Gateway to Tibetan Buddhism
Guru Yoga: The Benefits of Remembering the Lama
Monks and nuns at Namdroling offering khata to HH Pema Norbu Rinpoche‘s throne on the first morning of Losar.
Lama, the abridged Tibetan form of la na med pa, literally means one who is substantial with qualities.
Lama, also refers to as Guru in Sanskrit, is a title conferred upon a teacher of Vajrayana (dorje tekpa) who has the understanding of buddha-dharma to lead others in their spiritual journey and the wisdom to banish the darkness of ignorance.
A Lama who is acknowledged for his accomplishment in the Secret Mantra Vehicle (sang ngak dorje tekpa) is given the title Dorje Lopon (Vajra Acharya), recognising him as a Vajra Master who is empowered by the Head of the Lineage to transmit the Vajrayana teaching and related practices to support students on the path to attain spiritual enlightenment.
Four Kinds of Lama
There are four kinds of Lama (lama nampa shi):
- A teacher who is the lineage holder (gangzak gyüpé lama).
- A teacher who conveys the words of the Buddhas (gyalwa ka yi lama).
- The symbolic teacher of all appearances (nangwa da li lama).
- Rigpa, the absolute guru which is the true nature of the mind (rigpa dön gyi lama).
Three factors in accomplishing supreme dharma practice
The three most crucial factors in accomplishing the supreme dharma practice are:
- The good fortune to received teaching from a qualified lama who can introduce the student to the nature of their mind.
- Possess the essential humility and single-pointed devotion to promptly apply the practices in accordance to the instruction received.
- The necessary material support to sustain the practice.
An example of supreme dharma practice was demonstrated by His Holiness Pema Norbu Rinpoche who completed 100,000 prostrations in seventeen days in his childhood during his first Ngondro retreat at Dago monastery. It was accomplished with humility in attitude, devotion to details and promptitude in execution.
At Shakyamuni Buddha’s final birth in the world, he took seven steps in each of the four directions to commemorate the great store of merits and wisdom he had accumulated from the infinite aeons of practising the four immeasurables (tsémé shyi).
The four immeasurables consist of loving-kindness (jampa), compassion (nyingjé), altruistic joy (gawa) and equanimity (tangnyom) are the quintessential requisites for Buddhahood.
The incarnation of a guru in the world is likewise the result of his immovable aspirations and aeons of practices in accomplishing the four immeasurables for the sake of all sentient beings.
Without the compassionate discourse and the physical presence of the guru, we would not even be aware of the existence of the Buddhas and the path of liberation from the recurring suffering of samsara.
For these and many other reasons, the guru is referred to by the honoric title Rinpoche - the precious one.
Rinpoche, a reincarnated lama who takes on the responsibility of a spiritual master to guide sentient beings out of samsara is, in essence, inseparable from the wisdom kaya of all the Buddhas of the three times.
Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche from his discourse on The Sage Who Dispels Mind’s Anguish described, it is chiefly due to the compassion of such a supreme lama that the teachings and the practices of the sutrayana and mantrayana appeared in the world.
Qualities of an authentic spiritual master
The unique qualities of an authentic spiritual master as described in the tantras can be summarised into seven essential aspects covering both bodhisattva and tantra precepts:
- A supreme guru who can fulfill our wishes is equal to the Dzogchen Nyingthig master Vimalamitra, or the great translator Vairocana.
- A supreme guru who has mastery over sutra and tantra is equal to Asanga, the founder of the Mahayana Vast Conduct lineage, or Drakpa Gyaltsen, one of the five founders of the Sakya lineage.
- A supreme guru who is free from the influence of samsara is equal to Shantideva renowned for his discourse on Bodhicaryavatara, or Dromtonpa, the founder of the Kadampa lineage.
- A supreme guru who embodies an ocean of wisdom is equal to Nagarjuna, the founder of the Mahayana Profound View lineage, or the Dzogchen master Rongzom Chökyi Zangpo.
- A supreme guru who is holder of the lineage blessing is equal to the master of the six yoga Naropa, or the great tantric yogi Milarepa.
- A supreme guru who can offer compassionate guidance to students is equal to the Mahapandita Tilopa, or the great translator Marpa.
- A supreme guru who can elucidate the ultimate essence of buddha-dharma is equal to the Dzogchen Nyingthig master Shri Sinha, or Chetsun Senge Wangchuk who attained the ultimate rainbow body.
bodhisattva attributes of an authentic spiritual master
The first four aspects which described the bodhisattva precepts of an authentic spiritual master are eloquently illuminated by the following passage from Shantideva’s discourse on Bodhicaryavatara:
- May the virtue I have accumulated eliminate the suffering of all mother sentient beings throughout space.
- May I be the physician, the medicine and the nurse for all the ailing beings in the world until they are cured of their afflictions.
- May I descend as the shower of food and drink upon all the beings who are suffering from the misery of hunger and thirst in the world.
- May I be a source of inexhaustible treasure for the destitute, and be always available close by with whatever support they might need.
- May the interaction I have with every beings who gives rise to a thought of faith or resentment become the timeless cause for fulfilling all their wishes.
- May those who falsely accuse me, insult me, harm me, and trivialize me in secret, have the good fortune to fully awaken.
- May I be a protector to those who need protection, a guide for the travellers on the road, and a boat, a bridge, a ship to all who wish to cross the water.
- May I be an island to those who search for landfall, a lamp to those who desire light, a bed to those who seek shelter, and a servant to those in need of assistance.
- May I be a wish-granting jewel, a vase of plenitude, an efficacious mantra, a wish-fulfilling tree and a cow of abundance for every sentient being.
- May I be like earth, and the pervading elements, enduring as space, support the life of the infinite sentient beings in all the realms.
- May I be a source of life for all the realms of various beings throughout space until they are all liberated from the bondage of samsara.
Tantric attributes of an authentic spiritual master
The last three aspects are referring to the vajrayana precepts as described in the tantras such as Ornament of Vajra Essence and the Tantra of The Collection of Intentions:
- Being the holder of lineage blessings means that he possessed the aural lineage and has attained entry into the treasury of his master’s mind by having received all the teachings of the nine yanas and has extensive experience in the traditional path of practice for the two-fold accomplishment of the self and others as transmitted by his master.
- Through the accomplishment of guru yoga practice, his body, speech and mind have merged with the mind of his master to become inseparable from the dharmakaya of the Buddhas and hence all his activities regardless of appearance become the compassionate extension of the lineage blessings.
- He has actualised the path consists of the view, meditation and action of the outer, inner and secret levels of the Secret Mantra Vehicle by maintaining pure samaya and displays signs of accomplishment as recognised and verified by his master.
- By being the embodiment of the Three Jewels, he has the support of the enlightened beings and deities in the ten directions to subdue elemental forces and pacify karmic obstacles through abiding within the all-pervading nature of the dharmakaya of phenomena.
- He is fearless in rectifying the wrong views of those who have the karmic connection to come into contact with him and guide them towards liberation from samsara through introducing them to the different empowering stages of ground, path and fruition.
- He recognises the potentials of different beings and has the skilful means to transform afflictive emotions into the path through the fourfold empowerments and gives instantaneous initiation to cause the innate primordial wisdom to arise in the mind of those who have the matured conditions to realise the nature of their mind.
The way a guru teaches
A supreme guru as just described can clarify any spiritual experiences the students may encounter and gives instruction according to their faculties in the following manners:
- He gives advice on filial piety, cultivation of virtues and renunciation of unwholesome activities to those who remain attach to the prospect of continuous comfort and prosperity in samsara.
- He teaches the four noble truths (pakpé denpa shyi) to those who harboured the lesser scope of aspiration for individual liberation from samsara.
- He teaches the middle way of the bodhisattva path to those who wish to accumulate great store of merit and wisdom for the journey of attaining buddhahood.
- He teaches the cultivation of pure vision (dak nang) in recognising the nature of emptiness (tongpa nyi) to those wishing to engage in the vajrayana practice.
- He teaches the expedient path of taking birth in the Sukhavati pure land (dewachen) of Amitabha (Öpamé) to those who opted for the simplicity in dharma practice.
- He introduces the saviour of hell beings, Kshitigarbha Bodhisattva Mahasattva (Sayi Nyingpo) to those who are prone to turn the good fortune of precious human birth into a onward journey into the hell realms due to their habitual disposition of becoming besotted with conceit, craving and conceptual obscuration.
karmic downfall of Sunakshatra
An example of good karma gone astray was illustrated by Sunakshatra (lek pé kar ma), a cousin of Shakyamuni Buddha who was an attendant of Lord Buddha for twenty-five years.
Sunakshatra knew all the Buddha’s teachings by heart and had also attained the four stages of dhyana mental absorption (samten), but due to being influenced by the mara of the contaminated aggregates (phungpo'i dü), he became increasingly arrogant and developed obscurations towards Lord Buddha. Empowered by conceits, Sunakshatra openly disparaged Lord Buddha before others. Subsequently, he lost all his meditative abilities, and ended up reborn as a hungry spirit (preta) in a flower garden before descending into the avici hell (narmé), the vajra hell of interminable torment without respite.
Karmic account of Horse oats for the Buddha
Padmasambhava described his attention to karma is finer than the finest grains of flour because the laws of cause and effect govern all beings and all existences.
Even the most subtle karma can lead to serious consequences as illustrated by the following account of Shakyamuni Buddha.
At one time, Agnidatta, a regional king in Kosala offered to sponsor food and lodging in support of the three-month rainy season retreat of Lord Buddha and his monks.
When Lord Buddha arrived with an entourage of five hundreds monks, the king did not received him in his palace due to the affective distraction of mara who caused him to forget the invitation completely by intoxicating his mind with thought of craving for pleasure.
As there was a famine at the time, the monks were unable to procure food from their alms round in the local area. The only food that was available to Lord Buddha and his monks was coarse oats meant as horse fodder offered by a horse groom.
For three months the monks survived on a diet of coarse oats but to every mouthful of oats that was offered to Shakyamuni Buddha, the gods add flavour to the oats and transform the morsel into a delightful delicacy that befitted to be served to a Buddha.
At the end of the three-months retreat, when Lord Buddha was about to depart from the region, mara finally took leave from the bewitched Agnidatta.
Instantly awaken from his slumber of illusion, Agnidatta was shaken to the core when he recalled his previous invitation to the Buddha. He quickly made his way to Shakyamuni Buddha to confess his transgression and requested Lord Buddha to remain for seven more days so that he could offer a grand feast to Lord Buddha and his entourage before their departure.
Shakyamuni Buddha then disclosed that during the time of Phussa Buddha, the twenty-first of the twenty-seven Buddhas who preceded him, there was a brahman with a following of five hundred students.
Upon witnessing the sumptuous offerings made to Phussa Buddha by the king and the local people, he was overwhelmed by jealousy and made the remark that the offering of horse fodder was more than fitting for Phussa Buddha.
Shakyamuni Buddha concluded the revelation by saying: “At that time, I was that brahman and the five hundreds monks here were my five hundreds students then”.
perils of the degenerate age
The rarity of consideration beyond one’s own desire at the present time is the hallmark of kaliyuga, the degenerate age (tsöden gyi dü).
Padmasambhava described the people of the degenerate age as:
“Their own deceivers, their own lamentable counsel,
The creators of foolishness,
Easily taken to lies and acts like an idiot
Who possesses no more sense than a yak."
Sakya Pandita described the foolishness of the degenerate age as:
“No understanding of what is virtuous and non-virtuous,
No recollection of kindness one has received,
No impression of the sublime before their eyes,
These are the idiosyncrasy of the foolish.
The discourse of the virtuous benefits all,
Fool even when friendly brings harms.
The virtuous rejoices at hearing the truth,
The fool rejoices at finding other fools."
Longchenpa further illuminated the degenerate age as:
“A time when the wise and the virtuous are not revered
Yet the deluded and the ignorant are honoured
Which further inflate their arrogance,
Leading to inevitably causing harm to others and themselves.”
In response to the perils of degenerate age, Patrul Rinpoche made the following proclamation:
“I am fully aware of karma
But have no conviction of it.
I have received copious instructions on Dharma
But yet fail to apply it.
Bless me and violators like me
That our minds may mingle
With the stream of Dharma”.
Planting of karmic seeds
Hevajra Tantra described karma as:
“The direct personal experience of phenomena
Originated from one’s own perception,
And hence oneself is at once
And the lord of one’s life.”
All of our lives without exception evolve through karma, experience through karma, countless karmic actions occur every single minute of the day, yet hardly are we ever aware of these actions nor the implications of their effects.
Our misapprehension of phenomena due to the presence of ignorance and obscuration do not accord with the selfless nature of reality, nor are we conscious of the karmic seeds we plant and their hidden potential to ripen into the full fruition of personal and collective karma in an ever-evolving process of being and becoming.
Ignorance (ma rigpa), the first of the twelve links of dependent origination which depicts the unfolding process of samsara, literally means ‘not knowing’ as defined by Vasubandhu’s Commentary on the Sheath of Abhidharma and as ‘unawareness of that which exists’ by Dharmakirti.
Ignorance is the predominant obstacle for the spiritual seekers on the path of the middle way.
There are fifty-two levels of specific illusion associated with the fifty-two stages of bodhisattva practices, from the most lurid to the least defined, leading to the ultimate attainment of buddhahood when mara, the personification of life’s fundamental darkness, the very last innermost subtle primal ignorance, is thoroughly, unmitigatedly eradicated.
Pith description of ignorance
Mipham Rinpoche’s pith description of ignorance is encapsulated as follows:
- The lack of awareness to discern the nature of conditioned phenomena.
- Oblivious to the cause and effect of one’s karmic action.
- Oblivious to the virtuous qualities of the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.
- Oblivious to the four truths on the origin and cessation of sufferings as recognised by the arya, the noble beings (pakpa)
dzogchen perspective of ignorance
From the dzogchen perspective, the being and becoming process of ignorance as described by Vimalamitra begins with the ignorance of the single-nature of oneness (gyu daknyi chikpü marigpa), which gives rise to the dualistic clinging innate co-emerging ignorance (lhenchik kyepé marigpa) and from which ignorance of labelling (küntu takpé marigpa) come into being as the illusion experienced within is projected outwards.
Obscuration, of which there are four categories, is initially caused by the unawareness of the mind to recognise its own nature. This leads to the emergence of six root destructive afflictions which include ignorance (ma rigpa), attachment (döchak), anger (kong tro), arrogance (nga gyal), doubt (tétsom), and wrong views (tawa nyönmong chen).
These root afflictions constitute the fertile ground from which 84,000 types of mental defilement sprout into being.
four types of obscurations
There are four types of obscurations:
- Karmic obscurations (lé kyi drip pa) - the causes behind negative actions and violation of vows which hinder our temporary attainment in the higher realms and prevent our liberation from samsara.
- Emotional obscurations (nyön drip pa) - those torrent of perpetual thoughts involving the six root destructive afflictions in the absence of moral ethics, hinder our undertaking of the six transcendental perfections.
- Conceptual obscurations (shejé drip pa) - those thoughts involving the three conceptual spheres of subject, object and action, which hinder our attainment of buddhahood.
- Habitual obscurations (bakchak kyi drip pa) - these are explained in the sutra as exceedingly subtle cognitive remnant of conceptual obscuration not dissimilar from the faint scent of fragrance lingering in an empty perfume bottle. In the tantra, habitual obscurations dictate the unfolding experiences of inner dissolution during the intermediate state of bardo between death and rebirth. The presence of these obscurations hinder our attainment of complete omniscience.
The subconscious propensity of sentient beings under the influences of samsara has the inadvertent tendency to follow the propelling impulses of ignorance and obscuration, creating inevitably more disturbing emotions, more karmic violations, and more unnecessary obstacles, revolving endlessly around the eight mundane concerns of likes and dislikes and in turn generate even more suffering in the process.
Our habitual dwelling in the distraction of hope and fear are no more than attachment and aversion in disguise, the causes of sentient beings transmigrating endlessly in samsara.
the futility of being distracted in the degenerate age
To resolve this ever-present dilemma, Patrul Rinpoche draws our attention to the futility of being distracted in the degenerate age:
“Bewitched, enchanted and deceived
By the appearances of phenomena,
Your mind is spinning around with useless projects
You wish to accomplish that never have time to finish.
Holding on to these distractions
Only add burden to your mind.
Stop being a fool for once,
And just abide in the stillness of remaining at ease”.
To abide in the stillness of the mind is the first step to mature your mind on the path towards liberation from samsara.
Such a journey will entail the encountering of a diversity of obstacles particularly those of destructive emotions such as desire, anger, frustration, conceit and jealousy which are ready to thwart your attempt at every turn without the slightest hesitation.
Wishing to arrive safely at your destination of complete enlightenment requires the dependable escort of an experienced spiritual guru who has the enlightened insight to know clearly what has to be adopted and what has to be discarded.
Only when we adopt the pure vision of an enlightened guru that conveys no deception would we become aware of the consequences of even the most minute action that previously escape our attention.
Without the presence of destructive emotions as our reference point in lives will awaken the uncontrived potential of our mind and protect us from the perils of ignorance and obscuration.
Precious human rebirth
In a Letter to a Disciple, Candragomin described the path of enlightenment is within the capability of human beings who have the firm resolve of bodhicitta, but cannot be attain by the eight classes of gods and naga.
The rarity and the immeasurable significance of precious human rebirth that once lost is difficult to find is further exemplified by the following passage from Chatral Rinpoche’s A Prayer for Calling the Guru from Afar:
“So that I do not squander the excellent support
Of this precious human rebirth
Found only once in hundreds of lifetimes,
But, accompanied by guides who have mastered
The profound instructions for life, death and the bardo,
Achieve the fullness of realization,
The perfection of the three kayas’ own dynamic energy.
Vajra Guru, essence of the Buddha, please bless me!”
six types of Buddhist teachers
Having personal access to the guidance of a vajra guru is thus deemed as essential to the students who wish to avoid unnecessary pitfalls or delays on the path to complete enlightenment.
A vajra guru should possess the skill set of six types of Buddhist teachers:
- Teacher of general Dharma who gives instruction on chanting, basic rituals and so forth.
- Teacher who inspires students on the path, gives vows and grant them access to the Dharma.
- Teacher who bestows initiation, empowerment and transmission.
- Teacher who offers guidance and purifies the conduct of students on the path.
- Teacher who clarifies the outer, inner, secret and the ultimate meanings of the tantra.
- Teacher who gives pith instruction on liberation.
qualities of a vajra guru
These six qualities of Buddhist teacher aside, a vajra guru should be an adept of at least one or all three branches of the Nirmanakaya teachings of the casual vehicles, the Sambhogakaya teachings of the outer tantra vehicles and the Dharmayaka teachings of the inner tantra vehicles.
The qualities of a vajra guru as described in Zurchunpa’s Eighty Chapters of Personal Advice, The Ornament of the Mahayana Sutras and the Nyingtik Yabzhi are:
- His realisation is like the infinity of space, void of all partiality.
- His experience is like the ocean, consistent and constant, neither diminished nor fuller.
- His compassion is like the sun and the moon, shining evenly, neither brighter nor dimmer.
- His disciplined mind is unaffected by samsara which enable him to engage in worldly activities to strengthen his connection to sentient beings without losing himself to samsara.
- His peaceful mind has attained the higher accomplishment of meditative concentration.
- His reposeful mind has realised the emptiness-essence as the absolute nature of reality.
- His omniscient mind can accommodate any questions posed by the students.
- His energised presence inspires the arising of enthusiasm in students.
- He is the holder of the lineage of the Buddhas that benefit all beings.
- He is the holder of the treasury of the ground, path and fruition of the Dharma.
- He is the holder of the treasury of the view, meditation and action of the secret mantra.
- He is the realiser of the four empowerments of the inner tantra.
- He is the realiser of the fourfold resting in simplicity of trekchö and the four visions of tögal.
- He is the realiser of the spontaneously accomplished clear light essence.
- He has the insightful clarity to teach according to the different potential of students.
- His eloquence in transmitting Dharma is at once precise and effective.
- He has a vast store of learning from which citations and examples are easily drawn.
- He has a vast store of experience that correspond to the practice of paramitas.
- He has a vast store of experience in the practice of tantra activities.
- He has a vast store of empathy and concern for the well-being of those under his care.
- He possesses boundless humility, sincerity, patience and resolve to maintain firm commitment to promote without exception the greatest welfare of sentient beings at all times.
