Dolgyal and the Guru-Disciple Relationship

Dolgyal and the Guru-Disciple Relationship

Date of Advice:
June 2017
Date Posted:
June 2021

A student who had been ordained in the New Kadampa Tradition was unsure about his ordination and wanted to take ordination again. The student also asked Rinpoche to be their guru. Rinpoche sent this letter advising how to correctly follow the virtuous friend when we have entered a guru-disciple relationship.

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama with Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche.

My most dear one,
Thank you for your email. I am sorry for the long delay.

Regarding the vows you took, thinking they were ordination vows, many of those are from lamrim practice, which has picked up the points on the vows. Actually, these are what we all need to practice anyway. In regard to vows, of course there are the five precepts and the eight precepts; the eight Mahayana vows for one day and five precepts for life. The getsul or getsulma [novice monks and nuns] has ten vows or thirty-six vows, the gelong [full ordained monk] has 253 vows and the gelongma [fully ordained nun] has 364 vows. This is without counting bodhisattva and tantric vows.

Yes, I understand you want to follow me, but I do need to mention one thing, that can be a big mistake, and you can’t do like this—taking teachings and vows, taking refuge, one-day vows, eight Mahayana precepts or pratimoksha precepts of eight or five vows, or if you have received a lung (oral transmission), even just OM MANI PADME HUM, even just a few words—thinking of yourself as the disciple and the other person as guru. If you receive lungs, commentaries or whatever, like that, with that mind, then you have to regard all those people as guru. That is why in the beginning you must check; you must be very careful. This is the most important thing in the life.

This is the most important thing, because if we make mistakes after entering that relationship, then it harms us in this life and for hundreds and thousands or millions of lives. It has a negative effect. This causes the wrong path, and the negative effect of giving up the guru destroys our life for millions and millions of lives. It’s not like returning food in a restaurant—when we get something that we don’t like, then we give it up and change to something that we like to eat. We can’t do like that.

A long time ago, there was one person involved in the Maitreya Project, when there was a plan was to build a fifty-story-high statue in Bodhgaya. The person was from Magadh University in Bodhgaya. He had a Hindu guru, not a Buddhist guru, who taught him how to meditate on the channels and winds, and then he was able to drive the kundalini, the sperm, up. He was able to bring it up to his heart, but he could not bring it to his neck and head. Later he found out that his Hindu guru had killed a human being and then he lost faith, and since that time he has not been able to bring the kundalini up to his head. After he found out that his guru had killed a human being, he lost faith. This is not even a Buddhist guru, it’s a Hindu guru, but still there was that effect on his meditation, by losing faith in the guru. So there is no question if it is a Buddhist guru.

I don’t know if you have met Geshe Kelsang Gyatso or not. Of course, the only thing in regard to Dolgyal [Tib: Dorje Shugden], you said you don’t practice Dolgyal, however if you have received any teachings from Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, and you have entered into a guru-disciple relationship with him or any of the teachers from the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT), you can’t just give the teachers up because of Dolgyal. You can’t give the teachers up. You can’t think of them like food or materials in a shop; what you don’t like, then you give it up. You can’t do like this in regard to gurus in Buddhism.

For example, Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche’s heart disciple was Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, who is my root guru, who I received Dolgyal life initiation from, as well as from Kyabje Zong Rinpoche. I did receive the initiation, but of course many years ago I gave up the practice.

In terms of the way to think about the guru, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso’s root guru was also Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, the same as my root guru. Trijang Rinpoche was also Zong Rinpoche’s root guru. However, the way to think in regard to the gurus who show the aspect of practicing Dolgyal in the 21st century, you should think that they manifest as practicing Dolgyal, spreading Dolgyal. They manifest—not practicing but manifesting, showing the aspect. In Tibetan it is called tsul tenpa: showing the aspect [Wyl: tshul bstan pa]. Not really practicing but showing the aspect. So in the 21st century, if the guru is practicing Dolgyal now, the way to think is that it is your mistaken mind manifesting in the guru’s actions, so like that.

For example, the Buddha gave this advice. Probably in the world, amongst the thousands of religions, the Buddha might be only one who said this. The Buddha said,

Bhikshus and learned ones, just as you check refined gold, by burning, by cutting, by rubbing, in the same way check my teachings and then follow my teachings. Do not have blind faith alone.

