The Heart of the Path

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
(Archive #1047)

In this book, Lama Zopa Rinpoche explains the importance of the spiritual teacher and advises how to train the mind in guru devotion, the root of the path to enlightenment. Edited by LYWA senior editor, Ven. Ailsa Cameron, this is a fantastic teaching on guru devotion and is a great and very important book.

12. How to See the Guru as a Buddha

Once we understand that it is possible to see our guru as a buddha, it is logical that we can train our mind to do so. In the root, training our mind in devotion to the guru, the third outline, how to see the guru as a buddha, has four divisions: 
(i)   Vajradhara asserted that the guru is a buddha
(ii)   The guru is the doer of all the buddhas’ actions
(iii)  Even nowadays all the buddhas and bodhisattvas are still working for sentient beings
(iv)  There is nothing to trust in our own view

For those who have accumulated a lot of merit, the first outline will be sufficient for them to realize guru devotion and they won’t need to meditate on the other three outlines. Hearing the quotations from Vajradhara and Guru Shakyamuni Buddha will be enough for them; they won’t need any further reasons to prove that the guru is a buddha. For people who develop devotion easily, simply hearing a quotation can be sufficient to convince them, without need of any logical reasoning. However, using logical reasoning to prove a point brings greater and more certain understanding.

If the first outline isn’t sufficient to generate guru devotion, the second outline—the guru is the doer of all the buddhas’ actions—can be used to clarify and help prove what Vajradhara said. If we can’t generate devotion even with that, we add further proof with even nowadays all the buddhas and bodhisattvas are still working for sentient beings. If this still isn’t enough to prove to our mind that the guru is a buddha, we use the most powerful reason of all: there is nothing to trust in our own view. 

The second and third outlines can each become the reason for the preceding outline. Vajradhara asserted that the gurus are buddhas. Why did he say this? Because the gurus are the doers of all the buddhas’ actions. We should specifically relate all the buddhas’ actions to ourselves, to the fact that our gurus are guiding us from happiness to happiness to the peerless happiness of enlightenment. And why are the gurus the doers of all the buddhas’ actions? Because even nowadays all the buddhas and bodhisattvas are still working for sentient beings. 

For Tibetans, the four outlines as they are written are probably fine, but for Westerners it is perhaps better to turn them upside down:

(i)      There is nothing to trust in our own view
(ii)     Even nowadays all the buddhas and bodhisattvas are still working for sentient beings
(iii)    The guru is the doer of all the buddhas’ actions
(iv)    Vajradhara asserted that the guru is a buddha

To start with Vajradhara asserted that the guru is a buddha is fine for somebody who already has devotion but meditating on the outlines in the reverse order might be more effective for Westerners. There is nothing to trust in our own view is the most powerful outline; it is like an atomic bomb. Starting with that one helps break our fixed wrong conceptions and the other outlines then come more easily. 

Our view isn’t always correct—we can’t be certain that in reality things exist the way they appear and how things appear depends upon how we look at them. This is clear and logical and we can come to the same conclusion about our gurus. Even nowadays all the buddhas and bodhisattvas are still working for sentient beings, including us, and who are they? None other than our present gurus, who are the doers of all the buddhas’ actions. Right after that we can think about how this is true because Vajradhara said that he would manifest as gurus. Having the quotations at the end can also be powerful. 

Use whichever line of reasoning is most effective for your mind. Remembering these reasons, be aware that all your gurus are buddhas—or Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, if you find it more effective. It is important to prove to your mind that at least it is more likely that your gurus are buddhas. If you feel a separation between your guru and buddha, your practice doesn’t become guru yoga. Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo explains that if you see a separation between your guru and buddha, you need to use logic and quotations to prove to your mind that the guru is a buddha. 

The way to meditate effectively on each of these four basic outlines is to establish a pure thought of guru devotion, seeing the guru as a buddha, after each outline. We should also relate each of the four meditation outlines to each of our gurus. Meditating in this way will cause us to receive blessings and thus realizations of the whole path to enlightenment. 

(i) There is nothing to trust in our own view  

There is nothing to trust in our own view is the most important outline in guru yoga practice; meditating on this topic is like dropping an atomic bomb on our superstitious thoughts that see faults in the guru. It is the most powerful outline for the mind because it stops the arising of wrong conceptions, the hindrances to realizations. The main way to stop the wrong conceptions that prevent our seeing the guru as a buddha is to meditate well on the teachings on refuge, especially on Buddha’s qualities and actions to guide sentient beings, and combine it with meditation on how nothing is definite in our view. This outline is also helpful when dealing with other people in everyday life. When we start to get angry and think of harming others, we should remember that there is nothing to trust in our own view.

Nothing is definite in our own view refers to the fact that it is uncertain whether the way the guru appears to us accords with reality because we have so many wrong concepts, so many layers of hallucination. Our seeing the guru as an ordinary being, which means one having faults, doesn’t necessarily mean that in reality he is an ordinary being. How we see our gurus depends on how they appear to us and how they appear to us depends on how we look at them, on our projections. How they appear to us depends on whether we look at them with devotion, as a buddha, or as an ordinary being. 

Kuntang Jampelyang, a high Amdo lama, explains,

Even though you devote yourself to the guru as your object of refuge of this and future lives, you hold to your own truth and not to the truth of the guru. This is the whole mistake. 

How the guru and his actions appear to us is up to us. Since it is the view of our own obscured, mistaken mind, of course the guru appears to have faults, and we believe those faults to be real. We then use our seeing faults as a reason to prove that the guru is an ordinary being and not a buddha. 

Kungtang Jampelyang says that the whole mistake comes from thinking that the way the guru appears to us is true and not offering the truth to the guru. We instead give the truth to ourselves, thinking, “My view is correct.” We give the truth to ourselves, not to the guru. The whole mistake is that we believe our own view to be correct. 

Everything that appears to us in this life, from birth to death, comes from our own mind, from our own karma. Everything is a karmic appearance. Whether good or bad, pure or impure, everything that appears to us is the creation, or production, of our own mind. If we look through red glass, we see everything as red, even white things. If we look through blue glass, we see everything as blue. What color we see depends on the color of the glass that we look through. In a similar way, in our daily life, the way we see things depends on how we look at them. If we look at something as good, it appears to be good; if we look at something as bad, it then appears to be bad. Unless we look at something as good, it doesn’t appear good to us; and unless we look at something as bad, it doesn’t appear bad to us.

