How to recognise and follow a Spiritual Guide Part 4

 

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

 

 

Whatever the school of Buddhism however, a great emphasis is placed on the uninterrupted transmission of Teachings and Blessings. These transmissions take place through an equally uninterrupted lineage of Masters and disciples who have transcended the chain of suffering and delusions and attained supreme realisations of the pure nature of mind and reality. Hence it is said that the idea of someone attaining Buddhahood would never occur, if he did not have a Teacher or Master acting as a guide to bring him to the ultimate stage of realisation.

 

As there are many different types of disciples, so the manifestation or appearance of the teacher varies accordingly immensely. For instance, for beings who are close to total Enlightenment, the Master, it is said in the Nyingmapa tradition is the Primordial Buddha himself, Samanthabadra [1]. The transmission does not require the cumbersome words and rituals we need at our level but occurs directly from mind to mind; hence it is called direct transmission[2]. For those who have not quite reached this level yet, a slightly more concrete approach is needed and takes place through symbolic signs, which awaken the disciple realisation. Thus it is called symbolic transmission. In our world however, the fact that we appear as human beings means that our principal characteristic is that we are attached to appearances and the idea of a self and we do not have the openness of mind to receive these teachings in these ways; we need words to stimulate our consciousness and thus this type of transmission is called the aural lineage.

 

In all these cases however, the role of the Teacher or Master is primordial, as it doesn’t only carry the actual Teaching but also the necessary Blessings to purify the disciple’s obscuration and enable them ultimately to merge their minds with the realised Mind of the Master.

 

Therefore we can see from the above that all the transmissions are passed on uninterruptedly from a living Master to his disciples whether in the Distant Lineage of Kama or the Close Lineage of Terma.

 

In any transmission of precepts or empowerments there are two links; on one side the Master who holds the precepts or the lineage and on the other his disciples wishing to receive them.  For the chain to be strong, both links have to fulfil certain characteristics.  This is why in the tradition of the relationship between the spiritual teacher and the disciple characteristics of both are described in great details according to Vinaya, Bodhisattva, and Tantrayana. 

 

It also derives from the above that there is no possible transmission hence any possible spiritual accomplishments without a spiritual Master.  It is stated in a tantra that there is not as much as the name of a Buddha without a Teacher preceding him, therefore even the Buddha of the three times, before their enlightenment had to seek a spiritual teacher and receive precepts and transmissions from him.

 

Although we may have the tendency today to believe that we can achieve anything on our own, this will certainly not apply to spiritual matters.  If it had been the case, we would all be enlightened by now.  Lost into Samsara today as we have been for eons, we are experiencing the same chains of suffering and are no wiser to attain liberation.  Hence, we still need the help, guidance and blessings from an authentic Master to attain our goal.

 

Similarly, not any Teacher that we encounter will automatically qualify as an authentic Master. This person needs to have also undergone not only a formal and complete Buddhist education and training, but also display irreplaceable moral, inner and secret qualities that can only ripen through a profound spiritual training, itself arisen from following an authentic Master, and lead that Teacher to display characteristics which have been fully described in numerous sutras and tantras, revealing his or her inner realization and signs of accomplishment. The texts also warn us about the dangers of not examining a potential Teacher according to the three different precepts as well as the shortfalls of not following our Master correctly, once we selected him.

 

In the following parts, we will now examine what are the criteria applying both to choosing a spiritual Master, relying on him and following his advice as well as the qualities and duties required from the aspiring disciple.  In this context, we will expound each part according to the three main categories of Vinaya, Bodhisattva and Tantra precepts- this in fact corresponds to the outer conduct contained in the Pratimoksha vows, inner Bodhisattva precepts representing the next level of practice and finally the secret Tantra Samaya whose purpose is to enable us to attain enlightenment in a relatively short period of time.

 

However, it must be pointed out that we cannot just choose a higher level without complying with the lower ones.  All the teachings of Lord Buddha and the following great Masters are all based first on moral conduct and only when those have been fully actualised can the disciple naturally develop the subsequent levels.