This is in regard to the Buddha’s teachings, not only for beginners but also there are also learned geshes and lamas, even nowadays, who are experts in Buddhist philosophy. For example, Kyabje Ling Rinpoche, who is His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s elder tutor and heart disciple of Pabongka Rinpoche. Pabongka Rinpoche showed the aspect of widely spreading Dolgyal, but Kyabje Ling Rinpoche never practiced it. Also Geshe Sopa Rinpoche, who was a university professor in Madison, Wisconsin, for twenty years, never practiced Dolgyal. There are many others, extremely learned lamas, who never practiced it.

Kyabje Zong Rinpoche gave the initiation in his room at three a.m. to Dr. Ama Lobsang from Dharamsala, also to Alan Wallace, who was Geshe Rabten’s main educated Western disciple. I was also there and Geshe Sopa Rinpoche was there, but Geshe Sopa Rinpoche did not take the initiation. Zong Rinpoche was so expert in Buddhist philosophy and an outstanding teacher from Tibet. So even like this, even for learned lamas and geshes who are so expert in the Buddha’s teachings, they were still able to check up.

Regarding my own root guru, Trijang Rinpoche, and also Zong Rinpoche, my way of thinking is not that they practice, but they pretend to practice, they pretend to give initiation, they pretend, and that is my ordinary mistaken mind manifesting in the guru’s actions. So that is what I see, not that the guru made a mistake. Like that. So with my gurus, no mistakes. If the guru has mistakes, then the guru is not a buddha, he is a sentient being, an ordinary being, then everything that the Buddha explained in sutra and tantra by Lama Tsongkhapa and so forth, everything becomes not true.

The root of the path to enlightenment is correctly following the virtuous friend, by looking at the guru as a buddha, having no mistakes, only qualities. Looking at [the guru’s actions as] a buddha’s actions, and fulfilling the wishes and following the advice on the basis of seeing the guru as a buddha, having faith and believing the guru is a buddha. There are two things, not only having the mind in faith but also in action, these are two ways to correctly follow the virtuous friend.

Of course, there are special gurus and special disciples, like Marpa, who was an enlightened being, and his disciple Milarepa. Marpa asked Milarepa to build a nine-story tower three times, and to build it by himself without any help. Then Marpa told him to tear the nine-story tower down three different times, also by himself alone. When he finished building, he had to pull it down and take the stones back to where they originally came from. The skin on Milarepa’s back became blue, covered in blisters and sores, like an old person’s skin. This was for Milarepa to purify his heavy negative karma, so then he was able to achieve enlightenment in this life, in a brief lifetime of degenerate time. Marpa, who was an enlightened being, guided him like this. Marpa also never gave him teachings but only scolded and beat him, and even when Milarepa came to his teachings with other students, Marpa kicked him out immediately.

During that time, Milarepa was a perfect disciple, only having constant faith, one-pointed faith that Marpa was a buddha, only wanting to fulfil his wishes and advice. Even when Marpa showed the aspect of being angry, Milarepa did not have heresy even for one second. He was a perfect disciple. Marpa wanted to give him more hardships so he could become enlightened much more quickly, but Marpa’s secret mother persuaded him to give teachings to Milarepa after he built the nine-story building for the third time. So then Marpa gave teachings, manifested the mandala and deity and initiated him and then sent Milarepa to the mountains, to different places to meditate. By being guided by Marpa, Milarepa became enlightened after a number of years, in that life, by bearing so many hardships and then on the mountains by meditating and practicing Dharma, he achieved enlightenment. He never got heresy or anger, and he only had one-pointed faith that Marpa was a buddha.

In that case, there was a perfect disciple and a perfect guru, and the disciple did everything that the guru said, every single word. But for common disciples, if the guru says something which is not Dharma, then it says in the Fifty Verses of Guru Devotion, if you cannot do it, then you can tell the guru respectfully, such as while kneeling, and if you are a monk, by holding the zen in your left hand and stroking the zen three times, which is a way of showing respect. Then you ask permission to not do that which is not Dharma.

So you try to get permission respectfully, not with arrogance, not thinking, “I know Dharma and you don’t know Dharma,” with arrogance. That is very heavy negative karma. With a respectful mind, with one-pointed devotion think that this is Buddha and what you see is your mistakes. If the guru is saying something that is not Dharma, you should think he is just showing that aspect and it is your ordinary mistaken mind manifested in the guru’s mistaken action, so seeing that, then respectfully trying to get permission so that you don’t have to do that. Very respectfully. It is also mentioned that if guru says to do a non-Dharma thing, you can decline to do that, but the way of doing it is without hurting the guru’s mind, without harming, so you do it very respectfully. Generally it is like this; this is the advice.

