembly of arya beings and fully awakened Buddhas, and they’re all looking at you with kindness, compassion, and contentment. And in turn, at the thought of their compassion and their virtue, a feeling of great faith and confidence and trust in the holy beings arises in us. Then to generate our motivation, let’s think,
I and all sentient beings, my mothers from beginningless time until now, have continuously undergone the duhkha of cyclic existence in general and the suffering of the three lower realms in particular. Nevertheless, it is still difficult to fathom the depth and breadth of this misery.
Although if we just open our eyes a little bit and look around or even think about the news, it’s quite apparent. Think,
Now that I have attained a precious human life, so difficult to attain and so meaningful once acquired, if I do not realize supreme liberation in which all the duhkha of samsara is overcome – Guru-Buddhahood – then once again I will have to experience the various torments of cyclic existence in general and those of the three lower realms in particular. As I now have before me the mentor and the Three Jewels who can protect me from this pain, for the sake of all mother sentient beings I will do all I can to realize precious, perfect, and consummate Buddhahood. To this end, from the depths of my heart I take refuge in the spiritual mentors and in the Three Jewels.
Visualize yourself surrounded by all sentient beings. Think of your mother on your left side, your father on your right, it doesn’t matter if they’re still alive or not, you can still imagine them. As far as you can see, you’re surrounded by other sentient beings, who, just like you, want to be happy and don’t want to have problems. But in spite of that wish, find that problems come our way anyway. As we recite the various prayers then think about the meaning, and think that you’re leading all the sentient beings around you in generating the feelings and thoughts that are expressed in those verses.’
I take refuge until I have awakened in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. By the merit I create by engaging in generosity, and the other far-reaching practices may I attain Buddhahood in order to benefit all sentient beings.
I take refuge until I have awakened in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. By the merit I create by engaging in generosity, and the other far-reaching practices may I attain Buddhahood in order to benefit all sentient beings.
I take refuge until I have awakened in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. By the merit I create by engaging in generosity, and the other far-reaching practices may I attain Buddhahood in order to benefit all sentient beings.
Then we’ll recite the four immeasurables all together and pause after the last one to contemplate them a little bit.
May all sentient beings have happiness and its causes.
May all sentient beings be free of suffering and its causes.
May all sentient beings not be separated from sorrowless bliss.
May all sentient beings abide in equanimity, free of bias, attachment to anger.
Try and generate those feelings within yourself towards everybody, not only your friends, but also strangers and especially the people that you don’t get along with or that you’re afraid of or who make you feel uncomfortable. Especially wish them to have happiness and breathe free of suffering. Remembering that if they were happy and content inside, they would be acting totally different than how they’re acting now.
And we’ll recite the seven-limb prayer and try and think about each line as you’re saying it.
Reverently I prostrate with my body speech and mind,And present clouds of every type of offering, actual and mentally transformed.I confess all my destructive actions accumulated since beginningless time,And rejoice in the virtues of all holy and ordinary beings.Please remain until cyclic existence ends,And turn the wheel of Dharma for sentient beings.I dedicate all the virtues of myself and others to the great awakening.
Then thinking of the universe and everything beautiful in it, especially filling the sky with clouds of offerings—things that you consider beautiful and desirable, things that you would want for yourself, but now you’re offering them in even more beautiful form to the Buddhas and bodhisattvas. First to create merit and to develop the feeling that takes delight in giving and second to free yourself from attachment to all of these things. Knowing that to really follow the path sincerely, we have to give up clinging to the objects.
This ground, anointed with perfume, flowers strewn,
Mount Meru, four lands, sun, and moon,
Imagined as a Buddha land and offered to you
May all beings enjoy this pure land.
The objects of attachment, aversion, and ignorance, friends, enemies and strangers, my body, wealth, and enjoyments, I offer these without any sense of loss. Please accept them with pleasure and inspire me and others to be free from the three poisonous attitudes.
idam guru ratna mandala kam nirya tayami.
Imagine that as you offer the universe and everything beautiful in it to, in multiple copies to all the holy beings, that they experience great bliss, and you also experience a lightness inside because you’re giving up your clinging and attachment to these things. Then imagine that a duplicate of the Buddha emerges from the front Buddha that you’ve imagined and comes to sit on the crown of your head facing the same direction as you, as if he’s petitioning the Buddhas and all the other holy beings on your behalf as we say the requesting verses:
Glorious and precious root guru, sit upon the lotus and moon seat on my crown. Guiding me with your great kindness, bestow upon me the attainments of your body, speech, and mind.
The eyes through whom the vast scriptures are seen, supreme doors for the fortunate who would cross over to spiritual freedom, illuminators whose wise means vibrate with compassion, to the entire line of spiritual mentors I make request.
Then while we recite the Buddha’s mantra seven times, imagine that light flows from the Buddha on your head into you, and also from the Buddhas and bodhisattvas and so on in the space in front of you. Light flows from them and enters into you through all the pores of your body, and this light purifies all obstacles and sickness, all imprints of destructive karma. It also brings with it the inspiration of all the holy beings so that you feel like you’ve developed qualities similar to theirs and that you’ve developed the realizations of the path that they have. Think and visualize like this while we recite the Buddha’s mantra seven times.