 

II.1. Master Disciple relationship

 

II.1.                Characteristics of the Master

 

II.1.1 Characteristics of a Master according first to Vinaya mainly describing the outer conduct expected first from the potential Teacher and his disciple. It enumerates in great details both worldly conduct and moral conduct, which are conducive to a healthy relationship and thus can engender the deep faith and devotion on which the disciple can build his development

 

Lopon Shakyaprabha in his “The fifty verse precepts of the sramanera, the novice”: poses that

 

The spiritual teacher should have a pure moral conduct, be well versed in performing rites and bestowing vows, have compassion towards the ill.  He should not only follow the precepts himself but also encourage others to follow them too. He should exert himself to benefit his disciples by displaying generosity that is the giving of robes etc, and to dispense teachings.  He should give advice from time to time.  These are the qualities befitting a perfect spiritual teacher. 

 

The vinaya texts explains that having pure moral conduct means having the knowledge of the five classes of downfalls, the seventeen basic precepts, the twelve ascetic practices, and the four principles of a monk discriminating between that which has to be discarded and that which has to be observed [3].  Having the rituals of the vinaya means a thorough knowledge in particular of the three rituals of monastic community; the annual yarne summer retreat, the bimonthly confessions ceremony (Sojong), and the restriction lifting (Gagye) by following them himself and being able to teach them to his disciples.  His compassion should skilfully extend to the sick bringing about their recovery.

 

He protects his disciples from adopting wrong conduct and encourages them to practice pure morality, thus simultaneously cleansing their impurities.  According to the circumstances in the Sangha or among the disciples, he will give advice from time to time; Mingling Terchen[4] explains that He prevents his disciples from falling into Samsara and encourages them to practice the precepts.  He transmits he vows and discriminates between that which has to be followed and that which has to be discarded. Thus he embodies pure moral conduct and wisdom. This concludes the characteristics of a spiritual teacher according to the vinaya tradition.

 

How though should we examine a potential Master? . Today, we may have the habit to look for a university degree, a PHD or some famous and perhaps spectacular event. This will not bring us any closer to an authentic Teacher but may lead us further astray. In this manner, the all-knowing Jigme Lingpa in his Treasury of Knowledge, already warned over three hundred years ago: “ The accumulated virtues of a faithful follower may go waste if he were not to check a potential spiritual teacher.  If we become deceived by not knowing the qualities of a spiritual teacher, our precious human birth could be wasted in the same manner, as we would mistake the shadow of a tree for a snake.  The successful turning towards virtue of our three doors relies upon finding an authentic teacher.”  It is therefore vital to check whether the qualities mentioned in all the texts are present in our potential teacher. 

                             

Before receiving any pratimoksha vows[5] from anyone, we should first ensure that this person himself holds all the precepts pure and is able to perform the appropriate vinaya rituals.  How could he otherwise pass these vows unto us?

 

By examining our Potential Master’s compassion towards the sick and the care he takes of his disciples by bestowing pure vows, we further realize the true nature of the Master. There would be very little point in bestowing precepts through rituals if he failed to ensure his disciples welfare or displayed no compassion towards the sick,

 

An authentic Master will know how to encourage his existing disciples to purify wrong conduct providing support for the new disciples who are not yet accustomed to the vows and may otherwise stray into bad habits and need to be guided back on the path

 

Besides the above, the potential teacher should be seen to be generous not only for basic necessities but also in bestowing teachings. A teacher who may fail on one of the above, although a good practitioner himself may not have the ability to steer his disciples on the right path or deny them the chance to follow him through lack of basic necessities. 

 

Finally albeit displaying all the required qualities, if the potential teacher does not himself follows the virtuous activities of prayers, study and practice, he will not be able to guide his disciples away from the idle activities such as sleeping, eating, roaming or lying about.