It is also helpful to apply the twelve links70 to the practice of guru devotion. Our body, our happiness and suffering, all the objects of our senses—everything that appears to us in this life comes from our ignorance and karma, which in turn come from our consciousness, which carries all the imprints that are actualized in this life. Ignorance is the farmer and karma is the seed that is planted in the field of consciousness. Just as a field holds the potential for a good or bad crop, consciousness holds all the impressions, or potentials, for happiness and suffering and carries them from life to life. The impressions carried by the consciousness are manifested in this life, just as crops come from a field. 

As mentioned in Treasury of Knowledge, “All the various worlds are born from karma.” All the various rebirths, happy and suffering, come from the seed of karma. Everything that appears to us in this life from birth until death comes from our karma. First we have to clearly understand that everything that appears to us comes from our own karma, from our own thoughts, present and past. 

For example, as we drive along in a car, the scenery that appears to us is the projection of our mind. We’re not watching appearances that exist from their own side, independent of our own mind. We have the habit of saying, “Oh, everything’s karma,” but it should not be just words. We need to understand that we are constantly watching the projections of our own mind. Even when we buy a ticket to see a show, all we are paying to see is the view of our own mind.

This explanation from the twelve links helps to make clear that how we see the guru completely depends on our own mind. Our seeing an ordinary aspect, one with faults, comes from our own mind. We should constantly meditate on the twelve links in relation to everything that appears to us in our life. The way that anything, including our guru, appears to us is simply the projection of our own past and present thoughts. 

How things appear to us is completely determined by our own level of mind; in accordance with different levels of mind, there are different worlds, different views. We should be aware of this and not think that the view we have is the only way to see an object. The same object can appear in different ways to different people. Awareness of this is very helpful in dealing with problems in our daily life and in controlling our delusions, especially in controlling the thought of faults in guru yoga practice. 

We need to be aware not only that the same object at the same time can appear differently to different people but that things will appear differently to us as our mind develops. When many people look at the same person, for example, they don’t see that person in the same way. To some people, the person appears beautiful, to others ugly and to others average. The same object appears differently to each of us because we have different minds. 

Why do we see impure appearances? Because our mind is impure. If our mental continuum were free of obscurations we would see everything as pure—ourselves in the pure form of a deity, with an enlightened being’s pure holy body and mind; all other living beings in the pure forms of deities; the place as a mandala, the pure appearance of transcendental wisdom; and all our enjoyments as pure enjoyments. Everything that appeared to us would appear as pure, as it does to a buddha. If our mind were pure, we would be seeing numberless buddhas right now, because all the buddhas abide on each atom, as the King of Prayers says.71 This isn’t the case for us right now because our minds are obscured, or impure. How anything appears to us has to do with the level, or quality, of our own mind. 

To illustrate how there is nothing certain about our view of reality, Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo uses the example from the Madhyamaka teachings of three different types of beings—a preta, a human and a god—looking at a bowl filled with liquid at the same time. When pretas look at the liquid, they see pus and blood; when humans look at the same liquid, they see water; and to the gods’ perception, the liquid appears to be nectar.

When these three different beings look at the same object at the same time, it appears to them in three different ways. These three different appearances are produced by their different levels of mind, their different levels of merit. Pretas don’t have enough merit, or good karma, to see anything pleasant, not even water. Since they have the karma to see only pus and blood, the liquid appears to them only in that way. For human beings, who have more merit, or better karma, the liquid appears as water. For gods, who have much more merit and thus the karma to experience greater enjoyments than humans, the same liquid appears as nectar. To buddhas, the liquid would appear as the purest, highest enjoyment. 

Even though the liquid is pus and blood in the view of pretas, it doesn’t mean that it is pus and blood for every living being. It’s not the only possible view; there are other views of this same liquid. Humans see it as water and gods see it as nectar. All these views are determined by the mind of the perceiver.

This way of analyzing different views of the same object is extremely interesting and describes what we are constantly experiencing in our daily life. When we don’t like something, whether it is a person, a place or a food, we have to be aware that how we see that object is just one possible view of it. It’s not the only view that exists. That object can appear in many different ways to many different people. There are different karmic appearances. Those with pure karma have pure appearances; those with impure karma have impure appearances. 

What we see in our everyday life is a production of our own karma, our own mind. This is clear. How things appear to us at the moment is our own view and accords with our present level of mind. There are different views even of the same object and these different views accord with the different levels of mind of different beings. First we must have this important point clear in our mind as it is very helpful not only in guru yoga practice but in our daily life. We shouldn’t think that our own view is the only possible view and that nobody sees anything else. That is completely wrong. 

We can see that the way we see an object is determined by our mind and not by the object. The same food can appear to some people as delicious, to others as unpleasant and to yet others as indifferent. When different people even see the food, some see it as good, some as disgusting and others are indifferent to it. And when they then taste the food, they also have different perceptions. It is the same food, but different people experience it differently.

It is the same with any object of the senses: how something—whether a person, a place or food—appears is determined by the perceiver’s mind. For example, we might think it impossible that we could ever feel attachment to a particular person. However, at any time, for some reason we make up, our view could change; we could suddenly see that person as beautiful and attachment could arise. The object is the same—it’s the same person we saw a few days ago—but our way of looking at her has changed. Or, even though we might think someone is our closest friend and that it would be impossible for us to ever be angry at her, at any time, for some reason we make up, our view could suddenly change and we wouldn’t be able to stand the way she speaks or acts. This sudden change doesn’t come from the side of the object but from our own mind.

There is no way to give a full and satisfactory explanation of these different views unless we relate them to the mind of the perceiver. We have to consider the perceiver’s level of mind and karma. Her past positive or negative karma left imprints on her mind and these are projected as the different tastes, or even visual impressions, of the food. There is no other way to give a correct, complete answer as to why food or any other object is perceived in a particular way by a particular person.

For example, even though we might reach a place that is supposed to be a pure realm, such as Shambhala, if we haven’t purified our impure karma, we won’t be able to see the pure realm even though we are in the place where it is supposed to be—our impure mind will keep us away from it. This is like dreaming of being in a filthy hovel while living comfortably in a beautiful house. 

Where somebody whose mind is very obscured might see an ordinary being, full of faults, somebody whose mind is purer might see that same being as a bodhisattva or a buddha. Looking at the same being at the same time, some people might see an ordinary person, some might see a ¬bodhisattva and others might see a buddha. It depends upon the purity of the mind of the perceiver. 

Realizing that everything is a creation of our mind is the most important discovery; it is the fundamental enlightenment meditation. It is the best, most immediate way to solve problems, because when we realize that every problem we have comes from our own mind, there is nothing to blame on others. Even if somebody is angry at us and abuses us, it comes from our own mind. Previously we have put the entire blame on other people, thinking that all our problems came from outside, not from our own mind. 