Tayata om muni muni maha muniye soha
Then let’s reaffirm our motivation before we have the teachings that we’re going to listen with an attentive mind and with the wish to learn how to work with our mind, how to free it from its afflictions, how to develop our good qualities. To do this, not simply for our own liberation, not simply for our own happiness and wellbeing, but by developing these qualities and progressing along the path to awakening, may we increase our ability to be of benefit to all living beings, and then completely culminate that ability by becoming fully awakened Buddhas ourselves. Let’s have that as our motivation for sharing this time together.
Last time we talked about the qualities of a Mahayana teacher. Remember how important it is to check up on somebody’s qualities before accepting them as our teacher, that we’re the person who decides who our teachers are and how important it is to really get to know somebody and see that they’re qualified before we make that decision in our mind that they are one of our spiritual teachers because who we choose as our teachers is incredibly important. It affects not only this life but our future lives because our teachers are our guide on the path, and if we choose somebody who doesn’t know the path very well or follows a mistaken path, then that’s the road we’ll go down too. That has a lot of consequences in the long term. It really behoves us to know these qualities of a teacher, that they have good ethical conduct, meditative experience, they know the teachings on wisdom, they’re teaching with a virtuous attitude, not just to collect a group of groupies around them, or to get a lot of offerings, that they have good scriptural knowledge. I would add, it’s not listed in here, but I think that it’s important that they have a good relationship with their own teacher as well. And that they’re very patient so that they won’t get fed up with us. They have enthusiasm for teaching so that they will teach us. So to look for qualities like this. Then also, it’s not like we’re consumers and we’re out there checking goods to purchase, but we also have to come to the relationship with something.
Last week we also talked about the qualities of a good student or a good disciple. Somebody who’s open minded, who’s willing to listen to all sorts of different ideas, who is intelligent, and will think about the teachings well, and they’re able to discriminate if something is correct or something is incorrect. Somebody who’s very sincere, we want to develop our own motivation and sincerity in the practice. Then we talked about other qualities such as having confidence in the teachings, respect for the three jewels, respect for the spiritual mentor, and we want to develop those qualities and also to abandon all of our wrong views. In that way, making ourselves into the most suitable disciple possible. If we do our work, and we choose teachers that have done their work, or are doing their work, then things work out very well. If, like I said before, if we choose teachers that aren’t so qualified, it brings a lot of problems, and if we ourselves don’t make an effort to become a qualified disciple ourselves, then we’re kind of wasting our teacher’s time. And again, our practice doesn’t go anywhere because our minds are just too full of our own ideas and our own conceptions and our own likes and dislikes. It’s important for us to make ourselves into good disciples.
Then we were talking about the actual meditation of how to rely on a spiritual mentor. I should say that sometimes this meditation, the translation is guru devotion and that is wrong in translation. The Tibetan is [lamay tempa: 25:39 inaudible]. Lama, his spiritual mentor [tempa: inaudible] means to rely or depend upon. The reason I point this out is the words guru devotion, I don’t know about you, but for me, it evokes a certain meaning that’s very different than relying or depending on a spiritual mentor. When I hear guru devotion, I think of Ali, Ali salami (?), whatever it was, “I’m devoted to you, I sacrifice, I surrender everything” like this, which is not the correct way to relate to a spiritual mentor. We don’t sit there and just like, gaze with eyes like big saucers at our spiritual mentors, “Oh, you’re so precious. You’re such a Buddha, you’re so wonderful.” That isn’t the way to rely on a spiritual mentor. To rely on a spiritual mentor really means that we listen to the teachings very attentively, that we really take the teachings to heart, and we try and put them into practice. In that way, we’re really relying on a spiritual mentor in a way that is going to benefit us and enable us to benefit others. It’s not just a thing of devotion and worship. It’s a thing of learning and putting into practice.
When they give teachings on this topic, they always talk about the benefits of proper relying on a spiritual mentor. I think it’s helpful just to go over these rather quickly.
One is we will become closer to awakening because we will practice what our teacher instructs, and accumulate great merit by making offerings to him or her. In terms of karma, there are certain objects. Objects meaning people that we create stronger karma with. For example, our parents because of their kindness. The poor and sick because of their needs, and our spiritual mentors, because they’re the ones who guide us. In the relationship with a spiritual mentor, we have the opportunity to create some very powerful merit if we rely on our spiritual mentors correctly. Conversely, we have the opportunity to create a lot of destructive karma if we get angry and have all sorts of horrible thoughts.
One thing that’s interesting, and this is the benefit that will become closer to awakening, it’s because we will practice what our teacher instructs. We will create merit by making offerings. That’s why I say it isn’t like guru devotion. The word devotion gives the feeling like all we do is have devotion and that in itself is what brings the benefit. It’s not. It’s what we do in response to depending and relying on a spiritual mentor.
