How to Recognise and Follow a Spiritual Guide Part 8

 

 II.2.2  The scriptures then lead us to recognize the way in which we can follow a Master according to Bodhisattva precepts

 

 In the “Dongpo Koedpa”[1], sutra we reads the famous quote:

 

One has to consider oneself as a sick person,

The Master’s teachings are the medicine,

The Master as the skilful doctor,

Consider our practices as our recovering from illness.

 

It is commonly accepted that the one who is afflicted with disease will rely on the doctor and the one who is travelling in a dangerous country will rely on a courageous guide. If our path is full of dangerous wild animals, enemies, robbers etc, we will want to rely on a strong escort. The one who wishes to cross over to the shores of the water will rely on the boatman. Similarly, we should seek a spiritual Master who has the power to deliver us from the suffering of Samsara and attain enlightenment.

 

Following our Master’s advice will not always proved to be easy, since, through his advice, he is leading us away from our habitual negative propensities, and thus what he encourages us to do or refrain from is exactly opposite to what we would do if left to our own devices. Although we may, at first be aware of this, breaking habits, which have been keeping us for eons in Samsara, will not happen overnight. It will require great steadfastness, courage, dedication and devotion to our Master. There may even be times when we do not see how a given advice is beneficial, because we are so obscured by our own accumulated negative emotions, or the latter will constantly try to stir us away from our determination to follow this advice. We thus have to be aware of this, be patient, and not expecting an instantaneous result, take great care to meticulously follow the Master’s wishes, even at the cost of our life. 

 

 According to the bodhisattva precepts, we have made the vow to serve all beings and   to act purely for the purpose of beings, . This is not a small undertaking, and many difficulties and obstacles will arise on the path. However, if we can behold the loftiness of our Master, fully relying on our deepening faith and devotion, we will not become discouraged nor destabilized by unfavourable circumstances.

 

 The scriptures admonish us to unreservedly surrender our body, speech and mind all possessions or good qualities in the course of serving our Master in a tamed and peaceful manner. This means to serve once Master with every action, we ‘s whole behaviour, all our words and mind. However, if we recall the enlightened qualities of our Masters, his boundless compassion and tireless activities for the benefit of all sentient beings, we will also recognize that acting in this way is nothing different from whole-heartedly embracing the path to Buddhahood. Following his advice then will lead to the fulfilment of our goal and should be pursued without the shadow of a doubt.  This is also why our Masters constantly remind us not to have any doubts and develop deep faith and devotion.  Following his advice whatever it may be, mindful that our actions are not purely for our benefit but are dedicated to the sake of all sentient beings is then greatly enhanced.

 

Never holding the Master as an ordinary being, our faith, devotion will naturally deepen by recognizing Him as a real Buddha.  We should develop the wisdom to recognize the meaning of his many different activities as well as the concentration to hold the knowledge dispensed in His teachings. We should also deepen our compassion to embrace all helpless sentient beings held in the clutches of the three sufferings. Mindful of all precepts, vows and instructions bestowed by the Master, we should take great care and respect in following them.

 

  Great Masters will display diverse ways to tame the mind of different disciples, even sometimes appear to behave in what we judge to be disconcerting ways. However we should not judge his actions but apply pure vision to appreciate his deeds. We should bring our mind not to be tainted by critical judgments on any of our Master perceived activities but remain unshakable in the knowledge of his wisdom, not judging outer appearances. If we let ourselves judge in an ordinary way, we only acknowledge the narrowness of our perceptions, which cannot encompass his enlightened vision.