When we find that there is nothing external to blame, there is nothing for us to do except to transform our own mind, to purify our own karma. We have to purify our present impure karma, which projects these unpleasant appearances, and accumulate more merit. Since everything comes from our mind, enlightenment also has to come from our mind. Our own mind has to create enlightenment.

We can also use the stories of present and past great yogis to show how there is nothing to trust in our own view. When sentient beings look at a buddha, even a buddha will appear in many different ways in accord with the level of mind of each individual being. Some will even see an animal, as Asanga did. Remember the story of Asanga and Maitreya Buddha. At the beginning Asanga saw Maitreya Buddha simply as a wounded dog. After doing retreat in a hermitage for twelve years to try to achieve Maitreya Buddha, Asanga hadn’t seen Maitreya Buddha, so he decided to give up the retreat. As he was leaving his hermitage for the final time, Asanga saw a wounded dog in the road. Although it was actually Maitreya Buddha, Asanga saw only a wounded dog, its lower body an open wound filled with maggots. 

Asanga felt unbearable compassion for the wounded dog and was willing to sacrifice himself to help it. He completely gave up concern for himself and cherished that being. In those moments, he purified the negative karma that for such a long time had blocked his seeing Maitreya Buddha. Because he finished purifying that karma, he no longer saw a dog. That ordinary, impure appearance ceased and he actually saw the holy body of Maitreya Buddha. 

Asanga later carried Maitreya Buddha on his shoulders into the nearby town, shouting to all who could hear, “I’m carrying Buddha! Please come to see Buddha!” Most of the people thought he was crazy because they couldn’t see anything at all, but there was one old woman who saw him carrying a wounded dog on his shoulders. 

There are many stories in the lamrim about great yogis who looked very ordinary even though they were actually buddhas. There are also many stories of enlightened beings who appeared to be ordinary beings engaging in killing and other unethical actions, as if they had no compassion. Many past yogis, including Lama Yeshe, were seen as great yogis only later, after they had passed away.

When the lineage lama Buddhajñana met his guru, the great yogi Manjushrimitra, he saw him as an ordinary family man. He saw Manjushrimitra, his head wrapped in a monk’s yellow robe, plowing and fertilizing a field. His children were picking up the worms he turned up with the plow and making soup with them, which the whole family then ate. Buddhajñana saw this great master as an eccentric person. 

This is similar to when Naropa first saw Tilopa—Naropa didn’t think that it could be Tilopa. People commonly saw Tilopa as a beggar or a simple fisherman, even though from Tilopa’s side he was an enlightened being, the actual Buddha Vajradhara. When Naropa first saw Tilopa, Tilopa was cooking live fish in a fire and eating them. When Naropa saw this he doubted that it could be Tilopa. At that time, when Naropa asked, “Are you Tilopa?” Tilopa shook his head. At a later time, when Naropa had developed some devotion and could see some of Tilopa’s qualities, he began to think it was Tilopa. At that time, when Naropa asked, “Are you Tilopa?” Tilopa nodded his head in agreement. Tilopa’s response was determined by what Naropa was thinking. 

Also, both Krishnacharya and his disciple Kusali saw Vajravarahi as an ordinary leper woman, her skin black and oozing pus. 

When Milarepa met Marpa for the first time, Marpa appeared to be just an ordinary farmer, covered in dust, drinking wine as he plowed a field. Even though Marpa was an enlightened being, the actual Vajradhara, he appeared to Milarepa to be an ordinary being. 

The Guhyasamaja text Twenty-one Small Letters explains that both Nagarjuna and Saraha remained in their old bodies after achieving the unification of no more learning and commonly appeared to other people as ordinary beings.

Maitripa saw his guru, the great yogi Shavaripa, as simply an ordinary person hunting animals in the forest. Shavaripa’s cave is the Mahakala Cave near Bodhgaya, which many people go to visit; a small monastery has been built nearby. Shavaripa wrote the praise to Six-Arm Mahakala after seeing Mahakala at that cave. 

The great yogi Luipa appeared externally to be a destitute beggar but when King Dharigapa and his retinue took teachings from Luipa, they became enlightened. With his psychic powers, Luipa also taught Dharma to the creatures in that place and even they became enlightened. 

The great Sakya pandit, Kunga Nyingpo, had two sons, Dragpa Gyaltsen and Sönam Tsemo, who he always held close, often in his coat, as if he were very attached to them. The people around him were upset by this and lost faith in him because he appeared to be an ordinary man living an ordinary family life. 

Kunga Nyingpo, understanding what they were thinking, warned, “You mustn’t give rise to wrong views about the vajra master,” then said, “Look at this.” He then stretched his legs out toward the people, showing them vivid mandalas of Chakrasamvara and Hevajra, complete with all the deities, on the soles of his right and left feet. When the people saw this, all their wrong conceptions of him were destroyed and they generated much devotion to him. Even though Kunga Nyingpo was the actual Chakrasamvara, the actual Hevajra, his neighbors saw him only as someone attached to ordinary family life. 

Even Lama Yeshe appeared differently to different people in accord with their karma. Many practitioners with great devotion saw Lama as an actual buddha in human form. Some, who didn’t have devotion, saw him as a very ordinary, difficult person. 

Our not seeing the guru as a buddha doesn’t prove at all that the guru is not a buddha. Our seeing faults isn’t logical proof that our guru really has faults. All the manifestations that we see accord with the level of our own mind. Our own karma determines how many good qualities and how many faults we see in our guru. Our seeing beings as enlightened, or pure, depends on our purifying our karmic obscurations. Therefore, there is nothing to trust in our view of reality.

Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo explains that since we have such great obscurations, we can’t see our guru as a buddha, and adds that we should be grateful that at present we are able to see him in human form, as even this is quite a high level. 

The great yogi Chengawa Lodrö Gyaltsen said,

Since our karmic obscurations are so heavy,
We should be happy to see our guru even in human form.
We have great merit not to see him as a dog or a donkey;
Therefore, generate heartfelt respect, sons of Shakyamuni.

We are very fortunate to see our guru in an ordinary human form and not in the form of a dog, as Asanga saw Maitreya, a donkey or some other animal. If we saw our guru in the form of a dog, a donkey or a pig, what could we do? Even though in our karmic view we do see faults in our guru we are still lucky because we are also able to see many good qualities.

It is practical to think as Kachen Yeshe Gyaltsen explained,

I am fortunate even to be able to find a few good qualities in my guru. If even my impure mind is able to see this many qualities, how many more good qualities there must be for someone whose mind is purer. 

Think of how so many more non-virtuous than virtuous thoughts arise in our mind each day. Our mind is overwhelmed by disturbing thoughts and negative karma, which constantly obscure and create obstacles in our mind. It’s a miracle that with a mind so heavily obscured by impure karma we are able to see the guru as purely as we do. 