A vajra guru, the supreme root guru who is committed to honour the samaya of guiding students through untold lifetimes until they attain enlightenment is not merely the embodiment of these qualities but the source of blessings that come directly from all the Buddhas of the three times.
His Holiness Pema Norbu Rinpoche is an example of such a vajra guru who has been holding firm to his promise to return every hundred years for the sake of sentient beings since the time of Vimalamitra.
bestowing of empowerment
The bestowing of empowerment (wang kurwa) is the tantric ritual used by the vajra guru to awaken the primordial wisdom (yeshe) of the students.
Three types of initiations are designed to bring forth the following results:
- Ground empowerment - ripens the nature of the mind through deconstructing (torwa) ignorance and infusion (lugpa) of blessings from the guru to cultivate the view, the clarity, the conviction and a non-perturbed state of awareness.
- Path empowerment - different stages of practices leading towards enlightenment.
- Empowerment of the ultimate fruition - the culmination of omniscience at the moment of attaining enlightenment.
empowerment of the inner tantra
There are four classes of empowerment that belong to the Inner Tantra (nang gi gyü) of Atiyoga (shintu naljor):
- Vase empowerment (bumpé wang).
- Secret empowerment (sangwé wang).
- Primordial wisdom-knowledge empowerment (sherab yeshe kyi wang).
- Precious word empowerment (tsik wang rinpoche).
precious word empowerment - pointing out instruction
The most supreme of all vajrayana initiation is the pointing out instruction of the precious word empowerment.
The physical gesture of an vajra guru, the words that he utters in what appeared to be seemingly ordinary conversation, are in reality the precious word empowerment (tsik wang rinpoche).
For instance, the refuge name given to a student which conveys the meaning of melodious sound is meant to remind the student that habitual violations of speech will lead to rebirth in the lower realms and not a praise to do with the voice.
Conditions to receive precious word empowerment
Precious word empowerment has the subtle bodhicitta qualities to generate spontaneously arisen innate wisdom, the absolute purpose of empowerment.
This involves the transference of lineage blessings from the guru that encompass the pure qualities and the miraculous activities of the Buddhas to awaken the primordial wisdom in those students whose root of virtue is matured and have the appropriate conditions to receive.
Conditions that include the qualities of humility, reverence and gratitude, as well as the existence of a master-disciples connection from countless former lives in the same manner as the bond of connection between Shakyamuni Buddha and his disciples over aeons.
Benefit of precious word empowerment
Used extensively by Shakyamuni Buddha during his lifetime in causing countless beings attaining speedy result of liberation by means of words and gestures. The benefit of the precious word empowerment are numerous and vast in helping the students:
- to purify the karmic defilements of body, speech and mind that arise from the result of karmic obscurations, conceptual obscurations and habitual obscurations;
- to attain the blessings of the pristine mirror-like wisdom which reflect the nature of all phenomena precisely as they are;
- to become a receptive vessel for the Dzogchen practice to reveal the primordial purity of the self-aware nature of the mind;
- to receive the indestructible vajra seed for the attainment of the spontaneous accomplished awareness holder (lhundrup rigdzin);
- to receive the indestructible vajra seed for the attainment of svabhavikakaya (ngowo nyi ku), the ultimate buddhakaya.
Prospect of future rebirth
Whoever wishes for a future of their own choosing should first gives rise to a state of heartfelt all-sincere motivation (kun long) in accordance to their aspiration whether it is that of striving to attain higher rebirth in the realms of gods and humans, or that of following the path of renunciation by the sutrayana vehicle or that of pursuing the path of purification, transformation and self-liberation by the tantrayana vehicle.
Causes for rebirth in realms of gods and humans
The requisites for the prospect of rebirth in the realms of gods and humans are the diligent practice of filial piety; charity in giving; and the avoidance of the ten non-virtues (mi gé wa chu) which are killing, taking what is not given, sexual misconduct, lying, divisive speech, harsh speech, gossip, covetousness, harmful intent and wrong views.
In the Precious Garland, Nagarjuna offers explanation on the effect of karma similar to the cause:
Act of killing will shorten our lifespan.
Act of violence will bring us harm.
Act of stealing will bring us poverty.
Act of adultery will bring us rivalry .
Act of telling lies will bring us slander.
Act of divisive speech will separate us from our dear ones.
Act of harsh speech will bring unpleasant words.
Act of gossip will paint us as untrustworthy.
Act of covetousness will sabotage all our hopes.
Act of malice will bring us endless fears.
Act of wrong views will bring us unsound perspective.
Causes for rebirth as asuras
Unwholesome merits accumulated from practice of charity motivated by conceit, competitiveness, rivalry, envy or jealousy are the causes of rebirth as asuras in the form of either gods, humans, animals or hungry spirits, before descending into the hell realms.
Causes for rebirth in realms of animals
Ignorance, obscuration, stupidity and behaving like a misguided intellectual idiot are the causes of rebirth as various incarnations of animal in accordance to the gravity of the karmic violation.
Causes for rebirth as hungry spirits
Grasping for material gains, craving for mundane gratifications, conceptual fantasy and clinging to transient relationships are the causes of rebirth as hungry spirits.
Causes for rebirth in the hell realms
Acting out of anger, hatred, resentment, ingratitude, ill-intent, indecency and violence are the causes of rebirth in the eight hot hells, the eight cold hells, the neighbouring hells and the ephemeral hells.
Seven noble treasures
Whoever wishes to attain a precious human rebirth in order to develop the noble qualities of the arya bodhisattvas should start with cultivating the seven noble treasures (pakpé nor dün) as suggested by Nagarjuna in Letter to a Friend:
“The Buddha has said that
Faith, Discipline, Generosity,
Liberation of the mind through listening,
A stainless sense of moral decency,
Consideration for others and
Discriminating awareness wisdom
Are the seven treasures of an arya.
Recognise other worldly treasures have no value”.
First noble treasure - Faith
Faith (dépa) is described in the Abhidharma as the trust and clarity with respect to cause and effect, truth and the Three Jewels.
Faith is the foundation of all goodness and virtues, its clear, non-disturbed nature, first emerges as vivid faith (dangwé dépa) when the mind is inspired by the blessings of a holy place, a sacred object, or the qualities of a noble master in whom we develop attraction and trust similar to the joys of a child on seeing his or her beloved mother.
The presence of vivid faith gives rise to enthusiastic faith (döpé dépa) when we strive to become similar to that which we are inspired to emulate.
As we progress with our practice, fully-convinced faith (yiché pé dépa) becomes increasingly consolidated when we develop confidence in the qualities of the Three Jewels, of our masters and the karmic law of cause and effect.
When the fully-convinced faith becomes so strong that it transcends all obstacles caused by challenging distractions, it transforms into the irreversible faith (chirmidokpé depa) that we would not abandon even at the the cost of our lives.
Four factors to generate faith
Jigme Lingpa indicated the instillation of faith is governed by the presence of four pivotal factors:
The three jewels;
Reflections on the defects of samsara.”
Non-conceptual by nature, faith eliminates obscurations and doubts, enables the mind to become more pliable and receptive to the transference of blessings which facilitate the awakening of wisdom.
The Sutra of Precious Lamp described faith as :
“That which gives rise to delight in the Buddha’s teaching,
Points the direction to the gateway of exaltation,
Dispels pessimism on life’s opportunity,
Liberates one from the path of mara,
And the cause of attaining Buddhahood.”
Faith - the key to the realisation of the ultimate truth
Ratnashri described faith as the key to the realisation of the ultimate truth:
“Until the sun rays of devotion
Shine upon the four kayas of the guru,
The stream of blessings will not flow,
So apply yourself to give rise to devotion in your mind.
Wishing for the merging of appearance and mind
That gives rise to the primordial wisdom
Without having fervent devotion in the guru
Is like waiting for the sun to shine upon a north facing cavern”.
The significance of having faith in the guru is further emphasised by Patrul Rinpoche:
“Pray with sincere devotion and total faith
To a supremely realised guru
Whose lineage is like a pristine gold chain of perfect samaya,
Rely solely on him and
To consider your guru as the emanation of Buddha
Will bring about the merging of your mind with his
From which blessings will transfer and realisation will arise”.
Three higher trainings for authentic blessings
Students who wish to benefit from the authentic blessings of a guru must first develop the qualities relate to the practice of the three higher trainings (ting ngé dzin gyi labpa sum) .
1.Training in Vinaya to develop the experience of discipline (tsultrim kyi labpa).
2.Trainingin Sutras to develop meditation (ting ngé dzin gyi labpa).
3.Trainingin Abhidharma to develop wisdom (sherab kyi labpa).
Together these three higher trainings can lead them to the actual liberation from samsara and attain the omniscience of recognising the nature of all things in all their diversity.
Second noble treasure - Discipline
Discipline (tsultrim), the second of the seven noble treasures begins with the internalising of Dharma practice as the antidote to prevent the violation of body, speech and mind.
In Tibetan, tsultrim literally means acting appropriately.
Discipline is the most stupendous way to simplify our lives by clearing out non-essential clutter from our mind to create a conducive environment of harmonious positive living.
Discipline is not a hindrance but a gentle joyful experience of simplicity if one has the humility to put aside conceptual opinions and perceive all phenomena with respect and mindfulness through the pure vision of one’s guru.
With the pure vision of innocence to promptly apply the guidance of one’s guru as the needs require, the stress that comes with excessive thinking dissipate naturally without effort.
Discipline hence serves to purify one’s ordinary mind to cultivate a life of simplicity and stress-free living.
Buddhist texts are full of reminder on how to utilise the discipline of Dharma practice as the antidote to pacify negative emotions.
The commitment of giving rise to the supreme bodhicitta in the refuge prayer is to remind oneself to see all beings with loving-kindness and compassion, recognise the negative behaviours they display are merely the phenomena of frustration they suffered when they become victims to their own delusion, and once the illusions are removed, their true nature are as pristine as that of the Buddhas.
seven branches offerings as antidotes
The seven branches offerings are themselves seven types of effective antidotes:
- Prostration to the Three Jewels is the antidote to arrogance.
- Offering to the Three Jewels is the antidote to grasping, clinging and miserliness.
- Confession before the Three Jewels is the antidote to delusions such as anger and resentment.
- Rejoicing in the virtues of sentient beings is the antidote to jealousy, envy and rivalry.
- Requesting the turning of the Wheel of Dharma is the antidote to ignorance.
- Requesting the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas not to enter nirvana is the antidote to wrong views.
- Dedication is the antidote to the unpredictability of the future.
The Paramita of Discipline as detailed by Patrul Rinpoche in The Brightly Shining Sun - Guide to Meditating on the Bodhicaryavatara, described the means of maintaining discipline through cultivating three essential qualities:
- Conscientiousness (ba yö) - meticulous attention to what is to be adopted and what is to be abandoned. Keeping in mind the benefits of virtuous action and avoid that which has negative consequences.
- Mindfulness (drenpa) - recollection of what is to be adopted and what is to be abandoned.
- Vigilance (shé shyin) - maintaining careful watch on the activities of one’s body, speech and mind to avoid being tempted to commit non-virtuous action.
Actual action of discipline
The actual action of discipline in mahayana requires the combined effort of conscientiousness, mindfulness and vigilance to avoid cultivating the mental attitude of forsaking the happiness of other beings or wishing solely to liberate oneself in the manner of the shravaka and pratyekabuddha.
Most importantly is the discipline of determination to abandon the impure practices of the four dark dharma (nagpö chö zhi) which cause the deterioration of spiritual attainments.
Then adopt the pure practices of the four white dharma (karpöi chö zhi) which promote spiritual progress speedily in this life and ensure one retaining the bodhisattva ideals in future lives.
In the practice of the bodhisattva, what is deemed as pure or impure is defined not by the appearance of the activities or behaviour but by the presence or the absence of bodhicitta in motivation.
Even the most mundane-looking activities of a bodhisattva is regarded as the skilful means of compassion and wisdom to create favourable condition of ultimate liberation for all concern and not out of worldly desires.
Any activities of ordinary beings that are motivated by selfishness and negative emotions are regarded as impure regardless how noble it may appear.
Four dark dharma that deplete merits
The four dark dharma (nagpö chö zhi) that deplete one’s store of merits, causing one’s downfall to the lower realms are:
- Deceiving your guru or anyone who is worthy of veneration.
- Feeling regret or causing others to regret a positive action.
- Brazenly disrespecting a bodhisattva or other dharma practitioners by engaging in criticism or projecting one’s negative thought onto others through failing to apply the appropriate antidote in pacifying one’s deluded mind caused by wrong views.
- Deceiving others for self-gain through negative conducts and seeking attention to oneself through showing off, speech violations, and wilful display of arrogance.
Four white dharma that increase merits
The four white dharma (karpöi chö zhi) that increase one’s store of merits, leading one to the ultimate goal of enlightenment are:
- Never deceive your guru even at the cost of your life.
- Extending help to all beings out of compassion without bias or ulterior motive.
- Respect all bodhisattvas with pure view just as you would revere a Buddha.
- Inspire all beings to embark upon the mahayana path for the attaining of supreme enlightenment.
Bodhicitta - the most important discipline
One discipline that stands out as the single most important one among all the different categories of discipline according to Patrul Rinpoche is the discipline of maintaining bodhicitta - the constant presence of the awakened compassionate mind.
This entails two types of bodhicitta (chang chub kyi sem) - relative bodhicitta (kündzob semkyé) and absolute bodhicitta (döndam semkyé).
Relative bodhicitta is the compassionate aspiration to attain enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings, and the corresponding enlightened action of bodhisattva conducts such as the accumulation of the four immeasurables; meditating on the equalising and exchanging of one’s happiness for the sufferings of others; considering others as more important than oneself; and the dedication of all virtues towards accomplishing the benefit of others.
Absolute bodhicitta is the direct realisation of the absolute nature of selflessness through the stainless means of calmly abiding within one’s fundamental innate self-aware mind of pure luminosity (ö sal) - the innermost nature of the primordial mind (rigpa).
Developing bodhicitta in four stages
The most essential prerequisite in cultivating bodhicitta begins with the reliance on two crucial factors.
- The determination to abandon the clinging to the illusive appearance of samsara and perceive all phenomena with the pure view of the Buddha that is free of attachment.
- The firm conviction of the irrevocable law of karma.
Together, these two factors promote the development of bodhicitta in four stages:
- Accumulation of virtue through skilful compassionate conduct.
- Enter the first bhumi (rabtu gawa) to become an arya bodhisattva who can take rebirth at will in any form as required for the sake of all beings.
- Studiously continuing on to reach the immovable eighth bhumi (miyowa) that is irreversible.
- Exhaust all traces of karma to attain buddhahood.
Benefits of bodhicitta
The inestimable benefits of bodhicitta were explained to Sudhana by Maitreya as illustrated by the following similes from Shantideva’s Bodhicharyavatara:
- Bodhicitta is like the supreme elixir used by an alchemist to transform the ordinary impure human body into the priceless body of a Buddha.
- Bodhicitta is like the migrant beings’ only dependable guide whose immeasurable wisdom is like a precious all-omniscient jewel that invokes the spirit in those who wish to attain liberation from samsara.
- Bodhicitta is like a miraculous tree of virtue that ceaselessly produce fruits that flourish beyond time while all other worldly virtues eventually come to perish.
- Bodhicitta is like a valiant champion who conquers all fears and whose protection is extended to offer speedy liberation even to those who have committed atrocious misdeeds.
- Bodhicitta is like the conflagration at the end of time when all negativity and misdeeds are consumed and purified in an instant.
Three classes of bodhisattva
One who has aroused bodhicitta for the sake of all beings belongs to one of three classes of bodhisattva (chang chub sempa) differentiated by their different levels of enlightened courage (lo top kyi khyé par gyi yé na sum yö dé) as explained by Patrul Rinpoche in Words of My Perfect Teacher:
- King-like bodhisattva who aspires to attain buddhahood speedily before offering support to others to do the same.
- Boatman-like bodhisattva who aspires to arrive with other beings together at the other shore to attain buddhahood.
- Shepherd-like bodhisattva who aspires to delay their own buddhahood to offer guidance and protection to all sentient beings on the path until they are all established in buddhahood.
Pure discipline of Jayata
A bodhisattva who has accomplished the six transcendental perfections (parol tu chinpa druk) of generosity (jinpa), discipline (tsultrim), forbearance (zöpa), diligence (tsöndrü), meditative concentration (samten) and wisdom (sherab), reigns supreme over all realms of existence and the eight classes of gods and naga as illustrated by the following story of Jayata, the twentieth patriarch who succeeded the lineage of Shakyamuni Buddha:
Seven hundreds years after the parinirvana of Shakyamuni Buddha in the countryside of Kophen in India, a naga of evil disposition caused countless calamity of freak storms and floods to the local people. Two thousands arhats decided to join force together to evict this troublesome naga from the area through their combined power of meditative concentration (samten) and supercognition (ngönshé), but tried as they did for many days to no avail until Jayata arrived at the scene.
He simply snapped his fingers three times and said to the naga: “You should take leave from this place”.
On hearing these words, the naga promptly departed without the slightest protest. Astonished by what they witnessed, Jayata was asked how did he succeed by uttering a few words while the combined effort of two thousands arhat failed.
Jayata explained the naga depart out of respect to his perfection of pure discipline in maintaining bodhicitta over aeons of lifetimes.
Mind training of Lojong
Pure discipline like that of Jayata may not be common among practitioners of today, but we can always resort to the basic mahayana practices of mind training (lojong), such as Langri Thangpa‘s Eight Verses of Training the Mind. A brief description of all eight verses are listed as follows:
Verse 1. I will cherish all sentient beings always, by thinking of them as more precious than a wish-fulfilling jewel, for their presence help me accomplish my aspiration to attain the ultimate goal of enlightenment.
Note: The path to enlightenment begins with the cultivation of bodhicitta which arises from the depth of compassion. When we recognise all acts of cherishing ourselves at the expense of others are the causes of all the negative conditions and sufferings in the world, and turn our attention instead to promote the greatest benefits for the greater many, all sentient beings instantly become integral to the success of our quest in the pursuit of the ultimate goal of enlightenment.
Verse 2. Whenever I am with others, I will always perceive myself as the lowest among all, and from the depths of my heart, cherish others and consider them as supreme.
Note: Humility, reverence and gratitude are the three most essential factors to possess if one wishes to benefit from the lineage blessings of the Buddhas. Feeling conceit, arrogance or pride will only invite the attention of maras to cause one’s spiritual attainment to deteriorate and one’s merits to deplete. Thus generate negative karmic actions that cause one to forfeit precious human existence, leading to the inevitable rounds of endless rebirth in the lower realms. By being genuinely humble before others will promote harmony, dissolve rivalry and help us accumulate a great store of virtue and wisdom making it feasible for us to realise our goal of enlightenment.
Verse 3. I will remain vigilant in watching my mind in all that I do, and the moment delusions appear, I will candidly acknowledge their presence and avert them without delay for the danger it will cause to myself and others.
Note: Being humble and sincere will strengthen our mindfulness by countless-folds to become instantly aware of the slightest arising of negative attitudes and disturbing emotions in our mind, so that appropriate antidotes can be applied immediately to avert acts of non-virtues which cause harm to ourselves and to others.
Verse 4. Whenever I see ill-natured beings overwhelmed by negative actions or suffering, I will cherish and care for them as if I have found a rare precious treasure.
Note: We often prefer to avoid misbehaving, unpleasant people or those who reflect to us the turmoil of sufferings, instead of cherishing them and offer them our care. This verse encourages us to appreciate these encounters as the perfect opportunity to offer happiness to them as if we had been blessed with the finding of a rare precious treasure. To do so will help us diminish our self-cherishing delusion, increase our compassion, and enable us to fulfil our aspirations to benefit all sentient beings.
Verse 5. Whenever others out of jealousy treat me unfairly with abuse, insult or slander, I will accept the conditions and offer victory to others.
Note: Willing to accept loss and concede victory to others without contest are the quintessential bodhisattva responses to potential conflict or injustice. Whenever bodhicitta is activated, compassion for others will naturally arise while our self-cherishing ignorance will get dismantled at its very foundation.
Verse 6. When someone to whom I have helped and in whom I have great hope to help me, treat me unjustly or harm me, I will regard that person as a precious spiritual teacher.