 

Dodrul Rinpoche’s previous incarnation was Patrul Rinpoche root Guru. Patrul Rinpoche also had another Master whom he thought was very great because he explained things step by step for him. Unconsciously thus, he was starting to loose his faith in Dodrul Rinpoche when the latter suddenly struck him about the head with his slipper. At once Patrul Rinpoche both recognised the nature of his own mind with absolute clarity and the wrong view he was developing towards his root Guru

 

There was once a great scholar called Naropa from Nalanda University who was told by his tutelary deity that his root guru was Tilopa and was to be found in Eastern India.  He left immediately but could not find him and did not know his whereabouts exactly.  Enquiring with the local people where Tilopa may be, he was told a beggar was nearby with the name of Tilopa.  Naropa thought this might be his Master as great Siddhas appear in many forms.  He found him near some ruins where he was pulling fishes out of a bucket throwing them into the fire and snapping his finger as he ate them.  Naropa approached, prostrated to him and requested to become his student.  Tilopa replied “I am a beggar, how am I to guide you?”.  Finally after much solicitation, he relented.

 

Tilopa was not in fact killing the fish out of hunger but he had both power and compassion to lift them out of their deep layer of darkness with no sense of what to follow or what to discard.  By eating their flesh, he made a connection with them that then served as a basis for transferring their consciousness to a pure realm.

 

Similarly Saraha and Shawaripa both assumed the appearances of hunters.  Most of the eighty great Mahasiddhas of India likewise assumed very low manifestations.  Judging with an ordinary mind the outer behaviour of a Master only shows up our ignorance.

Even if we receives a strong scolding from our Master we should not feel anger nor harbour thoughts of revenge  but rather be aware that he is only doing so in order to guide us to shed our mistakes and we should have the frame of mind to repent about our misdeeds. We should experience shame at our own misdeeds both in front of oneself and our Master whose wishes we is thereby going against. None of our actions should at any time go against the wishes of our Master nor be detrimental to the welfare of beings. It is useful to remember at that time that , by scolding us, our Master has seen an opportunity to free us from a negative habit and with full faith in him, acknowledge your mistakes. 

 

The best spiritual friend is the one who  attacks your hidden  faults

The best instructions are the ones that hit those hidden faults

The best friends are mindfulness and vigilance

The best incentives are enemies, obstacles and the sufferings of illness

The best method is not to fabricate anything[2]

 

Whilst attending to our Master, we should not become overwhelmed, discouraged or saddened by the work. We should embrace whatever the type of work is given. We should bear whatever hardship may arise out of his instructions and fully accomplish his wishes. Our behaviour with our Vajra brothers and sisters is described thus.

 

Like a belt be a comfortable companion

Like salt, be easily mixed in

Like a pillar, untiringly bear any load

Serve thus your Vajra brothers and your teacher’s attendants.[3]

 

We should avoid pride in regard to the Master and bear in mind with humility that we are there only to serve all sentient beings. Avoid pride regarding caste, position, and show respect to all. These are the qualities expected from the we who wishes to follow a spiritual Master as expounded in great details in the sutras

 

The Sutra requested by Bodhisattva Pungzang reads

 

Though he is free from attachment and anger, he manifest desire to beings afflicted by desire.  In order to tame violent being he shows wrathful appearances; I prostrate to such an enlightened Master!

 

Lord Buddha also warned us not to judge by outer behaviour, in the pagoda of Precious Jewels.

 

O Kasyapa! It is right for me or someone like me, to judge doctrines and individuals,

but not so for others for they would fall into perverse opinions

 

In the Bodhisattva path, more emphasis is laid on inner motivation rather than behaviour and even the seven non-virtuous actions[4] are permissible if they are to benefit others.  Hence we have to be circumspect.  Even though our Master may have fewer qualities, if we hold him to be a Buddha, we will receive Buddha’s blessings.

 

Such is the power of our inner view that it can lead to realizations as in the story of the faithful old lady who totally believed that she was worshipping one of Buddha’s teeth.

 

The old lady requested her son to get her an object of veneration.  The son went off on his travel and only on his return did he recall his mother’s request.  Picking the tooth of a dead dog, he presented it to his mother as we of Lord’s Buddha’s himself.  Deeply grateful, without any doubt in her mind about the authenticity of the tooth the old lady believed it to be   and prayed with great respect and faith.  Due to the power of her faith, many relics appeared from the dog’s tooth and at the time of her death an aura of light hovered above her. The dog’s tooth itself did not actually hold any blessing in itself; it came purely from the deep faith and pure vision of the old lady.

