How to recognise a Spiritual Guide

Some years ago, I was asked to assist in the production of a publication which HH Penor Rinpoche wanted to see offered to students.
The topic was one of the most crucial in Tibetan Buddhism, that of finding, and checking a Spiritual Master. Together with Sonam Tsewang and other members of the Shedra at Namdrolling, we collated and reorganised some basic points as detailed in scriptures and Teachings from genuine Masters to help us navigate the maze of information , explanations and advice and hep us be successful in this most delicate stage of our spiritual Path, finding a genuine Master, fulfilling the qualities to be accepted by him or her and the commitments attached to having been accepted as a student.
This booklet was never properly edited so any pointing towards mistakes or errors of any kind are welcome. I chose today to start publishing this booklet as very sadly, once again confusion easily reigns among many. It is all to easy to jump on a band wagon and go and stop with an existing train, been taken by the lure of a famous person. However famous the person, without careful examination one self of all the attributes of a Spiritual guide, the error are one’s alone. Masters , we must remember as described in the deeply touching poem of Patrul Rinpoche I posted on the previous post appear in all kind of guise according to the characteristics of the beings to be tamed. Ultimately, if one follows a genuine Master, all phenomena will appear as the play of Pristine Awareness and all phenomena will merge with the Guru. Our neurosis and unstabilities which one day see the full moon in a cloudless skies often do not let us realise that with other circumstances, the same moon still perfectly full could only be partially visible due to the axis of the Earth or not at all due to cloud coverings. Should we blame the moon for not been visible to us then?
In the early centuries of Buddhism in India before its demise and reintroduction to Tibet, a series of extraordinary Beings appeared which we know as the 84 Mahasiddhas. All ( but one) had transcended the ordinary reality and they were able through their example to cut through the rigid framework of our ego centered neurosis. Some chose to live with dogs, others as beggars, in brothels, drunkards, madmen, apparitions outside of conventional society whose teachings could only reach and transform those ripe enough and fearless enough to accept them . But this fearlessness exhibited by the students had to be real, not fake, for if it was not genuine, the poison which makes the peacock thrive and attain its wondrous plumage was fatal to the cowardly ravens. Those beings are so few and far between in our degenerate times that even though they may wish to remain cancealed, at some point their radiant nature will pierce through and be noticed. Each one should then know how far they can swallow without getting hurt !

Part I Background to Buddhism


IA What Buddhism is and stands for according to the different traditions

IB How the Dharma came in the universe and in this world, the three Turning of the wheel of Dharma

IC How Buddhism spread to Tibet


Part II The Master disciple relationship


II.1 Characteristics of a Master


II.1.1 According to the Vinaya

II.1.2. According to the Bodhisattva Path

II.1.3. According to the Vajrayana Path


II.2.How to rely on a Master


II.2.1.  According to the Vinaya

II.2.2. According to the Bodhisattva Path

II.2.3. According to the Vajrayana Path


II 3. How to follow the Master’s advice


II.3.1 According to the Vinaya

II.3.2. According to the Bodhisattva Path

II.3.3 According to the Vajrayana Path


III Challenges facing the contemporary disciple

Including an excerpt from HH Penor Rinpoche Teaching

On Guru Yoga







The maroon robes are fluttering like a banner whose pole stands for the three pillars of morality, concentration and wisdom

This banner provides the shade and coolness of the instructions of the sutras and tantra teachings

I prostrate to thee, Lord Buddha Protector of Beings through the teachings, lion of Shakya clan


Thou arst the guardian who has the authority over the treasury of the secret and ultimate teachings

Thou possess the armour that serves the purpose of beings

By displaying multifarious extraordinary emanations.

May I always remain under your protection, Orgyen Rinpoche, thou second Buddha.


Although thou arst primordially enlightened in the sphere of Dharmakaya

Thou remain connected through thy compassion to the deluded sentient beings

Appearing to them in these degenerate times, in Samsara although not subject to it thyself

Supremely accomplished Pema Norbu, please bestow thy auspicious blessings



Many people aspire today to something different from the pursuit of purely materialistic values and its trail of competitiveness, egoism and intolerance. Yet, it is very difficult to find an alternative, especially a really wise person who can guide us in our quest and development. There are many people, who set themselves up as Teachers, boast of being able to lead us to carefree life and wonderful realisation. A rapid glance into their own life however reveals nothing but personal difficulties, unhappiness, short temper, intolerance and so on, with no signs of truly genuine spiritual realisations. Furthermore, there are many philosophies, religions, sects and belief systems which bewilders the mind and breeds confusion and conflict among and between their respective followers, so that it is even more difficult to know where to look and where to start from.


For those whose karma is fortunate enough to have met with the Teachings of Lord Buddha, the sheer wealth of the Buddhist Teachings, inviting to many different ways of life and practice may also be confusing.