Note: Ingratitude is common in the degenerate age among mundane beings besotted with conceit and arrogance. Since the mundane can never be appeased for long before they get restless and discontent, the more help they received, the more they will take it for granted, and the more likely they will display resentment due to their obsession with expectation and self-importance. When a bodhisattva offers helps to others, it is motivated by the compassion of bodhicitta and manifested promptly as the rightness of action at the right time without any expectation of compensation in return, and hence never experience disappointment. All the bodhisattvas of the three times considered ingratitude and injustice as immeasurable acts of kindness to assist them in the purification of karmic debts and regard even their worst adversaries as their greatest benefactor and precious spiritual teacher who proffer them the opportunity to transform challenging experiences into the actual path of enlightenment.
Verse 7. In brief, I will offer help and happiness, directly and indirectly to all sentient mother beings, and secretly take upon myself all their torment and suffering.
Note: This verse refers to the tonglen practice of transferring happiness, virtues, and vitality to others and receiving their suffering, illness and obstacles in return. For maximum benefit, tonglen should be performed discreetly without drawing attention to oneself. Sakya Pandita described the path to enlightenment is founded on the cultivation of the view in seeing oneself and others as equal, and the exchange of oneself for others.
Verse 8. I will maintain all these practices free from the stains of the eight worldly concerns by recognising all existing things as mere illusions and attain freedom from the bondage of attachment.
Note: Our motivation as a bodhisattva is to be of service to all sentient beings to promote their greatest benefits. To this end, our practice should remain stain-free from the attachment to temporary pleasure, transient fame, praise and material gain, and from the aversion to temporary displeasure, transient disrepute, criticism and material loss. The objective of mind training is to cut through the mental tendencies of clinging to the appearances of phenomena to attain the direct experience of their nature as emptiness, and in doing so, arrives at the shore of non-dual liberation from gain and loss, likes and dislikes, by remaining in an imperturbable state of serenity, recognising all that we are experiencing are merely the projections of the mind.
Three types of discipline
Discipline is the key to a dignified existence in a degenerate age. The sign of true accomplishment is a disciplined mind that is free of pretence and hidden agenda.
Ethical discipline can be cultivated joyfully through mind training with the clear understanding that discipline is not a burden but the skilful means by which falsehood is removed and our true nature is revealed. There are three types of discipline to do with the perfection of forbearance:
- The discipline of flexibility to accommodate the challenging conditions of samsara while striving for the twofold fulfilment for the self and others.
- The discipline to accept the injuries and misdeeds inflicted by the advocates of the maras without indignation or resentment;
- The discipline to approach the profound vastness of buddha-dharma without anxiety.
Discipline is the ability to transcend our clinging to the fabricated ego to allow our inner awakened nature to purify spontaneously all the misdeeds and wrong views that are the causes leading to rebirth in the lower realms. As Buddha said:
“The taste of discipline is liberation.
A disciplined mind brings happiness.”
Third noble treasure - generosity
Generosity (jinpa), the third of the seven noble treasure and the first of the six paramitas (parol tu chinpa druk), is defined in Maitreya’s Ornament of Mahayana Sutra as:
“An attitude of giving
That is free of negative attributes,
Motivated solely by non-conceptual wisdom
To fulfil all wishes and accomplish all beings”.
Generosity motivated by negative attributes are usually associated with derisive intent and ulterior motive to cause harmful distress to others, or for the pursuit of personal recognition.
In contrast, generosity motivated by positive attributes are associated with the openness of mind that is free of ostentation, grasping, craving and favouritism to reveal the non-dual unreserved willingness to offer material resources, words of the Buddha, protection from fear, loving-kindness, compassion, and timely assistance to all beings without discrimination between those we are friendly with and those who are strangers.
Generosity is the letting go of ego
Generosity is the equanimity in giving up the clinging to one’s ego. It is the ultimate freedom which arises from the contentment of joyful selflessness and the perfect antidote to pacify the misery of stinginess, avarice and grasping which only lead us to the future rebirth as hungry spirit.
Generosity in giving should be made available to others at their exact time of need without hesitation nor procrastination, and is likened to the aptly provision of medicine to a patient riddled with sickness.
Prompt and timely - the true spirit of generosity
Being prompt and timely is the true spirit of generosity. As Buddha said:
“If you are aware of what I know about the benefits of giving,
Even if it is a single mouthful of food,
You would not let a meal pass by
Without first offer to share it before partaking.”
Generosity is the practice of non-action
Generosity as defined by the bodhisattva path is to provide others both temporary and long term happiness without any attachment to oneself nor the expectation of reward.
Padmasambhava stated that generosity means to give without bias, partiality or attachment.
Milarepa in his Song on the Six Perfections described generosity as the practice of non-action other than banishing the fixation on oneself.
Jigme Lingpa reiterated the same point that the essence of generosity is simply to surrender all attachment.
Similar conclusion is sum up by Tokmé Zangpo:
“Those who seek awakening
would give away their flesh to nourish hungry animals,
what else is there remaining to get concern about
with external objects and possessions?”
Difference between charity and generosity
Be mindful however not to confuse charity with generosity. Charity provides temporary benefit to ease the hardship of those suffering from hunger, poverty and to provide opportunity of education to the illiterate to improve their prospects of employment in the world but it does not promote the attainment of liberation from samsara which is the main object of practising generosity as explained by the Buddhas.
The versatility of generosity
The practice of generosity is extremely versatile in accommodating the diversity of different life situations such as to provide the opportunity for others to practice generosity to create the essential karmic connection to receive the teachings of the Three Jewels in future rebirths or the karmic condition for future prosperity as illustrated by the following story of Shakyamuni Buddha.
At one time, a monk noticed a rip in the robe of Lord Buddha and offered to mend it. Buddha declined his service and proceed to begin his alms round in his torn robe.
On this day Buddha, headed straight to the dwelling of an impoverished woman who has nothing of value to offer, much to the perplexity of the monks. The woman was also bewildered by what she can possibly offer to the Buddha.
Then she noticed the torn robe of Buddha and offered to mend it with thread and needle she happened to have.
Buddha accepted her offer of service and proclaimed she would take future rebirth as a queen in the celestial realm due to the virtue of that day.
Seven types of generosity that require no material resources
On another occasion, Shakyamuni Buddha revealed to a destitute man who wishes to practice generosity but had no material resources at his disposal to do so. Buddha explained to him there are seven types of generosity in giving that require no material resources:
“Generosity of kindness through the eyes to offer comfort to others;
Generosity of courteous deportment to put others at ease;
Generosity of sympathetic words to console those who are in distress;
Generosity of reverence to those who are worthy of respect;
Generosity of sincerity that instils confidence in others;
Generosity of service to those who are worthy to be served;
Generosity of hospitality to those who are in need of respite.”
Generosity in human interaction
Atisha also touches upon similar points with regard to generosity in human interaction:
“Be sincere, open and calm when you speak to others.
Your demeanour should be pleasing to the eyes.
Always wear a smile on your face,
Avoid looking sullen or glaring unbecomingly.
When in the company of those you meet regularly,
Do not be stingy in volunteering your support
In the time of their needs.
Be joyful and enthusiastic for the opportunity to give
And eliminate any notion of self-importance or envy”.
Generosity of the bodhisattva
The essence of bodhisattva practice is to transcend self-clinging in the services of others through transformation of the mind and is not based on the appearance of external actions. There are four types of generosity used by bodhisattva in giving:
- The giving of material support to those who are suffering from sickness, to the destitute and the unprotected, even to our rivals and adversaries, and particularly to our benefactors such as those who represent the Three Jewels and our parents.
- The giving of fearlessness through the extending of loving-kindness and compassion to those who are filled with the dread of mundane concern such as sickness, death and calamity.
- The giving of Dharma teaching to those who are ready to embark on a journey of self-discovery to realise their true nature.
- The monarch-like giving whereby we offer to others the very best of what we have intuitively and courteously, without the slightest concern for ourselves.
When there exist no longer any conceptual distinction or discrimination between the subject, object and action of the giver, the gift, and the receiver, and when all appearances are deemed as the illusory manifestion of dependent origination, void of real existence, this is known as the transcendental perfection of generosity - the union of the skilful means of compassion and the wisdom kaya of the Buddhas.
Fourth noble treasure - listening to dharma
Listening to Dharma (tö pa), the fourth of the seven noble treasures refers to the process of maturing our mind through the study and practice of the Dharma.
In order to learn about the truth of reality that is beyond concept, one must first develop a non-judgmental open-mind that arises from the ground of humility to enable us to approach the teaching with a fresh receptive mentality.
All conceptual notions about the teacher, the path, whether they correspond to our existing knowledge, our intellectual speculation or personal preferences must first be abandoned to open one’s mind to that which can only be embraced with humility, reverence and gratitude.
To be a qualified vessel to receive the teachings, one should avoid the fourteen defects of the vessels - the three defects of listening, the five errors in remembering, the six stains, and the five faults.
Three defects of listening
The three defects of listening as mentioned in Patrul Rinpoche’s Words of My Perfect Teacher are as follows:
- A pot turned upside down - not paying attention to the teaching;
- A pot with a hole - unable to retain any recollection of the teaching;
- A pot that is contaminated - mixing what you hear with the pollutants of mental afflictions such as attachment, aversion, and ignorance.
Five errors in remembering
The five errors in remembering as mentioned in Patrul Rinpoche’s Preliminary Points to be Explained When Teaching the Buddha’s Words are as follows:
- Remember the words but lost track of the meaning.
- Remember the meaning but lost track of the words.
- Remember the words and the meanings but with no understanding.
- Remember the teaching in the wrong sequence of order.
- Remember the teaching inaccurately.
The six stains which caused disturbances to the mind as mentioned in Vasubandu’s Well Explained Reasoning are as follows:
- Pride in believing yourself to be superior to the teacher;
- Lack of faith in the teacher and in the teaching;
- Failing to apply yourself to the teaching;
- Distracted by external phenomena;
- Disturbed by internal tensions caused by overtly focusing upon the five senses;
- Discouraged by the vastness of the teaching.
Then finally the five faults of conducts as mentioned in Maitreya’s Distinguishing the Middle from Extremes are as follows:
- Laziness which manifests as lack of energy, clinging to negative conducts, and melancholy.
- Forgetfulness - no recollection of the teachings.
- Lack of attention during meditation caused by dullness of mind, and anxiety due to overtly focusing.
- Insufficient effort in applying antidote to counter the debilitating effect of dullness and agitation.
- Overtly zealous in continuously applying antidote even after the conditions of dullness and agitation no longer exist.
Having eliminated the fourteen defects of the vessel, one should cultivate the fourfold perception when in attendance of Dharma teaching:
- Perceive yourself as an ailing patient suffering from the plague of chronic sickness.
- Perceive the Dharma as the elixir of efficacious medicine.
- Perceive the Buddha as the skilful universal physician.
- Perceive the invigorating practice of the Dharma as the path leading to full recuperation.
Eight leisureless states which deprive us the freedom to practice dharma
The eight leisureless states which deprive us the freedom to practice Dharma are referring to those born as hell beings, hungry spirits, animals, demi-gods, long-life gods, barbarians, or being born when there is no Buddha, or being born deaf and mute.
In the Wish-Fulfilling Treasury, Longchenpa states:
“Being shackled by the fetters of samsara,
Prone to behave in an intense degenerated manner,
Feel no weariness about samsara,
Possess not the slightest faith,
Perpetuate in negative harmful actions,
Lack of focus on the pursuit of goodness and Dharma,
Deterioration of vows and samaya
Are called the eight leisureless states
Due to the incompatible frame of mind”.
These eight leisureless mental states which deprive us the freedom to practice Dharma are summed up as follows:
- Lack of renunciation.
- Lack of faith.
- Clinging to the shackles of craving and worldly relationships.
- Prone to behave in an unbecoming degenerated manner.
- Lack of effort to avert harmful conducts and negative actions.
- Lack of enthusiasm in living a fulfilling life.
- Breaching of vows.
- Breaching of samaya - the vajra commitment of honour.
Eight temporary states which deprive us the freedom to practice dharma
In the Wish-Fulfilling Treasury, Longchenpa states:
“Being deluded, corrupted by the five poisons,
Possessed by the maras,
Prone to laziness,
Put up no defence against the encroaching sea of negative karma,
Enslaved by others,
Seeking escape from fear,
Pretentious in Dharma practice,
Habitually clueless and idiotic
Are called the eight temporary leisureless states
Due to the incompatible frame of mind”.
These eight temporary leisureless mental states which deprive us the freedom to practice Dharma are sum up as follows:
- Deceived by contagious disturbing influences.
- Overwhelmed by the five poisons of desire, anger, ignorance, conceit and jealousy.
- Overwhelmed by negative karmic forces.
- Overwhelmed by the lethargy of laziness.
- Enslaved by the manipulation of others.
- Practising out of fear due to guilt and lack of determination to rectify past errors.
- Practicing in an ostentatious manner to deceive oneself or to solicit recognition.
- Unabatedly mindless and ignorant.
Fruit of Dharma practice
The benefits of Dharma practice are exceedingly vast and numerous. Here is the fruit of Dharma practice as described Guru Padmasambhava on:
“Regardless how diligent you may be,
There is no end to the pursuit of worldly activities
Which always end in disappointment;
But Dharma practice always bring swift conclusion
And the fruits of practising Dharma will never deteriorate ”.
The Lotus Born Guru Rinpoche further added:
“Make certain your Dharma practice
Becomes the real Dharma;
Your Dharma becomes the real path;
Your path can illuminate ignorance;
Your ignorance transforms into wisdom”.
Milarepa share the same observation of Dharma practice when he proclaimed:
“All that I dread and uncertain about
Have dissolved like mist into nothingness,
Leaving me free of disturbance forever.
I will die with contentment and without regret.
This is the fruit of Dharma practices”.
Fifth noble treasure - consciousness of shame
Consciousness of shame (ngo tsha shes pa) is the propriety that defines one’s integrity.
In Tibetan, ngo tsha shes pa literally means sense of shame.
When our conscience is fortified by our faith in the Dharma and the insight of mindfulness that arise from the presence of humility, it enables us to recognise what is shameful, what is unwholesome and adopt the right decorum at all times to reject any worldly activities that may disturb or compromise our Dharma practices.
It serves to consolidate all our virtuous qualities and preserve the integrity of our samaya.
Humility - the simplicity of innocence
Humility is the courageous attitude of returning to the simplicity of innocence, the all-accepting, non-judgmental open-mind that is spacious and receptive.
One who is humble and sincere is naturally mindful.
The more mindful we are, the more effective we can be in averting any probable transgression of body, speech and mind.
Humility is thus described by Jigme Lingpa as one of two essential qualities needed for Dharma practice.
The second one being cited is confidence.
True confidence that arises from sincerity and humility
True confidence that arises from the actions of sincerity and humility - the natural offspring of insight that assumes nothing for granted - is the most reliable means to purify our karmic action and to accumulate merits.
With confidence, one can approach life joyfully with ease, instead of living in a state of trepidation.
The assembling of humility, sincerity and mindfulness prepare us to accept any scenario as what it is, without the need to add any emotional labelling to it.
We simply accept the situation with humility and proceed with insight and confidence to do what is needed to resolve the situation.
Once our consciousness is imbued with humility and sincerity, we are all capable of living a life of decorum without regret in a degenerate age, yet remain inseparable from the serenity of calm abiding, while preserving one’s refuge vows and sacred samaya with dignity, unaffected by the ever-changing conditions of the world.
Taking refuge (kyab dro) is the first step to become a Buddhist when one decided to commit oneself to the guidance of the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha in accordance to one’s aspiration.
This may range from the duration of one life time or longer to attain the causal fruition for the hinayana vehicle (tek men), or it may extend to the limitless duration of time it takes to attain the resultant fruition of complete realisation for the mahayana vehicle (tekpa chenpo).
The precepts of refuge as mentioned by His Holiness Pema Norbu Rinpoche in refuge ceremony include three precepts to adopt, three precepts to avoid, three precepts on relationship, and five common precepts.
Three precepts to adopt
1. Having taken refuge in the Buddha, you should display respect to all items which are representations of the Buddha as if Buddha is actually present.
2. Having taken refuge in the Dharma, you should display respect to all Dharma texts.
3. Having taken refuge in the Sangha, you should display respect to the robe of the ordained.
Three precepts to avoid
1. Having taken refuge in the Buddha, you should not take any non-buddhist or worldly deities as your ultimate refuge.
2. Having taken refuge in the Dharma, you should not cause harm to other beings.
3. Having taken refuge in the Sangha, you should not associate with anyone who has wrong views.
Three precepts on relationship
1. Having taken refuge in the Buddha, you should revere your guru as the Buddha in person.
2. Having taken refuge in the Dharma, you should revere the words of your guru as the Jewel of Dharma.
3. Having taken refuge in the Sangha, you should perceive all the family members and students of your guru as the Jewel of Dharma and extend the pure view of non-perturbed respect towards them.
Five common precepts
1. Do not disparage the Three Jewels even at the risk of your life or when being seduced by material reward.
2. Do not abandon the Three Jewels at time of difficulties, instead supplicate the Three Jewels for support and protection.
3. Always offer the food you are about to partake first to the Three Jewels.
4. Behave in a manner that reflect the benefit of refuge to inspire others to take refuge.
5. Pay homage to the Buddha wherever you may stop for rest when you are travelling.
three root samayas
Samaya (damtsik) is the sacred commitment of a student to the vajra guru after having received the initiation of vajrayana practice which created a bond between the guru and the student.
Sublime is the Tibetan literal meaning of dam, and tsik is a statement. Samaya is hence a statement that is sincere, genuine and pristine.
Milarepa described the root of samaya as not to be ashamed of oneself.
To apply oneself in harmony with the reality of phenomena is to view and experience the emptiness-nature of all sights, sound and awareness.
The most grievous violation of root samaya is to abandon one’s sacred commitment to one’s guru. This will cause instant degeneration of all the benefits and blessings one previously enjoyed from the practising.
The three root samayas of body, speech and mind require one to refrain from the actions of non-virtues and maintain the sacred view that all beings and all phenomena as primordially pure.
- The samaya of body is to renounce killing, refrain from taking what is not given, avoid gratifying misconduct and to offer one’s devotion and service to one’s guru and one’s vajra sangha.
- The samaya of speech is to renounce lying, renounce spreading discord, renounce verbal aggression, renounce malicious gossip and to maintain the practice of pure mantra.
- The samaya of the mind is to refrain from the disclosure of secret to the unqualified and to maintain the sacred view that the nature of the mind is the actual pristine dharmakaya.
breaking of samaya
Samaya is usually compromised through the progress of four successive stages:
1. Non-observance; 2. Infringement; 3. Transgression; 4. Complete break.
Damaged samaya may be repaired within three years of the violation but once over three years, it is completely beyond salvage. One may repair samaya by confessing to one’s guru and then complete the prescribed practices as given by the guru.
purpose of pure samaya
Jamgön Kongtrul in the Lamrim Yeshe Nyingpo stated that:
“The purpose of maintaining pure samaya
is to preserve the blessings and the life-force
of the empowerment we received within our being.”
Failing to honour one’s samaya is one of the main causes to born directly into vajra hell at the time of death without going through the intermediate state of bardo.
fourteen root downfalls
To keep the samaya pure, one should avoid the following fourteen root downfalls in accordance to the Highest Yoga Tantra (lanamepé naljor gyi gyü) which are the three inner tantras of Mahayoga (naljor chenpö), Anuyoga (jé su naljor) and Atiyoga (shin tu naljor):
- Disrespecting the vajra master is the same as disrespecting all the Buddhas.
- Disrespecting the guidance of the Buddhas is to deny one’s own liberation.
- Disrespecting one’s vajra siblings is the same as disrespecting the vajra master.
- Discarding loving concern for sentient beings is to disrespect all future Buddhas.
- Discarding bodhichitta is likened to deny one’s own liberation from samsara.
- Disparaging the sutras and tantras is the cause of one’s downfall to the hell realms.
- Sharing secrets with those not qualified to receive is the same as acting like maras.
- Causing unnecessary suffering to one’s body is to disrespect the five aggregates.
- Failing to perceive the nature of emptiness is to dismiss the ultimate truth of reality.
- Dismissing the non-dual presence of emptiness is to deny one’s ultimate freedom.
- Fraternising with company of wrong views is to become the advocate of maras.
- Disturbing those who have faith in the Dharma is the cause of one’s rebirth in the lower realms.
- Failing to honour one’s samaya is the same as disrespecting the Three Jewels.
- Disparaging women is the same as disrespecting all the female wisdom deities.