What appears to us and what we believe don’t necessarily accord with reality. There are so many aspects of reality that we don’t see or that we see wrongly. Even without taking LSD or any other hallucinogenic drug, we see many hallucinations in accordance with our wrong conceptions.

We don’t necessarily see an object in the way that it actually exists. Our life, our possessions and all other causative phenomena are impermanent in nature, changing, or decaying, hour by hour, minute by minute, second by second, and even within each second because of causes and conditions. Because of that subtle impermanence, there is then gross change, which is noticeable, such as when people become old and wrinkled. Although impermanence is the reality of causative phenomena, we don’t see them in this way. They appear to us to be permanent and we cling to our belief in that appearance of permanence. 

Also, even though Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, Nagarjuna, Lama Tsongkhapa and all the other great enlightened beings have explained that there is no inherent existence, we cannot see this. Even though everything—including I, action and object—is empty of inherent existence because it is merely labeled by the mind, we don’t see it that way; everything appears to us to be only inherently existent. We see everything in a completely wrong way, as existing from its own side without depending on our mind. 

From morning until night, from birth until death, from beginningless lifetimes until enlightenment, everything comes from our own mind through being merely labeled. That is the nature of phenomena, but it doesn’t mean that they appear that way to us; it doesn’t mean that we realize this is the way they exist. Even though in reality everything exists in mere name, it doesn’t appear to us in this way and we don’t see it in this way. We see something else, a total hallucination. The permanent, independent, inherently existent phenomena that we see don’t exist at all; they are simply not there. The way they appear to us and the way we apprehend them completely contradict reality. 

Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo tells the story of a monk who, in previous times in India, one night experienced the karmic appearance of being a preta. Feeling incredible thirst, he went outside to the big river nearby but couldn’t see even a drop of water. He walked across where the river should have been, put his ceremonial robe in a tree, then returned home. 

When he awoke the next morning, the karmic appearance of the preta realm had finished, but as proof that his experience wasn’t just a dream, he found his robe hanging in the tree on the other side of the river. For that one night the monk had experienced the appearance of preta karma. All those appearances—feeling incredible thirst, being unable to find water even though it was normally there, seeing the water the next morning—came from his own mind, from his own karma. 

In Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo suggests using some of the logical reasoning from du-ra and ta-rig, such as “a person who doesn’t have the karma to directly see a guru as a buddha has no chance to see the guru as a buddha because he doesn’t have a valid mind that realizes that the guru is a buddha.”

By using quotations and logical reasoning, we’re trying to establish the valid mind that is able to directly see the guru as a buddha. Our mind is so limited and ignorant. Since our mind is so obscured, how can we judge whether someone is a buddha or a sentient being?

We might not accept that something exists unless we can see it with our own eyes but we are ignorant about so many things. There are so many things that exist but that we don’t see. When talking about reincarnation, His Holiness Song Rinpoche would say that we can’t use the reason that we ourselves don’t see or haven’t experienced something to prove that it doesn’t exist. There are numberless phenomena that exist but that we don’t see. Rinpoche would say, “If it is the case that something doesn’t exist if you can’t see it, the back of your head doesn’t exist, because you can’t see it.” Besides the fact that we can’t judge anyone’s level of realizations, we can’t even see the back of our own head. We don’t have the power of mind to see even our own face without taking refuge in a mirror. And unless we turn around, we can’t even see what is happening behind us. 

We also can’t even see what is happening inside our body. Even to know whether we are healthy, we have to depend on a doctor examining us. When we have the symptoms of a sickness, we need to rely on doctors, machines and blood tests to see what is going on inside our own body. Even with gross things that exist, such as sickness, we can’t see what is happening. We also don’t understand our own mind, with all its mental factors. We have to depend on Buddha’s teachings to learn about our mind.

Besides not having omniscient mind, we don’t have even clairvoyance. We’re not able to read the minds of others or see their past or future karma. We can’t even remember our past life, even though our past life did exist and our present life continued from it. Even though there will be a future life, we can’t see it. We can’t even see the immediate future. We can’t see what is going to happen tomorrow—or even tonight. We’re not even really sure whether our consciousness will still be with this body one hour from now. Forget about tomorrow and the rest of the future—we can’t see what is going to happen even in the next minute. We can’t see anything that is going to happen in the future, not in the next hour, minute or even second. It’s totally dark. Our mind is completely obscured. 

Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo explains that people with various types of sickness that alter their perceptions can’t see even gross ordinary things as they are. For example, someone with bile disease72 will actually see a white snow mountain or white conch shell as yellow. (“Actually” seeing a fault in our guru is the same as “actually” seeing a white snow mountain as yellow.) Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo also mentions that someone with lung, or wind disease,73 will actually see white objects as blue. And someone with eye disease can actually see a shower of strands of hair. 

When people take LSD, datura or some other hallucinogenic drug, they hallucinate and actually see things that are different from how they normally are. They might see the dust as worms or hear people talking even though nobody is there. But actually seeing or hearing these things doesn’t mean that they exist in reality. 

Generally, if everything that appeared to us were true, since Yamantaka and other deities in wrathful aspect appear to have anger, these wrathful deities should have anger. But as they are enlightened beings, we know that they don’t actually have anger. 

All these examples illustrate that nothing is definite in our own view, including our view of the virtuous friend. Saying that we actually see particular faults in our gurus is not logical proof that the faults exist in reality and that the gurus are not buddhas. What appears to us depends on the state of our mind. What we see is our own mental projection, our own view. If our mind is pure, we will see things purely, but the more impure, or obscured, our mind is, the more impure what appears to us will be. When we are training our mind to look at the guru as a buddha, when we see a fault in our guru, we have to think that it is the view of our impure mind. Even if faults appear to us, we don’t believe that the guru actually has these faults, just as we don’t believe that things are inherently existent, even though they appear to us in that way. This protects our mind so that seeing faults doesn’t become an obstacle that causes us to lose our devotion, the root of the path to enlightenment. 

As ordinary beings, our mind has been heavily obscured by ignorance during beginningless rebirths. In the view of such a heavily obscured mind, it would be impossible to see the guru as a buddha. 

Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo says,

Those with certain diseases are mistaken as to the objects of their perception. Since the minds of us ordinary beings are made defective by ignorance, which projects hallucinations, how is it possible for us see the guru as an actual buddha?