Then secondly, it pleases all the Buddhas. They say the teacher is the representative of the Buddha in that they’re teaching us because the Buddha isn’t here. It pleases the Buddha when we rely on the teacher and when we listen to the teachings that come from the Buddha and put them into practice. It makes us rely on our spiritual mentor. T
hird, it makes us impervious to demonic forces and misleading friends. Meaning that because we have practiced well, and because we’ve accumulated merit, we’re not going to follow misleading friends who encourage us to do all sorts have negative actions.
Then fourth, our afflictions and our bad behavior automatically are curtailed because our mentor teaches us what to practice and what to abandon. Then looking at our spiritual mentor as an example of the Dharma, then that too encourages us to let go of our bad habits and to practice good qualities. You can see this when you look at somebody like His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and you listen to his teachings, and you see his behavior, then you go, “Oh, this is the real McCoy. This is the real McCoy, and I’m going to rely on him.”
As a result, we start transforming our own behaviors. He’s a role model for how to be. I know, for myself very often when I have difficulties, or I find myself in a difficult position, I’ll think, “Now, how would my teachers act in this kind of situation? How would they think? What kind of attitude would they have? How would they deal with it?’ I find that very, very helpful. That’s a benefit of relying on a spiritual mentor.
The fifth is, we gain higher paths and meditative experiences and stable realizations. Again, through listening and practicing the Dharma.
Six, we won’t lack spiritual teachers in future lives. This, I think, is a very important benefit because once you practice for a while, you really see how much you’ve benefited from choosing a good teacher and letting that person benefit you. Then you think, ‘What would have happened in my life if I had not met that teacher?” I know when I think about that, if I had not met my teachers, I would have made a huge, huge mess of my life and caused a lot of other people a lot of pain because I could see the path I was going down before I met my teachers. If I continued down that path it would have been a mess. I feel so fortunate for having met my teachers in this life.
Of course, I want to meet good teachers in a future life. To rely on our teachers this life creates that cause, and prevents us from not having access to good teachers. If you think about it, imagine what it would be like to have a lot of spiritual longing. You have a lot of longing, yearning, interest, and nobody there to teach you. What do you do? What do you do? You’re like, stuck. Super stuck. We definitely want to create the karma to meet good teachers in future lives and not to meet bad ones.
I remember, at one of His Holiness’ teachings—this was after one of the Western Buddhist teachers’ meetings, where we heard all sorts of stories about people and how they related to their teachers. That was a real big eye opener. I was talking with Alex [inaudible: 34:30] at that time. He is an old friend, and we were sitting there marveling that we had met the teachers that we had met. He and I had pretty much the same teachers and how incredibly fortunate we were. How did we have that kind of karma to meet these people? From our side, to follow them. Why didn’t we follow some of these other weird teachers? We’d done something right in a previous life. Then you want to do that same good thing again in this life to be able to meet with teachers.
Seventh, we won’t fall to lower rebirths. Again, because we listen and practice what our teacher teaches us.
And then eighth, all of our temporary and ultimate goals will be effortlessly realized. That includes all the seven previous ones.
Then the text usually talks about the disadvantages of not properly relying on your teacher. What this means is if you form a relationship with somebody as your teacher, and then your mind gets really, really negative about them. You criticize them. You show contempt to them. You reject them. You renounce them. You harbor incredible anger. You don’t confess any of this. In other words, your mind really gets negative, and you think all sorts of negative thoughts, the same way we do when we get angry. It’s just, “I’m fed up, I don’t like this person, get rid of them.” If you do this kind of thing, then clearly that’s going to be detrimental, because you’ve already checked out their qualities and decided it was somebody reliable. Then because of our own likes and dislikes and our own ego sensitivity and how easily offended we are and so on, then we get really mad at that same person who we had entrusted our spiritual guidance to, and say, “Puff.” That’s not going to have a happy ending for us. What happens if we have that kind of contempt and anger and reject the teacher, and we don’t confess it, then the following things accrue. If we do confess it, there’s the opportunity to make amends and to purify and so on.
Sometimes you meet people that just turn away from everything with so much anger and resentment, and it’s not at all helpful to their mind. First of all, it’s the same as showing contempt for all the Buddhas because this is the person who’s teaching us with what the Buddha taught, and showing contempt for them, we will be reborn in the lower realms, having a lot of anger. Though we may try to practice tantra, we won’t attain awakening. Though we may put great effort into tantric practice, all we’ll wind up with a hellish rebirth. We won’t develop any new qualities or realizations and what we have developed will decline by the force of this negativity in our own mind, and many unwished-for things like sickness and calamities will befall us in this life, especially if we disrespect our teachers and lie to them. In future lives we’ll roam endlessly in lower realms, and we’ll also lack spiritual mentors in future lives.
You can see how that kind of result is simply a mirror reflection of how we’re acting towards our teacher in this life if we have anger and resentment and we’re pushing them away with anger and resentment. The boomerang effect, what comes back to us is, we push them away, now we don’t have teachers in future lives. We’re angry and now what happens to us? A very hellish kind of rebirth filled with a lot of pain and anger and so on.