According to The Noble Mahayana Akasagarbha Sutra, there are additional eighteen root downfalls to avoid for those who have received the bodhisattva vows.
These consist of five downfalls of a king, five downfalls of a minister and eight downfalls of ordinary beings.
five downfalls of a king
The five downfalls of a king are referring to violations committed by those entrusted with power to govern and those who have received the bodhisattva vows as explained in the Compendium of Training by Shantideva:
- With ill-intent, seize possession or cause the loss of property representing the Three Jewels or encourage others to do the same.
- Reject the teaching of the Hinayana Vehicle, Mahayana Vehicle and Vajrayana Vehicle. Deceiving others with the claims that these are not the vehicles for the path of liberation.
- To steal, to abuse, to imprison members of the ordained, to cause death to them or force them to abandon their monastic vows to become lay people.
- To commit one of the ‘five heinous crimes with immediate karmic retribution’ (tsam mepa nga) that bypass bardo, the intermediate state between death and rebirth, at the end of one’s life to reborn directly into the avici hell (narmé) - the vajra hell of interminable torment without respite. These five heinous crimes are:
- Killing one’s father.
- Killing one’s mother.
- Killing a noble being on the path of learning (lobpé lam) from one of the three classes of arya (pakpa) - arhat, pratyekabuddha and bodhisattva.
- Causing harm to the body or damage to objects that represent the Buddhas which include instigating obstruction to the propagation of buddha-dharma.
- Causing a split of unity in a sangha.
- Holding on to wrong views.
five downfalls of a minister
Apart from the first downfall, the second, third, fourth and the fifth of the five downfalls of a minister are the same as that of the five downfalls of a king:
- Destruction of civilian property, village, town or city.
- Reject the teaching of the Hinayana Vehicle, Mahayana Vehicle and Vajrayana Vehicle. Deceiving others with the claims that these are not the vehicles for the path of liberation.
- To steal, to abuse, to imprison members of the ordained, to cause death to them or force them to abandon their monastic vows to become lay people.
- To commit one of the ‘five heinous crimes with immediate karmic retribution’ (tsam mepa nga) that bypass bardo, the intermediate state between death and rebirth, at the end of one’s life to reborn directly in the avici hell (narmé) - the vajra hell of interminable torment without respite. These five heinous crimes are:
- Killing one’s father.
- Killing one’s mother.
- Killing a noble being on the path of learning (lobpé lam) from one of the three classes of arya (pakpa) - arhat, pratyekabuddha and bodhisattva.
- Causing harm to the body or damage to objects that represent the Buddhas which include instigating obstruction to the propagation of buddhadharma.
- Causing a split of unity in a sangha.
- Holding on to wrong views.
eight downfalls of ordinary beings
The texts of the Profound View described the eight downfalls of ordinary beings as follows:
- Teaching emptiness to those whose mind are not ready to receive, causing them to abandon the bodhisattva path.
- Intentionally turning those who possesses bodhicitta attribute away from following the bodhisattva path.
- Praising Mahayana before those who only have the faculty to benefit from the Hinayana Vehicle.
- Belittling Hinayana teaching as ineffective to eliminate mental defilements and making claim it is not a legitimate path of liberation.
- Praising oneself while blatantly criticising other bodhisattvas.
- Making false claim of having attained the profound view.
- Instigating those in power to persecute practitioners, and covertly embezzle offerings or misappropriate properties entrusted by the sangha.
- Sabotaging the practice of practitioner by spreading disinformation, accepting items stolen from the sangha or taking items belong to the sangha without permission.
five crimes similar to those with immediate karmic retribution
These eighteen downfalls aside, there are five other transgressions known as the ‘five crimes similar to those with immediate karmic retribution’(tsam mé dang cha drawa nyé ba nga):
1. Violating one’s mother who is an arhat.
2. Killing a bodhisattva who has entered the path of bhumi.
3. Killing one’s student or one’s teacher.
4. Deprive the sangha a place of assembly.
5. Causing destruction to a stupa.
Children of the Victorious Ones
Buddhas are often referred in the root texts as the Victorious Ones for they have totally conquered ignorance and the afflictive influences of the maras.
Those who live in accordance to the bodhisattva vows are known as kulaputra, the noble sons of the Victorious Ones(rig kyi bu).
The nobility of the practising bodhisattvas, on account of their conscience as the heir of the Buddhas and their faith in the Dharma, is defined by their dignified endeavour to steer clear of wrong views and unwholesome actions through being aware of what is shameful and what is beneficial.
In so doing, they reach the level of the bodhisattva mahasattva to become the close sons of the Buddha by following the footsteps of Kshitigarbha (Sayi Nyingpo), Avalokiteshvara (Chenrezig), Manjushri (Jampalyang), Vajrapani (Chakna Dorje) and countless others.
The true heirs of the Buddha should refrain from feeling conceit when come upon signs of realisation by recognising these phenomena as merely indication of the practice by remembering the advice of Mahasiddha Saraha:
“Wherever there is attachment, downfall will surely follow.”
Parting from the Four Attachment
The core practice of the bodhisattva path is sum up by the four-line teaching of Manjushri on Parting from the Four Attachment:
“Whoever has attachment to this life is not a Dharma practitioner.
Whoever has attachment to samsara has no renunciation.
Whoever has attachment to self-interest has no bodhicitta.
Whoever has attachment to grasping has wrong views on the nature of phenomena.”
Where attachment is still abound, there is no view worthy to follow.
By adopting the noble qualities of the bodhisattvas, we too can gain triumph over afflictive propensities to become the true heirs of the Buddha as we succeed to attain the union of wisdom and compassion.
Sixth noble treasure - esteem for others
Esteem for others (trel yö pa) is the bodhisattva conduct of always treating others with respect and decency.
The propriety we have for others reflect the irreplaceable value of their presence. Without the support of others, none of us could survive on our own as Buddha remind us that we are here because of others and the nature of all sentient beings are fundamentally the same.
When we extend our respect towards others, we are in effect honouring their primordial nature which is the same as that of the Buddhas.
To honour others with respect not merely strengthen our faith in humility and self-esteem, but will invoke the local deities to favour us with support in our everyday endeavour regardless of how others may react to our manner of proper decorum.
When we refrain from causing harm to others, we are in effect creating the karmic condition of a harm-free future for ourselves.
But when we act from ignorance with ill-intent to harm others, to cause distress to others, to insult others, it will empower mara, the lord of illusion, to bring more chaos to our lives, speed up the depletion of our merit, and severe our connection to the support of the dharma protectors.
The resulting karmic implications will propel us to take countless rebirth in the lower realms, subject ourselves to the bitter fruits of endless sufferings that correlate with the gravity of our misdeeds by tens of thousand-fold.
As Milarepa said:
Negative karma naturally decrease;
Perform wholesome actions,
Merits will surely increase.”
This selfsame observation correspond exactly to what Buddha taught:
“All phenomena resemble their causes.
What you planted,
You too shall receive.”
Buddha also said:
“By the probing of one’s awareness,
One can find no one more precious than oneself.
Likewise, others are more precious to themselves.
If one loves oneself,
One should not cause harm to others.”
Atisha made similar deduction and said:
“Enlightenment are attained
By sentient beings and the Buddhas alike.
Why then do we respect the Buddhas
And not sentient beings?”
Our esteem and respect for oneself and others should extend to include animals, other beings and our surrounding environment. When respect arises from the fusion of compassion and bodhicitta is abound, the irritation of all mundane conflicts naturally dissipate by itself to herald in a new dawn of noble spirit that thrives on the equanimity of harmony.
Seventh noble treasure - wisdom
Prajnaparamita in Eight Thousand Lines, a discourse on the perfection of wisdom given by Shakyamuni Buddha described the mind is not the mind since its original nature is the clear luminosity.
In Buddhism, the mind (sem) is referring to the fifth aggregate - the consciousness (namshe) that clarifies and cognises.
The primary mind (tso sem) is consist of five types of consciousness relating to the sensory faculties of visual, hearing, smell, taste and tactile; two types of active consciousness to do with conceptual and emotional faculties, and one inactive neutral alaya, the all-ground consciousness (kun shyi nampar shépa) in which karmic imprints of past actions are stored as seeds ready to be ripened into a karmic experiences when all the appropriate conditions are assembled.
What we assumed as thoughts are in actuality the projection of our speculations and emotions that accompanied our misguided faith in clinging to the fixation of the ego as our compass of reference.
The mind Is void of existence
Longchenpa pointed out the phenomena we experience in the mind is not the true state of the mind but a vivid illusion that is beyond analysis for there is no ground of any real substance right at the onset.
He further added that the mind, if you care to search for it, will divulge no form, no colour, for it is unborn, unceasing, and cannot be located anywhere throughout the three times of the past, present and future.
The mind is seemingly unbelievably void of existence.
The defects of the primary mind
The mind in its primordial naked state of luminosity is the emptiness-nature of clarity and the emptiness-nature of bliss which are the essence of enlightenment.
For the non-enlightened, their primary mind is obscured by the veils of conditioned existence that revolves around the impulses of delusion that is characterised by confusion and disturbances.
Without the support of wisdom, any attempt to attain liberation by the consciousness of primary mind alone will only create more karmic implications and more future rebirths in samsara.
Wisdom and consciousness are in fact two non-detachable aspects of the mind which is similar to milk once added to water, it is impossible to separate the two.
Since the roots of both samsara and nirvana co-exist within our mind is constantly evolving, we can neither remove nor do we need to surrender any one of the five-one mental states (semjung ngabchu tsachik), which include five ever-present mental factors (kün dro nga); five discriminating mental factors (yül ngé nga); eleven virtuous factors (semjung ngabchu tsachik); six root destructive mental factors (tsa nyön druk); twenty secondary afflictive mental factors (nyé nyön nyi shu); and the four variables (shyen gyur shyi); because they are all part and parcel of the same entity.
What we can do in Dharma practice is to direct all our effort to nurture that which is virtuous and steer clear from that which is afflictive until all traces of karmic imprints are thoroughly purified from our all-ground consciousness.
essence of the mind
The innermost essence of mind is described by Mipham Rinpoche as:
“The actual visage of uncontrived pristine awareness
Which is emptiness in essence;
Spontaneously cognisant by nature;
And an omnipresent energy of unstoppable compassion.”
This ultimate nature of omniscience, known as rigpa - the unification of the three kayas - transcends the conceptual boundary of the primary mind, and can only be realised through the guidance and blessings of the guru.
Origin of wisdom
In Zurchungpa’s Eighty Chapters of Personal Advice, the attaining of wisdom is described as the result of firm devotion in planting the seed of concentration in the field of pure discipline.
Faith is the gateway to the path of Dharma; instructions on discipline is the basic; cultivating concentration is the means; and wisdom is the essence of both discipline and concentration.
Without the discipline of abiding calm to subjugate the afflictive emotions, and the insight of wisdom to eliminate their causes, the path will not lead us to enlightenment.
Two types of wisdom
Two types of wisdom are often mentioned in the mahayana texts.
The first one is sherab, literally means correct understanding.
Sherab, the sixth of the six paramitas, represents the enlightened quality to perceive the precise nature of all phenomena.
The second one is yeshe, the primordial wisdom - the timeless pristine innate non-dual self-knowing cognition of reality.
It is through the subtle insight of sherab that yeshe is unfolded.
Wisdom of the five Buddhas
The actual practice of the bodhisattva path centre upon two types of accumulation. The accumulation of merits (sönam)and the accumulation of primordial wisdom (yeshe).
Deemed as the wisdom of omniscience, yeshe originated directly from the primordial Buddha, the Dharmakaya Buddha Vajradhara (Dorje Chang), known also as Buddha Samantabhadra (Kuntuzangpo).
The Dharmakaya Buddha represents the absolute, naked, sky-like pure original nature of our mind, and from which the Wisdom of the Five Buddhas were manifested to serve as the antidotes to the five afflictions of attachment, anger, ignorance, conceit and jealousy:
- Wisdom of dharmadhatu (chö kyi ying kyi yeshe): the innate awareness which recognises the true nature of all phenomena as one of the same - stainlessly pure and immaculately perfect of its own accord. It is the enlightened display of Vairochana Buddha (Nampar Nangdzé) which subdues ignorance and purifies the aggregate of form perception.
- Mirror-like wisdom (melong tabü yeshe): the innate awareness which reflects the nature of phenomena as what it is - the enlightened display of Akshobhya Buddha (Mikyöpa) which subdues anger and purifies the aggregate of consciousness.
- Wisdom of equality (nyamnyi yeshe): the innate awareness which reflects the absolute nature of the one single taste, the one single function shared by all phenomena. It is the enlightened display of Ratnasambhava Buddha (Rinchen Jungné) which subdues conceit and purifies the aggregate of feeling and sensation.
- Wisdom of discriminating awareness (sosor tokpai yeshé): the innate awareness which discern the absolute nature of equality within all phenomena yet free from being confound by their distinctive transient attributes. It is the enlightened display of Amitabha Buddha (Öpamé) which subdues grasping and purifies the aggregate of perception.
- All-accomplishing wisdom (jawa drubpé yeshé): the innate awareness which offers spontaneous effortless support to benefit all beings. It is the enlightened display of Amoghasiddhi Buddha (Dönyö Drubpa) which subdues jealousy and purifies the aggregate of emotional volition.
Three ways to attain wisdom
There are three ways to attain wisdom:
- Wisdom through listening and studying. This enable us to recognise the different guises of destructive emotions such as envy, jealousy and anger which arise from the overtly active display of the ego.
- Wisdom of contemplation. To contemplate is to reflect. A life well lived without regret is a life based on regular reflection. No progress in life can be made without proper reflection on identifying areas that can be improved and shortcomings that can be rectified. The insight we gain from reflection enable us to recognise the arising of destructive emotions and the timely application of appropriate antidote to temporary pacify its impending effect by recalling the teachings we have received.
- Wisdom of meditation. This enable us to pacify destructive emotions completely by merging our mind with the Dharma to establish the oneness of wisdom in body, speech and mind through the practices of generation stage and completion stage. In so doing, totally demystify all the illusory displays of the ego to attain the stainless confidence of recognising the uncontrived nature of reality with the wisdom of discriminating awareness, and ultimately the attaining of the wisdom of the absolute truth.
Wisdom and the Four reliances
The wisdom aspect of the bodhisattva practice is refined through the successive stages of the four reliances.
The Teaching of Aksayamati which details a discursive dialogue between Aksayamati and Sariputra on the subject of imperishability in Rajagrha was praised by Shakyamuni Buddha as being worthy to be heard by the great congregation gathered there which included his assembly of six millions monks and six hundreds million visiting bodhisattvas from the eastern pure realm of Samantabhadra Buddha.
In this sutra, Aksayamati described the four reliances as being part of the eighty different aspects of the Dharma that are imperishable.
The four reliances (tönpa shyi) of the bodhisattva practices are:
- Do not rely on the words but on the meaning (tsik la mi tön. dön la tön).
- The words here are referring to the eighty-four thousand types of Dharma teachings which introduce us to the phenomena of the world; the teaching on the paramita; the imperfection of conditioned existence; the benefit of nirvana; the teachings that accords with the differentiation of the vehicles; and so forth. Words are used only as the temporary measure to convey the meaning which is beyond conceptual boundaries and intellectual interpretations.
- The meaning here is referring to the thorough understanding of the phenomena that transcend the world; awareness of the quality of sameness in paramita; recognising existence is beyond comprehension; the absence of thought in nirvana; the insight which penetrates the non-differentiation and sameness of all phenomena; and so forth.
- Do not rely on consciousness but on the wisdom (nam shé la mi tön. yé shé la tön).
- Consciousness is the cognisance of the dualistic mind in identifying form, feeling, perception, and mental formative factors; the awareness of earth, water, fire and wind; the sensory awareness of sight, sound, smells, taste and touch; the fleeting attachment to subject and object which are conditioned and bounded by origination and cessation. All that is conceived in this manner are mere illusion that evolved around the conceptual labelling of the mind but still remain as Mipham Rinpoche described in the Sword of Wisdom: “…within the domain of mara”.
- Wisdom is the primordial awareness that is free from the grasping of subject and object, of like and dislike; the thorough understanding of the aggregates as being conditioned; the cognition of all elements are undifferentiated from the selfsame nature of phenomena; the inner peace that is unconditioned and free from any mental wandering or fabricated thought in an omnipresent state of non-dualistic awareness that transcends the notions of existence and non-existence.
- Do not rely on the implicit meaning but on the definitive meaning (drang dön la mi tön. ngé dön la tön).
- Implicit meaning represents the path that introduce the novice to the provisional tenets of the Dharma by means of utilising eight types of implied and indirect teachings; understanding of the relative truth; undertaking of actions and duties in Dharma practice; explanation of afflictions and defects in samsara; words and symbols that appease the mentality of sentient beings with the proclamating of the self, a being, a life doctrine, a subject that acts and a subject that feels; and so forth. Implicit meaning is the provisional measure that is taught for a specific purpose to serve as a lead to the more profound understanding of the ultimate truth.
- Definitive meaning represents the path that attains the fruit of Dharma practice; understanding of the ultimate truth; cessation of karmic actions and afflictions; explanation of purification and the non-dualistic quality of nirvana; teaching that is profound and difficult to comprehend; simple words and symbols that produce mental introspection in living beings to recognise the emptiness-nature of all phenomena that is unborn, unconditioned, and the total absence of the self, of being, of illusions, of existence, of non-existence; and so forth. Free from the clinging of conceptual extremes of denial and assertion, definitive meaning reaches beyond the boundary of the dualistic ordinary mind and serves the purpose to present a unified explanation of the different teachings in the Dharma texts that may appear to convey contradictory literal meaning to the novice.
- Do not rely on the person but on the true state of dharma (gang zak la mi tön. chö la tön).
- The concept of person from the perspective of Dharma practice include ordinary beings, noble beings, beings on the path, shravaka, pratyekabuddha, bodhisattva, and the Buddhas who take birth to become the teacher of the six classes of beings. The notion of person is taught from the viewpoint of conventional labelling with respect to the relative truth as a temporary measure to guide beings. This conceptual notion of person is discarded at the penultimate state of complete realisation.
- The true state of dharma is referring to the state of changelssness; the absence of any imputation of existence, activity, purification, phenomena and thought; the sameness and faultlessness of nature with respect to phenomena; and the essence of vast infinite space. Those who rely on the true state of dharma do not rely on the ever-changing elements because all phenomena are by nature, the true state of dharma. The guru may appear as all kinds of ordinary beings to offer the path of liberation to the worthy students. The path that is properly presented is the key to liberation regardless of the form the teacher may take. Mara who is capable to appear in the form of a Buddha will nonetheless not bring benefit.
capacity of The mind
From the perspective of dharmakaya, what is labelled as mind is the selfsame all-pervasive awareness shared by all the Buddhas and all sentient beings.
The only distinction that separates the mind of a Buddha from a sentient being is the enormous differences in their capacity to accommodate, and whether the innate naturally perfect dharmata (chönyi), the unconditioned intrinsic nature of reality is realised or not.
To develop a mind free from confusion and as expansive as the infinity of space, hence become essential to the attaining of an enlightened mind - an irrefutable view shared by Patrul Rinpoche who defined wisdom as:
“The recognition of the emptiness-nature
of all phenomena during meditation
and the understanding that all phenomena
are utterly unreal like a dream during post-meditation.”
Vastness of self-awareness
Longchenpa likewise described the vastness of self-awareness within the enlightened mind as:
“The infinite ultimate reality
That is beyond coming and going.
Its omnipresent impartial essence
Transcend beyond the limitation
Of fabrication and conceptual thought
To ensure whatever thoughts arise
Dissolve instantly into the
Intrinsic suchness of dharmata
- The absolute nature of all phenomena.”
When one finally attains this non-conceptual state of naked awareness that recognises the sameness of nature in all phenomena, the all-accomplishing compassion of luminosity will emanate naturally from within one’s primordial nature to illuminate all beings like a glorious autumn sun in the cloudless sky. This is the dawn of wisdom, the birth of the seventh noble treasures.
Advice of the Buddha
The seven noble treasures play an irreplaceable role in the process of attaining realisation. To obtain the blessings of the seven noble treasures, one should appreciate the distinction between what is noble and what is not noble as described by Shakyamuni Buddha:
“One who causes harm to others is not called noble.
Should you find someone who has the wisdom
To point out your harmful views,
Follow him as you would a guide to hidden treasure.
Those who cling to conceptual views
Wander the world causing chaos to others.