 

II.2.3      How to follow the Master according to Tantra precepts

 

After examining the Master as explained above, when we are satisfied that he displays the requisite qualities, and we begin to receive empowerments and instructions from him, he really becomes our root lama and we should rely on him with the full respect of the body, speech and mind.

 

The scriptures tell us that the Master from whom we receive tantra teachings should also be held higher than our father.  The Master from whom we received explanation of the Tantras should be considered higher than our own mother.  The Master who assisted us in restoring broken Samaya should be held dearer than the pupil of our eye.  The one from whom we receive pith instructions should be held dearer than our heart.  In particular the Master from whom we have received empowerments, liberating commentaries and pith instructions is kind to us in three ways.  We should have a particularly high respect for such a lama.  We should rely on him in three ways.

 

The best way to serve him is to dedicate our life to practice and uphold the teachings.

The next best way is to serve him in body and speech that will cleanse our obscuration.

 Lastly we should make offerings to him that allows us to perform the two accumulations.

 

Out of the three services, a tantra quotes that dharma practice is the supreme type of service.  Having received empowerments and Teachings we should practice without procrastination and with full concentration so that we become a lineage holder of these Teachings.

 

 If we cannot do so, we can serve him such as attendant by doing so, it will also cleanse obscurations of the three doors. Teachings mention that if obscurations are cleansed, then realizations will naturally occur.  We will gradually cleanse our obscuration and, with practice, also become a lineage holder.

 

Even if we cannot fulfil this, we still have to make offerings of the best of our possessions without stinginess allowing him to become happy.  Naturally it will lead us to accumulate merit, cleanse obscurations and realization will occur within us.

 

There are no greater sources of refuge nor opportunities to accumulate merit than by following our Master. In particular when he bestows empowerment or gives Teachings, the compassion and Blessings of all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, realised Masters and lineage holders just pours from him and he is indivisible with all the Buddhas. Although there are countless forms of deities in the generation and completion stages, on which we can meditate, there are all but the very natures of our own root Master. The road to the outpouring of the Blessings, the wisdom and realisation that we may receive has no other dimensions than the depth and breath of our own faith and devotion. Being the embodiment of all realisations, by mingling your mind with His, we will attain His realisation. Thus all the sutras and tantras describe him as the Buddha in person. In fact He is even more precious than all the Buddhas of this eon, because he is appearing to us in these degenerate time to guide us and bring us to Liberation

 

In summary, we have to offer body, speech, and wealth and so on to our Master and practice whatever he asks us to do.  In the same way Naropa followed Tilopa and Milarepa followed Marpa.

 

If we do not follow him in this way, rushing to receive empowerments and instructions will not bring about attainment of high realizations and siddhis.

 

II.3.  How to follow the Master’s advice

 

II.3.1 According to the Vinaya

 

Finally we shall examine how to follow his advice. Firstly, according to the Vinaya, we should guard the outer Pratimoksha vows like the pupils of our eyes, generating pure respect and devotion towards our Master.  We should always perceive that all of our Master’s activities are beneficial and positive.  We should avoid any form of disrespect.

 

Any classes of the five downfalls should be absolutely avoided, taking care to observe, that which has to be followed, and that which has to be avoided. The great Fifth Dalai Lama mentioned that the two hundred and fifty three precepts of the Gelong or the full-fledged monk should be observed with mindfulness and care. Although all five classes of downfalls should be avoided, the first two are particularly important: the four root downfalls and the thirteen remainders. 

 

Killing, stealing, sexual intercourse, and lying are the four root downfalls.  The thirteen remainders means actions, which compromise the purity of a vow without destroying it.  Vows can be restored to their original purity by confessing in the presence of Sangha.