The point that they’re getting at here is saying is that it’s very important, once we’ve made that connection with somebody as our teacher, that we keep a good relationship with them. Now, of course, things always happen whenever you have human beings. Things are going to happen. Especially with people like us, who have minds that are full of afflictions, the Buddha could appear in front of us, and we’re going to be dissatisfied and critical. Even in the scriptures, there are stories of people. I mean, can you imagine having the opportunity to sit in the presence of the Buddha himself? In the scriptures and you read it, people getting so angry criticizing, “Oh, this guy, Gautama, he doesn’t know anything. He’s just, a farce, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” Especially sometimes when the Buddha has to reprimand a disciple because they misbehave, then that person gets mad. “Oh, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” To the Buddha. Imagine what we’re going to do. I mean, it’s entirely within the possibility of our own mind. I mean, we get in a bad mood, we have a lot of anger. Our mind just sees everything that somebody does is wrong. “It’s negative. They’re insensitive. They don’t care about me. All they do is criticize and humiliate me. They don’t know the teachings, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” When we get like that, who are we damaging? Ourselves, isn’t it? Especially if you have a really good teacher, and then you get angry and renounce that person. That’s like, “What’s going on here?” That’s not going to help us. Of course, because we’re sentient beings with afflictions, and we have a lot of opinions. We have a lot of preferences. We are extremely ego sensitive. Aren’t we? (to audience member) Hello, are you ego sensitive? Shall I say something, and we’ll find out if you are or not? [laughter]
Of course, things are going to come up. So then the idea is, how do we keep a positive attitude when those things come up? That leads us into the next point of the outline, which is developing confidence or convictional faith—confidence based on conviction, based on understanding in our spiritual mentor. I’ll continue reading the text as it reads here, and then I’ll explain it. It says,
visualize that the mentors with whom you have a direct spiritual connection appear from Guru-Munindra’s [in other words, Buddha Shakyamuni’s] heart and place themselves in the space in front of you.
You still have this visualization of the Buddha in front of you. You imagine from his heart come all your spiritual mentors that you have a connection with. Think,
My spiritual mentors are true buddhas. In his precious collection of tantras, the complete and perfect Buddha said that in degenerate times the Conqueror Vajradhara would work for the benefit of sentient beings by appearing in the form of spiritual mentors. Accordingly, my spiritual mentors have simply shown an alternate physical form and are in fact the Conqueror Vajradhara manifesting as spiritual mentors to guide those who do not have the good fortune to meet the Buddha directly. Guru-deity, please inspire me and all mother sentient beings so that we may perceive our spiritual mentors directly as MunindraVajradhara.
In other words, as the Buddha. Then the text continues,
In response to your requesting the guru deity, five colored light [white, yellow, red, blue and green] and nectar stream from all the parts of the Buddha and all of our spiritual mentors, from their bodies. It flows towards us, absorbs into our body and mind.
You can either imagine it absorbing through the crown of our head, going in, filling our whole body-mind, or absorbing through all the pores of our body. But we have this incredible brilliant light and nectar streaming from our spiritual mentors and from the Buddha absorbing into us.
It purifies you of all the negativities, and obscurations accumulated since beginningless time, and especially purifies all illnesses, spirit interferences, negativities, and obscurations that interfere with directly perceiving your mentors as Munindra-Vajradhara.
One thing it does is purify all these hindrances and illnesses and spirit interferences and obscurations and so on—the light nectar does that. Then the second thing,
All your good qualities, lifespan, merit, and so on, expand and increase.
Purifying and then bringing with it all the goodness and the realization so that your wisdom, lifespan, merit and so on increase.
Think in particular that a superior realization–the direct perception of these spiritual mentors as Munindra-Vajradhara—arises in your mindstream and in the mindstreams of others.
You do this visualization, you make the request, you do the visualization. Now, let’s go and think about this a little bit here. It starts out, “my spiritual mentors are true Buddhas.” Then it talks about in the collection of tantras, that the Buddha said that the Conquer Vajradhara will appear in the form of our spiritual mentors in degenerate times. This kind of explanation is directed at somebody who is practicing tantra or who is about to take a tantric initiation. It is not directed at beginners, and it’s not directed at people who aren’t following the tantric path at this particular moment.
The reason is because when you practice tantra, you’re trying to see even sentient beings as the Buddha, so of course, you’re going to try and see your teacher as the Buddha. You’re trying to see the environment as the Pure Land. But there are different kinds of spiritual mentors. We see them differently according to the way that we relate, the kind of relationship we have with them. His Holiness talks about, first of all, our Vinaya spiritual mentors. This is the person who teaches us the four noble truths and everything to do with them, the path to liberation, who gives us our monastic vows, the five lay precepts. Of course, we have respect for that person. We treat them as a representative of the Buddha.
Then, second, we have those teachers or spiritual mentors who teach us the bodhisattva path and who give us the bodhisattva vow. Yes, teach us the path of the six far-reaching practices, how to generate bodhicitta, and so forth. Those teachers too, we develop respect for them, and we see them as emanations of the Buddha.