The root of suffering is attachment.
It is impossible to liberate others
When you remain attached
To the bondage of wrong views and regrets.
It is in the nature of the mind
That joys arise in a person who is free
From remorse rectified;
From sorrow liberated;
From defilements cleansed;
And from fear removed.
A mind that abides in equanimity,
Unruffled by the change of fortune is
The greatest blessing.”
Advice of the lotus born
One way to cultivate the seven noble treasures is to put into practice the guidance of the Lotus Born Guru Padmasambhava who gave the following advice to his disciple Yeshe Tsogyal:
“Do not waste time on non-dharma activities
That produce no accumulation of merit and wisdom.
Do not desire anything
except the ultimate enlightenment
And that which benefits all beings.
Do not cling to anything
Since attachment is the cause of enslavement.
Do not find fault in other teachings
And do not belittle others,
For all the teachings are
Inextricably part of the sameness
That share one single taste like that of salt.
Do not criticise any vehicles
Of the higher or lower scope,
For they serve the same purpose
Of an indistinguishable path
Similar to taking one step at a time
When ascending a stairway.
Do not resent others in the absence of omniscience
When you have no thorough understanding of them.
And remember all beings without exception
Possess the same all-accomplishing intrinsic nature
Of the Buddhas
And the fundamental qualities
Do not scrutinise the defects
Or illusions of others
Instead of transforming your own.
Do not scrutinise the limitations of others
Instead of appraising your own.
Do not subscribe to the greatest wrongdoing
Of displaying intolerance
towards others’ spiritual beliefs
And censuring others with prejudice
When you have no thorough comprehension of their mind.
So abandon preconceived discrimination
Just as you would stay away from poison.”
eight treasures of sacred excellence
Once the mind has been matured through mingling with the seven noble treasures, which spring from the source of contentment, it will lead directly to the eight treasures of sacred excellence (pobpé ter gyé) as mentioned in the Lalitavistara Sutra and paraphrased frequently by Mipham Rinpoche in his teachings.
These eight treasures of sacred excellence are:
- Teachings received and remain intact in recollection is the treasure of mindfulness (drenpé ter).
- Conscious of their precious meaning is the treasure of intelligence (lodrö kyi ter).
- Comprehend the essence of all the sutras and tantras is the treasure of realisation (tokpé ter).
- Absorb the finest details of one’s studies is the treasure of recognition (zung kyi ter).
- Sublime explanations that satiate all beings is the treasure of confidence (pobpé ter).
- Protect the integrity of the sacred teachings is the treasure of Dharma (chö kyi ter).
- Preserve the lineage of the Three Jewels is the treasure of bodhicitta (changchub sem kyi ter).
- Attain the nature of equality beyond appearances is the treasure of accomplishment (drubpé ter).
Two types of potential
All sentient beings are equal in possessing two kinds of potential (rik nyi).
The naturally abiding potential (rangshyin né rik) and the evolving potential (gyé gyur gyi rik).
The naturally abiding potential is the nature of the Tathagata (deshyin shekpa), the Buddha-nature - the union of awareness and emptiness.
This naturally abiding potential embodies the pristine wisdom qualities of the dharmakaya (chö ku) which arise from its emptiness-nature, and the meritorious qualities of rupakaya (zuk ku) which arise from its manifest-nature, to produce the contaminated-suchness (dri ché deshyin nyi) of a sentient being. It is also refers to as the all-ground wisdom (künshyi yeshe) for being the ground which gives rise to both samsara and nirvana.
Despite the continuing transitions of sentient aggregates gathering together at birth and separate at death in samsara, this naturally abiding potential, the Buddha-nature, remain immaculately intact. It is the realisation of the Buddha-nature which gives rise to enlightenment.
The evolving potential is what we possess through the force of awakening to remove the four veils (kheb zhi) that temporarily obscured our naturally abiding potential.
four veils and two obscurations
The four veils which obscured our naturally abiding potential are:
- Lack of interest in buddha-dharma due to attachment to samsara.
- Erroneous view of the self due to attachment to the ego.
- Aversion to the sufferings of samsara due to ignorance.
- Lack of interest to promote the greatest welfare of sentient beings.
These four veils are the result of the two obscurations (drib nyi) which shroud the presence of our Buddha-nature.
The first one is the obscuration to liberation due to emotional defilement (nyön mong drib).
The second one is the obscuration to knowledge due to ignorance (shé ja drib).
antidotes for the four veils
When the antidotes for the four veils are implemented to nullify the two obscurations, we can then commence the development of our evolving potential through the two accumulation of merits and wisdom. The antidotes for the four veils are:
- Strong interest in buddha-dharma to actualise one’s liberation from samsara.
- Correct view of the self as indivisible from the nature of the Buddhas and all sentient beings.
- Insightful awareness of the true nature of phenomena through samadhi meditation.
- Cultivate the four immeasurable of loving-kindness, compassion, altruistic joy and equanimity for the benefit of both animate and inanimate beings.
All sentient beings possess Buddha nature
When Shakyamuni Buddha in the sambhogakaya form of Vairochana gave his first teaching after enlightenment to a congregation of countless Buddhas and bodhisattva mahasattvas over twenty-one days as detailed in the Avatamsaka Sutra, Lord Buddha discerned the ubiquitous presence of Buddha-nature among all beings and proclaimed:
“How strange! How strange!
How is it that these sentient beings
Who possess the Tathagata’s wisdom
But in their folly of ignorance and confusion
Do not perceive it?
I shall teach them the way of the sages
And cause them forever to shed the notions
Of obscurations and attachments,
So they can come into the direct contact
With the immeasurable self-arising uncontrived wisdom
As that of the Buddhas.”
This universal presence of the Buddha-nature is reiterated by Maitreya in the Sublime Continuum:
“Due to the perfect all-pervading buddhakayas
And the ever-indistinguishable quality of reality,
All beings have always possess the potential
Milarepa, renowned for The Hundred Thousand Songs, composed a poem on Buddha-nature:
When in search of the unborn mind,
Seek not for the fulfilment in samsara.
All the insight I have procured
Are from the monitoring of my own mind.
All my thoughts hence become
The teachings of Dharma.
And the appearances that manifested
Are all the scriptures I need.
Behold the innate countenance
Of the sublime self-abiding mind
That no ordinary meditation can attain.
He who realises the nature his own mind
Recognises the mind
Is the intrinsic wisdom-awareness,
And fare no more error
In seeking for Buddha from elsewhere.
In truth, Buddha cannot be found beyond
The supreme practice of contemplating your own mind
Which is the Tathagatagarbha,
The Buddha Nature - The birth place of the Buddhas.
Dharma practice is mind training
Dharma practice is fundamentally mind training to transform our mental attitude towards ourselves, other people and the events we encounter in everyday life.
The sole purpose of Dharma practice is to reform our self-cherishing attitude, our true enemies to happiness, by perceiving others as our spiritual friends, whose wellbeing is far more important than ours, for the promotion of their welfare is the true source of our happiness.
As Shantideva explained in the Bodhicharyavatara:
“All the sufferings in the world
Arise from wishing happiness for oneself,
All the happiness in the world
Arise from wishing happiness for others.”
The instant we start to approach life with virtuous intent and compassion, our habitual negativity such as pride, jealousy, competitiveness, and aggression, will diminish.
This will allow wholesome qualities to increase, leading to a spacious receptive mind that prepare us to convert conflicts and adversity into opportunities for our spiritual growth towards awakening - the direct path to wisdom and liberation.
As delusions and obscurations are methodically subdued by the aptly applied antidotes, the concepts of subject, object and action are eradicated.
In the illuminating clear light of emptiness, our true nature is revealed as part and parcel of the unchanging oneness of all phenomena. The oneness, which is indivisible from the suchness of dharmata (chönyi), the intrinsic unconditioned nature of reality, the very essence of everything as they are - the buddhakaya of the absolute truth.
Introduction to the nature of the mind
The ultimate goal of the spiritual path is to attain direct experience of the rigpa, the self-aware nature of the primordial mind known as the Buddha-nature.
To facilitate the introduction to the nature of the mind, three authentic factors must first be assembled:
1. The authentic blessings of the guru (lama jinlab tseden).
2. The authentic devotion of the student (lobma mögü tseden).
3. The authentic transmission of the lineage (gyüpé damngak tseden)
Best spiritual friend
Atisha describes the vajra guru as the best spiritual friend since he reveals the hidden faults of the students so that they may rectify and continue their progress on the path, as encapsulated by the following stanza of Shakyamuni Buddha:
“By oneself is wrongdoing committed;
By oneself is wrongdoing rectified.
By oneself is wrongdoing left undone;
By oneself is one made pure.
Purity and impurity rely on oneself;
No one can purify another”.
Maitreya in Ornament of Mahayana Sutra states:
“One should follow the guidance of a teacher
Who is serene, unperturbed,
Has mastery over discipline and practices,
Well versed in scriptures,
Exceptionally realised, skilful in discourse,
The incarnation of compassion,
And unfalteringly assiduous.”
seeing the guru as Buddha
From the perspective of the vajrayana tradition, unswerving faith in seeing the guru as Buddha has far greater benefit than that of actual teaching.
This is referring to the principal theme of guru yoga (lamé naljor), the practice of visualising the guru as the deity, requesting his blessings and merging one’s mind with the wisdom mind of the guru.
Chatral Sangye Dorje Rinpoche who provide detailed instruction to locate the reincarnation of His Holiness Pema Norbu Rinpoche gave the following advice on guru yoga:
“Far more preferable to eradicate
your confusion and misinterpretation
by relying the guidance of a qualified guru
than to seek more teachings
which you never put into practice.”
Guru yoga - shortest path to Enlightenment
Guru yoga, literally means ‘union with the nature of the guru’, is regarded in Vajrayana as the shortest path to enlightenment by the profound means of merging your mind with the wisdom mind of the guru.
It is solely through the relying on a spiritual guru that all the bodhisattvas of the past attained realisation of buddhahood.
According to the pith instruction of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, keeping the lama, your own guru, in your mind for an instant is far more beneficial than meditating on the deities for countless years.
For a start, the compassionate presence of a guru is tangible among us. You can approach him to clarify your concern, to verify your spiritual experience as being valid or delusional.
The guru, revered for being the emanation of the Three Jewels, offers guidance in accordance to your exact needs, your disposition and whether you are ready for it.
Any connection with the guru, through seeing him, hearing his voice, remembering him, even a brief moment of contact by hand or being in close proximity of him is deemed as the greatest blessing of all blessings for it will speed up your progress towards liberation and unfold your buddha-nature within.
Guru - The equal of all the Buddhas
On the perception of the guru, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche gave the following advice:
“The spiritual guru is like a ship that ferries beings
Across the ocean of samsara;
An infallible guide
On the route to liberation;
A shower to extinguish
The inferno of passions;
The sun and the moon
That banish the gloominess of ignorance;
The sturdy ground
That support all beings;
A wish-fulfilling tree
That grant transient happiness and lasting happiness;
A treasury of vast and profound teachings;
A wish-granting jewel
That bestows all the sacred qualities of enlightenment;
The parents who offer loving-kindness
To all beings without reservation;
A stupendous river of compassion;
An immovable mountain
That towers over the turbulence of mundane concerns;
The wondrous rain cloud
That brings relief to the trauma of desires.
Simply put, he is the equal of all the Buddhas.”
Essence of Guru yoga
The most common failings of Dharma practice in everyday situation is our habitual tendency to react from the view of our ego and our afflictive fixations, and in doing so, creating more karmic causes to prolong our continuous existence in samsara instead of making progress towards our own liberation.
Shakyamuni Buddha gave 84,000 teachings to the world as antidotes to 84,000 afflictions. In vajrayana, there are an additional 6,400,000 texts of tantra.
To study and assimilate all of these teachings by one single individual would appear impossible. Instead of trying to remember which practice is best for each situation, one simply focus one’s mind on the guru and apply oneself in the same manner as the guru would deal with it. This is the essence of guru yoga.
In brief, when one speaks, think of what the guru would say; when one acts, think of how the guru would act; when circumstances are favourable, dedicate one’s gratitude to the guru for his blessings; when circumstances are challenging, pray to the guru for support.
The essence of guru yoga is to approach everyday situations by seeing through the compassionate eyes of the guru; by hearing with the humility of the guru; and by acting with the sincerity of the guru.
Once our mind has successfully mingled with the guru’s mind which is indivisible from the wisdom-kayas of the Buddhas, we will be able to behave in a manner that befitted to be referred to as the son or daughter of the Buddhas.
Dudjom Rinpoche described guru yoga as the life and heart of buddha-dharma and hence it does require the very best of our effort and fervent devotion. Otherwise, our practice will become wearisome and our progress will get hindered by endless obstacles.
devotion is the ethos of the path
Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche gave the following explanation on guru devotion:
“Devotion is the ethos of the path.
If we have nothing in our mind
Other than our constant devotion to the guru,
And perceive whatever happens,
Whatever sounds as his blessings,
This is the same as reciting a prayer.
Whenever there is devotion to the guru,
There arises also the self-abiding confidence
That all’s well will end well,
And all thoughts,
Both gross and subtle,
Are spontaneously dissolved into
The liberated nature of dharmata.”
more passionate our devotion, greater the blessings
Indeed, true progress on the path of liberation rests squarely on awakening the self-abiding primordial wisdom of our mind.
The dawn of this stainless all-knowing cognition of reality depends entirely on the guru’s blessings.
The more passionate our devotion, the greater the blessings, the more expeditious our progress.
Since lineage blessings is the direct result of the most ardent devotion. Half-hearted or partial devotion that are driven by intellectual notions or conceptual fantasy will have no chance to bear true fruit of Dharma other than increasing the yield of samsaric fruits for the future.
When a student endowed with humility and diligence, who values the opportunity to follow the guidance of a spiritual guru with fervent devotion and irreversible faith, the precious word empowerment of the guru, his pointing-out instruction will become the crucial factor in delivering the student safely to the other shore.
Through the skilful means of devotion to the outer guru, such a student will for certain succeed in attaining the realisation of the inner guru, the primordial nature of non-dual omniscience.
pith instruction on Guru yoga
The fine points of guru yoga, in which the root and lineage guru is of one essence, were frequently given to students by His Holiness Pema Norbu Rinpoche through pointing-out instruction during the annual summer retreats at the Upstate New York Palyul Retreat Center, USA. His Holiness regards guru yoga, the path of devotion and blessing, as the most important practice in the Secret Mantra Vehicle.
Here are the main points of His Holiness Pema Norbu Rinpoche‘s pith instruction on guru yoga:
- In the tantras it is stated repeatedly the importance of relying upon the guru as the source of blessings in one's practice.
- Whichever prayer that the student may offer to the lama, regardless of the length or how insignificant it may appear, if it comes from the student's complete trust and faith in the guru, then the blessings of the guru are always reachable by the student.
- In the Tantra of the Ocean of Timeless Awareness, it states that it is preferable to recite one short prayer to one's lama with pure faith and devotion than to recite hundreds of millions of mantras. The effect of a prayer is far more efficacious when it is an genuine declaration of one's own faith and devotion in the guru.
On the practices of developing the qualities of different deities, His Holiness Pema Norbu Rinpoche gave the following advice:
- When a bond based upon trust, faith, and devotion, has developed with one's guru, a range of accomplishment can be attained through this connection.
- One who wishes to attain the supreme goal of enlightenment should perceive the guru as the personification of Vajradhara - the Dharmakaya Buddha.
- One who wishes to cultivate wisdom should perceive the guru as the personification of Manjushri - the embodiment of all the Buddhas’ wisdom.
- One who wishes to cultivate loving-kindness and compassion should perceive the guru as the personification of Avalokiteshvara - the embodiment of all the Buddhas’ compassion.
- One who wishes to cultivate the skilful means of the Buddhas should perceive the guru as Vajrapani - the embodiment of all the Buddhas’ skilful means.
- One who wishes to triumph over fear and apprehension should perceive the guru as the personification of Tara - the venerable mother of all the Buddhas.
- One who wishes for a long life should perceive the guru as the personification of Amitayus.
- One who wishes to subjugate illness should perceive the guru as the personification of the Medicine Buddha.
- One who wishes to attain wealth and prosperity should perceive the guru as the personification of Vaishravana.
- One who wishes to purify the effects of negative karma and obscurations of one's body, speech, and mind, should perceive the guru as the personification of Vajrasattva.
- One who wishes to attain greater prospect in life should perceive the guru as the personification of the Buddha Ratnasambhava.
- One who wishes to promote the greatest benefits for all the beings of the world should perceive the guru as the personification of Amitabha.
- One who wishes to subjugate the harmful activities of the negative spirits should perceive the guru as the personification of Vajrakilaya or Mahakala.
- One who wishes to unify all the different qualities of the enlightened beings into one single entity should perceive the guru as the personification of Guru Rinpoche.
Objects of refuge in guru yoga
Different types of refuge require the focus on different objects of refuge:
- Outer refuge - the objects of the outer refuge are the Three Jewels (könchok sum):
- We perceive Buddha as the perfect physician who prescribes the perfect cure for all our afflictions. The outer Buddha is referred to the historical Buddha Shakyamuni who shows us the path to enlightenment.
- The inner meaning of taking refuge in the Buddha is that we have finally come to recognise the ultimate truth of perfect nirvana exists already in our mind but are temporarily buried underneath by incidental karmic actions we brought to ourselves and these afflictive delusions can be removed by ourselves to reveal the primordial clarity and the emptiness-nature of the Buddha within.
- We perceive Dharma as the right prescription for our ailments and the path to our liberation. The outer Dharma is the vast treasury of instructions which is comprised of the sutras, tantras and commentaries that passed down through the lineage.
- The inner meaning of Dharma is referring to the qualities of compassion, selflessness, impermanence, emptiness, and the self-same nature of oneness in dharmakaya that we actualised in our practice.
- We perceive Sangha as the arya bodhisattvas of the first bhumi and above as the noble companions of medical personnel who support, nurture and protect our spiritual well-being on the path.
- The inner meaning of Sangha is to actualise our aspirations to develop the compassionate qualities of the bodhisattva mahasattvas who have reached above the eight bhumi yet purposely delay their Buddhahood for the sake of sentient beings such as Avalokiteshvara, Manjushri and Tara.
2. Inner refuge - the objects of the inner refuge are the Three Roots (tsawa sum):
- Lama - the source of inspiration and the root of all blessings is perceive as the Buddha.
- Yidam - the manifestion of the awakened-mind and the root of accomplishment is perceive as the actual Dharma which frees us from the limited experiences of ordinary beings.
- Khandro - the manifestation of wisdom activities that arise from the awakened-mind to pacify adversity and disruptive condition is perceive as the actual Sangha.
3. Secret refuge - the objects of the secret refuge is bodhicitta.
The all-pervasive natural state of bodhicitta realised through the skilful means of unifying the nadi, prajna and bindu - the energy channels (tsa), the subtle energy (lung) and the essence-drop (tiklé) - at the ground of Dzogpachenpo as a single invisible entity enriched by the primordial pure emptiness (tongpa nyi) as its essence (ngowo), the spontaneous accomplishing luminosity of cognizance (lhundrup) as its nature (rangshyin), and the unceasing enlightened compassion (tukjé) as its energy.
- Energy channels: each human body has 72,000 energy channels of which the three principal ones are the central channel (uma), white in colour with seven spinning energy wheels sited along its length from the crown to the perineum; the left channel (kyangma) red in colour; and the right channel (roma) dark blue in colour. The channels are the dwelling places of the one hundred peaceful and wrathfu deities (shyitro rik gya) in our body.
- Subtle energy: this include the pure wisdom energy that courses through the central channel, the five impure root elemental energies that is responsible for the function of the human body, and the five impure subsidiary energies which operate the sensory faculties.
- Essence-drop: referred to as seed of great bliss by Jamgön Kongtrul, it has two aspects. The first is the bindu of primordial wisdom (dön dam yé shé kyi tik lé), and the second is the fundamental red and white bindu (dzé kyi tik lé), which include the refined essence (dangma), and the impure residual essence (nyik ma) responsible for the vitality and constitution of the body.
4. Ultimate refuge - the objects of the ultimate refuge are the three kayas (ku sum) of a Buddha within the nature of our mind.
The exemplification of truth in everything, the three kayas are:
- Nirmanakaya - the visible appearances of the form-body (tulku).
- Sambhogakaya - the indiscernible vibrational energy of the enjoyment-body(longku).
