Establishing a Relationship with a Spiritual Teacher — Study Buddhism
me that I wanted to address the master-disciple relationship, for two . Buddha's sangha when the Buddha, “seeing the marks of arhatship. by Lama Zopa Rinpoche Benny Liow of the Young Buddhist Association of Malaysia's magazine Why is liberation from samsara different from enlightenment?. The Buddha is constantly seen in the suttas encouraging his disciples to develop Finally, even after full liberation is achieved, the mundane jhanas can still Rapture and happiness link together in a very close relationship, but though the .. He must master the second jhana in the five ways, enter and emerge from it.
We all have the Buddha nature in our mind when the subtle obscurations are removed. Rinpoche, you mentioned that no matter what action we do, it is extremely important to have the right motivation.
Can we interpret this to mean having the right intention? Rinpoche said that if gamblin, for example, is done with pure motivation it will also become pure Dharma. How could an action like gambling which is rooted in delusion and greed be a pure action?
If you gamble with the intention that with the money you win you want to help refugees, hospitals or poor and starving people, the motivation is compassion to benefit others. If one truly has a pure attitude then the action becomes Dharma. The natural action of gambling is itself clean. If it is done with compaassion and the intention is to use the money to benefit others, then it is wisdom. Knowing that it is done with compassion for others it becomes Dharma.
There is both compassion and wisdom. Rinpoche, you mentioned that to practice Dharma we have to constantly think of impermanence and death. Actually, Buddhism is very positive. Bodhicitta makes life unbelievably beneficial. Not only can one achieve an Y happiness one wishes, one can also cause many: That Is the beauty of Dharma. With bodhicitta we get great fulfillment and satisfaction in whatever we do, be it our career, doing a retreat and practicing Dharma or spending leisure time with the family.
So there is beauty and joy in life. For instance in the Lam-rim teachings there is mention of the preciousness of human life.
It explains how we can achieve happiness in future lives, liberation from samsara and achievement of ultimate enlightenment. Each of these happinesses is more precious than a mountain of diamonds or a whole sky filled with millions of dollars. So we look at this life as precious and wonderful.
We then begin to ask how this human birth can give such unbelievable opportunity for us to realize our Buddha nature. All these opportunities create the cause for our happiness and that of numberless other sentient beings. But we also need to face reality. For instance, if we want to buy gold we need to differentiate the real from the false.
In such traditions, selection of a guru is a serious matter. If transformation and enlightenment are to be accomplished, the guru must be a genuinely enlightened individual with a divine nature and conduct characteristic of a deity.
A guru "must be a competent teacher, who is selfless and guided by wisdom, love, and compassion. Hindu philosophy began to influence American thought with the Transcendentalist movement of the early and mid-nineteenth century.
But it was not until Swami Vivekananda, the celebrated disciple of Ramakrishna, attended the Parliament of Religions in Chicago that many Americans began to experience Hinduism personally.
After the conference, Vivekananda traveled throughout America and Europe, spreading Vedanta philosophy. Initially he only intended to teach individuals, but after a series of lectures in New York City in latean organization was established that came to be known as the Vedanta Society.
Several disciples were chosen to continue the swami's teachings in ashrams and teaching centers.
Face To Face; Confronting The Guru - Disciple Relationship
The American Hindu movement had officially begun. As a result of World War I and the anti-foreign sentiment it encouraged, the Immigration Act of was passed, restricting the flow of Asian Immigration.
The spread of Hinduism slowed for decades. Few teachers were allowed to come to America. Two who did and successfully propagated Hindu teachings were Paramahansa Yogananda, who established the Yogoda Satsang movement later the Self-Realization Fellowship inand Swami Prabhavananda of the Vedanta Society in California.
Inwith the repeal of the Immigration Act ofAmerican Hinduism began a new phase. An influx of Hindu gurus entered the United States. Open-minded young people sought alternative answers to personal and social problems. Social unrest encouraged unconventional ideas and The guru's temper tantrums are often interpreted as lila, the Lord's play, or as opportunities for the follower to overcome ego attachments.
Spiritual hunger formed the soil in which the seeds of Hinduism, as well as other philosophies, could rapidly grow and bear fruit. As of the late s, there were approximately 73 active Hindu groups specifically aimed at Western converts.
Some are small, with only five or ten members in one ashram.