It’s only when we come to tantra that we try to see the teacher as the Buddha, because like I said we’re trying to see everybody as a Buddha and the environment as the Pure Land. His Holiness has been very clear that this teaching is really not for everybody, because seeing the teacher as the Buddha is very easy to misunderstand. If people misunderstand it, it’s extremely detrimental for people and for the teachers. In teaching this part on how to rely on our spiritual mentor, I’m going to teach it in a much more practical way, not so much related to tantra, because that’s the level we’re at, or at least the level I’m at.
When we had some discussions in 1993, and then it was, I think, ’94, maybe it was ’96, we had two Western Buddhist teachers’ conferences with His Holiness. This got discussed a lot in these conferences. His Holiness was very clear that people have to be taught how to relate to the spiritual mentor in accord with their own level of practice, and that this teaching that the guru’s the Buddha, if misunderstood, is very damaging. So then, how do we develop—because this is the part of the outline is developing confidence and convictional faith in our spiritual mentor because it’s important, if we’re going to study with somebody, that we have some kind of confidence in them. Right? We’ve checked out their qualities. We’ve decided and chosen that they’re going to be one of our teachers. How do we maintain a good relationship and continue to develop confidence in them? Some people may find the fact that Vajradhara said Buddha said this, conviction, that, actually, the quote says that the high teachers are the Buddha. Then also, our mentors are kind of like the media for conveying to us the enlightening influence of the Buddha. Our mentors inspire us. They help us to establish very receptive states of mind. In that way, they’re playing a very unique role in our lives. Wouldn’t you say that, those of you who have spiritual mentors, they have a unique role? In the present age, the buddhas and bodhisattvas are still working for the benefit of sentient beings. All of our qualities are due to the mentor who teaches us. We try and see the teachers’ good qualities, and focus on their good qualities, not on what we perceive as false.
Think of how the Buddha guides and teaches people and here’s this person that’s essentially serving the same purpose as the Buddha, in relationship to me. When you study with somebody, and you see their knowledge, you see their skill, you see their wisdom, then it increases your faith, and you focus on those good qualities, and that helps you when you sit down to listen to teachings to listen more attentively. The reason for seeing our teacher in a positive light is so that we will take the teachings more seriously when we hear them. If we don’t see our teacher in a positive light, either we will stop going to teachings, or we’ll sit there and our mind will just go through our checklist of faults and complaints, neither of which benefit us very much. We try and keep this positive attitude of faith and conviction in our teachers.
Then the text continues. It says,
If the thought occurs, “But a buddha has eliminated all faults and possesses all good qualities. My spiritual mentors have such and such faults inspired by the three mental poisons,”
It is very easy because we have our preferences and our opinions. We are highly judgmental and critical. We could look at anybody and pick faults, like I was saying, at the time of the Buddha, disciples pick faults with the Buddha, so our mind can pick faults with our teachers. If such a thing happens, and if we start projecting, “Oh, my teacher has so much anger. My teacher has so much attachment. My teacher doesn’t have any compassion. Look at how they treat me. I’m such an eager, wonderful student and they ignore me. They don’t answer my questions. They don’t pay attention to me.” It is very easy to start thinking like that.
I’ll finish reading this, and then I’ll tell you the story.
[If that kind of thought arises in our mind, then we should think] it is due to a false impression.
In other words, it’s due to our own mental projection.
In the past, due to such a false impression, Lekpa’i Karma saw all the activities of our Guide, the Buddha, as pure deceit.
Who wants that karma? That if our mind gets negative, that’s what happens.
Asanga saw Venerable Maitreya as a female dog. Maitripa saw the Lord of Yogis, Shawaripa, kill pigs and commit great wrongdoing.
So we wouldn’t be the first ones to be very judgmental and critical of our teachers and to see them in completely bad light. Then the text says,
Similarly, do my spiritual mentors really have these faults or is it a mere impression?
Is it just my projection? It is my projection.
It is a false impression. Guru-deity, please inspire me and all mother sentient beings so that the view of faults in our mentors may never occur even for an instant, and that great faith which allows us to see only goodness in all they do may easily arise in us.
We make that request to the merit field in front of us. Then again, as the same thing, similar visualization happens.
In response to your requesting the guru-deity, five-colored light and nectar stream from all parts of his body into you through the crown of your head. It absorbs into your mind and body and those of all sentient beings, purifying all negativities, and obscurations accumulated since beginningless time, and especially purifying all illnesses, spirit interferences, negativities, and obscurations that interfere with not seeing faults with these spiritual mentors, even for an instant, and with the great faith that allows you to see only goodness in all they do easily arising within you. Your body becomes translucent, the nature of light. All your good qualities, lifespan, merit, and so forth expand and increase. Think in particular that in you and others, the view of faults in your spiritual mentors no longer arises even for an instant, and that you have easily attained the realization of great faith that allows you to see only goodness in all they do.
