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 lamrim.
If you can, try to do at least 100 prostrations every day by reciting the Thirty-five Buddhas’ names, just as you did in the retreat. During the evening time do the Vajrasattva practice. Do one mala if you can, it will be so good. Do it with a similar motivation to the one Ven. Sarah made.
You haven’t studied lamrim well, especially the part on guru devotion. This shows very clearly that you have not really read, studied and meditated well, so a huge mistake arises in your thinking.
The essential answer is: please read the lamrim text Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand very well, from beginning to end. Don’t read it so fast, thinking that ice-cream will appear somewhere. As far as Buddhism is concerned, the Buddha’s words—every single one of them, each word—has ice-cream behind its meaning. There is ice-cream behind the meaning of each word, and the ultimate ice-cream is enlightenment.
Please read this text well and get a new diary book. Write down anything that you don’t understand, then check with the elder students or some geshes who have studied well, and who have learned lamrim or philosophy well. If you ask those students who don’t understand much of the teachings, there is the risk of getting wrong answers, then you could get double negative thinking— double obscurations on top of the obscurations you already have. Then you will create more negative karma. This is like a blind person who already cannot see with his eyes, and you give him a pair of dark glasses! It becomes like that.
After you have studied the lamrim well, you should study the commentary on Lamrim Chenmo [Steps on the Path to Enlightenment] by Geshe Lhundub Sopa, who is a professor of an American university, a great teacher and practitioner in Tibetan Buddhism, and a renowned teacher with thousands of monks/students in the great monasteries.
If you try to do what I have advised here, it will be very helpful.
You said you will have a lot of problems if you return to the center. That’s because you haven’t studied lam-rim well and you haven’t understood, so this will happen everywhere you go. Everywhere you will find problems.
In the pure land, of course there are only bodhisattvas and those who have collected extensive merit; those with pure karma, who have created the cause to be born there. Therefore, they won’t find problems in the pure land. According to the state of our mind, we can’t be in the pure land, but of course if we are in the pure land our mind won’t be like this. There we will only find people with pure mind.
It is therefore most important for you to do continuous, strong purification. Just do it. Just do it. Without that, you will continually have a big problem with guru devotion, from the beginning to the end.
You talked about the centers offering service to the resident geshes, rinpoches and so on. The resident teachers or geshes give teachings to the students so they become their guru, therefore the students offer service to them. Even if the resident teachers and geshes are not their guru, the centers still have the responsibility of taking care of them. Offering service to the guru is itself a very important practice.
In the lam-rim outline on guru devotion, there are mentioned the eight benefits which come from correctly devoting to one’s guru, and eight shortcomings or mistakes from not correctly devoting to the guru. Besides this, if we don’t have a guru, then we don’t get any benefits.
The root of guru devotion is remembering the kindness of the guru, by thinking that the guru is precious. Then we respect the guru, who is the root of the path all the way up to enlightenment. It’s from the guru that we will achieve all the realizations, from liberation from samsaric sufferings all the way up to enlightenment. This is the reason why the understanding and practice of guru devotion is so important. We need to look at it carefully. We have to be really careful and put a lot of effort into trying to understand it.
Basically, we want only profit and we don’t want loss. We want profit—the total cessation of gross and subtle defilements and negative karma, and the completion of all qualities of realizations. That’s why we need to do that.
Our main goal should be:
- To benefit others;
- To liberate numberless beings from the ocean of samsaric sufferings;
- To not only bring these numberless beings to the state of temporary happiness, but also to bring them to the ultimate state of full enlightenment.
There are four outlines under the guru devotion practice. The main one is seeing the guru as a buddha. I will leave this for you to check for yourself by reading the lam-rim texts. I will explain the four outlines in a different order to the Tibetans.
1) Nothing is certain in our view. In the minds of ordinary beings, we have so much hallucination in our views—so many layers of hallucination; so many heavy mistakes. That’s why we see people and beings as having delusions, making mistakes and experiencing suffering. But that kind of view isn’t always correct.
There was a monk, Lekpa Karma, who served the Buddha for 22 years, but saw the Buddha only as a liar. He had more faith in some Hindu gurus and didn’t have faith in the Buddha, who had achieved the complete, full enlightenment, having completed all the qualities and become enlightened many eons ago.
So it’s like this example. From the guru’s side, he is enlightened, but from the students’ side, they don’t see the guru as a buddha, because they have not purified and trained well in guru devotion. I just mentioned this one outline briefly. You can check it out.
2) Even nowadays all the buddhas and bodhisattvas are constantly working for sentient beings and for me.
3) The guru is the doer of all the buddhas’ activities. Please think about this and pay attention here. Our mind is heavily obscured and we have so many hallucinations, therefore we can’t see the guru in the aspect of a buddha. We can’t see that they have no mistake, and that is why they can’t guide us directly in that aspect. We can only see the virtuous friend in an ordinary form.
The gurus are constantly guiding us, giving teachings, initiations, the three levels of vows, oral transmissions, etc, but what we can see directly is the ordinary form of the virtuous friend. Even though he or she is doing all these activities for our liberation—to liberate us from the ocean of samsaric suffering and bring us to enlightenment—we can only see the virtuous friend as having delusions, making mistakes and experiencing suffering.
Therefore, without recognizing this, according to our karma and obscured mind, we receive no guidance and it’s impossible to receive teachings, vows or anything. We are completely lost. It’s as if we are in danger in a forest at night, with tigers and lions around us, and we are there without light. Or we are like a baby abandoned in a hot desert, where there is nobody around and no home.
So, the guru is the doer of all the buddhas’ activities, and that is why we say guru is a buddha. That is the reason.
4) And then the last one—please read this section in the lamrim texts—Buddha Vajradhara himself proclaimed that the guru is a buddha.
Besides what I mentioned here, there are other deeper, more profound reasons. With intensive purification and training the mind in guru devotion, we will be able to see the guru as a buddha. Not only that, but all the realizations of the small, medium and great scopes can be achieved.
This is my news to you from Tushita Mahayana Centre in Dharamsala, from the house down below the gompa, where lots of monkeys come and play in the buckets of water. Hahaha!
Please enjoy your life. You have to really think that Buddhism is very logical. When you check on the other religions thoroughly, they go to the bottom, but when you check on the Buddha’s teachings, you can go deeper and deeper than that.
So enjoy your life, this precious life, which you get just about one time.
With love and prayers...