- Establishing a Relationship with a Spiritual Teacher
Others have several large ashrams across the United States and Canada and are affiliated with international groups. Most current groups were started by swamis from India rather than by American followers, but there are exceptions, such as the Rudrananda Foundation, which runs the Eldorado Mountain Yoga Ashram outside of Boulder, Colorado.
Some of these groups are based on the monistic Vedanta philosophy of traditional Hinduism. Some focus on achieving a personal sense of the divine. Several are led by women. Almost all have some form of yoga as well as specific rules of self-discipline such as celibacy and dietary restrictions. All regard some form of guru-disciple relationship as essential.
Some practice this relationship in its traditional Indian form, but many Americans experience a relationship significantly different from what is customary in India. In the first place, the intensity of the discipline or asceticism practiced here is much lower than in India. The Vedanta Society, for example, has strict precepts governing behavior.Herbie Hancock: Buddhism and Creativity - Mahindra Humanities Center
As far back asconcern about the lack of monastic discipline among American followers caused the Belur Math, the home order of the Vedanta Society in Calcutta, to send regulations for the American centers to follow. Swami Prabhavananda responded that these "Indian rules could not possibly apply to the American centers. Devotees meditate, attend satsang and darshan seeing or being in the presence of a revered personperform seva, and chant, but they generally continue to live in the larger community, working, marrying, and having children.
In America today it is uncommon for the student to live with the teacher for years in an intimate relationship of mutual caretaking. In fact followers can be so numerous that many of them have little personal interaction with the guru. The strong one-on-one education and guidance traditionally provided by the guru is now often reserved for a privileged few. Most devotees make occasional pilgrimages to the ashram, where interaction may be limited to darshan in a room with hundreds of other people.
The guru may not even be physically present, appearing only through videotape or photographs. How does one develop a life-changing bond of love and, trust in a few moments of exchange? Its members regard the true guru ultimately as a blissful loving power that is activated by the human guru through kundalini energy.
This bond of love results in a transformation of the disciple. If the disciple's relationship with the guru is a right one, the goal of oneness with Absolute Reality will be reached no matter what. A serious Catch arises here. How does a disciple reach this internal power of "blissful love" and achieve a "right" relationship to the guru when there is little or no personal contact with the guru to begin with?
If the student can do this without personal interaction, doesn't that make the guru unnecessary? Disciples respond by saying that simply meditating on the guru enables one to interact with and receive guidance from him or her. In practice this concept of the guru may represent a healthy blend of East and West. The disciple has a teacher to provide the necessary philosophical and practical guidance, yet is still responsible for his or her own practice and development, thus avoiding some possible difficulties.
Still it appears the American disciple depends upon the psychic abilities and extraordinary powers of the guru. It is this aspect of the relationship that is most fraught with difficulties.
If a student does not have close interaction with the guru, how can he or she be certain the guru's abilities are authentic? How does one develop a life-changing bond of love and trust in an occasional few moments of exchange? The student's psychological health may even be suspect if he or she can establish a trusting, dependent relationship with someone more or less unknown.
Even considering the tremendous spiritual power of some gurus, this can reflect a questionable practice of suspending one's judgment in favor of hearsay, public relations, or one's own personal projections.
By this view, a student must have faith in the guru no matter what action the guru takes. In turn the guru will reveal the disciple's remaining ego attachments. Surrender need not mean giving up autonomous thinking, but rather rising above the ego, releasing ego-based desires, and allowing the guru from his or her enlightened perspective to guide and mold the student.
Listening to the guru's instructions, contemplating the guru's words, must be integrated into one's whole life. A SYDA follower has used the analogy of making pottery. The student is the clay spinning on the wheel; the guru within, the inner teacher, is the hand inside pushing hard to mold the clay, while all the time the other hand the human guru offers support outside the pot so the clay does not break or collapse.
The guru must have some power over the devotee if this molding is to take place. This analogy, however enlightening, still leaves the question of how the guru can provide this support "outside the pot" while remaining so inaccessible. Unfortunately the level of codependence and dysfunction in our society creates a tremendous possibility for abuse in the authoritarian nature of this relationship. See Janet Jacobs' Divine Disenchantment: Deconverting from New Religions, Indiana University Press,for an excellent discussion of this subject.