- Dharmakaya - the intrinsic reality of the truth-body(chö ku).
Different aspects of the guru
Vajrayana is a path based on the union of wisdom and skilful means. It perceives the guru as having three different aspects - the outer guru, the inner guru, and the secret guru:
- The outer guru is the living embodiment of ultimate bodhicitta, the lama one can see and from whom one receive oral and symbolic transmissions.
- The inner guru is the immeasurable bodhicitta activated through one’s timeless acts of virtues and store of merits to enable one to come into direct experiencing of one’s rigpa, the innermost luminous nature of one’s mind, the primordial Buddha Samantabhadra.
- The secret guru is the all-pervading clarity that arises from realising the emptiness-nature of all phenomena.
The path of Vajrayana begins by meditating on the outer guru as the Buddha completed with the physical characteristics of a corporeal form until we attain the conviction of seeing the guru as the Buddha.
This marks the changing perceptions in our interaction with the guru when previous ordinary dualistic views have evolved to bring forth the direct experience of the emptiness-nature of form - the merging of our primordial wisdom with the wisdom-kayas of the Buddhas - leading ultimately to the recognition of our own pristine nature as the Buddha.
Diligence for the path
All Dharma practices require the application of great diligence. Diligence (tsöndrü) the fourth of six transcendental perfections (parol tu chinpa druk), is described by Mipham Rinpoche as:
“The joyful assiduous effort to accomplish what is virtuous.”
Jigme Lingpa highlighted the importance of diligence by the following simile:
“No amount of intelligence, power or strength
Can help a man who shies away from diligence.
A man without diligence is like a ferryman
whose boat is deprived of its oars.”
Guru Padmasambhava made a clear distinction between being diligent and being restless over nothing by saying:
“Being diligent is about applying yourself
In the endeavour to free oneself from samsara,
It is not about overtly busy
Engaging in restless activities.”
Diligence in Dharma practice should begin with a joyous fortitude which serves as the armour of courage against the dissuasive forces of distractions.
Then the diligent application of the four activities (lé shyi) of pacifying obstacles (zhiwa); increasing merits (gyé pa); magnetising the three realms (wangwa); and subjugating belligerent forces (drak po) are put into practice to elevate the efficacious qualities of diligence to a level that will imbue and strengthen all the essential requisites for the path - paramitas such as generosity, discipline, forebearance, meditative concentration and wisdom.
Wisdom is the result of merits
Wisdom and merits are of the most paramount importance in the quest of perfect enlightenment as Gampopa categorically stated:
“Great wisdom will not arise in you, if you possess little merit.”
The only way to obtain wisdom is by accumulating a great store of merits (sönam) through the activities of virtues(gewa).
Virtue is defined as the wholesome behaviour motivated by positive intent to promote the greatest good for others without any residue of self-interest, while merit is the resultant conditions of virtue that enable us to perceive Dharma and put the sacred teaching into practice.
Sutrayana methods for accumulating merits
The Sutrayana Vehicle offers two basic methods for accumulating merits:
- Merits for the sake of rebirth in the higher realms (sö nam cha tün) motivated by the aspiration to obtain continuous temporary happiness in samsara.
- Merits for the sake of liberation (tar pa cha tün) which is motivated by determination to attain freedom from the bondage of samsara.
Examples of virtues include activities that involve:
- generosity and loving-kindness towards others;
- preservation of life;
- maintaining pure vows and pure samayas;
- defending the truths;
- protecting victims of life;
- dissolving discord;
- contentment in accepting life as it is;
- mindfulness of body, speech and mind that is compatible to Dharma.
Secret Mantra methods for accumulating merits
The Secret Mantra Vehicle offers two peerless methods for accumulating merits:
- Merits through cultivating compassion for the benefits of sentient beings.
- Merits through the practice of generating devotion for the guru.
Merits accumulated through our effort to promote the greatest welfare of all sentient beings is extremely limited at this present time due to our habitual preferences towards self-serving partiality and our habitual tendency to project our own afflictions onto others.
We can of course generate merits through various means of demonstrating our reverence for the Buddhas but none of us have actually seen the Buddhas in person other than what we have conceptualised in our mind.
By comparison, generating devotion for the guru is far more feasible and practical. For a start, the guru is a tangible living person with whom you can communicate and interact.
secret mantra instruction in guru devotion
Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche gave the following advice on generating devotion for the guru in The Sage who Dispels Mind’s Anguish:
“In the tradition of unsurpassable secret mantra,
The guru who is the vajra master is in essence
Inseparable from all the buddhas of the three times.
The guru’s manifestation is of even greater kindness
Than the buddhas of the three times,
Since without the guru,
Even though the buddhas of the three times are present,
You will not receive blessings and accomplishments.
This means that even if you make an offering
To just a single pore of the guru’s body
It is much more noble
Than making offerings to the buddhas of the three times.
All the vajra tantra scriptures state repeatedly
That simply by succeeding in pleasing the guru,
You will please all the buddhas of the three times
And receive their blessings.
For these reasons,
The guru is known as
The complete embodiment of the Three Jewels,
Or as the Fourth Jewel.
That the guru is more powerful
Than the buddhas of past, present and future.”
Serving the guru according to the Vajrayana path
The scriptures tell us that the guru from whom we receive tantra teachings and explanation should be held with higher regard than our own parents because only the guru can help us attain our liberation from samsara so that we can in turn liberate all the parents we ever have since time without beginning.
All the deities upon which we meditate in the generation and completion stages are in actuality the very nature of our own root guru.
By merging our mind with one’s guru, we too will attain his accomplishment.
This is the reason all the sutras and tantras describe the guru as the Buddha in person.
To repay the compassion and kindness of the precious guru who is appearing to us in these degenerate time, there are three ways we can offer ourselves to the guru (nyé pa sum):
- The best way is the offering of our life to uphold the practice of the teachings. This is the principal method to accumulate wisdom and the most effective ways to generate the greatest amount of merits in the shortest time among all the activities of virtues.
- The next best way is to offer our service to the guru and by doing so, perfect the accumulation of merits by purifying obscurations of the body, speech and mind.
- The final method is to make material offerings to the guru.
Whoever make offerings to please the guru will attain not only instant blessings, but also common siddhis (tünmong gi ngödrub) and supreme siddhis (chok gi ngödrub) in this life.
The guru is deemed as the most sublime of all object of refuge since he is able to establish you on the path of liberation.
By not pleasing the guru, the flow of his blessings will not reach you, despite he has great compassion for you. When you faithfully follow the guru guidance, his blessings will continuously stay with you, the dharma protectors will safeguard you, and all your aspirations will come true.
In the Sutra of the Gathering of Intentions, it says:
“If we serve our guru
Without any reservation,
We will be bestowed
With the continual flow of blessings
That will protect us
And increase our natural vigour
To overcome all obscurations,
And even if we cannot devote our time
To extensive studying, contemplation and meditation,
We will still be liberated from samsara
Through the blessings of the guru.
Just as a seed planted in fertile soil will grow naturally.”
In the Ocean of Primordial Wisdom Tantra, it says:
“If our offering of sandalwood and camphor please our guru,
This merit is greater than making offerings
To one hundred thousand pure lands of the Buddhas
For one hundred aeons.”
In the Tantra of the Vajra Spirit, it says:
“Whoever offer food and drinks to one’s guru
Who is indivisible from the pure-mind awareness holder,
He will be blessed with
Bountiful of food and drinks in this life
And will reborn as a universal monarch in the future.”
In the Tantra of Kuntuzangpo Within Us, it says:
“If we visualise the precious guru at the heart
Or on the palm of the hand,
We will attain the qualities of
One thousands Buddhas.”
There are no greater opportunities to accumulate merit than by following the guru as demonstrated by the examples of Naropa following Tilopa, and Milarepa following Marpa.
Tilopa and Naropa
Naropa was born a Bengali prince and later became a senior khenpo at the Nalanda Monastic University. He was renowned as the guardian of the monastery’s northern gate where he won countless challenges in debates against many non-buddhists who have all became his students as a result of their defeats.
One day, a dakini in the form of an ugly old woman appeared before Naropa and expressed her sadness that while Naropa may know the literal meaning of the scriptures, he has yet understand the inner and ultimate meaning of the teaching, and that only her brother Tilopa has attained the complete understanding of the Dharma. Naropa immediately enquire by which direction he should set off to locate Tilopa.
The old woman replied, “My brother has no fixed dwelling, he could be anywhere. If you have faith and devotion in him, and if you have the determined yearning to meet him, you will find him”. Thus spoken, the old woman disappeared into thin air.
Naropa took leave soon after from the Nalanda Monastic University and started his search for Tilopa who was in actuality his root guru from former lives.
He went through twelve initial hardships of frightful experiences and unbearable situations such as the encounters of poisonous snakes, wild animals, deprivation of food, exposure to the extreme elements and so forth.
These twelve initial hardships are the karmic obstacles he needed to overcome in order to establish the conducive karmic conditions for him to meet Tilopa.
When he finally located his root guru and made request for teaching, Tilopa basically ignore him other than voicing the suggestions of what a disciple would do at certain time.
These include numerous improbable ordeals such as jumping off a high cliff; jumping into fire; stealing food from the village; falling into a pond full of leeches when he used his body to make a bridge for Tilopa to cross; having sharp sticks inserted into his body; pulled a groom down from his horse at a wedding; pulled the king down from his horse in a procession; beat up a prince and took his ornaments; broke his monastic vows by taking a wife as encouraged by Tilopa and then was asked to offer his wife to Tilopa later.
Not once did Naropa complain or disobey his guru. He completed twelve of such ordeals. Always did so promptly without any hesitation and often suffered from his actions severe injuries of mangled body and broken bones, but each time Tilopa would healed his body instantly.
Twelve years together thus passed until one day, Tilopa slapped the face of Naropa so hard with his slipper that Naropa instantly blackout. When Naropa regained consciousness, his mind has attained the same realisation as that of his guru.
Each of the twelve ordeals were in actuality empowerment given to Naropa through signs and symbols that correspond to the four vajrayana initiations of vase empowerment, secret empowerment, primordial wisdom-knowledge empowerment, and precious speech empowerment, with respective focus and meaning.
Using such items as crystal, string with knots, jewel, a cup of water, hand gesture of mudras and a snake tied in knot, Naropa were introduced to the instruction on the union of appearance and emptiness of the yidam; pure view of the lama; riddance of hope and fear; unchanging faith and devotional of the lama; the essence of sameness in emptiness; the all-inclusiveness of dharmakaya; self-liberation of the mind; sharing the fruit of meditation; the sameness of the Buddha-nature and one’s own mind; the inseparable oneness of clarity and emptiness; and so forth.
Naropa would meditate on each instruction for one year before receiving the next one. Over the duration of twelve years, Naropa’s mind was gradually matured until it finally liberated and attained the accomplishment of mahamudra(chakgya chenpo) through the meditation practice of the four yoga (naljor shi).
The four yoga are :
- One-pointed concentration (tsé chik) to consolidate the tranquil state of shamatha (shyiné).
- Unconditioned simplicity (trödral) through the insight attained from vipashyana (lhaktong).
- One taste (ro chik) when shamatha and vipashyana unified as one.
- Non-meditation (gom mé) which reaches beyond the concept of meditation similar to cittavarga (semdé) the atiyoga division on mind.
Tilopa explained to Naropa later that his mind was not pure enough when they first met to establish connection to the nature of the mind.
To help Naropa cleanse the negative karma which prevent him from attaining realisation, improbable tasks were asked of him to perform and for each of these task, Naropa completed promptly without any doubts or wrong views.
It is by Naropa’s total faith and devotion in following Tilopa without the slightest doubt that he eliminated all afflictive emotions and attained enlightenment in one lifetime.
Marpa and milarepa
Milarepa, the disciple of Marpa who succeeded the lineage of Naropa, encountered similar wrathful treatment from his guru but for an even longer duration.
When Milarepa’s uncle misappropriated his family fortune after the passing of his father, Milarepa studied sorcery at the behest of his mother who was bent on revenge.
After accomplishing the dark art, Milarepa on the day of his cousin’s wedding, summoned a hailstorm which destroyed his uncle’s house, causing death to thirty-five people.
Milarepa also caused another hailstorm to destroy the crops of the local villagers who were furious with what Milarepa did to his uncle’s family and was about to round him up for justice.
Feeling deeply remorse for his folly, Milarepa started his search for a lama who could help him rectify his errors. Milarepa first went to the Dzogchen master Rongton Lhaga who gave him instruction as requested but realised quickly he was not able to guide Milarepa to liberation due to the turbulent state of Milarepa’s mind and the gravity of his negative karma.
Rongton Lhaga then entered a deep meditative state and came to the conclusion that Marpa is the only teacher who can help Milarepa because of their karmic connection from past lives and redirected Milarepa to seek out his root guru Marpa.
Marpa was fully aware of the necessity to first purify Milarepa’s negative karma before instruction can be given to him just as milk of the snow lioness cannot be poured into an ordinary vessel.
To help Milarepa cleansed his karma, Marpa refused Milarepa’s request for instruction but had him instead built and demolish three different towers before he gave him the refuge vows.
Then Marpa promised he would give instruction to Milarepa if he agreed to build a nine-storey tower for him. This tower known as Sekhar Guthok is still standing today in the Lhodrak district of Southern Tibet.
These four towers including the three demolished ones represented each of the four activities of the Buddha - pacifying obstacles, increasing merits, magnetising the three realms, and protection against belligerent forces.
Milarepa put all his effort into the construction of the fourth tower until his back was covered in open sores. The tower was finally completed but Marpa still refused to teach him.
Marpa’s wife Dagmema took pity of Milarepa and used Marpa’s personal seal to forge a letter of introduction for Milarepa to seek instruction from a disciple of Marpa, Ngogdun Chokyi Dorje, who has became the abbot at another monastery.
Ngogdun Chokyi Dorje accepted Milarepa and gave him instruction but was surprised to notice Milarepa display no sign of any progress in his practice. Milarepa recognised his breach of samaya in seeking instruction from another teacher without his guru’s approval was the cause of his lack of spiritual advancement, he confessed to Ngogdun Chokyi Dorje and returned to Marpa.
In spite of being aware that Milarepa still have negative karma not yet purified, Marpa out of compassion for Milarepa’s desperation, finally agreed to give him instruction. At the age forty-five, Milarepa commenced his solitary retreat in a cave and subsisted on a diet of nettles which contributed to his skin taking on a greenish colour as commonly seen on thangka depicting the image of Milarepa.
Milarepa devotion and respect to Marpa was extended to everyone closed to his guru without the slightest trace of jealousy or rivalry. While he was serving Marpa, he was known to throw his body onto the ground and invite his guru’s wife to sit on him when she was doing her daily chore of milking the cow.
In the same manner as Naropa, Milarepa succeeded in accomplishing his quest through pure faith and devotion to his guru, and in the process, purified all his negative karma, which included causing the death of thirty-five people, and attained the fruition of enlightenment in one lifetime.
Proven accounts of how the precious masters of the past endured unimaginable hardships to attain realisation should be a clear indication that guru devotion practice is without question the most effective and the speediest path to attain enlightenment in one lifetime.
If we rush around chasing after empowerment and teachings instead of following our own root guru with pure faith and complete devotion, we will not make real progress, nor will we achieve attainment of supreme siddhi and high realisation as described in the Tantra of the Samadhi that Cognises Buddha Being:
“If we do not follow our guru
And show respect to our guru,
Any good qualities we have will degenerate
And new virtues will not arise.”
The wilful actions to go against the guru or the words of the Buddha, any negative intention or attempt to harm the guru, is equal to the karmic actions of showing disrespect to all the Buddhas of the three times.
Such negative actions will generate karmic causes for the unsuspected to experience serious illness and endless misfortune in this life and take rebirth in the hell realms amidst unutterable suffering for the duration of countless aeons.
Even when they finally take birth again as human, they will be born with defective faculties, in places where teachings of the Three Jewels do not exist and they will not have the chance to come upon the path to liberation in future lives.
The importance of relying on the practice of guru yoga was clearly illuminated in the following passage by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche in The Sage who Dispels Mind’s Anguish:
“In the tradition of secret mantra
There is no practice for entering the door of blessings,
No dharma superior to the profound path of guru yoga,
The guru who teaches us the secret mantra is in fact
An emanation of the Teacher, the Lord of Sages.
Since they have practiced
The paths of sutra and mantra
That were taught out of the compassion
Of the Teacher, the Lord of Sages,
The gurus are also offspring
Born from Sakyamuni’s speech.
The guru endowed with experience and realisation
Is the heart-son who has received the blessings
Of the relative and absolute bodhicitta
Of the Teacher’s enlightened mindstream.
This means that whatever guru yoga you practice,
You must understand the guru to be inseparable
From the Teacher, Lord of Sages.
Not only that, you must understand that
The guru is not separate from
Whichever yidam you meditate on.
The guru and yidam are not separate from each other;
Nor are they separate from all the buddhas of the three times.
vajra guru - secret yogi
Vajra masters of the past tend to follow a life style that elicits no admiration from the ordinary people. The more accomplished they are, the more care they would adopt to conceal their true ability. To create the illusion of an imperfect being, they would purposely display flaws in their conducts, while in actuality, their pure view remain stainless and all their activities in spite of their worldly appearances, are merely the extension of their ceaseless compassion and profound bodhicitta that arise from the primordial wisdom.
These accomplished vajra masters were mostly secret yogi (bepé naljor) who made no display of their true abilities. Tilopa was remembered for his unpredictable outlandish behaviour; Marpa was a farmer who enjoyed drinking alcohol; Ayogipa used to act as a corpse in charnel grounds; Luipa was known to consume fish-guts that were tossed by the fisherman to the dogs; Drukpa Kunley was renowned as the crazy saint of 5000 consorts, and many other lineage vajra masters like them who all appeared to be worldly and not worthy of respect in the eyes of the ordinary people.
All these vajra master share one single quality that permeated all the activities of their three doors (go sum) - body (lü), speech (ngak), and mind (yi) - they were all living embodiment of the most profound bodhicitta that enable them to summon the nagas to bring forth the rain in the rainless season to put out a fire or bring relief to a drought; changing adverse weather instantly with a compassionate thought of bodhicitta; reverse health deterioration and bring healing to the sick; and have the support of dharma protectors (chö kyong) and dakinis (khandroma) to pacify all negatives forces when their names are reverently uttered by the devotees.
One of such vajra masters who blessed us with his presence in recent times was His Holiness Pema Norbu Rinpoche.
His Holiness Pema Norbu Rinpoche was hailed by Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche as:
“A saint who has transcended the boundary of samaya.”
And by Kyabje Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche as:
“An enlightened Buddha in flesh and blood.”
Apart from their profound bodhictta and unfaltering compassion for all beings, another sign of a vajra master’s pure discipline of bodhicitta is the subtle body fragrance around him.
Many vajra masters of the past were known to exude a refined incense-like fragrance even though they had been in solitary retreat in a cave for extended period of time with no access to bathing. This soothing redolence often remain tangible in their clothing even long after the clothing had been washed. Fragments of their clothings are highly sought after by devotees who wear them as amulet for personal protection.
In the degenerate age, spiritual seekers may have the notion to search for a path of liberation from their dissatisfaction with the world, but due to the hindrance of obscurations and ignorance caused by their habitual impulses to commit non-virtues such as speech violation for the sake of fleeting gratification, it is very difficult for them to see beyond their obscuration to recognise the pure qualities of a vajra master.
Since non-virtues, do not generate merit. Where there is a shortage of merit, there is no wisdom. Without the presence of wisdom, it is impossible to discern the difference between true qualities of the vajra master and the projection of one’s own delusions as illustrated most patently in Lord Maitreya’s Abhisamayalamkara:
“Even if the king of gods brings forth the rain,
The rotten seeds will not sprout.
Likewise, although Buddhas and Bodhisattvas appear in this world,
Those without merit will not benefit from their blessings.”
Chandrakirti described the significance of having a great store of merits and wisdom to support the undertaking of a journey towards realisation is likened to the kings of swans and their flocks, which represent the bodhisattvas and their disciples, with their two wings of merits and wisdom widespread in full flight, soar through the sky towards the supreme enlightenment.
Similar advice on the importance of merits and wisdom was given by Tilopa to Naropa :
“Since phenomena occur due to interdependence,
Until you have attained realisation
That all phenomena are unborn,
You must not separate your practice
From the wheel of merits and wisdom.”