 

Thus we should follow a potential Teacher only after having examined his characteristics not only through blind faith or respect.  For in these degenerate times, some people are very skilful to give the appearance of kindness and compassion.  Disciples may be attracted to a smiling countenance but it soon transpires that he can only lead himself and others away from virtuous path for he does not really follow the precepts.  Such Teachers should always be avoided.

 

 The point here is that non-virtuous friends as the scripture refers to them do not appear to us behaving like high way bandits. 

 

  Non-virtuous friends do not have frightening appearances with horns on their heads but he appears kind and smiling as if to benefit us.  They help us to play and laugh, wasting time, bringing about distractions and encourage us to commit non-virtuous actions.  Such people have to be avoided like infectious disease.”

 

Guru Rinpoche himself described that

 

 

Not to examine the Master

Is like drinking poison

Not examining the disciple

Is like leaping from the precipice.

 

 Following someone purely by hear say or reputation, without previously checking oneself the genuineness of the claims examinations, and entrust our entire liberation to such a teacher may only yield uncertain results and benefits.

 

There once was a Master whose words and mantras carried great blessings. Whilst performing phowa though, he took a large number of horses and cattle from the deceased for each phat he uttered and was consequently reborn as a huge sea monster whose whole body was eaten by a myriad of small creatures.

 

Similarly, the Master will also check the aspiring disciple over an extended period of time. It is said that for an ordinary mind, it will take nine years or more to get to know a person, for a sharp mind, three years and for we close to Buddhahood at least several months. There are also very famous stories of how very great Masters sent gifted but very difficult students to other Masters, not necessarily because they did not have the power to tame them, but also because the disciples may have had karmic connections with other Teacher-emanations.

 

All of us will have different experiences according to our previous karma and activities.  Some fortunate people may benefit from the result of their previous virtuous activities and meet a perfect teacher, others may come in contact with a teacher who is not authentic and could not lead us to higher rebirth, let alone liberation and complete enlightenment.

 

This is why such emphasis is brought upon careful examination of a potential Teacher, before making the decision to choose this person as our Master.  Even if, after realizing a teacher was not authentic, we were to meet a perfect we, it would be very difficult to come back on the right path because of acquired bad habits and behaviour.  Hence beware from the onset to choose carefully.

 


[1]   Refer to appendix Samanthabadra or Kuntuzangpo.

[2]  See part three page 24. Check again page number at end

[3]  See Appendix Pratimoksha vows

[4]  Minling Terchen who is widely known as Terdag Lingpa, (1646-1714) a speech emanation of Vairocana, was a great Nyingma Master, and one of the greatest Terton who became both the teacher as well as the disciple of the Great Fifth Dalai Lama.

 

[6] Jigme Lingpa (1729-98) composed Yonten Mzod (Treasury of Enlightened Attributes) in which the path of the three persons has been described in detail. This text has thirteen chapters.  From the first to the ninth chapter it describes the sutra teachings and from tenth till thirteen is about Tantra.  The tenth chapter is about general Tantra teachings, the eleventh one describes the ground of Dzogchen teachings, the twelfth describes the path and the thirteenth its fruition.  Dharma Publication. Page 42.

.

[7] Jigme Lingpa (1729-1798), is considered to be a combined emanation of Vimalamitra and King Trisong Deutsen and Gyalse Lharje.  He was a prodigy who became immensely learned with almost no study, through arousing his wisdom mind in long meditation retreats.  He received the Heart Essence of the Vast Expanse in a series of visions of Longchenpa,    

[8]   The Four Means of gathering disciples:  This is the practice of Bodhisattva to actually lead other sentient beings on the path of enlightenment.  They are giving Jigme Lingpa (1729-98) composed Yonten Mzod (Treasury of Enlightened Attributes) in which the path of the three persons has been described in detail. This text has thirteen chapters.  From the first to the ninth chapter it describes the sutra teachings and from tenth till thirteen is about Tantra.  The tenth chapter is about general Tantra teachings, the eleventh one describes the ground of Dzogchen teachings, the twelfth describes the path and the thirteenth its fruition.  Dharma Publication. Page 42.

.