According to psychologist and author Alan Roland, Americans seem to "commit rapidly and completely, or not at all. They tend to relate any doubts that arise, not to the authenticity or ability of the guru, but to themselves as disciples.
Some gurus have abused, sexually exploited, and financially profited from their followers. Behavior many would find unacceptable from friends, lovers, or family members is rationalized when it comes from the guru.
Why does this happen? Practices Americans might call erratic or abusive are sometimes used by Eastern masters to stop the rational mind and allow enlightenment to enter. Moreover disciples are frequently well-entrenched in the relationship before discrepancies in the guru's behavior may arise. This begins what Katy Butler terms "a mutual dance of delusion," 13 leading to denial of one's own feelings and perceptions and ultimately distorting one's sense of reality.
Gurus are sometimes believed to be above ethical laws that apply to everyone else. Swami Muktananda provides one of the best-known cases. Introduced to the U. Some of Nityananda's Indian disciples have disputed this claim. This material also requires evaluation to determine its general applicability. Different Levels of Guru-Meditation Taught in Graded-Path Texts Arrow down Arrow up Starting as early as Longchenpa's Rest and Restoration in the Nature of the Mind, the graded-path presentations of the disciple-mentor relationship nearly always include explicit instructions on appropriate thoughts and actions for disciples in relationship to their mentors.
The procedures form a common basis of practice shared by all committed disciples of spiritual mentors, whether on the sutra or the tantra level. Some procedures, such as being polite and respectful, comfortably suit any spiritual seeker-teacher relationship. Other instructions, such as to regard one's mentor as a Buddha, require graded explanations depending on the level of disciple-mentor relationship. They fail to qualify, however, as shared teachings that also pertain to relationships with Buddhism professors, Dharma instructors, or meditation or ritual trainers before one is ready to become a disciple committed with vows.
Many of the graded-path texts that cover the sutra and tantra stages in one volume include instructions for meditating on the spiritual mentor. The guru-yoga most frequently taught in them asks disciples to imagine that their bodies, speech, and minds merge with the corresponding three faculties of their spiritual mentors, seen as Buddhas.
The meditation normally includes imagining their mentors in the physical forms of Buddha-figures, such as Vajradhara, or imagining Vajradhara in the mentors' hearts. Vajradhara is the embodiment of the fully enlightened clear-light mind of a Buddha. Some guru-yogas ask disciples to imagine their mentors in the forms of lineage masters particularly associated with highest tantra, such as Padmasambhava, taken as a Buddha-figure.
Buddhist seekers frequently focus on visualized images of Buddha Shakyamuni for gaining concentration, even before entering a disciple-mentor relationship. Focus on a figure specifically associated with highest tantra, however, does not accord with the customs or common experiences of spiritual seekers unconcerned about highest tantra.
Therefore, guru-yoga entailing the visualization of such figures is not a general meditation shared with spiritual seekers at stages of the path that precede their conscious preparation for highest tantra practice. Such guru-yoga belongs strictly to highest tantra.
From among the graded-path texts that focus only on the sutra teachings, Atisha's Stages of Practice with a Guru began the tradition of outlining a sutra level of guru-yoga. It comprised offering a seven-part invocation and requesting inspiration. A seven-part invocation, as Shantideva outlined, starts with invoking the Three Jewels of Refuge or an appropriate representation of them.
The seven parts directed toward them comprise prostrating, making offerings, admitting mistakes, rejoicing in the virtues of others, requesting teaching, beseeching the gurus not to pass away, and dedicating the positive potential built up by the practice.
Later Kadam masters, such as Sangwejin, extended the meditation to include disciples' gaining inspiration from their spiritual mentors by remembering their good qualities and kindness. Tsongkhapa and subsequent Gelug masters up to the Fifth Dalai Lama elaborated upon Sangwejin's model in their graded-path texts. Since every level of spiritual teacher, starting with Buddhism professors, possesses some good qualities and at least the kindness to give instruction, any level of spiritual seeker may gain inspiration by focusing on these aspects.
Such practice accords with general experience. Listening to speeches during commemorative ceremonies for national heroes, for example, inspires many. As part of his presentation of the sutra portion of the graded path, he stressed that disciples need to see their spiritual mentors as Buddhas. By including the visualization of Vajradhara in the mentor's heart, he clearly indicated the highest tantra intent of this step. Subsequent Gelug graded-path texts, up to Pabongka's Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand, have followed this highest tantra orientation and expanded on the Fourth Panchen Lama's model.