What’s interesting here about the way this is taught is it’s describing these requests and then the visualizations. Usually after we make the request, then we spend some time thinking about the points in the outline. We would go through just what I was thinking about, what I was explaining before about how the Buddhas and bodhisattvas continued to benefit us. They appear in these forms of our spiritual mentors, or our teachers are the representatives or emanations of them, in order to teach us. Because it’s not like the Buddha attained Buddhahood and then said, “Bye everybody, I’m a Buddha, so long, good luck,” and then stayed in the Pure Land, entered into parinirvana. The whole reason why they became buddhas was in order to benefit sentient beings. Of course, they’re going to appear and there are going to be manifestations and representatives and so on, in order to teach us. So to think about that and then also when our mind gets negative and picks faults, to think that those are our projections, okay?
It’s important when we think that it’s our projections. There’s a lot to actually say here—when we don’t whitewash things. If, let’s say for some reason, your teacher’s really doing something unethical—embezzling money or sleeping around or who knows what—it’s perfectly fine to say, “There’s a problem here, and I need to talk to this person, or I need to notify their teachers, or something needs to happen” and discuss this. You do not whitewash it by saying, “Oh, but they’re a Buddha and this is all my projection.” That is not helpful. Where it is helpful is when we see faults that are not the grave ethical downfalls, but things that do depend a lot on appearance and a lot on preference.
Let’s see, [there are] many different examples. One of them is: I’m a person who likes to get up early in the morning, practice early in the morning, do things in the morning. In the evening, I do not. My mind is not as sharp, so I prefer to finish things, go to bed early and get up early the next morning. One of my teachers, he loves doing things at night. He comes alive at night. His idea of time is completely different than our idea of time. He might schedule the teaching for seven o’clock in the evening, and you go there, and there’s no teaching at seven o’clock, and everybody is sitting there. Eight o’clock comes and goes, nine o’clock comes and goes, 10 o’clock comes and goes. Maybe around 10:30 or 11, the teachings will begin. Then the teaching goes all night long until about six in the morning. Now, for somebody like me, I don’t like this. I just don’t like it. Because I am tired in the evening, and I hate falling asleep during teachings. I feel so disrespectful, and yet I’m exhausted. My mind then goes, “But it’s all his fault. Why does he start teachings so late? Why don’t we just come at seven and finish at nine, then I’m okay. Or better yet why not start at 10 in the morning and finish at noon, or two in the afternoon and finish at four? That’s good. Why does he have to do this so late. Even his own teachers told him he should stop early. Look, the whole audience, we’re all falling asleep. What is this? This is totally useless. Why is he doing this?” My mind can get, if I let it, just get really critical. What use is that? No use. My teacher has every right in the world to live his way, the way he wants to, to start and finish teachings the way he wants to. Unbeknownst to me, until now, the whole world is not centered around me and the time I want things to happen. It’s like, “This whole thing is not going to center around me and what’s convenient for me, and I’m the one who has to adjust to what’s going on. This is not a fault in my teacher, this is a problem that I have.” Thinking like this.
At one time, I was studying with one of my teachers. I always sat in the front row kind of right in front of another person with a lot of questions. For a while, he answered my questions. Then after a while, I would sit there, and he would answer everybody else’s questions and wouldn’t even look at me. It is like, “Why isn’t he answering my questions, I’m such good student. Why doesn’t he answer?” A little bit of egoism and arrogance there. Again, this is not a problem with my teacher. This problem with me.
Another example, there are just so many, [laughter] where the mind, just, you get jealous, you get arrogant, you get angry. Maybe your teacher is trying to help you and point something out to you. It’s like, “Why are they saying this to me? Why are they doing this to me?” It’s just that they’re trying to train us and help us. We are just like, “I don’t like this.” That’s clearly our own stuff, isn’t it? If we get angry and we get offended, and we get upset when our teachers are trying to teach us something, who loses out? We do. Now you’re going to say, “But, I saw my teacher get really angry. It wasn’t at me. It was somebody else. They have so much anger, such a bad temper, they’re full of defilements.” You see your teacher get angry.
One of my dear Dharma friends was telling me a story about her teacher because she was thinking this way about her teacher getting very negative, “Oh my teacher is so angry and doesn’t talk very politely to people, such a bad temper. What kind of teacher is this?” Then my friend was telling me, one day when she was with her teacher, they were talking about something, they got interrupted by a phone call. She could hear the dialogue between them. Her teacher was getting very upset. Somebody was calling to say, “Blah, blah, blah,” and complain about this or that or who knows what. The teacher was scolding that person. Then so it was the usual kind of situation, she’s, “My teacher is so full of anger and scolding people.” Then she saw, as soon as her teacher hung up the phone and turned back to her to continue what they were discussing, the anger was all gone. Then she went, “Oh, this is what was happening when my teacher would get angry at me. She’d be angry at that. She would be scolding at that moment, but the next moment, it was completely gone. She saw in this instance that her teacher was scolding that other person because the other person needed to get scolded. Then it made her think, “Oh, why was my teacher scolding me because I needed to get scolded. It’s not that my teacher is full of anger. It’s my teacher is scolding people when they need to be scolded because at that particular moment in time, talking sweetly to them, it’s not going to get across what that person needs to learn.” It was very interesting. I’m not telling the story as well as my friend did it. Did you get the point? It’s like, all of a sudden, she saw “Oh, this is my problem. It’s not that my teacher is full of anger.”
There are many kinds of things like this that can happen with teachers. I mean, all the time. We just have to learn to work with it in our own mind. I had another friend who, with one of our teachers, she would actually quarrel and fight back with him. This teacher is really quite an incredible, amazing teacher, but he thought George Bush was an excellent president. He thought after 9/11, the US needed a tough response. He thought George Bush, by going into Iraq, was really doing the right thing. Of course, most of the disciples are like, “How can Geshe-la think this?” It’s like, “Does he really understand? Does he really know?” And one of the students, she was so upset by this, “How can he really think that George Bush is doing the right thing?” By that time, it was interesting because I was older in years. I had been through a lot of this kind of thing before. It was like, in my mind, “I don’t care. It doesn’t bother me that he believes in George Bush because I came here to learn the Dharma from him. I didn’t come here to discuss politics, and he’s entitled to have his political opinion. I’m entitled to have my political opinion. I don’t really care, but when it comes to learning the Dharma, he is a most wonderful teacher and realized being, and that’s why I’m here.”
So it was nice because for once, I could see in my mind, maybe I’m making some progress because here was my younger friend who was really upset by it. You learn after a while, you just have to let go of these kinds of things. The thing is, when you practice like this in relationship with your teacher, it also helps you become more tolerant of other people because, through these teachings, we know that our relationship with our teachers is very important. So then we’re going to try harder to keep a good relationship with our teacher because we know how important it is for our own welfare, and we know the disadvantages that accrue if we don’t keep a good relationship. We try harder to broaden our mind, drop our judgments, stop being so easily offended in relationship with our teachers. When we practice this in with our relationship with our teachers, who, of course, are the people who are trying to benefit us the most, then we can take it and practice it with other sentient beings. It becomes much easier to practice because, again, you take this same thing, it’s like this relative who I used to quarrel with about politics. “Well, same thing as like my teachers. It’s a free world. That’s just their own opinion. It’s completely okay. I don’t have to discuss politics with them. I’m not going to judge them for their political opinion. I’m just going to relate to them as a human being in the best way possible.” You see that you can do this now with some sentient being because you practice in this way in relationship with your teacher.
Making some sense to you?
If you have some questions, we can do some questions now.
Venerable Thubten Chodron (VTC): If somebody is a very good Dharma teacher, how can they have opinions that appear to contradict the Dharma teaching? In this case, I don’t think so much that my teacher was favoring war and wanting to go out and kill people. He certainly didn’t have a harmful intent. But he really advocated a strong response. I think he also liked George Bush because as a Tibetan, who saw how Tibet had suffered and been denied human rights under the Communist Chinese government, the fact that George Bush was a little bit tough on China. He really liked that. This is entirely his opinion and how he sees things, how he sees the world. I know he’s not sitting there wishing a lot of people to die in the war. That’s not in his mind. That I know. It’s just he can have his own opinion. It’s like, “I came here to learn the Dharma. I didn’t come here to debate the advantages or disadvantages of a political response to something.” I didn’t see him as going against the Dharma teachings because I know he wasn’t wanting anybody to get killed.
Now, if there is a teacher, let’s say, because Guy mentioned it today, about the Roshi that some of the Zen practitioners who favored the, [audience comment]. At the time of World War Two, they really favored Japanese imperialism. This didn’t come out until a few years ago, and some of the Zen students were horrified, “How could you have been pro-Nazi or pro Japanese imperialism?” For that kind of thing, I would see it as either that person, their realization was not complete because it didn’t profoundly influence all aspects of their life. I would see it either as that or something else was going on there that I don’t have all the information to know about. When you’re following your teacher’s example, examples like this, you don’t take for yourself, if you see it is something that’s clearly unethical.
Audience: When meeting the person you have chosen as your spiritual mentor for the first time, what would be the proper etiquette?
VTC: We’re going to get into that a little bit later, where it talks about how to behave around our teacher. But in brief, I think this question is asking, are they asking more, not so much about attitude, but more about how to act? That I’ll talk about a little bit now.
In general, when your teacher comes into the room, you stand up, unless your teacher tells you don’t stand up. In which case you don’t stand up. You just try and be polite and considerate. You look out and you see if they need something, if they don’t need something. Generally, you would walk behind your teacher, and your teacher would walk first. If your teacher does not know where they’re going because they just arrived somewhere, and they’ve never been there before, and you know the way then you walk in front, and you show them the way. What else? I think, be natural, be humble. Here’s one thing: don’t try and put on a show in front of your teacher of being a good student. You’ll meet some people, when they’re around their teacher, they’re so perfect, they’re so polite, they’re so humble. Everything is like this. Then the moment the teacher’s not there, they’re bossy, they’re loud. Don’t be like that. I’m not saying to be bossy and loud with your teacher. [laughter] I’m saying if you’re trying to tame your behavior in front of your teacher, be consistent and treat others that way too.