 

Thus the essence of the Pratimoksha vows rests within the avoidance of the four downfalls to which total abstinence from taking intoxicants is added. Remaining free from the stains of these non-virtuous actions, we should concentrate on virtuous activities and tame our mind away from afflicted emotions.

 

Hence, Lord Buddha has said in the Pratimoksha Sutra;

 

Abandon all non-virtues,

Cultivate all virtues,

Tame our mind in its entirety,

This is the teaching of Buddha.

 

We should strive to follow Lord Buddha’s and our own Master’s advice, not contradicting their wishes as they wouldn’t be contented with mere offerings and empty obeisance. The Master who has transcended all attachment does not need nor benefit from us paying respect to him.  Rather it is to the disciple’s advantage as he thereby accumulates merit.  The most pleasing among the three types of offering to the Master is to follow his advice and truthfully uphold the smallest precepts at all times.

 

A Pratimoksha sutra points out how rare and precious the chance to live at a time where Lord Buddha came and the teachings remained in this world.  Furthermore it emphasizes the preciousness of human life, which represents the confluence of eighteen auspicious characteristics.  Lastly having the opportunity to follow the Path shown by Lord Buddha we have the fortune to renunciate worldly life and enter the monastic order.  After ordination we were further blessed to receive vows from a Perfect Teacher.  Hence it is time to seek liberation for oneself and let this rare opportunities come to fruition.

 

For example Patrul Rinpoche, who was a remarkably accomplished Master of the turn of the century, and wrote many works, the most famous of which is probably for most of us “The Words of my Perfect Teacher” [5] remarks how absurd it is to see some people pretending to keep the precepts when they do not even know what has to be followed and what has to be abandoned.

 

Bearing this lofty motivation in mind, we should endeavour to study and retain the meaning and contents of the precepts.  Our dedication and resolve to preserve the precepts, once fully understood, should be such that we should not go against them even at the cost of our life.  We should not be hypocritical either pretending to observe them in front of our Master, actually acting against them, this will bring only bad karma for oneself.

We should not receive the precepts for the sake of worldly benefits such as food and clothing but out of pure faith in the law of cause and effect.  Seeing only the positive things from our Master, we should always consider him superior to oneself.  Having doubts in the law of cause and effect, having an inflated opinion of oneself or underestimating the Master’s qualities only can bring grave consequences for oneself.  A story related in the sutras of Legpai Karma became attendant of Lord Buddha and served him for twelve years and was full of his knowledge of the Tripitaka, regarding himself equal to Lord Buddha.  In fact he used to say that the only difference between himself and Lord Buddha was the halo that enveloped the Lord’s head.  Consequently as he soon thereafter passed away he was reborn as a preta in the lower realm and Lord Buddha himself could not help him then.

 

Such stories should admonish us to follow our Master’s advice regarding every of his action as bearing purpose and meaning.  We should abstain from any action that may bring him any disquiet . 

In the Treasury of Knowledge, the metaphor of ducks swimming in water or bees following the scent of flowers is used to liken our tireless and wholehearted efforts to follow our Master and we will automatically reap the benefit of our behaviour.  

 

First we should be wise in examining the Master

We should then be efficient in following him

And lastly we should be genuine in practicing his advices.

By acting in such a way, we will advance on the right path.

 

This is a quoation from the Yonten Dzo By Jigme Lingpa


[1] Dongpo Koedpai Mdo (Decoration of the Tree Sutra), Kunzang Lamai Shelung (Words of My Perfect Teacher), Sherig Publication, Page 215.  This is a Mahayana Sutra.

[2] Patrul Rinpoche Words of My Perfect Teacher 169

[3] Patrul Rinpoche opus cit pg 149

[4] The ten non-virtues are killing, stealing, adultery, lying, slander, harsh speech, idle speech, craving, ill will and incorrect view.  The first three are non-virtues of body, the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth are the non-virtues of speech, and the last three are the non-virtues of the mind.

 

 

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