Wisdom and pure perception
What we perceive as challenging in life is only intimidating to those who are clinging to the interpretation of conceptual knowledge of speculative awareness but pose no threat to those who possess the pure perception of wisdom through the blessings of the guru as declared by Mahasiddha Saraha:
“In whose heart the sublimed words of the guru has entered,
He discerns reality like a precious gem in his own palm.”
The conceptual mind that perceives the dualistic existence of pleasing and unpleasant, gain and loss, right and wrong, see faults in everyone and everything, not realising these thoughts are the reflections of their own delusions.
Since both samsara and nirvana arise from the nature of the mind, simply rest the mind in ease without clinging to any thought will bring you to a tranquil state that reflects all changing conditions as mere transient illusions of phenomena as described by Saraha in his teaching on tranquil mediation:
“The way to relax and ease the mind
Is to avoid neither overtly active nor inactive.
Allows the mind remain at rest,
With lucidity and free of diversion,
Like a lighted lamp in a windless evening.”
There is no better way to still our thought than the correct attitude of guru devotion. It was the pure perception of a tranquil mind that enables Naropa to accept the advice of an ugly old woman who is depicted in the text as having 27 physical defects such as crooked nose, wrinkled skin, and unsightly pimples, but in actuality the emanation of Vajrayogini (Dorje Naljorma).
It was the same pure perception that enables Naropa to embrace the twelve initial hardships he has to endure as the manifestation of blessings from his guru to helped him cleanse his karmic defects before he could meet his guru.
Despite Tilopa’s appearance of a lowly scantily clad fisherman when they met, Naropa prostrated to him immediately and made the request to become his student, for he realised it was the impure residues of his mind that create the condition for him to meet his teacher in the form of a fisherman.
The twelve initial hardships and the twelve major ordeals were in fact successive stages by which Naropa were introduced to the path luminosity (lam gyi ösal), the clear light of the path which is the manifestation of the nature of his mind, leading to the culmination of the ground luminosity (zhi ösal), the inherent all-pervading fundamental nature of all things.
It was by the diligence of maintaining pure perception at all times that Naropa eliminated all afflictive residues and attained enlightenment in one lifetime.
Without the pure perception of wisdom, our journey through the six realms of samsara will be exceedingly long. Whatever fleeting happiness that appease our impure mind will only create more causes of future misery and more rebirths. Most importantly, without pure perception, we will not recognise the guru even if the guru is standing right before you.
Just as every hidden teaching (terma) has a designated treasure revealer (terton) to discover the precious teaching at a designated time, every diligent student of Dharma has, likewise, a designated root guru (tsawe lama) due to the blessings of their past karmic connection to a vajra guru such as that of Naropa to Tilopa and, Milarepa to Marpa and countless others.
The quintessential conditions that are conducive to attain success in Dharma practice is to maintain pure faith and pure devotion in the guru, perceive all phenomena with pure view, and keep your practice free of distractions. Otherwise, no amount of mantra accumulation, prayer recitation or prostration can free you from the hindrance of negative emotions.
The most important attitude of vajrayana path is to maintain the sacred viewpoint of pure perception which is the essence of guru devotion practice.
The pure perception in guru devotion practice is simply the most efficient path leading to the realisation of the Buddha-nature as described in the commentary of the Chakrasamvava Tantra:
“Through the kindness and blessings of the guru,
The realisation of emptiness, the perfect bliss,
The union of samsara and nirvana, the Buddha Nature,
Can be instantly obtained.”
Approaching the Guru
On the decorum of how a student should approach the guru, Gampopa gave the following advice:
“When you find a spiritual guru,
Serve him properly
Without the meddling of conceit or ego.
Be sincere in your support of his activities
Through services and offerings of provision.
Most essential of all is to apply the teaching in your life
And strive to improve your understanding of the teaching.
If you allow yourself overwhelmed by
Conceit or self-serving agenda,
You will not receive blessings
Regardless how accomplished is the vajra guru
Or how supreme is the teaching.”
From the dzogchen perspective, it is not feasible nor necessary to rid ourselves from our ego while we still exist in a physical body as being part of the five aggregates, but we can certainly deconstruct the ego to its nature of nothingness and rid ourselves from their influence.
Be sincere is to act promptly without delay, with no reservation of effort, yet remain discreet, inconspicuous, and free from conceit.
When carrying out the directive of the guru, do so exactly as instructed without adding your own interpretation for it can create implication beyond your understanding.
The great terton Mingyur Dorje was prophesied by Guru Padmasambhava to be the designated treasure revealer of one hundred termas.
On one occasion, Mingyur Dorje instructed his attendants to bring whoever wishes to see him that day directly to him. But when an old ugly woman who looked unkempt in filthy smelly clothes, asked to see Mingyur Dorje, the attendants were so aghast at her dishevelled appearance that they sent her away not realising this woman was a dakini and she was supposed to become the consort of Mingyur Dorje to prolong his lifespan so that he can continue to benefit all beings.
Due to the unfortunate ignorance of the attendants, Mingyur Dorje was deprived of the supporting conditions for a long life and passed into pairnirvana at age twenty-two, only managed to reveal in his short life one terma - the Namchö Space Treasure.
Benefits of Proper Reliance on A Spiritual guru
As stated in the tantras, the most important tenet in vajrayana is the proper reliance on a spiritual guru. Without proper devotion to the guru, it is not possible to develop the slightest realisation in the practices of the stages and the path, regardless how profound the teaching may be.
For no one, not even the Buddhas, can benefit us as much as a guru with whom we have a karmic relationship over countless lifetimes.
Once you have consolidated your bond with the guru who is the embodiment of loving-kindness, compassion, altruistic joy and equanimity, the source of his blessings, these four immeasurables will in turn fill your mind and the ultimate bodhicitta will grow instinctively within you.
To follow a spiritual master endowed with pure perception and enlightened wisdom is certainly the fastest path to enlightenment as agreed by all the Buddhas and all the lineage realised masters of the past.
There are incalculable advantages in the proper reliance of a spiritual guru. Here are some of the main benefits :
- ATTAIN THE STATE OF DHARMAKAYA IN ONE LIFETIME
For the most devoted, it is feasible to reach the enlightened state of dharmakaya, the sphere of great bliss in one lifetime by relying on the blessings and compassion of the guru as in the cases of Naropa and Milarepa.
Sera Khandro, the 19th century emanation of Yeshe Tsogyal, gave the following advice on guru devotion:
“Pray with devotion to the wish-fulfilling guru,
The desired requisites and accomplishments will come,
The wisdom mind transmission will enter you.
The guru is the actual buddha of the three times.
If you do not pray with devotion,
It is difficult to be held by his compassion
Which can lead you
To the omniscient state of enlightenment,
So strive to do your very best
To inspire yourself with devotion.”
- GENERATE MERITS EQUAL TO AEONS OF DHARMA PRACTICE
Sera Khandro mentioned if one does not serve the guru with devotion, one’s mind will not be liberated by blessings.
Sakya Pandita also offered his insight on serving the guru:
“The merits, equal to countless aeons
Of practising the six perfections
And the scarifying of head and limbs,
Are gained instantly by a mere moment
Of guru devotion practice,
Shouldn’t you rejoice
When you have the opportunity
To serve your guru?”
- PLEASING ALL THE BUDDHAS THROUGH OFFERINGS TO THE GURU
While you may not be able to invoke the manifestation of the Buddhas, but they are inseparable from the spiritual guru. When the guru is pleased by your offerings, so are the Buddhas.
In the Words of Manjushri, it explained making offering to the guru is the same as making offering to the Buddhas who have made the declaration that they will manifested through the spiritual guides as long as beings still have merits:
“I will abide in the bodies of these spiritual guides.
When they accept and are pleased by your offering,
Your mind is cleansed of karmic obscurations.”
While the Buddha have manifested in the supreme nirmanakaya form for us, we did not have the good fortune to receive Dharma teaching from the Buddha.
To fulfil our wishes to receive the nectar of Dharma, the Buddhas emanate themselves as the guru in accordance to our needs.
When we properly devote ourselves to the guru, we are in fact showing our devotion to the Buddhas.
In The Essence of Nectar, it says:
“When you properly rely on a spiritual guru,
you will presently be liberated from samsara.
Like a mother beholding her child receiving help,
all the Buddhas are delighted
in the bosom of their hearts.”
- NEITHER GODS NOR DEMONS CAN HINDER YOU
Many sutras inevitably offer the same advice that:
“Proper reliance on the spiritual guru
Greatly increase our merits
And enable all our wishes fulfilled,
For neither gods nor demons can hinder
Those who have great store of merits.”
- ELIMINATE DELUSIONS AND AVOID NON-VIRTUES
By keeping your guru in your mind, you will instinctively follow the examples of the guru by replicating similar response in your interaction with all things in life, instead of acting on impulses driven by the forces of delusion.
You will in time able to speak and act in a manner that convey the flavour of your guru.
Sera Khandro gave the following advice on the benefit of supplicating to the guru:
“Supplicating the guru with devotion
Will eliminate our self-cherishing pride,
Pacify our aggression due to attachment and aversion,
Conciliate our jealousy caused by clinging to rivalries,
And dispose of our wrong views that come from disturbing emotions.”
- INSIGHT AND REALISATION GREATLY INCREASE
True progress in Dharma practice is directly dependent on how extensive is your devotion to the guru.
In The Essence of Nectar, it says:
“Relying on a spiritual guru,
Your experiences and realisations on the path
As you develop through the stages
Will instantly manifest and increase.”
- ALWAYS HAVE A SPIRITUAL GUIDE IN ALL FUTURE LIVES
Whoever properly devote themselves to the spiritual guru will not be deprived of a sublime spiritual guide in all their future lives.
By regarding your present guru as being Buddha in person and devote yourself to him will generate the karmic condition for you to meet with the supreme guru such as the Maitreya in the future.
In The Essence of Nectar, it says:
“Whoever reveres their guru in this life
Will generate the resultant condition
To meet with the supreme spiritual guides in all future lives
And hearing the sublime Dharma from them.”
- NOT TAKE REBIRTH IN THE LOWER REALMS
By properly devote to the guru, you will exhaust all the karma that cause you to take rebirth in the lower realms.
Even getting scorn by the guru should be perceive as being blessed by Guru Dragpo, for it will function like a wrathful mantra that removes all obstacles, and speed up the exhaustion of one’s negative karma.
In The Sutra of Ksitisgarbha’s Aspirations, it says:
“By having karma purified
That would otherwise cause you
Wander in the lower realms for aeons,
Karma retribution will occur in this life
And get purified by the enduring of
Sickness, misfortune and ill treatment.”
- ACCOMPLISH ALL TEMPORARY AND ULTIMATE GOALS
Proper devotion to the guru is the root of all good qualities.
From the temporary goal of not falling to the lower realms to speedily attain realisation, will manifest effortlessly when you rely on the spiritual guru.
In The Essence of Nectar, it says:
“Relying on a spiritual guru
Will eliminate unfavourable conditions in this life
And cause you to attain fortunate rebirths
As gods and humans,
And ultimately attain liberation from samsara
And accomplish the supreme state of enlightenment.”
consequences on breach of samaya in guru devotion practice
Breach of samaya in guru devotion practice is usually caused by three conditions:
1. Displaying resentment to the guidance of the guru due to one’s arrogance to accept or due to craving for worldly desires. Disrespect as such is the same as showing indignation to all the Buddhas
2. Failing to apply instruction promptly or prone to procrastinate due to conceit, laziness or craving for distraction. Delay in carrying out instructions of the guru is the same as showing disrespect to the activities of all the Buddhas.
3. Holding to wrong views and acting in a hostile manner towards fellow students due to insecurity caused by attachment to one’s ego and the lack of discipline in applying the appropriate antidote to stop the root of non-virtues at its source. Projecting negative attitudes as such is the same as showing disrespect to the families of all the Buddhas.
The disadvantages of even a brief lapse in guru devotion practice will destroy the root condition of precious human rebirth and propel the unsuspected to hundreds or even thousands of rebirths as animals or hungry spirits in accordance to the gravity of their stupidity and grasping, before descending further into the avici hell (narmé), the vajra hell of interminable torment without respite for timeless aeons.
If you already received Dharma instruction, yet remain conceit, boastful and pretentious, then it is obvious you have not put the mind training into actual practice just like the following observations made by Gampopa:
“A practitioner is at fault
When having already received copious instruction,
Yet he continues to think like an ordinary being.
When one failed to practice Dharma properly,
It will propels one to the lower realms.”
There are incalculable disadvantages in the breach of guru devotion practice. Here are some of the consequences:
- DISRESPECTING THE GURU IS THE SAME AS DISESPECTING ALL OF THE BUDDHAS
The guru who is the physical emanation of all the Buddhas has come to the world for the sole purpose to guide you out of samsara.
Showing disrespect to the guru is the same as despising all the Buddhas. Sufferings will always follow you like the shadow follow your body.
In The Essence of Nectar, it says:
“Spiritual guide who appears to you as your guru
Is the representative of all the Buddhas.
Disrespect him is the same
As disrespect all the Buddhas.
What karmic consequences could ripen heavier?”
- DISRESPECTING THE GURU WILL END UP IN HELLS
Irrespective of how much effort a person may put into tantric practice, the only outcome of whoever disrespect the guru will be like working for one’s downfall to the vajra hells.
In the Ornament to the Vajrahrdaya Tantra, it says:
“Whoever shows contempt to his sublime guru,
Even though he may know every tantra by heart,
Practice without sleep,
And free from distraction
For a thousand aeons,
He will still end up in hells.”
Even when disrespect of the guru is caused by a brief moment of obscuration without ill intent, it will still propel you to take hundreds of rebirth as animals before descending into the hell realms.
In Commentary of Kalyamari Tantra, it says:
“One who upon hearing even one verse of teaching,
Yet does not perceive the person
Who gave the teaching as a lama
Will be born one hundred times as a dog
And then in the most atrocious realms of hell.”
- ANGER TOWARDS THE GURU DESTROYS POSITIVE POTENTIALS OF VIRTUES
Positive potentials established over aeons equal to the number of moments of your anger that lasted from start to finish will vanquish, and cause you to remain in the avici hell for the same number of aeons.
For instance, if you are angry for the duration of one single snap of the fingers which is equivalent to sixty-five moments in Buddhist terminology, you would have destroyed root virtues accumulated over sixty-five great aeons and you must remain in the avici hell for the same length of time.
If you are disrespectful to your guru, get angry with the guru or displease him in any manner, you must make amends of these violations in his presence. Otherwise sufferings will always follow you.
In the Kalachakra Tantra, it says:
“Count the number of moments
You were angry at your guru.
You destroy root virtues amassed over aeons.
The duration of torment
You will spend in hell
Is for the same numbers of aeons.”
- CONTEMPT OF YOUR GURU WILL CAUSE MISFORTUNE AND ILLNESS
Showing contempt of your guru is to usher in the harbinger of misfortune . You will be tormented by many kinds of illness in this life.
In the Fifty Stanzas of Guru Devotion, it says:
“You who are such an idiot
As to disparage your guru
Will contract contagious diseases
Caused by harmful spirits.
You will die a horrifying death
Caused by demons, plagues, poison,
Fire, water, immoral kings, snakes,
Witches, bandits or savages,
And then reborn in hells.”
- DESPISING THE GURU WILL NOT ACHIEVE SUPREME GOAL
Even if you have committed the five heinous crimes with immediate karmic retribution, it is still feasible to attain the supreme goal by relying on the path of the inner tantra.
However, if you despise your guru from the heart, you will not achieve the supreme goal regardless of how much you practice.
In the Guhyasamaja Root Tantra, it says:
“A person may have committed
Like the five heinous crimes,
But can still attain success
Through the supreme vehicle
Of the ocean-like vajrayana.
But one who despises the guru from his heart
Will not succeed despite practice.”
- DESPISING THE GURU WILL WANDER IN LOWER REALMS
Whoever despise their guru will wander in the lower realms of existence for an indeterminable long time.
The Vajrapani Initiation Tantra depicts many account of rebirths in the hell realms.
But Shakyamuni Buddha did not go into details of the sufferings as experienced by those who disparage their guru, because Buddha knew such disclosure will terrify all classes of sentient beings without exception.
In response to Vajrapani’s question on the ripening effect of those who display feeling of contempt towards their guru, Buddha gave the following reply as described in the Vajrapani Initiation Tantra:
“O Vajrapani, I will not tell you,
For it would terrify the world,
The gods and everyone.
I will say this much:
In any of the great hells I described while teaching,
On the heinous crimes and so forth
That last for infinite aeons.
Never, never, disparage your guru.”
- IGNORING THE GURUS GUIDANCE INCREASES WRONG VIEWS AND NON-VIRTUES
Ignoring your guru’s guidance to distance yourselves from the company of wrong views will amplify your own wrong views and open the flood gate to the tidal waves of non-virtues.
Whoever attempt to appease your ego and encourage you to engage in non-virtues at the expense of others are the advocate of mara, the lord of illusion.
Company of such is depicted in the Dharmapada Sutra as the fools who are recognised for their ignorance of the truth, conceit, and self-importance.
The companionship of fools is harmful even in the absence of ill-intent due to their lack of understanding in what they do.
In the Dharmapada Sutra, it says:
“Fools act as enemies to themselves,
Committing non-virtues that result in sufferings.
No deed is a good deed
That is followed by regret and tears.
So long as it has not borne fruit,
The fool is delighted by non-virtues,
But when their folly ripen into fruition,
The fool wallows in sorrow.”
- WRONG VIEWS OF THE GURU WILL HINDER REALISATIONS, AND QUALITIES ALREADY DEVELOPED WILL DEGENERATE
Having wrong views of the guru will hinder your effort in cultivating fresh realisations in this life, and those qualities you have already developed will quickly degenerate.
Krishnacharya went against the instruction of his guru Mahasiddha Jalandharapa only one time in all the years they were together, the ensuing consequence was that he was unable to attain realisation in one lifetime.
Rechungpa on three occasions did not take heed of his guru Milarepa’s advice, this lapse of devotion cost him three more lifetimes instead of one lifetime to attain realisation.
Another disciple of Milarepa, Kyirawa Gonpo Dorje, an avid hunter of wild game, developed such strong devotion in Milarepa when they met, that he gave up hunting to follow him and was able to attain rebirth in the pure land in one lifetime.
Nothing can delay your realisation faster than the lack of guru devotion, and the display of disrespect towards the guru.
As Shakyamuni Buddha is quoted as saying:
“For those who have broken samaya,
The Buddhas have never proclaim
They could accomplish the practice of tantra.”
- DISTURBING THE GURU OUT OF CONCEIT WILL BURN IN HELLS
Acting out of conceit with intent to disturb the mind of your guru is another fast track to the vajra hells. The description of the hell realms by Shakyamuni Buddha is to point out to the unsuspected that to disparage their guru in any form or manner will cause them remain in the hell realms for a very long time without respite.
In the Fifty Stanzas of Guru Devotion, it says:
“You who are so foolish and blind
As to upset the minds of your guru
Will for certain burn in hells.”
- LAPSE OF DEVOTION LOSES BLESSINGS AND PROTECTION
Whoever allows their guru devotion lapse such as seeking teachings elsewhere without permission from their guru or offers their service elsewhere at the negligence of their own sangha is a clear breach of samaya and for such will lose the blessings of the Three Jewels and the support of the dharma protectors.
They will become a magnet of misfortune in this life. All the good qualities they have developed will degenerate.
Not only will they take countless future rebirths in the lower realms, but when they take rebirth again as human, they will be deprived of a spiritual guru for many lifetimes and born in the barren lands of the barbarians and savages, where the words of Dharma do not even exist.
In The Essence of Nectar, it says:
“The consequences of your disrespect
Will be congruous with the cause:
You will be born in places
With no prospect of opportunity,
You will not hear a word of the sublime Dharma,
Nor a word from a spiritual guru.”
Self-awareness to avoid karmic retribution
In this world of of conditioned existence, even the most seemingly insignificant actions produce extensive karmic consequences that can affect both our present life and all our future lives.
The only right course of action is to develop the discipline of self-awareness that enable us to take charge of our own fate instead being at the mercy of karmic retribution.
As the Dharmapada Sutra says:
“All that we are is the result of our thought.
If one speaks or acts with an impure mind,
Suffering will follow as the wheel of a cart
Follows the steps of the ox.”
By being able to differentiate between what is virtuous and non-virtuous, what is auspicious and inauspicious, we can embrace those auspicious activities that produce the greatest benefits for the greater many - the true cause of our happiness.