As with the strictly highest tantra forms of guru-yoga, the meditation on seeing the mentor as a Buddha found in later Gelug graded-path texts is not a general practice for spiritual seekers unconcerned with highest tantra.
Many Westerners are confused about this point. Some meet Tibetan Buddhism initially at a highest tantra empowerment, for example Kalachakra, or attend an initiation early in their spiritual path. They may not understand anything that is happening during the ritual, or they may sit through the procedures merely as observers.
Without consciously taking and intending to keep the vows, however, they do not establish a disciple-mentor relationship with the tantric master. Moreover, Wonpo Sherab Jungne added that members of the audience do not actually receive an empowerment unless they also have some level of conscious experience and insight during the ceremony that purifies mental blocks and plants seeds for realizations. At best, observers at an empowerment receive inspiration, from witnessing the ritual, which builds up potentials for more serious involvement with highest tantra in the future.
The Qualities of a Spiritual Teacher Arrow down Arrow up Since the sutra-level guru-meditation formulated by the Kadam tradition focuses on the good qualities and kindness of a spiritual teacher, it requires knowledge of these qualities and examination of the teacher to determine whether the person has them.
The classical texts list the qualifications only for spiritual mentors. The analysis of the words guru, lama, and spiritual friend has revealed some of the more important points. Refuge and vow preceptors, Mahayana masters, and tantric masters each require progressively more talents, capabilities, and positive personality traits. Moreover, higher level teachers share the qualities of lower level ones.
For example, vow preceptors need to have kept their liberation vows purely, whether as laypeople or as monastics. Mahayana masters need, in addition, advanced concentration, stable realization of bodhichitta and voidness, and an advanced level of freedom from disturbing emotions such as greed, attachment, anger, and naivety.
Tantric masters, in addition, require mastery of an enormous scope of tantric rituals. This does not mean merely having technical expertise in their procedures. Tantric masters need the ability to bring actual enlightening forces into the rituals. Newcomers to Buddhism, however, often begin their studies with teachers of less competence than that possessed by spiritual mentors.
Liberation and Enlightenment
Nevertheless, earlier level spiritual teachers need to share certain features of mentors. Buddhism professors need substantial learning; Dharma instructors need learning plus insight from personal experience; and meditation or ritual trainers need learning, experience, and expertise in the training methods.
Moreover, all levels of spiritual teacher need to be ethical, kindhearted, concerned about others, patient, unpretentious, and emotionally mature. Most of all, in addition to all the above qualities, spiritual teachers need to be inspiring, specifically for us.
A teacher may be fully qualified as a spiritual mentor and may even inspire many other disciples. Yet, if he or she fails to move our hearts with inspiration, we will be unable to benefit fully from the relationship.
Fully qualified teachers, however, are extremely rare, not only today but in the past as well. In Approximating the Deepest Level, Pundarika, the royal Shambala commentator on Kalachakra, declared, "In this age of conflicts, spiritual mentors have mixed faults and qualities. No one is without shortcomings.
Therefore, scrutinize well and rely on those with mostly good qualities. The Guhyasamaja literature has explained that potential disciples and mentors may need to examine each other's qualities for up to twelve years. The advice refers specifically to scrutinizing one another before receiving or conferring a highest tantra empowerment.
It does not imply that the examination be conducted from a distance. As potential tantric disciples, we might check possible tantric masters during the course of studying with them for several years first as our Mahayana masters.
Similarly, before deciding to take refuge vows with possible mentors or to become their Mahayana disciples, we might examine their qualities while studying with them first as one of our Buddhism professors, Dharma instructors, or meditation or ritual trainers. Tsarchen explained extrasensory perception as the most reliable tool for spiritual seekers and teachers to use for examining each other. A person's true qualities may lie hidden, inaccessible to ordinary observation. If seekers or teachers lack special powers, Tsarchen continued, they may try to surmise each other's character and talents through careful scrutiny.
For confirmation, they also need to ask questions about each other from people who are valid sources of information.
One must never rely merely on someone's fame, charm, or personal charisma. When an old dog barks with a clamor, the others come running for no reason at all.
Although the classical texts stress that appearances may be deceptive, we need to evaluate them as best as we can. Buddha gave an analogy regarding the dilemma in one of his sutras: