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Lama Zopa Rinpoche's Online Advice Book
Lam-rim Topics : Guru Devotion

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche at various locations (Last Updated Sep 12, 2013)

Advice on Guru Devotion

Request to Guru
A student wrote requesting Rinpoche to be her guru and guide. Rinpoche sent this reply.

My most dear, precious, kindest, wish-fulfilling one,
Thank you very much billions of times for your kind letter; it made me very happy, expressing your heart and practice. Of course I will accept, even though I am not qualified. You took the Vajrasattva initiation so the connection was made already, so I will try my best and you try your best.

I am very happy you expressed your sincerity—Calling the Guru from Afar, the feeling you got, that is the root of the path to enlightenment; it has the whole path to enlightenment and is most important, so please continue.

It is very good to read the book The Heart of the Path. Also recite the Daily Meditation and meditate on the lam-rim.

First study lam-rim, if you haven’t studied it before from beginning to end, with someone—a geshe, resident teacher, or old Sangha who has studied the lam-rim. To begin with, study a short lam-rim text, Essence of Refined Gold. Next study Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand, but the main lam-rim text for you to study is Essence of Refined Gold.

For three months train the mind in guru devotion, following the outline in Essence of Refined Gold, then five months on the path of the lower capable being: the perfect human rebirth, its usefulness and how it is difficult to find again, death and impermanence, the lower realms, karma, etc. Then three months on the path of the middle capable being, one month on bodhicitta and five months on emptiness. This means that is the main meditation during that time, but it does not mean it is the only meditation, it just means it is the main focus.

After that train your mind in guru devotion, no matter how many months or years it takes, until you see each guru as a buddha, no question, not just for a short time, but very stable, seeing that for years and on that basis having realization.

Train the mind in the path of the lower capable being, again until your mind is transformed, no matter how long it takes, how many months or years, having stable realizations that last. On that basis train the mind in the path of the middle capable being, and then in the path of the higher capable being, bodhicitta and emptiness. You should also meditate a little on emptiness every day, by reading different texts and prayers, so do some meditation on emptiness every day.

To successfully actualize the path to enlightenment for sentient beingsfor numberless sentient beings from each realm, for every sentient being to achieve enlightenmentyou need to achieve realizations on the path. You need to purify negative karma and obstacles, and collect extensive merits, so you need to practice guru yoga, Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga. You should recite 200,000 migtsema mantras, not just counting but meditating on the practice.

You asked for guidance so this is what I am advising, to make your life most productive and most beneficial for sentient beings. With no regrets, you will go from life to life more and more to enlightenment.

Please enjoy these cards. With much love and prayers...


Training the Mind in Guru Devotion
Rinpoche advised a student to read and study the lam-rim well, especially the outlines on guru devotion.

My dear Louise,
Thank you very much for your kind letter. My suggestion is to do a Vajrasattva retreat for three months or for as long as you can next year. Purification is extremely important for you. If continual, intensive purification is not done, you will have a lot of conflict in your mind and you won’t understand the purpose of different practices. That creates negative judgments and thoughts, and that in turn creates negative karma which obscures your mind again and again. Then that continually makes it difficult to understand Dharma—not only philosophy but even lam-rim.

Read the entire advice here


Taking Teachings from the Lama
Rinpoche gave the following advice to a center director.

Dear Sarah,
___ Rinpoche would be very good to teach or to do discussion with Tibetan people in public. Then ___ Rinpoche is also very good to have discussion with Tibetans and to teach them.

The younger geshes and incarnate lamas who speak English and live in the West—who know the Western way of life, the way of thinking and the culture—their way of explaining might be more beneficial and perhaps they will understand each other better, generally speaking.

I am sending the texts you left here. The orange one is a very important Medicine Buddha text.

With prayers...

I have written with my hand as secretary, so maybe the only advantage is that you will become more familiar with reading my writing when I send letters in future. Ha ha ha.

I have mentioned these lamas, but it doesn’t mean you need to take them as guru. That decision is up to the individual. If students like these lamas very much; if it is very beneficial for their mind, then they can take the lamas as guru, but of course, they should take time to examine them.

Sometimes it takes a long time because you don’t see them often; it is very rare. Then if nothing happens, life becomes completely empty. Of course, death can happen suddenly or you can get very sick. Many times it is like that. At that time it is already too late; there is nothing you can do. You cannot practice Dharma.

___ Rinpoche is a great lama in the great monasteries, Sera, Ganden and Drepung, and among the Tibetan public, especially the Gelug lay people. These lamas can just talk about certain subjects of Buddhism and have discussion. They don’t have to be taken as guru by everybody, but you should offer respect as they are ordained Sangha, and you can create very powerful merit by respecting and serving them.


Guru Devotion and Consultation
Rinpoche gave extensive advice in a long interview with a student, on topics including guru devotion and purification practices.

Student: Can one keep a dog in retreat?

Rinpoche:It just depends on the situation. When you do deity retreat, then I think cats and dogs are not allowed because maybe pollutions, spirits, or things like that will interfere. They are not allowed on your meditation seat because it can cause pollution, obstacles, or such things. It is in order not to have interferences when you are in retreat.

Read the entire article here


Guru Displeased
Rinpoche made the following comments in answer to a question on how to deal with the appearance of the guru scolding you or being displeased.

It is due to some past karma that this happened. If you read the "Wheel of Sharp Weapons", then you will understand. Read it as a means to destroy the ego, the self-cherishing thought, as a means to actualize bodhicitta. So, read that text, and there you will find an explanation.

The other thing is that there are many other sentient beings who have the same problem, who have problems and difficulties with their relationship with the virtuous friend, their guru. For those who have so much suffering and difficulties with their boss—their guru—take all of that on yourself. Ego, the self-cherishing thought, made you create the karma in the past to have a difficult relationship with the guru, which causes displeasure to the guru. You give all those problems to the ego, turn all of them into the ego, and destroy the ego (claps); they become non-existent.

The real “I,” appearing from its own side, the “I” that cherishes the ego, which is the object of the ego, even that becomes non-existent. So, try to remember. The ego is totally non-existent, there is no such thing, it is emptiness. Then, while everything is empty, the “I” can offer charity, giving the body, merits, and enlightenment to every sentient being. Then, you generate compassion. Sentient beings in reality are empty, but they are not aware of it. They believe 100 per cent that they exist from their own side, because this appears to their hallucinating mind. They suffer so much due to this ignorance. It is like taking drugs, their minds are completely hallucinating, possessed by ignorance, and all their views become hallucinations. Whatever object appears is a hallucination, which in reality does not exist.

This is the basic suffering, believing in a total hallucination, believing that it is true. Then, on the basis of this, anger, attachment, pride, the six root delusions, the 37 secondary delusions, and all other delusions arise. This is the fundamental suffering. Out of that beings create negative karma and problems. Their lives are trapped in many big piles of hallucinations.

There are four schools of Buddhist philosophy. Each school has its own view of emptiness and the ultimate nature, and the opposite, the object to be refuted, the hallucination, which is the opposite to their point of view of emptiness.

The mind has all those wrong concepts, hallucinations, superstitions, then anger, pride, jealousy, more and more superstitions, more and more concepts, and more suffering. There are so many piles of hallucinations, of wrong concepts.

So, you see the general sufferings of samsara, the six types, three types, and four types. You can use compassion, taking their suffering, and meditate in this way, generating compassion for the numberless other sentient beings who have difficulties and problems with the guru. Take everything from all the other beings, all the wrong views, all the delusions, root delusions, and hallucinations.

Think how devoid of happiness they all are. Even human beings are devoid of ultimate happiness in samsara. Besides other sentient beings, even arhats are devoid of full enlightenment, the peerless happiness. Then generate the thought, "How wonderful it is for all sentient beings to have happiness and the cause of happiness. May they have happiness and the cause of happiness. I will cause them to have happiness. Please, Guru, bless me to be able to do this right now." Then practice giving: give away your body transformed into a wish fulfilling jewel, your merits, and all your happiness up to enlightenment. You practice giving and taking.

You can use whatever difficulties you are having with your teacher, such as your teacher showing he or she is unhappy with you and using harsh words. You use that to destroy the ego. This means you are using this experience to achieve enlightenment. You are using these problems with your teacher as a path. When you use this to destroy the ego, you are transforming the experience with the guru and using it to achieve the path to enlightenment for all sentient beings. OK? In other words, you are transforming this into a cause to bring total, ultimate happiness for all sentient beings. You use it to cause happiness for all sentient beings. Use any difficulties in your life to destroy the ego, for bodhicitta, as a means to cause happiness for all sentient beings. You transform your experience by destroying the ego and use it as a weapon to destroy the ego, to transform the mind into bodhicitta. You make your experience most meaningful to cause happiness for all beings.

In the Guru Puja it says, "yi de ba shik gom par jin gyi lob" (Bless me to always meditate only in happiness.) Look at that verse in the Guru Puja (LC 97). It means that whatever happens in your life, you use it to achieve the two bodhicittas. This is how you use all problems, to make the mind happy. Whatever problems you experience, use them as a means to achieve ultimate happiness, so it becomes a very deep psychology. You are a trained psychologist!

The other thing is this. You should remember what Drogön Tsangpa Gyare (see Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand, p. 262) said: If the guru beats you, it is an initiation. "Dung dak chung wa wang po yin": If the guru scolds, you, it's a wrathful mantra pacifying the obstacles to practicing the Dharma or to enlightenment. You see, when there are obstacles in life, normally people recite wrathful mantras for pacification, and perform wrathful pujas. It is the same if the guru scolds you. This is the wrathful mantra pacifying the obstacles to achieving enlightenment. Also, if there are obstacles that need to be eliminated, the scolding eliminates them. Think that your teacher is showing this aspect purposefully to purify your mind, to guide you and bring you to enlightenment.

Then, lastly, one can think: Sometimes the guru is so happy with you, but externally shows the aspect of being unhappy, beats you, scolds you, but also sometimes shows the external aspect of being happy, but inside is not happy. So, you can think like that. Thank you very much.


Far from Guru
A nun was depressed, feeling separate from her guru. Here is the letter Rinpoche wrote her.

My very dear Julia,
I first need to say something about a student who is depressed, feeling that she is losing her connection with her guru (me), and also feeling self-pity, feeling “I am bad.”

My advice is to think, “My heavy negative karma that has already been generated can be purified. All living beings can change their minds. They can have realizations and can achieve enlightenment by practicing Dharma, because of the clear-light nature of Buddha, which is the ultimate nature of the mind.”

Although it is temporarily obscured, your mind is pure by nature. Therefore, the obscurations can change. They can be purified. The mind can change, and you can become a fully enlightened Buddha. For example, due to other causes and conditions, it may be dark and foggy out, but without any other causes and conditions, it can clear up completely so that it becomes very beautiful. In the same way, our mind can be totally clear and awakened—enlightened—by other causes and conditions that make that possible.

With much love and prayer...

Restaurants and Shopping
Rinpoche explained the motivation for going to restaurants and to do shopping.

When you go to a buffet in a restaurant, think you are offering to the guru deity, thinking the food is not for you. It helps you not to feel you possess it, that this is mine. This helps you to practice the bodhisattva vows. This is also an antidote to attachment, and when you practice like this there is peace in your heart, and happiness. Otherwise, if there is attachment performed with ignorance, then every single thing becomes negative karma, whatever you do.

Similarly, when you do shopping, watch and prepare your motivation. When you are in the shop, either do it to fulfill the wishes of the guru or to benefit and serve other sentient beings. The ultimate purpose is to fulfill the guru's advice. So, you buy these things to survive so as to fulfill the wishes of the guru or benefit sentient beings. This way it becomes an antidote to attachment, becomes a virtuous activity, Dharma, and collects extensive merit.

When the Guru Is Ill
A nun wrote seeking help adjusting her mind to the sickness of one of her gurus. Here is her letter, followed by Rinpoche’s reply to her.

Dear Rinpoche,
With respect to our precious teacher Geshe-la’s health, our kind lama is manifesting the aspect of sickness, and I do not feel quite sure how to think about it.

It is easier with ordinary beings. But since our teacher is a fully realized, holy being, we cannot treat him like a suffering sentient being, and whatever symptoms of illness there are, I cannot really believe them. I feel almost as if I don’t have respect when I ask my teacher how he feels, and I also cannot really tell him what would be good for him to do because I am embarrassed to do so. I think that he knows far better what is good for him.

On the other hand, it makes me sad to think that his eyes and heart could be affected, and that he could be burdened, and it makes me totally sad to think that these eyes full of love would some day not look at us any more, and this treasure of wisdom and compassion could leave us. Geshe-la certainly does not worry at all for himself, but he cares for us, and his looking after his health may totally depend on the intensity of our needs and wishes.

If a Buddha manifests as a human body, does he depend for his well-being, his energy, and his long life on this body and does he depend on medicine at all? Or does his manifestation of a long life depend on our karma, efforts, and prayer? What we see, is it his sickness or our obscurations? What is proper to think and do? Can ordinary medicine and ordinary beings help the illness of realized beings? Can we as his students influence Geshe-la’s health by some special practice?

Dear Jangchub,
Regarding the guru having sicknesses, and whether to have treatment or not, this answer is not for every single guru, but a general answer.

The disciple should pray for the long life and health of the guru, because disciples’ prayers have power. Why? Because there is a Dharma connection.

You can’t leave this out, saying, “This is Buddha, who does not need anything,” and then do nothing. Because the guru is showing an ordinary aspect, such as having suffering and sickness, you should offer service, get medicine, and so forth. The need for your service is also part of the manifestation, and it is for us sentient beings to collect merit and purify. Those sentient beings who offer service need their negative karma to be purified. These are the reasons for the guru’s sickness, because it makes possible very powerful purification for sentient beings, for them to achieve enlightenment quicker.

It is good to recognize this. When Lama Atisha showed the aspect of diarrhea and loss of control of his bowels, Drontompa cleaned it with his hands, without any thought of its being dirty, and from this he achieved clairvoyance. Because his mind was clarified from these actions, he was able to read the minds of sentient beings, even ants, even the minds of people as far away as an eagle can fly in 18 days.

Thank you very much for your concern and for your guru devotion. That is your jewel, the root that eliminates all defilements and obstacles, and achieves all realizations and enlightenment, and enlightenment for all sentient beings.

With love and prayers...

How to Think When Your Guru Shows Signs of Aging
A student had been hosting a Rinpoche, who was very elderly, in her home for some time. She was taking care of his health, and Lama Zopa Rinpoche sent her this letter after she had come to visit him in his own home.

My very dear Karen,
I want to mention something else in addition to what we discussed last night. Rinpoche is the Buddha, and he knows everything. Since you have confirmation of and faith in this in your heart, that makes everything possible for you. It will accomplish every single wish you have for success, for happiness in this life, for your time of death, intermediate state, in the pure land where you wish to be born, for ultimate liberation from samsara, and for all the realizations up to enlightenment. Then, you will be able to guide sentient beings, and give deeper and deeper benefit to others, more and more, bringing sentient beings from happiness to happiness all the way to enlightenment.

That makes you the luckiest person, the most fortunate being. All good things will come toward you, like the waves of the ocean, like rain, or snow, (that is, if you like snow, then countless snowfalls!)

With that same logic, you thought Rinpoche asked you to take on these responsibilities in order to benefit you. That is exactly the best way to think. I think it would be excellent for you to think in a similar way that Rinpoche is taking the aspect of sickness and so on, like an ordinary being, for the same reason. In exactly the same way, you can think that every single aspect that is like an ordinary person—having sickness, delusion, mistaken actions, needing treatments, being unable to remember things, having fear, and so on—all of this is to benefit you, because the actual Buddha does not have suffering, old age, sickness, or death.

So, I say that you are the luckiest woman in the world.
With skies of love and prayers...

Close to Guru
Rinpoche and a student were conversing about another teacher, whose good qualities Rinpoche was praising.

Student: Rinpoche, Geshe-la helped me a lot. He gave me very good advice on guru devotion.

Rinpoche: Really, what was it?

Student: He told me, “Even you are not physically near your guru all the time, if you feel close and have devotion, you will constantly receive his blessings. To feel close, you must constantly remember his kindness.”

Rinpoche: I think that’s from his own experience. I don’t think that came from a text.

Student: Also, I told him that I only wanted to practice guru devotion. I didn’t want to meditate on anything else, and I asked if that was all right. He said, “If you put guru devotion on one side of a scale and all the other topics of the lam-rim on the other side, guru devotion will always weigh more.”

Rinpoche: Really? He said that? One time a student asked His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche about this. I think she was feeling sad because of not being close to Lama Yeshe. Then His Holiness gave this analogy: If you plant a flower, as long as it’s not covered by stones and there are no obstructions, then even though the sun is very far away, the flower will receive everything it needs to grow.

Student: Yes, Rinpoche. It makes sense.

Rinpoche: I think what Geshe-la told you is expressing his own experience. If your mind is good, you always feel close to the guru. If you make a mistake and do something wrong, then even though you are physically close, you feel kind of distant. It is like that.

Advice on Guru Practice
Taken from a very small stack of blue Post-it notes with extremely illegible hand writing, some words only having one letter in them, handed by Lama Zopa Rinpoche to Ven. Holly Ansett with the comment that maybe they can be useful somewhere. Transcribed by Ven. Holly at Kachoe Dechen Ling, Aptos, CA, April 2005, and edited by Nick Ribush.

The most important thing that determines how quickly you reach enlightenment how strongly you need, rely upon and devote yourself to your guru—the stronger, the quicker.

It is your guru’s kindness that prevents you from falling into the lower realms, where you will suffer for an inconceivable amount of time, and allows you to gain a higher rebirth.

The better you understand suffering, the more you need to rely upon your guru; the better you understand how all of samsara—including the deva realm—is suffering in nature, the more you need, rely upon and devote yourself to your guru.

The more you suffer you more you need to rely upon and devote yourself to your guru.

The more you learn the more you respectfully need your guru’s help and rely upon and devote yourself to your guru.

The greater you feel the need to attain enlightenment the more you see the need to rely upon and devote yourself completely to your guru.

The further you progress along the path the more you need to rely upon and devote yourself completely to your guru.

The greater you feel the extremely unbelievable suffering of sentient beings the more you feel how urgent it is to rely upon and devote yourself completely to your guru.

The more you practice tantra the more you need to rely upon and devote yourself completely to your guru.

The essence of your life is practicing pure guru devotion, realizing the incomparable kindness of your guru, who is kinder than anybody else.

Guru Devotion
The following is a teaching given by Rinpoche to a small group of students at Kopan Monastery in Nepal.

Guru devotion is the quickest way to collect the most extensive merit, the means to achieve enlightenment. Of course, the main thing is having the right motivation, bodhicitta, but having a pure mind of guru devotion, with no negative mind arising toward the guru – which is very heavy negative karma – is also very important.

A negative attitude, such as a thought of giving up respect, even just thinking, “What is the use of this teaching?” creates negative karma; one breaks the samaya vows. A kind of pollution comes, and whatever you offer becomes negative and can invite sickness or obstacles. So, I think, the most important thing is keeping samaya, not doing any wrong thing, not letting heresy arise, having negative thoughts, or losing faith. Lost faith is very heavy. Also, it is important not to break the root Pratimoksha vows.

So much emphasis is placed on guru devotion because, with very strong guru devotion, there is no hardship in following the guru’s advice; it becomes so easy to follow any advice given.

If one sees Buddha, one feels incredible happiness, joy, and pleasure in this life. We were trying the other day to find an example of happiness. I said “going to the beach” or “drinking nectar”; you said “having sex,” remember? We were looking for an example of something that is most exciting and joyful for ordinary beings.

Here, Dharma practice offers the most exciting, highest happiness there is: following advice, finding no hardship at all in whatever advice the guru gives, even things that generally seem hard in the view of other people, even impossible. That itself is guru devotion. Then, seeing your guru as Buddha, without any question, is incredible, the peak, the highest enjoyment. Then, nothing is difficult to accept. But if the devotion is not strong, if it is wishy-washy, if there’s no real devotion, only a little, and it's artificial, from the lips, but not in the heart, or it's very weak like when a fire has been burning a long time and there are only one or two sparks left, it can disappear very easily. That is what happens to devotion – one or two sparks are left and then the fire is gone. Then it's very difficult to follow advice, even if the advice is simple, and not a great sacrifice. Even very small things become hard. The mind doesn’t want to do it.

With that attitude one cannot obtain advice. There is no thought that it is precious and that "this is a task for me," that this is a dependant arising, that this advice is purification of negative karma accumulated from beginningless rebirths up to now and is collecting the most extensive merit. We don’t see it as a path to achieve enlightenment, that the advice brings you to enlightenment. One doesn’t see that every single piece of advice that is given, and whatever service one does, is the most powerful, best method to fulfill all your wishes.

From among all your wishes, the highest, most important wish is to achieve enlightenment for sentient beings, and this is the best, most powerful cause to be able to enlighten so many sentient beings and do perfect work for them.

The proof of the power of guru devotion is found in many stories. The root of guru devotion, seeing the guru as Buddha, grows into a stable realization, through advice obtained from correctly devoting oneself to the virtuous friend in thought and action.

Many people can understand, have admired the life story, or have heard how Milarepa achieved enlightenment in one brief lifetime in this degenerated time. That’s because he was given advice by his teacher, Marpa, before receiving teachings or initiations, not only to build a tower alone, without any help, but then to tear it down and put the stones back from where he brought them, again rebuild it, and again put the stones back. It is amazing that Milarepa did all this without losing faith or devotion. Sometimes Milarepa came with other students to receive teachings from Marpa, but the minute Marpa saw Milarepa among the people, he scolded him and asked him to leave. Yet there never arose a single heresy from Milarepa’s side. His devotion was always very firm, he never lost any faith. Because of that, correctly devoting with thought, then with actions, following every single word that Marpa said, he achieved enlightenment in that very lifetime.

It was the same with Gyalwa Ensapa, Chokye Dorje, and so many other beings, such as Naropa and Lama Tsongkhapa. It is said that Lama Tsongkhapa could have achieved enlightenment in one brief life in this degenerated time by practicing wisdom mother practice, with a consort, but in order to preserve the Vinaya teachings and be an example to others, he achieved enlightenment in the intermediate state.

There are many other inspiring stories, such as that of the bodhisattva Sadaprarudita, “Always Crying One.” I think Sadaprarudita must have reached the great path, the third level, of the bodhisattva’s path of merit because when you achieve that level, wherever you are, you see hundreds of buddhas in their nirmanakaya aspect. Sadaprarudita was able to see and could have received teachings from many other buddhas but he was not satisfied. He wanted to see the buddha, the guru, with whom he had a karmic connection.

He went to see the bodhisattva Dharmodgata, the one he had the past karmic connection with, but bodhisattva Dharmodgata was in retreat. “Always Crying One” stayed in that temple for seven years, cleaning outside it. The day Dharmodgata came out to give teachings, he set up the throne and cleaned the place. When he was cleaning, he wanted to prevent dust from rising up, but maras had created obstacles and there was no water near this place. So, he drew some blood from his body and sprinkled it on the ground.

Generally, without practicing tantra, only following sutra, the paramitayana, one has to collect merit for three countless great eons, but “Always Crying One” finished collecting the merits of one countless great eon within those seven years. Why so fast? Because he had incredibly strong devotion to his guru, cherishing bodhisattva Dharmodgata more than his own life. This means you can achieve enlightenment more quickly.

Another story is about the Kadampa Geshe Chayulwa. Normally, the teachings mention him as an incomparable example, one that we should pray to be like. Also, there is Bodhisattva Shönu Norsang and Chayulwa. These beings were incomparable in giving their life to their gurus, cherishing the guru more than their own lives.

With that kind of strong guru devotion, cherishing the guru more than his life, every day Kadampa Chayulwa offered service to his guru, Chengawa, cleaning Chengawa’s house and offering many other services. It is said that even if he was offering a mandala, when Kadampa Geshe Chayulwa heard his guru calling, he would stop in the middle of the mandala and run to offer service. This shows how he had such strong devotion, cherishing the guru and actualizing the guru's advice.

Through cleaning and dusting, he achieved purification of the defilements and negative karma in his mind, each sweep collecting extensive merit. One day, after cleaning Chengawa’s room, while going down the stairs, when he reached the third step, the karma that blocked seeing Buddha was purified and he saw numberless buddhas in their nirmanakaya aspect, right there, while he was going down to throw out the garbage. Of course, it can be whatever service you are doing, like cooking or serving, especially following whatever advice is given. Every second one moves closer to liberation, becomes more distant from samsara, closer to enlightenment. Each time we come closer to realizations of the path to liberation and enlightenment.

Another example is Sakya Pandita. When Sakya Pandita’s guru, Dragpa Gyaltsen, took on the aspect of having a very heavy sickness, Sakya Pandita offered service so selflessly that he had no time himself to eat or sleep. He offered one-pointed service day and night, bearing hardships in order to offer service to his guru. Dragpa Gyaltsen was extremely pleased and said he would teach him Manjushri Guru Yoga practice. After he received this practice, Sakya Pandita realized and was able to see that his guru was Manjushri. All the negative karmas and impurities in his mind that had blocked him from seeing Manjushri before were purified by offering service, day and night, without even sleeping. Then Sakya Pandita became extremely learned. He became world-famous as the most expert logician, expert in the five sciences: crafts, logic, grammar, medicine, and philosophy, or inner knowledge. He was able to offer the most extensive, incredible benefit by seeing Manjushri. This came by serving his guru. Knowledge blossomed by having purified the defilements and blockages through service.

One time, Lama Atisha took the aspect of being sick with uncontrollable diarrhea. His disciple, Dromtonpa, cleaned and took care of Lama Atisha with his own hands, like a mother, cherishing him more than his own life. As he was offering service like this, one day he was able to read the minds of insects, ants, and worms, even from the distance it takes an eagle eighteen days to fly. After taking care of Atisha like that, he actualized one of the six types of clairvoyance, the ability to read anyone’s mind, very clearly. The potential is there in everyone to attain those qualities but is blocked by karma and defilements. Dromtonpa, by having one-pointed guru devotion to Lama Atisha and offering service, purified his mind and those qualities arose within him by the blessing of the Lama, having received the Lama’s blessing through devotion and service.