We have seen that we don’t necessarily see even ordinary objects in the way that they exist, and seeing the guru as a buddha is much harder than this. Since we can’t see even ordinary things accurately, it would be extremely difficult for us to discriminate whether a separate being has an enlightened mind. Remembering that the way things appear to us doesn’t necessarily accord with reality, we at least begin to lean more to the side that perhaps our gurus are buddhas. And if we begin to think that someone might be a buddha, we will be more careful in our actions in relation to that being. 

One simple and concise reason that we don’t see the guru as a buddha is that we don’t have the view of a completely pure mind, the holy mind of a buddha. Omniscience is the object only of omniscience. Everything thought, known and done by an omniscient mind is the object of only omniscient mind. An arhat, or even a tenth bhumi bodhisattva, can’t know every single action of a buddha’s holy body, speech and mind.

Only an omniscient mind can definitely and faultlessly see the minds of other beings. Since we don’t have omniscient mind or even clairvoyance, we can’t judge others. We can’t really say whether or not anyone else is a buddha; we can only really be sure about whether or not we ourselves are a buddha. We can see clearly and judge our own mind but we can’t see and judge the minds of others. Outside of this, there is nobody that we can be fully confident about. We can only guess about the minds of others. Therefore, our not perceiving our guru as a buddha doesn’t mean that our guru is not a buddha.

In Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand, Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo says that we can’t really judge whether our friends or the dogs outside the door are gods or maras, let alone our guru. The only one we can be sure about is ourselves. If we move away from this more than one step, the rest is subject to doubt. Since we don’t have omniscient mind or even clairvoyance, we can’t directly see the level of anyone else’s mind; therefore, other than ourselves, everything else is subject to doubt. Our own view that someone is an ordinary being because we see his faults does not alone prove that he is ordinary. 

Guru Shakyamuni Buddha said, “Only beings such as I can judge the level of mind of others. If others try to judge, there will be degeneration.” Since Buddha’s holy mind is omniscient, he can see the minds of others but ordinary beings can’t. If we try to judge others, we can create negative karma and cause our own mind to degenerate. 

Remember the quotation I mentioned earlier from The Essence of Nectar

Until we are free from our obscuring negative karma, 
Even if all the buddhas without exception descended directly in front of us, 
We have no fortune to see the sublime holy body adorned with the
holy signs and exemplifications— 
Only this present appearance. 

Until we have purified our mind of impure karma and obscurations, even if every single buddha actually descended directly in front of us, we wouldn’t be able to see them as buddhas adorned with the thirty-two holy signs and eighty holy exemplifications, like the nirmanakaya aspect of Shakyamuni Buddha. At the moment, since our mental continuum is not free from obscuring negative karma, we don’t have the fortune to see buddhas in the pure aspect of a buddha. We would have only our present view of them as ordinary beings, which is the projection of our present obscured mind; we would see them only as having faults, delusions and samsaric suffering. There is no other way for us to see the guru except in ordinary aspect.

This quotation is extremely powerful and beneficial to remember in our meditation and in our daily life. Why don’t we see numberless buddhas? Because our mind is obscured by our impure karma, which blocks our seeing them. We don’t see our gurus as buddhas for a similar reason. 

Because our mind is impure, even if we saw all the numberless buddhas, we would see them in ordinary aspect. Even if our guru is an actual buddha, we cannot see him as a buddha. The only way the numberless buddhas can guide us to enlightenment is by manifesting in an ordinary form. If they manifested in a purer aspect than this, we wouldn’t have the karma to see them. Therefore, we are very fortunate to be able to see the guru in even an ordinary human aspect.

A bandit leader from the area of Golok called Arig Tö had killed and harmed many human beings. When he came to see the Shakyamuni Buddha statue in Lhasa, not only could he not see the statue, he couldn’t see even the golden butter lamps in the temple. He saw only darkness. Terribly upset, he went to one of the past incarnations of Lama Gyalsä and asked, “Why can’t I see that statue? And what should I do to purify my mind so that I’m able to see it?” In accordance with this lama’s advice, he did confession practices and made thousands of offerings. When he then went to see the statue, he was able to see just the throne of Shakyamuni Buddha and the butter lamps; he still wasn’t able to see the Shakyamuni Buddha statue itself. 

We can also think in the following way. “The whole of existence is covered by buddha; there is no place where there is no buddha. There is no existence that buddha’s holy mind does not see. There is no place that is not covered by buddha’s holy mind, as well as buddha’s holy body. There are numberless buddhas around me here right now, but I don’t see them.” 

We have to understand how the whole of existence is covered by buddha from the point of view of the tantric teachings, not the sutra teachings. Wherever a buddha’s holy mind focuses, that buddha’s holy mind together with the subtle wind, the vehicle of that mind, is on that object. Wherever there is the subtle mind of dharmakaya, there is also the subtle wind. The mind cannot exist without its vehicle, the wind, just as we cannot use electricity without its vehicle, electrical wires. Though the subtle mind and subtle wind have different functions, they are one in essence. Since a buddha’s holy mind understands every object of existence, there is no object that the omniscient mind doesn’t cover, and since it is inseparable from the subtle mind, the subtle wind is also there. This pure subtle mind is the dharmakaya and the subtle wind is the rupakaya. Therefore, with the unification of a buddha’s holy mind, the dharmakaya, and a buddha’s holy body, the rupakaya, there is no object that a buddha does not cover. This is one of the basic reasons that the whole of existence is covered by buddha. 

Even if we don’t believe that a buddha is on our crown, it doesn’t mean that buddha is not there. There is no doubt that buddha is there. There is not even a single atom of existence that buddha doesn’t cover; there is not even a single atom where there is no buddha. All the buddhas are right there, wherever we are; it’s just that we don’t see them. Only when our karma is pure do we see them. Our failure to see the buddhas is simply a question of our karmic obscurations. If our karmic obscurations were purified, right now we would see that we are completely surrounded by buddhas. Because the buddhas are already there, I sometimes think that there is no need to invoke them from somewhere else. The practice of invocation is for us ordinary beings, who have much superstition. Since we believe that the buddhas are somewhere else, doing the invocation helps us to generate more faith that they are there in front of us. 

Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo says that, besides buddhas, there are many other beings around us that we can’t see. There could also be spirits in front of us, for example. Because we can’t see spirits, we can’t tell whether or not there’s a spirit in front of us, but we can’t say that no spirit is there. We can’t actually see gods, spirits, nagas or many other types of worldly beings. We might also meet buddhas, bodhisattvas, dakas and dakinis many times in our daily life, but meeting them doesn’t mean that we recognize them.

Someone with pure karma can see buddhas anywhere. It is our impure karma that obscures our mind so that we don’t see buddhas. When doing the preliminary practices, Lama Tsongkhapa saw all of the Thirty-five Buddhas in his retreat cave, as well as Manjushri and Maitreya Buddha surrounded by all the deities and pandits. Lama Tsongkhapa was able to see them because he had purified his negative karma. At various times, Lama Tsongkhapa actually saw an inconceivable number of deities in various aspects.