You can’t think Geshe Kelsang or whoever practices Dolgyal is now not your guru and throw them out like garbage, then follow someone else. You can’t do that in Buddhism, you can’t do that. That is the heaviest negative karma, the heaviest negative karma amongst all the negative karmas.

It is said in the Guhyasamaja Root Tantra

If sentient beings commit an action 
As grave as the five heinous crimes (killing one’s father or mother, kill an arhat, drawing blood from a buddha and causing disunity amongst the Sangha, all of these five or any of these five)
They can still attain the superior Vajra Vehicle,
But those who disregard their master from within
Shall never attain buddhahood, even if much effort is made.

So you would be reborn in lowest hot hell, the inexhaustible hot hell and you would have to suffer there for so many eons. The length of life there is one intermediate state eon and this is the karma created to be born there, to experience the heaviest suffering. Even if this world ends but your karma is not finished, you will be reborn in hell in another universe, and you will have to suffer there until your karma finishes.

This karma of giving up the guru is the heaviest negative karma. It’s even heavier than what is called tsam mä nga, the five very heavy negative karmas without interruption.

We can still achieve enlightenment and we can purify the other negative karmas, such as the five very heavy negative karmas, but this one, giving up the guru, makes it so difficult, impossible to achieve enlightenment in this life. That is the heaviest negative karma, so we can’t do that. But by following the guru with one-pointed devotion [and seeing the guru as] a buddha, if we see mistakes, anything we see as mistakes, what appears in their actions, that is our negative karma, our mistaken mind, that they manifested, showing the mistaken form, showing mistakes purposely for us, to guide us to enlightenment. If they manifest in the form of a buddha, in pure form, then we can’t see them because we don’t have karma, we don’t have the pure mind to see the Buddha as a buddha. The only way to see them is if the guru manifests in ordinary aspect, in a mistaken form, having delusions, having mistakes in morality and so forth, all the mistakes, then we can see them in ordinary form. If they are in ordinary form, then we can receive teachings, we can understand the path, we can practice and achieve enlightenment, we can become free from samsara and achieve enlightenment.

Therefore the guru shows ordinary aspect, and with ordinary aspect they are guiding us. That is most kind, most unbelievable, most unbelievable, most unbelievable, most unbelievable, more kind. The guru is kinder than numberless buddhas, past, present and future, so like that, because they are showing ordinary aspect to us and with that they can give initiations and teachings, so they guide us, to liberate us from samsara and bring us to enlightenment. Wow, wow, wow! Their kindness doesn’t fit in the sky, it’s unbelievable, unbelievable, it even frees us from the lower realms. Their kindness is unbelievable; it can’t fit in the sky.

Therefore our mistakes manifest in the guru’s actions or the guru purposely shows us the ordinary aspect, so then they are able to give us teachings, give us vows, all these things, to free us from the lower realms, to free us from samsara and then bring us to enlightenment. So every second of the guru’s kindness to us in this way, what I mentioned, is more than the sky, every second.

You can do one mala or more, thinking, “Every second the guru is showing ordinary aspect to me so that they can give me vows, refuge, oral transmissions, initiations and commentaries on sutra and tantra. They are so, so kind, in order to free me from the lower realms, to free me from samsara and then for me to achieve enlightenment—wow, wow, wow—to achieve all the qualities up to enlightenment. The guru is kinder than can fit in the sky. In each second the guru is so kind.” So think like this, even doing one mala like that, even a mala, thinking over and over about the kindness. This is so good to develop devotion.

You want to follow me, and that is OK but you can’t do it like shopping, like returning clothing that you don’t like and throwing it away.

I think that is the essence for you to think about, to learn.

You can become a monk; that is very good. You can ask the geshes at our centers or ask Jangtse Chöje, who is going to become the 104th Ganden Tripa soon. He will be coming to Deer Park [Geshe Sopa’s center in Madison, Wisconsin] and they may have a plan to give ordination, so you can come there. He will soon be the regent of Lama Tsongkhapa. There may be other monks wanting to take ordination also, so you can check and then let me know. If this is not possible, then I can try, but first you should try with the geshes or Jangtse Chöje.

Thank you very much.

With much love and prayers ...