To establish a relationship with somebody as your teacher, there are different ways to do it. Sometimes if you take any precepts with that person, that automatically establishes a relationship. That person becomes one of your teachers. You may go to that person and request them to be one of your teachers. If you do so, you would usually bring an offering and make a request. In my case, I knew so little. All I knew was that I went to these teachers, and when I thought about what they taught, it made sense and when I practice it, it helped me change my mind. I just kept going back again and again and again and again. Eventually it dawned on me “Oh, they must be my teachers.” I never went and asked or anything like that, but it just kind of happened in a very natural way like that.
Audience: Why is it dangerous to misunderstand seeing the teacher as a Buddha?
VTC: If you misunderstand, then what you’re very likely to do is if the teacher is not a highly realized teacher, and if the teacher does do some unethical behavior, then, because you’ve misunderstood seeing the guru as Buddha, then you think, “Well, those must be the actions of the Buddha. My teacher is having sex with every woman in the center, those must be the actions of the Buddha. It is completely okay.” That’s not so good.
Or “My teacher’s taking money out of the dana basket and putting it in his own pocket. That must be the actions of the Buddha.” So you don’t say anything. That’s not so good.
If you have the correct understanding, and you don’t do this thing of kind of whitewashing and saying pink is purple and blue is green because you’re trying to squeeze your mind into seeing everything is perfect. If you have a proper understanding, then it’s very helpful to see your teacher as the Buddha. But for people who are new to the Dharma, it’s so easy to misunderstand it. Then you get into all this kind of gaga worship of somebody, which actually doesn’t help because then you sit around, instead of like, having real faith in your heart because you’ve seen the teachers’ qualities and because you’ve practiced what they’ve taught you, you have this very superficial kind of faith of “Oh, my teacher’s a Buddha. Oh, my teacher’s an incarnation of so and so. He must be a holy being. Look what happened in his early life, this, and this.” Then you sit around the teashops all day long talking about, “My guru, in his past life, did this, and my guru in his past life did that,” and you never practice because you’re too busy with this gaga movie star mind. Then it doesn’t last because the moment your teacher does something you don’t like, then either you’re completely fed up or you’re back into saying, “Well, pink is purple,” and denying reality and not really working with your mind. I mean, for me, in my own practice, it was so important. It was like, “Hey, people have their own choice of how to live their lives. They may do things that don’t make sense to me, but there is nothing unethical in what they’re doing. It’s just a different way to deal with situations than I would. I’ve got to open my mind and be more tolerant.” So that was really helpful to me. That way of changing my mind, I think, was much more helpful to me than just saying, “Well, it was the Buddha’s action trying to teach me something,” when I have no idea what in the world they were trying to teach.
Audience: What’s the most important thing we can do to never be separated from our teacher in future lives?
VTC: The most important thing to do to never be separated from your teacher in a future lifetime is to listen attentively to the teachings and the instructions and put them into practice. Put them into practice. And as a result of that, if you have faith and confidence, if you have respect and a sense of gratitude, then you will always too be dedicating, “May I meet perfectly qualified Mahayana and Vajrayana teachers in my future life.” That kind of dedication will automatically come to you.
In saying that the person who teaches you the bodhisattva path is an emanation of the Buddha. How do I see that? Personally, I see that well as an emanation of the Buddha, as the Buddha appearing in a different shape to teach me the bodhisattva path. Or I see it as, I might see the Buddha appearing as an ordinary being, because that’s the best way to communicate with me.
VTC: As an emanation. They’re kind of similar, but saying somebody is, is different than saying they’re an emanation of the Buddha. All these things that we’re talking about, the basic bottom line point is how to keep a positive mental state regarding your spiritual teacher. It’s not a thing of do you see them as a Buddha or bodhisattva or an emanation or representative. The thing is whatever way helps you to have a positive attitude towards your teacher and not give in to your own anger and ego sensitivity, use that. And I think the reason they teach this as a representative, as an emanation, as a Buddha, is because if you think that way, then it can make you question your own negative emotions. Like, “If the Buddha were really here sitting in front of me, would I get angry like this? Well, I better not. I don’t think I would. I would see that something else was going on here that I didn’t quite understand.”
I had actually thought we would get further tonight, but we didn’t. We will continue with this next week, but in the meantime, this week, keep doing the visualization that we did in front. Now do a little bit of this contemplation about how to have a good relationship with your spiritual teacher, and reflect on the advantages of having it and the disadvantages of not having it. Think about—if you already have a spiritual teacher—think about situations in which you may have been angry or offended or critical or judgmental and try and think of how else could you see that situation and keep a positive attitude towards that person? If you don’t yet have a spiritual teacher, that’s completely okay. Do some more reflection on what we talked about last week, which are the qualities of the teacher to look for and think about why are those qualities important.
Venerable Thubten Chodron
Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.