At Buddhist holy places in India, most people see just some piles of earth or the ruins of a building or a throne where Buddha once sat. Some years ago a group of people, including an old woman from Tibet, went on pilgrimage to Nalanda. No one else saw anything but the old woman saw a life-sized figure of Buddha with a golden holy body sitting there. Also, when taking teachings from His Holiness the Dalai Lama, she saw Buddha on the palm of her hand. 

I also heard that one Western man who went to the Palden Lhamo lake,74 which can give predictions, saw Vajrasattva and Chenrezig on the lake when he arrived there. Some people spend weeks there and don’t see anything. It is all to do with karma.

When Lama Yeshe was giving a commentary on the Six Yogas of Naropa at Istituto Lama Tzong Khapa in Italy,75 every morning Lama would do the middle-length Heruka Chakrasamvara Body Mandala self-initiation before going to give the commentary. One morning, at the beginning of the teaching, Lama was crying. Jacie Keeley, the American woman who was Lama’s secretary at the time, told me this. Jacie saw that after Lama sat down and before he began the teaching, he was crying. She saw that something had strongly affected Lama’s mind. 

After Lama returned from the teaching, Jacie asked him why he had cried. Lama said, “What are you talking about? I saw my guru.” Lama saw His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche, his main root guru, who had passed away a couple of years before. Nobody else saw Trijang Rinpoche there. 

None of this comes from the side of the object; it all comes from the mind of the perceiver. It’s not so much a question of whether the objects exist there or not; it’s mainly a question of whether our karma is pure or impure. 

Our view of things as ordinary is so powerful that we totally believe it to be true. Because our belief that other people are ordinary is so strong, it’s very hard for us to see someone as an enlightened being, even if he or she is. Even if someone who is an embodiment of Tara or Vajrayogini is right in front of us, our view and conception of her as ordinary is so strong that it is difficult for us to believe that she is an enlightened being. 

In former times, when Guru Shakyamuni Buddha was in India, Buddha manifested in nirmanakaya aspect, with thirty-two holy signs and eighty holy exemplifications, and ordinary people usually saw an aura of beams for an arm span around Buddha’s holy body. The six Hindu founders who criticized and competed with Buddha, however, saw him as a very ordinary monk; they couldn’t see even Buddha’s aura. 

Even if a teacher is fully enlightened, it doesn’t mean that the disciple will see him as an enlightened being. Even if our guru is a buddha, this isn’t sufficient; from our side, we have to look at him as a buddha. If we don’t, we’re like the fully ordained monk Sunakshatra, who saw only faults in Guru Shakyamuni Buddha. There is then no way for us to generate good qualities within us.

The Essence of Nectar says,

As for the appearance of faults: 
Devadatta, Sunakshatra and the tirthikas76 
Saw the Founder, with all stains gone and qualities complete, 
As full of faults.

Like a person with jaundice sees a white conch as yellow, 
Because the veils of my evil karma and obscurations are so thick, 
I see the faultless as having only faults. 
How is it possible that in fact they have faults and vices? 

As I have mentioned a couple of times before, Sunakshatra was Guru Shakyamuni Buddha’s attendant for twenty-two years but during all those years he always saw Buddha as just an ordinary being. Even though Guru Shakyamuni Buddha had become enlightened an unimaginable time before, Sunakshatra never looked at him as a buddha; he didn’t see a single good quality in Buddha during those twenty-two years and instead saw only faults. He saw Shakyamuni Buddha as only a liar. Why did he see Buddha as a liar? Because he looked at Buddha as only a liar and not as an enlightened being. Since he looked at Buddha as only a liar, that is how Buddha appeared to him. Sunakshatra said, “I served Shakyamuni Buddha for twenty-two years and I didn’t see in him a good quality even the size of a sesame seed.”

When Buddha went begging for alms and people made offerings to him, Buddha would explain the result of that karma. In a small village one day, a girl offered a handful of grain in Buddha’s begging bowl. Buddha then predicted that as a result of her offering, in the future she would be reborn as the arhat Supranihita. Sunakshatra couldn’t believe what Buddha told the girl. How could someone become an arhat just from offering a handful of grain? He generated heresy toward Buddha, thinking that Buddha was simply flattering the girl because she had made an offering to him. It didn’t occur to Sunakshatra, who didn’t have omniscience or clairvoyance, that Buddha was making a prediction. He didn’t see Guru Shakyamuni Buddha as even sincere.

Buddha then asked him, “Do you know that from planting a small seed a huge tree that can cover five hundred horse-carriages can grow?” Sunakshatra said, “Yes, I know that.” Buddha replied, “No, it doesn’t exist.” Sunakshatra said, “Oh, yes, it exists, because it is my experience. I know it exists.” Buddha then said, “It is also my experience that by giving one handful of grain this woman can achieve arhatship.” Sunakshatra then had nothing to say. 

If, from our side, we don’t look at our guru as a buddha, we won’t see him as a buddha. If we look at only the faults, we will see only faults in our guru. We will look at him as an ordinary being and will then always see him only as an ordinary being, as Sunakshatra did. By looking at our guru as a buddha, by training our mind in this pure view, we will then see him as a buddha. 

Even if our guru is a buddha, we don’t necessarily see him as a buddha because what we see accords with our own karma. If we have a pure mind and pure karma, we see a buddha; if our mind is obscured by impure karma, we see an ordinary being with faults. 

Our seeing faults in our gurus doesn’t prove that in reality they have faults; we can’t say that our gurus are not buddhas because we see that they have anger, attachment, ignorance and other delusions. How things appear to us very much depends upon us. Even what we call a fault depends on our way of looking at it. Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo says in Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand that if a disciple wants to go to bed early, she sees her guru going to bed very late as a fault, but if the guru goes to bed early she sees this as a good quality. (If you’re living in the same house, you’re normally not supposed to go to bed until your teacher does.) This is just one simple example of how things very much depend on our own interpretation. Whether we call something a fault or a good quality depends on our own definitions.

Many times problems come from not understanding that the external appearance we cling to is not necessarily reality, which is beyond what appears to us. Even when Gyalwa Ensapa was close to achieving enlightenment, ordinary people thought he was crazy because he appeared to them to be a crazy person who couldn’t control his mind. Remember how Naro Bönchung saw Milarepa. Naro Bönchung, a Bön practitioner, wanted to compete with Milarepa because he had heard so much about him. But when he actually met Milarepa, Naro Bönchung commented that Milarepa was just a skinny, blue old man who looked as if he could easily be blown away by the wind. (Milarepa’s body was blue with cold because he wore no clothes.) This is how Milarepa appeared to Naro Bönchung, even though Milarepa was an enlightened being whose holy mind was enriched by realizations as limitless as the sky. 