Another story is how one day Lama Atisha, with his clairvoyance, saw that Kadampa Geshe Gönbawa was thinking, “I must have greater realizations than the translator Dromtonpa. Why? Because he doesn’t have time to meditate, he's always so busy translating. I have so much time to meditate so maybe I have greater realizations than him and the cook, Amé Jangchub, who is always busy cooking.” So, Lama Atisha invited all three of them to line up in front of him and checked who had higher realizations. Dromtonpa’s realization was much higher than Gönbawa's – there was no comparison. Even Amé Jangchub's realization was higher than Gönbawa’s, even though he didn’t have time to meditate like Gönbawa. This story clarifies one point. Generally, people think that retreat and meditation are good and offering service is not really the best practice to develop the mind, that what really develops the mind and can bring realizations is only meditation. But in reality it is not necessarily like that. One has to analyze which practice collects the most merit, which involves the most purification, which is more powerful. Amé Jangchub, the cook, and the translator were so busy offering service, and I think that is why their realization was higher.

My guess is that what matters, the main point, is whatever is most pleasing to the guru. I would say that is the quickest path to enlightenment. That is, of course, based on the mind being one-pointedly devoted, with no negative thoughts arising, and not breaking samaya with the guru. This is based on correct devotion to the virtuous friend, as is mentioned in the eight disadvantages of making mistakes and eight advantages of correctly devoting to the virtuous friend in the section on guru devotion in the lam-rim.

Doing something that one would like but which is not following what the guru said – breaking the advice, or giving rise to negative thoughts of anger or heresy – can make you lose any qualities you may have, such as some experience of compassion or renunciation, even the actual realization of bodhicitta, maybe even an experience or realization of emptiness.

It is explained that even if one has achieved actual realization of bodhicitta, there is the possibility of losing it, so it may be similar with the realization of emptiness. Whatever experience one has one loses and no new experience can occur. It’s very difficult – the mind gets stuck, thick-skulled, and like a stone that has been in the ocean for thousands of years. No water goes into it, it is so hard. Or like being in the hot desert, which doesn't get one drop of liquid. The mind becomes like that. Nothing grows. Whatever thoughts arise are negative, it is so easy for negative thoughts to arise, and the mind becomes covered by them, like being covered by mud. It becomes very difficult for positive thoughts to arise, such as thinking of the qualities of the guru. Even if the guru is an enlightened being, one cannot see him or her even as a bodhisattva, only as selfish, or only seeing mistakes in body and mind.

Not only realizations, but even the Dharma understanding one had before becomes meaningless, degenerates, one can't remember it. It becomes difficult to learn new things even when one listens to teachings. Before, one could concentrate and it was easy to understand, now it is difficult, one can’t keep up or follow. That is the result of actualizing mistakes in guru devotion: a negative thought arising and then giving up on the object of respect.

By correctly devoting to the virtuous friend in thought and actions, even if one doesn’t have intellectual knowledge, understanding and realizations come. There was an attendant of Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo, author of Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand, whose name was Jamyang. He had never studied the Tibetan alphabet and could not read Tibetan. Before Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo passed away, he told this attendant that eventually he would be able to read the entire Guru Puja by himself, without being taught. And that’s exactly what happened. After going into exile from Tibet, Jamyang lived at the refugee camp at Buxa, where I lived for eight years. The abbot and main teacher at Kopan Monastery, Lama Lhundrub, used to live in the same building as Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo’s incarnation, where the attendant Jamyang also lived. When Jamyang first arrived at Buxa, he couldn’t read a thing, but suddenly one day he was able to read the entire Guru Puja. He told Lama Lhundrub that Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo had predicted that this would happen.

(This transcript is to be continued.)

More talks by Lama Zopa on this topic:
The first chapter of Lama Zopa's book Making Life Meaningful.
A talk on guru devotion in the January 2005 issue of our e-letter.
Guru Devotion and His Holiness the Dalai Lama (a talk given in April 2001)