Monday, April 13, 2009

Lama Zopa's teachings on Guru Devotion

Immediately when I received the new book by Rinpoche, I checked my understanding on certain key points on guru devotion. Some of these key points have been mentioned in my previous blogs. Checking does not mean you doubt your guru, rather checking builds on a steady platform of inate wisdom. After checking through, I am glad that I have been correct in what I understood and what I wrote previously. Even in discussions, there were certain times when I maintained that it was possible to have more than one root guru. But some people do not believe me. It does not matter that they do not believe me. But now that this and other key points are written in Rinpoche's new book, I do not have to prove that I am right anymore. I have also written that we need to check against Sakyamuni Buddha's teachings, and other great texts, and ...can you believe it or not?...Rinpoche wrote almost exactly the same thing in his new book on guru devotion. The thing is, as you can read later below, I believe among the many reasons for His Holiness the Dalai Lama to emphasize the need to check the guru's advice against the Buddha's teachings is that there are many fake gurus and fake lamas around. My stand on this issue is the same as that of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. And I believe this is so especially in the dharma declining age where the dharma that passes on through the lineages deteriorates as time goes by. And that's why we need to check against the recorded original sutra and tantric teachings of the Buddha and other great pandits and yogis. If you have not got the book, you might consider buying one. It's really good.

How many gurus should we have?

It is not necessary to have just one guru, like having one boyfriend or girlfriend. Westerners sometimes think that they can’t have many gurus but should have just one…This is a mistake.

You can have many gurus or you can have just one guru and be satisfied with that. It depends on how well you are able to practice guru devotion. …if you can practice guru devotion well, you can devote yourself to everyone who gives you a teaching and have hundreds of gurus without any problems…I you find guru devotion difficult to practice, you should make Dharma connections only with teachers with whom you think you can maintain guru devotion….Basically, it depends on your own capacity, on your own mind.

But there are also advantages in having many gurus – if one guru does not have the lineage of a particular teaching or initiation that you need to benefit yourself or others, you can take it from another guru. In this way, you can receive all the teachings. It is fine to plan to have only one guru in your life but you may not be able to always be in the same place as that guru and he may not always have time to teach you. If you don’t find other gurus to study with, your understanding may not develop quickly. (my comment: Buddhists who are away from their homeland should take note of this advice highlighted in red. Find a Buddhist centre nearest to you and get involved - it does not matter whether it is Theravada, Mahayana or any other genuine lineage of Tibetan Buddhism...except of course, a cult!)

Generally, whether you have one guru or a hundred, how quickly you generate real understanding of Dharma, and realisations of the path depends on your individual skill and practice.

What about root guru?

With respect to the root guru…a common definition of the root guru is the one among all your gurus who has most benefited your mind, the one who has been the most effective in directing your mind toward Dharma. You don’t necessarily have just one root guru; you can have more than one. Among Lama Atisha’s 152 gurus, for example, he regarded five as his root guru.

Is absolute obedience required?

His Holiness the Dalai Lama always emphasizes thatw e should refer to the etachings rather than to the person. This means that we have to check the guru’s advice in relation to the reliable sources of Guru Sakyamuni Buddha’s teachings and the teachings of Nagarjuna, Asanga and the other great pandits and yogis. These authentic scriptures are more important than the guru’s advice. …If the guru’s advice isn’t mentioned in those scriptures, or contradicts them, we don’t need to follow it. Since the advice doesn’t have a pure reference, it is better to leave it in equanimity, which means that we don’t need to criticize or complain about our guru.

…Rongpu Sangye, the Nyingma lama…says that even if our guru asks us to do what looks like a non-virtuous action, we should do it immediately, without any doubt or hesitation. However, HH the Dalai Lama often advices in his teachings that it is when a special guru and a special disciple meet, as in the cases of Tilopa and Naropa and MArpa and Milarepa, that the disciple does every single thing that the guru says. …However, it is different for ordinary beings. As ordinary disciples, it is more skillful for us to devote ourselves to the virtuous friend in accordance with the teachings. While some lamas emphasize that the disciples should see every action that the guru does as pure, HH the Dalai Lama has a slightly different emphasis. I think that HH the Dalai Lama, as the holder of the whole Buddhadharma, takes many factors into account. HH emphasizes very much that we should not simply see everything the guru does as pure but that we should check the guru’s advice well to see that it accords with guru Sakyamuni Buddha’s sutra and tantra teachings before practicing it.

His Holiness is not saying that we should allow negative thoughts towards the guru to arise. However, I think His Holiness and Rongpu Sangye Rinpoche reach the same conclusion: we do what benefits our achievement of enlightenment. If our guru asks us to do something that contradicts the Buddha’s teachings and would result in our committing a heavy negative karma and we aren’t capable of transforming that action into virtue, into the path to enlightenment and bringing great benefits to sentient beings, we should skillfully and respectfully try to get the guru’s permission not to do that action. …The vinaya says that we don’t need to do anything that is against the Dharma or against our vows. Fifty Verses of Guru Devotion also explains that if our guru tells us to do something that is opposite to the Dharma or that we cannot do because of our level of mind, we can respectfully explain that we can’t do it or that we don’t have the capacity to do it. However, we should still correctly devote ourselves to that guru as explained by Guru Sakyamuni Buddha and Lama Tsongkhapa.

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