Even though Lama Yeshe acted many times as if he were angry, at certain times Lama would say, “The object is a sentient being so how is it possible that I could be angry at him?” Sentient being means a pitiful, obscured, suffering being. What Lama said was the reality, even though it contradicted what normally appeared to us. 

Also, even though Lama Yeshe had no eight worldly dharmas, he acted as if he had clinging to this life. And even though Lama had no miserliness, he appeared to be miserly in relation to certain things. There are many stories to illustrate this and only later did we realize that what we had seen in the past didn’t accord with reality and that Lama had inconceivable internal qualities. It had very much to do with our own karma, with our own interpretation. 

The Essence of Nectar says,

Whatever holy body and actions are shown, 
In fact there is no doubt 
That all the Victorious Ones of the ten directions 
Are showing the holy bodies that subdue us, 
In order to guide us in the path to liberation. 

The compassionate founder Shakyamuni Buddha said in the sutra Meeting of Father and Son:

I will work for sentient beings by manifesting as Indra and Brahma and sometimes in the form of a mara, but people in the world will be unable to recognize me. I will also manifest in the form of women and even in the animal realm. Even though I don’t have attachment, I will act as if I have attachment; even though I do not have fear, I will act afraid; even though I am not crazy, I will act crazy; even though I am not blind, I will act as if I am blind. With various forms, I will subdue sentient beings. To sentient beings with strong anger, I will manifest as having strong anger. To sentient beings with great attachment, I will manifest as having great attachment in order to guide them. Like this, I will manifest in whatever form fits sentient beings. 

The sutra teachings also explain that Buddha will manifest even as someone who has generated heresy or broken all four root vows. To people who have strong attachment, Buddha will manifest as a prostitute in order to subdue them. Buddha will also manifest as a wine-seller or as an animal. Buddha will manifest as an eagle to protect other eagles, but ordinary sentient beings will simply see an eagle, not Buddha. 

By using quotations and analytical reasoning, we gain definite understanding that the guru is a buddha, free from all faults and possessing all realizations. When we have the certainty in our heart that the guru is all the buddhas, that the guru and all the buddhas are mixed, at that time we have the realization of guru devotion. 

First of all, we should remember the ultimate meaning of guru, which is the absolute guru. We have to realize that the guru that we see and hear is the absolute guru, the dharmakaya, the transcendental wisdom of nondual bliss and voidness, the eternal primordial mind that has no beginning and no end. Since this absolute guru is the holy mind of all the buddhas, all the buddhas are the guru. We can understand from this that the guru is all the buddhas and all the buddhas are the guru. 

This is why it makes sense to say “guru-buddha.” With this explanation, by simply saying “guru” we can naturally realize that it means buddha, without needing to use the extra label “buddha.” 

We need to see each of our gurus as all the buddhas and each buddha as all of our gurus. Flour, for example, can be made into many foods of various shapes and tastes: noodles, bread, cakes. However, despite all the different shapes and different names, it is all flour. It is the same with the guru. Spontaneously, naturally, constantly arising from the depths of our heart should be the thought that the guru is a buddha. When we visualize deities or think of a buddha, we should understand that this is the guru. This thought should be stable, not just last a few hours or days and then disappear. When this thought is stable, we have achieved the realization of guru devotion. 

When definitive understanding that the guru is the embodiment of the transcendental wisdom of all the buddhas arises spontaneously, do fixed meditation on that. Do analytical and fixed meditation in this way again and again. When at the end one sees there is no buddha separate from the guru and no guru separate from all the buddhas, when the guru and all the buddhas become mixed, or one, at that time the realization of guru devotion has been generated. When water and milk are mixed, they become one, and it’s still called milk. 

The ultimate goal is for our own mind and the guru’s holy mind to merge to become one. When we become enlightened, our own mind and the guru’s holy mind merge to become one in the great bliss of the dharmakaya. On the basis of the common path, we complete the tantric path, especially the generation and completion stages of Highest Yoga Tantra, achieving the clear light, the illusory body and unification. We cease all our obscurations and develop the simultaneously born primordial mind of clear light, the transcendental wisdom of nondual bliss and voidness, and the continuation of that mind, the great bliss of the dharmakaya, is itself the guru’s holy mind. At that time we become enlightened in the essence of the guru. We achieve the guru’s enlightenment; our own body, speech and mind become inseparable from the guru’s holy body, holy speech and holy mind.

To prepare for that, from this moment on, we should make ourselves harmonious with, or closer to, the guru’s holy mind. It’s important to prepare for our mind and the guru’s holy mind to merge, to prepare to achieve the guru’s enlightenment.

In the Lama Tsongkhapa tradition one doesn’t say that one is the guru or one is a buddha or that one’s own mind is dharmakaya, the deity’s or the guru’s holy mind, but when we practice tantra we have to generate divine pride, so we meditate in that way. Even though it’s not comfortable for us to accept that our present obscured mind is the guru’s enlightened mind, when we practice tantra, we have to hold the divine pride now of what we are going to become in the future. Even though the idea is not philosophically correct and could be defeated in debate, it is an effective meditation for those who practice tantra.

(ii) Even nowadays all the buddhas and bodhisattvas are still working for sentient beings  

At the present time all the buddhas and bodhisattvas are working for sentient beings, including us. There is no other way they are doing that except in the forms of the teachers who are directly guiding us by giving us the three levels of vows, oral transmissions, initiations, sutra and tantra commentaries and advice. Every single word of their teaching is guiding us to enlightenment. If our gurus are not those numberless buddhas and bodhisattvas working for us, there is no one else to point out as the ones guiding us to enlightenment. Therefore, our gurus are buddhas.

The Controlled Ones do not wash away negative karma with water; 
They do not remove the sufferings of transmigratory beings with their hands; 
Nor do they transplant their own realizations into others. 
They liberate by revealing the absolute true nature. 

When I introduce the concept of the buddhas and bodhisattvas working for sentient beings to Westerners, I normally recommend that they first use their own experience of compassion as an example, as this makes it easy to understand. When we feel compassion for someone, we want to help, not harm her. In other words, we try to benefit that person by doing whatever we can for her with our body, speech and mind. Even though we don’t feel compassion for every sentient being, we do whatever we can to help those for whom we do feel compassion. If we did feel compassion for all sentient beings, we would try to help all of them according to our capacity. This is logical. 