And abandon those inauspicious activities that are motivated by self-cherishing attitude void of concern for other beings - the true cause of our suffering.
One who has mastery of the mind is also in charge of one’s destiny, as the Mahaparinirvana Sutra says:
“Be the master of your mind, do not let the mind mastered you.”
Being master of your mind in an ocean of karma requires the firm resolve to bring a harmonious conclusion to whatever karma that may surface as explained by Dudjom Rinpoche:
“Do not resent your past karma,
Practice instead with pure view
And perfect diligence.
Do not resent transient challenging conditions,
Accept instead with firm resolve
Regardless of what karma may appear.”
Auspicious activities that invoke guru blessings
What deemed as auspicious activities have the blessings of the Three Jewels which serve to purify our mind and are the harbingers of conducive conditions to attain the supreme goal of enlightenment. Activities of the Buddhas can be sum up as:
Refrain from finding fault with others;
Avoid hurting others;
Simplifying the needs in one’s life;
Embracing the totality of being in solitude and
Engaging in the higher training of meditation.
In the Dharmapada Sutra, it says:
“Not insulting, neither harming,
Discipline over oneself,
Moderation in consumption,
Dwelling in solitude,
And remain in a sublime meditative state
- this is the teaching of the Buddhas.”
Here are some examples of auspicious activities that invoke the blessing of the guru:
- To follow your guru’s guidance and to act on it promptly is auspicious.
- To see the world through the compassionate eyes of the guru is auspicious.
- To consider all sounds as the manifestation of the Buddhas is auspicious.
- To start each day with proper Dharma practice to shape the mind is auspicious.
- To maintain daily reflection on how to improve oneself is auspicious.
- To uphold firm conviction in the law of cause and and effect is auspicious.
- To feel remorse for one’s misdeeds and take steps to rectify is auspicious.
- To remain humble and sincere in one’s interaction with others is auspicious.
- To maintain the discipline of mindfulness in speech at all times is auspicious.
- To avoid non-essential activities of the body, speech and mind is auspicious.
- To avoid attachment to mundane relationships is auspicious.
- To avoid attachment to worldly pursuits is auspicious.
- To avoid getting into dispute with others is auspicious.
- To give up attempt to appease the mundane is auspicious.
- To give up the craving for attention is auspicious.
- To remain cordial and not emotional when being provoked is auspicious.
- To safeguard your mind by subscribing to equanimity is auspicious.
- To accept all ripened karmic conditions and supplicate the support of the guru is auspicious.
- To prioritise Dharma activities over mundane activities is auspicious.
- To offer your service to support your guru’s sangha is auspicious.
- To appreciate being reprimanded by the guru is to have your karma purified is auspicious.
- To realise the defects one sees in others are the reflection of one’s own defects is auspicious.
- To perceive negative beings as spiritual friends in helping us cultivating patience is auspicious.
- To recognise conceptual view is the source of ignorance is auspicious.
- To identify ignorance as the mother of samsara, the origin of all sufferings is auspicious.
- To recognise suffering is the result of dependent origination is auspicious.
- To discern worldly activities only bring sufferings and apply oneself in Dharma is auspicious.
- To view all phenomena with the recognition of their emptiness-nature is auspicious.
- To discern all inner and outer appearances arise from emptiness-nature is auspicious.
- To maintain pure view of your guru as the Buddha, his teachings as the nectar is auspicious.
- To accept your guru’s conducts as the compassionate activities of the Buddhas is auspicious.
- To remember your guru at all times is auspicious.
InAuspicious activities that invoke sufferings
What deemed as inauspicious are negative activities that are committed under the destructive influences of the five poisons - desire, anger, ignorance, conceit and jealousy.
Negativity begets negativity. A casual thought of seemingly insignificant negativity is all it takes to activate the arising of negative karmic potential in our mindstream.
The more negativity you entertain, the greater amount of negative karma imprints which you have amassed since time immemorial will start to ripen into fully active karma.
These will, as stated in the sutras, cause misfortune to manifest, not merely in your life but will also affect those who are close to you such as your parents, your dear ones, leading to more anguish and sufferings in this life and beyond.
Even one single instant of negative thought will create the karmic implication of you taking rebirth in the lower realms.
To free oneself from the clutch of negativity required turning one’s mind to the practice of Dharma. Since the root of Dharma practice is renunciation, the aspiration to relinquish what is not beneficial in Dharma practice is considered crucial as proclaimed by Patrul Rinpoche:
“I behold the suffering of samsara,
But I crave for it still.
I dread the chasm of the lower realms,
But persists to commit non-virtues.
Bless me and those like me who have lost their way,
That we wholeheartedly renounce
the phenomena of this life.”
The significance of renunciation is hence highly regarded by the realised masters of the past. On the question of what to relinquish, Buddha answered by defining renunciation as:
“Abstention from what is harmful and not avoidance of the world.”
It is worthwhile to remind ourselves that not a single quality of anything in samsara has any lasting value.
Whatever you may have achieved in worldly pursuits will quickly perish of its own accord just like the morning dew on the petals of flowers.
Furthermore, no ordinary beings or sensual desires in samsara can ever be satisfied.
So why squander your life in chasing after mundane relationships that placate no one and yield no true benefit other than creating more karmic causes for rebirth in samsara.
In the Dharmapada Sutra, it says:
“Not by a shower of gold are desires satisfied.
One is wise to know desires are suffering,
bringing little joy.”
Here are some examples of inauspicious activities that plant seeds of suffering for the future and activate karmic retributions in this life as described in the sutras and tantras such as The Sutra of Ksitisgarbha’s Aspirations and Words of My Perfect Teacher:
- To feel no shame in breach of samaya is the cause of rebirth in avici hell.
- To feel no shame in breach of monastic vows is the cause of rebirth in avici hell.
- To feel no shame in breach of refuge vows is the cause of rebirth in avici hell.
- To disrespect one’s guru is the cause of imminent misfortune and rebirth in avici hell.
- To serve one’s guru half-heartedly is the cause of rebirth as animals and in avici hell.
- To violate lapse of guru devotion is the cause of imminent misfortune and rebirth in avici hell.
- To pay no heed of the guru’s instruction is the cause of suffering in this life and beyond.
- To resent the guru’s advice is the cause of imminent misfortune and rebirth in avici hell.
- To view the guru as an ordinary being is the cause of suffering in this life and beyond.
- To view the guru as a rival is the cause of imminent misfortune and rebirth in the avici hell.
- To look for flaws in the guru is the cause of imminent misfortune and rebirth in the avici hell.
- To look for flaws in the sangha is the cause of imminent misfortune and rebirth in the avici hell.
- To become jealous of vajra siblings and create conflicts in the sangha is the cause of imminent misfortune and rebirth as hungry spirits and in the avici hell.
- To offer your service to other teachers instead of serving your guru is likened to abandon your own parents, and is the cause of rebirth as animals, hungry spirits and in avici hell.
- To offer your service to others at the negligence of your guru’s sangha is likened to neglect your own family, and is the cause of rebirth as animals, hungry spirits and in avici hell.
- To feel no shame in being conceit and self-serving in seeking recognition is the cause of rebirth as animals, hungry spirits and in hells.
- To feel no shame in embracing activities of indecency, profanity and suchlike is the cause of rebirth as animals, hungry spirits and in hells.
- To commit violation of killing, taking what is not given, and sexual misconduct are the causes of rebirth as animals, hungry spirits and in hells.
- To commit violation of lying, divisive speech, harsh speech and gossip are the causes of rebirth as animals, hungry spirits and in hells.
- To commit violation of covetousness, harmful intent and wrong views are the causes of rebirth as animals, hungry spirits and in hells.
- To provoke negative responses from others is the cause of rebirth as hungry spirits and in hells.
- To instigate distress in others with ill intent is the cause of rebirth as hungry spirits and in hells.
- To act impulsively with no thought for karma is the cause of rebirth as hungry spirits and in hells.
- To feel no urgency to abandon negative actions is the cause of rebirth as animals and in hells.
- To rejoice in others’ misfortune is the cause of illness and sufferings in this life and beyond.
- To enjoy acts of violence or killing is the cause of illness and sufferings in this life and beyond.
- To enjoy arguing with others is the cause of sufferings in this life and beyond.
- To enjoy competing with others is the cause of sufferings in this life and beyond.
- To enjoy the company of wrong views is the cause of sufferings in this life and beyond.
- To ignore the clinging of the ‘I’ as the enemy is the cause of sufferings in this life and beyond.
- To ignore the reality of phenomena is the cause of sufferings in this life and beyond.
- To become attach to worldly relationships is the cause of sufferings in this life and beyond.
- To get obsessed with physical appearance is the cause of rebirth as hungry spirits and in hells.
- To get obsessed with worldly comfort is the cause of rebirth as hungry spirits and in hells.
- To get obsessed with expressing yourself is the cause of rebirth as hungry spirits and in hells.
- To succumb to the allure of desires is the cause of rebirth as hungry spirits and in hells.
- To use denial to justify your delusion is the cause of rebirth as animals and in hells.
- To use denial to avoid Dharma practice is the cause of rebirth as animals and in hells.
- To abandon Dharma practice in favour of distraction is the cause of rebirth in avici hell.
- To substitute Dharma practice with mundane activities is the cause of rebirth in avici hell.
- To avoid proper reflection of one’s defects is the cause of rebirth as animals and in hells.
- To avoid making good of one’s defects is the cause of rebirth as animals and in hells.
- To gloat about one’s good fortune is the cause of rebirth as hungry spirits and in hells.
- To try to help others beyond your ability is the cause of delusion and rebirth as animals.
- To offer advice beyond your experience to others is the cause of delusion and rebirth as animals.
- To display ingratitude to one’s benefactor is the cause of rebirth as animals and in hells.
Reliance on the guru At All Times
From the view point of the sutras and tantras, the progress in Dharma practice is dependent on how we rely on the guru.
In the Pratyutpanna Samadhi Sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha says:
“Those who aspire to learn samadhi
But do not respect the beneficent gurus
And regard them as Buddhas,
Will attain no meditative realisation.
They should not disobey
The words of the gurus,
Instead, they should maintain
Constant affection for the gurus.
They should abandon unwholesome relationships,
And follow the gurus with devotion
Instead of looking for his flaws.”
All the tantras state that the main source of innate wisdom is the guru and if one disparages the guru, spiritual accomplishment will not be attained because the guru is the embodiment of the Three Jewels as stated in the Cakrasamvara Tantra:
“The guru is the Buddha,
the guru is the Dharma,
the guru is the Sangha.”
In the Vajra Tent Tantra, it says:
“The guru is equal to all the Buddhas.”
Whether we can benefit from the guru’s blessings or not is entirely dependent on how pure and how strong are our faith and devotion.
Sakya Pandita, the emanation of Manjushri gave the following advice on how to rely on the guru:
“When we perceive the guru as the Buddha,
We will receive the blessings of the Buddha.
If we perceive the guru as an ordinary being,
All that he can do for us
Will correspond to that of an ordinary being.”
Sakya Pandita also gave advice on how to view the behaviour of the guru:
“Do not attach to what you perceive as flaws
In the guru’s behaviour
With the eyes of worldly conventions.
Remind yourself that the guru’s body, speech and mind
Are the emanation of bodhicitta and the ultimate truth,
To create favourable conditions for the sake of all beings.
You erroneous view is due to obscurations
Of your own negative emotions and the lack of virtue.”
On the erroneous view, Drakpa Kunley composed a poem on the three missing factors in Dharma practice:
“Whoever unaware of the truth is confused.
Those who have no purpose in life cannot sacrifice.
Those who have no firm resolve cannot be a yogi.
This is the tenet of the three missing factors.”
The Lamdré scriptures of Path with Result, state that notwithstanding the guru’s ability, whether he has passed away or living in other realms, if you supplicate him with faith and devotion, your guru will come to you in the bardo to guide you with instruction on how to get liberated.
Drogmi Lotsawa, the guru of Marpa and the emanation of Mahasiddha Virupa as prophesied by Guru Padmasambhava, famously stated:
“Even if the guru has gone to the hell realms,
If we perceive him as the Buddha and supplicate him,
The Buddha’s blessings will enter our minds
As the direct result of the inseparable connection
In both their primordial nature.”
Repair of samaya
The all-encompassing compassion of the Buddhas that is free from the dualistic notions of subject and object is known as mahakaruna (nying je chenpo) - great compassion.
The guru being the embodiment of the great compassion will never hold grievance against anyone nor can he ever be offended by your disrespect.
The lack of proper decorum towards the guru only causes harm to yourself and to those close to you.
To avoid karmic retribution of one’s doing, it is imperative to repent and seek forgiveness from your guru who will never abandon you.
Hence by the power of remorse and devotion, your samaya is repaired and the severity of karmic retribution is lessen.
In the Fifty Stanzas of Guru Devotion, it says:
“When you become aware of your disrespect to the guru,
With reverence and devotion,
Present an offering to your guru and seek his forgiveness.
Then in the future, many afflictions
Such as plagues can be avoided.”
A guru who is endowed with the lineage blessings of the Buddhas can liberate even the most misguided beings who have, as described in the commentary of Rigdzin Dupa, committed the seven violations in Dharma practice (nyam pa dün):
- Abandon life-force (yang sok sa nyam pa).
- Abandon authentic meanings (dön lé nyam pa).
- Abandon the guru’s instructions (ka lé nyam pa).
- Abandon samayas (dam lé nyam pa).
- Abandon karma (lé kyi nyam pa).
- Violations due to wrong views (tsen mé nyam pa).
- Violations due to desires (dö pé nyam pa ché so).
Benefits of connecting your mind to the guru
When all your experiences are connected to guru devotion, you will be free of obstacles.
When your mind is connected to the guru, you will be free of fixation and turmoil.
When things go well, you will not get overtly excited but see it as the guru blessings.
When conditions are challenging, you will not get overtly perturbed but see it as the guru blessings to offer you the chance to repay your karmic debts.
When you contract illness, visualise the presence of your guru at the affected part of your body.
Remind yourself that illness and physical discomfort are the guru blessings to help you purify your negative karma and obscuration.
Use your illness as the opportunity to perform tonglen, the practice to receive the suffering of other beings and pray that all your merits are forward to them in return to improve their condition, and in the process, cultivate a great wealth of bodhictta and the wisdom of emptiness, that serve as the ultimate source of healing that transcends the boundary of relative truth.
Purpose of dharma practice
Remind yourself Dharma practice is not an excursion to a candy store of pick and mix to satisfy your desire. It is not a self-service buffet of choosing what appeases your desire and ignores that does not take your fancy.
Dharma practice is designed to reflect through the guru, the defects which are oblivious to you, so that these flaws can be rectified and sufferings can be avoided.
Daily practice should begin in the morning with paying homage to the guru and reaffirm your refuge vows to apply bodhicitta and compassion in all your activities for the benefit of all beings.
Throughout the day, apply the teaching with humility, reverence and gratitude in all your activities and your interaction with others.
In the evening, reflect and examine the activities of your body, speech and mind of that day.
Dedicate the merit of whatever that was positive to all beings and reaffirm your determination to do even better the following day.
On whatever that was negative, confess your transgression and express your determination to repent and rectify your shortcomings.
No activities of any kind, both worldly and spiritual, can enjoy any chance of progress without the support of regular reflection.
Without proper reflection, even good quality previously attained will deteriorate rapidly in the absence of humility - the source of mindfulness.
Remind yourself the guru’s compassionate mind is all-accommodating and is free of judgement. The guru is not here to appease your ego but to lead you out of samsara.
Perceive the guru as such is the right attitude of Dharma practice as described by Atisha :
“The best spiritual friend is the one who reveals your hidden faults.
The best instructions are those which rectify those faults.
The best companions are mindfulness and vigilance.
The best motivations are caused by adversaries, obstacles and sickness.
The best method is not to fabricate any concoction of untruths.”
Whenever thoughts abound, samsara also appears. Where there is samsara, there is the real need of Dharma which require the presence of the outer guru and the practice of devotion.
Dharma practice is the process of realising one’s inner guru through merging one’s mind with the mind of the outer guru.
It is referred to as the path of the wise as explained by Aryadeva:
“In the beginning, one transforms non-virtues.
In the middle, one transforms the view of the self.
In the end, one transforms the views of all phenomena.
One who is aware of this path is wise.”
This path can be categorised into view, meditation and action (ta gom chö sum) as expounded by Dudjom Rinpoche:
“The pervasive sameness of samsara and nirvana is the view.
The uncontrived abiding in the natural state is the meditation.
The ease of relaxing in non-activities is the action.
These are the keys of view, meditation and action.”
Whoever apply themselves with devotion and mindfulness on the path, which require great store of virtues, single-pointed concentration and wisdom, will display certain signs as described here by Dudjom Rinpoche:
“Serenity and self-disciplines are signs of listening to the Dharma.
Free from the attachment to desires is the sign of meditation.
Amicable with everyone is the sign of Dharma practice.
Equanimity is the sign of accomplishment.”
Gampopa described the signs of success in Dharma practice simply as :
“Declining focus on self-centredness,
And the lessening of mental afflictions.”
It is principally through the blessings of Dharma practice that one ultimately realised the homecoming to the nature of one’s mind as illuminated by Shakyamuni Buddha:
“A mind unperturbed
By the changes of fortune,
From misery liberated,
From afflictions purified,
From fear unshackled.
This is the greatest blessings.”
Guru yoga: the benefits of remembering the lama
This is evidently clear from all the available accounts of realised masters that without the guidance of the guru, there is no possibility for anyone to attain the realised state of buddhahood.
The guru is not merely the source of all blessings and to whom you can always count upon to verify your experience on the path, he is also the shepherd-like bodhisattva who is committed to provide continuous support to those who take refuge in him, life after life, until they attain their ultimate goal.
The presence of an accomplished guru brings blessings wherever he goes. Adverse conditions will instantly transform into favourable ones due to the reverence for his pure discipline of bodhictta by the local deities and the departure of the negative spirits in awe of his presence.
This is the reason why those who committed lapse of devotion to the guru will accelerate the depleting of their merits, hence exposing themselves to the impending misery of mishap and all kinds of misfortune.
The simplest act of remembering the guru will generate far more virtues than all the Dharma practices combined together.
There is no better method to generate the greatest amount of virtues than the sincere offering of devotion in pure body, pure speech and pure mind to the guru.
The accumulated virtues will in turn increase your wisdom. With both merits and wisdom in abundance, the success to realise your true nature is an absolute certainty.
By maintaining an unbroken bond of devotion to the guru, you are instantly connected to the blessings of the Buddhas and the Bodhisattvas in the ten directions.
The safeguard of your well-being is ensure even before you are aware of any probable incident. No harm will ever come to you even if the situation you face appear insurmountable.
There is no better safeguard for self-protection, more efficacious mantra to eliminate obstacles than the pure faith and pure devotion in the calling of the guru from the heart.
The stronger your faith, the more committed your devotion, the more intense your yearning for the guru, the more powerful the effect it will bring.
By remembering the guru in your day-to-day interaction with others, you can transform everything you do with the same compassionate attitude of the guru instead of following your habitual impulses that are affected by worldly concern.
To avoid the most common non-virtue of speech violations, simply remind yourself the manner by which your guru would do before you speak.
To avoid the non-virtue of the body, remind yourself the manner by which your guru would adopt before you act.
To avoid the non-virtue of the mind, remind yourself the all-embracing selfless compassion your guru have for all beings.
By remembering the guru at all times is to maintain the continuous flow of blessing from the guru. It will go a long way to transform your habitual obscurations and reduce the karmic implications of misery in the future.
By remembering the guru at the time of your death, he will appear in the bardo to offer you the guidance you need to obtain auspicious rebirth.
The practice of guru devotion have been proven beyond all doubts by the countless lineage masters of the past to be the fastest and the most effective path to attain enlightenment.
There is no shorter path to attain the supreme goal of perfect liberation than the guru yoga of devotion practice. This is the reason why we should remember the guru at all times.
This teaching entitled ‘Guru Yoga: The Benefits of Remembering the Lama’ is presented here by Tenzin Gyalpo Drakpa Gyaltsen Dondrup Dorje as his homage to all the Buddhas of the three times in ten directions. The text is compiled from the commentary by Lama Dondrup Dorje Rinpoche on the first line of Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche’s Heart Advice in Four Lines: ‘Do not forget the lama, Supplicating to him at all times.’ May all beings have the karmic condition to put these advice into practice.