In order to bring some clarity in these seemingly diverse paths, we have started this publication with a short introductory background to the history of Buddhism, first according to the commonly accepted version by all schools. We have then   presented the historical version according to the later Teachings of Lord Buddha, which are known as the Ultimate Teachings or the esoteric or tantric Teachings, the path of the Vajrayana, and more specifically, according to the Tibetan hagiography in the oldest school of Buddhism introduced by the great Indian Pandita Guru Padmasambhava, the Nyingmapa


This general background is not meant for scholars to debate various historical events, but merely to introduce what Dharma Teachings are, how inseparable they are in ultimate terms from the true nature of mind and that the manifestation of the Master or Teacher is nothing but the spontaneous emanation of the Compassion of the Enlightened One, the Primordially enlightened Buddha Samanthabadra. Hence it may prove helpful for modern students of Buddhism to understand the deeper meaning of our Masters’ exhortations and advice. Nowadays, many people may feel uncomfortable with ideas of subjecting themselves to the authority and guidance of another person, whom, unconsciously they still hold to be their equal or at best better educated than himself or herself.


The notion of a spiritual Master, as opposed to that of an earthly teacher is fundamentally different. Apart from the obvious educational benefit of becoming versed in the subject of Buddhism, taming our character and mind through the outer vinaya practices of moral conduct and the accompanying decrease in our negative patterns, it is hoped that hearing the traditional accounts of how the dharma came into this universe and world, how different capacities of disciples apprehend the earthly life of the historical Buddha Sakyamuni or how far they are able to follow his Teachings, will open our mind to the intrinsic aspect and function of the Teacher or Master. It is further hoped that the gradual distinctions made in the requirements to be looked for in an authentic Master according to the three main precepts[1] as well as the accompanying refinement of the disciple’s own behaviour in response can be perceived in a wider context than our present somewhat narrow cultural background may, at first, let us appreciate.


Keeping in mind the narration of these traditional accounts of how the Dharma manifested, according, already to the disposition and capabilities of the recipients, we can derive much deeper understanding of the characteristics of our Masters and more easily adjust our own behaviour. The meaning of words such as faith and devotion, which are an integral part of our relationship, too may become less mundane and more meaningful in relation to the actual nature of the authentic Master. We will then examine in a second part what the scriptures teach us about the ways to look for a genuine Master and further how to rely on him, once we have found him.


To this effect, this book is presented in three parts with appendixes. The first part is devoted to a short historical background to Buddhism, the second part to the actual relationship between Master and disciple and the conclusion will highlight the additional challenges that we face in our modern society, devoid of spiritual heritage



[1] Vinaya, Bodhisattva and Tantrayana, see later elaboration

[2]  In Fundamentals and History of Nyingma School Of Tibetan Buddhism Dudjom Rinpoche

[3] Mdo Sde Ser Od Dampa, The Sutra of the Supreme Golden Light

[4]  There are the truth of suffering or the vessel and its contents-the world and the beings, the truth of origin, which is karma, negative emotions and their effects, the truth of cessation as the quality of having relinquished the above and the truth of the path

[5] Monastic community

[6] Accumulation, preparation, path of seeing and meditation, path of no more learning, at which point we are liberated.

[7]  Bodhisattvas Bhumis is used as a support for qualities to increase and correspond to the means and knowledge in a training bodhisattva’s mind stream. There are attained when complete purification of we level is achieved whereby we move on to the next level.

[8]  Tushita is the name of the realm of the Gods of the desire world where Lord Buddha and presently Maitreya, the future Buddha have taken their final rebirth before displaying attaining Enlightenment.

[9] The twelve main acts of Lord Buddha were His descent from Tushita Heaven, entering into womb, taking birth, displaying the skill in worldly arts, life with the women in the palace, renunciation, practicing arduous asceticism, reaching the point of enlightenment, defeating the host of Mara, attaining full enlightenment, turning the wheel of dharma, and finally passing into the parinirvana

[10] 1. Delusive obscuration to liberation and 2. Obscuration to omniscience.

[11] Superior like Lord Buddha took 3 countless eons, for the middling capacity disciple, 7 eons and for the mediocre one 33 to attain enlightenment

[12] These two aspects are known as aspirational and practical Bodhicitta or compassion

[13] The 6 realms of samsaric existence are the three higher realms of gods, demi-gods and human and the three lower realms of animals, hungry spirits and hell

[14] See Appendix Samanthabadra.

[15]  The five aspects of the Wisdom of Buddhahood embodied in the five Buddha families: Buddha, Vajra, Ratna(jewel), Pema(lotus) and Karma (activity)

[16] dkyil’khor:centre and periphery. The celestial palace and the pure realm of a particular deity we are visualising

[17] according to their wishes is said in the texts

[18] gyalwa gonggyud

[19]   Period, eon kalpa: one cycle of formation and destruction of a world system. One great kalpa has eight intermediate kalpa in which two small kalpa are found, one where the life span of being is increasing, one where it is decreasing like our time.

[20] Like thinking this is different from me

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