[8] Jigme Lingpa (1729-1798), is considered to be a combined emanation of Vimalamitra and King Trisong Deutsen and Gyalse Lharje.  He was a prodigy who became immensely learned with almost no study, through arousing his wisdom mind in long meditation retreats.  He received the Heart Essence of the Vast Expanse in a series of visions of Longchen,    

[8]   The Four Means of gathering disciples:  This is the practice of Bodhisattva to actually lead other sentient beings on the path of enlightenment.  They are giving whatever is necessary, speaking pleasantly, helping others and having consistency in words and deeds.

[9]  Aspirational Bodhicitta is only the intention to attain Buddhahood for the benefit of all beings and Practical Bodhicitta is the action to realize that goal, like engaging in six perfections of generosity, morality, patience, perseverance, concentration, and wisdom

[10] This is the Lord Maitreya’s commentary to the Prajnaparamita Sutras, the main teaching of Lord Buddha’s Second Wheel of Dharma.  Root text of Abhisamayaalankaraprajnaparamitaupdeshshastra, Sitron Publication, Page No. 38 – 39

[11] who is also called  root Lama

[12] as quoted in Yonten Dzod

[13] The wish fulfilling supreme master is the one who is compassionate and has mastery over both sutra and tantra

[14] A IXc Indian Pandita from Vkramshila University who came to Tibet the time of King Deutsen and spread the Dzogchen Nyingthig Teachings

[15] Born in Nyemo in Tibet at the end of the VIIIc, one of the greatest translator in Tibet and one of the seven monks first ordained

[16] Asanga, a IVc Indian Pandita founder of the vast conduct lineage of Mahayana; Jetsun Dragpa 1147-1216 was one of the five great Masters of the Sakya School

[17] He has abandoned worldly things and  possessions, has firm faith in the law of cause and effect, is a skilful Bodhisattva  

[18] Shantideva VIIc scholar from Nalanda University, renown for his compassion and author of the famous Bodhicaryavatara – Bodhisattva way of life; Dromtonpa 1004-1064, chief disciple of Atisha and holder of the Kadampa tradition

[19] Nagarjuna most renown Indian Pandita, born 400 years after Lord Buddha’s parinirvana. Founder of the Profound View Lineage of Mahayana; Rongzom, eminent scholar an accomplished Master from Tsang province, the last of the great translator of the old school

[20] Naropa Sic Mahapandita, author of the six teachings of Naropa and Marpa’s Master

[21] Tilopa, Xc Indian Mahapandita, famous Master to Naropa ; Milarepa 1040-1123 great mystic and poet founder of  Kagyu Sect

[22] Shri Singha, VIIIc Indian Mahapandita who propagated the Nyingthig teachings in Tibet, Chetsun Sangye, main disciple of Neten Dangma Lhungyal , holder of the Nyingthig Teachings, he achieved the rainbow body

[23] These are points 5,6&7

[24] : practice, meditation, rituals etc,.)

[25]  Gyutrul or Magical Net Tantra is an Mahayoga teaching of Nyingma Tradition

[26]  According to Nyingma Tradition all the paths leading to liberation are included in the nine yanas or vehicles.  The sravakayana, pratyekabuddhayana, bodhisattvayana are the three causal vehicles of characteristics, Kriya tantra, upaya tantra, yoga tantra are the three outer tantras, and the unsurpassed father tantra of Mahayoga, that known as mother tantra of Anuyoga, and the non-dual tantric class of Atiyoga are the three inner tantras

[27]   Udumvara is the name of a very rare flower and this is likened to an authentic lama who is also precious and hard to find

[28]  Khenpo in Tibetan term literally means, “The Doer of the Action”, and in Vinaya tradition, this is used for the one who bestows pratimoksha vows, the term is widely used now a days for a learned lama who observes pratimoksha vows, specially the bikshu vows

[29]   According to the vinaya tradition, the night is divided into four parts; 6 to 9pm, 9to 12 midnight, 12 to 3am, and 3 to 6am.  We should not sleep during the first and last part of the night

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