Now, some people have much more compassion than we do; their compassion is stronger and broader, encompassing more sentient beings than ours. These people give more help and less harm to others than we do. We can’t deny the reality of this. Some people feel compassion not only for their friends but also for strangers and even enemies; they have compassion not only for those who help them but even for those who don’t help them or who actively harm them. 

From our own experience we can see that our compassion can be increased if we continue to meditate on the sufferings of our own samsara, the general and specific sufferings of the lower realms and the sufferings of other sentient beings. If we really look at how other sentient beings are suffering, there will definitely be a change in our mind, even while we are meditating. Such meditations affect the mind, transforming it into compassion. If we continue to put effort into the meditations, we can definitely develop stronger and stronger compassion for more and more sentient beings. 

Bodhisattvas feel great compassion, which means compassion for all sentient beings. Not only do they wish all sentient beings to be free from suffering but they actually take upon themselves the responsibility of freeing them. Even very new bodhisattvas, ones who have just generated bodhicitta and entered the Mahayana path, have completely given up the thought of working for themselves, of seeking happiness for themselves. Their minds cherish only other sentient beings. Every single action of their body, speech and mind is focused on working for others. This is their only thought. Every single movement they make, even breathing in and out, is done for other sentient beings. Eating, walking, sitting, sleeping—everything is done only for the benefit of other sentient beings. 

This reminds me of Gen Jampa Wangdu, who often used to visit Lama Yeshe and me at Tushita Retreat Centre in the evenings for a chat, and he would sometimes tell us about his life. One time he said, “For the past seven years, I have never been to anybody’s house for my own purpose.” Gen Jampa Wangdu didn’t mean that he hadn’t gone to other people’s houses at all for seven years but that he hadn’t gone to anybody’s house for his own sake. He normally didn’t tell other people about his realizations; he was just not the kind of person to make a big thing of them or talk much to other people. But Lama and I were very close to him; we were the best of friends. (This was before I received the lineage of the teachings on the pill retreat from him, which I did a couple of years before he passed away.) Because Gen Jampa Wangdu liked Lama and me very much, he would reveal more of himself to us. 

Whenever Gen Jampa Wangdu came to see us at Tushita, it was the best time; we enjoyed his visits very much. The best entertainment was to hear about his own meditation experiences, as well as those of other meditators and about what he had done in the past. Geshe-la told us how he had been very naughty when he was in Sera Monastery in Tibet, never studying and only teasing and fighting the other monks. 

Even though Gen Jampa Wangdu didn’t say straight out that he had achieved bodhicitta, it was clear that he had generated bodhicitta seven years before. Much earlier than that he had also achieved the nine levels of calm abiding. 

Since even a new bodhisattva does everything only for other sentient beings, there is no doubt about a buddha. All the buddhas have completed training their minds in compassion and have compassion for every single sentient being, including us. Their compassion cannot be developed further; theirs is the ultimate development of compassion. Therefore, all the buddhas of the three times must be working for and guiding all sentient beings. Because of their compassion, they have no choice. 

Since there are beings whose holy minds have completed the training in compassion and who are working for and guiding sentient beings, if they are not our gurus, who else could it be? Our present gurus are the buddhas who are working for sentient beings, including us. 

One-pointedly focusing in turn on each of your gurus, think, “This guru is a buddha.” Like reciting a mantra, keep on repeating, “This guru is a buddha, this guru is a buddha, this guru is a buddha….” Recite this twenty-one times, for half a mala, or for one mala, according to the time you have. At the same time try to stabilize your mind in the devotion that sees each guru as a buddha. 

We can use the same logical reasoning in relation to knowledge. There are other people with greater knowledge than we have. It’s not the case that only what we know and have experienced exists and what we don’t know and haven’t experienced doesn’t exist. There are people with more knowledge, even in terms of worldly education, and there are people with much greater knowledge than we have. Some people have the capacity to remember previous lives and see future lives and other distant phenomena. Such people have greater knowledge and a greater capacity to benefit others.

Now, there are beings who have completed all knowledge; beings who have no obstruction to directly seeing all past, present and future phenomena. The only mind that has completed all knowledge is the omniscient mind, the enlightened mind, the mind of a buddha. The omniscient mind of a buddha directly sees all existence all the time and knows the level of mind and characteristics of every single sentient being and every single method suitable to free them from suffering and bring them from happiness to happiness to enlightenment. 

Since there are beings who have completed all learning and who use that knowledge to benefit sentient beings, if they are not our gurus, who else could they be? Other than our present gurus there is no one we can point out as these buddhas. 

Again, by thinking of each of your gurus, repeat, “This guru is a buddha, this guru is a buddha, this guru is a buddha….” With one-pointed concentration, stabilize your mind in devotion. Stay a little while in fixed meditation on your complete determination that your gurus are buddhas.

On top of that, buddhas have perfect power to guide sentient beings. They can manifest in whatever way accords with the level of mind of sentient beings and then reveal with their holy body, speech and mind the methods that suit the level of that sentient being’s mind. Since there are beings who have the complete power to benefit others and who do benefit other sentient beings, if they are not our gurus, who else could they be? There’s no one else to point out as these beings except our present gurus. 

Again, by thinking of each of your gurus, recite, “This guru is a buddha, this guru is a buddha, this guru is a buddha….” With one-pointed concentration, stabilize your mind in devotion.

Buddhas have all these three qualities—infinite compassion, omniscient mind and perfect power—but the main factor that causes them to guide sentient beings is their compassion. If buddhas had omniscient mind and perfect power but no compassion there would be the danger that they wouldn’t guide all sentient beings. But since they have completed training their mind in compassion and have compassion for every single obscured, suffering sentient being, they have no choice but to work for every sentient being without discrimination; their holy minds are bound by infinite compassion that embraces all sentient beings. We can understand this by relating it to our own everyday experiences. If we feel even a little compassion for somebody, we don’t harm her and, according to our knowledge and power, do what we can to help her. 

There is no doubt that buddhas definitely work for and guide sentient beings. Even bodhisattvas, who are not yet enlightened, work for us, so why not buddhas? The only reason the buddhas achieved full enlightenment was to be able to guide sentient beings.

It is not that the buddhas simply have the wish that sentient beings be free from suffering and then do nothing about it themselves. It’s not that they simply relax on their bed or at the beach and expect somebody else to do the job of freeing sentient beings from suffering. Great compassion means not only wishing all sentient beings to be free from all suffering but taking the responsibility upon yourself to free them. You then generate the special attitude, “I will work to free sentient beings from suffering and lead them to enlightenment by myself alone.” After that comes bodhicitta, when you think, “For that reason I need to achieve enlightenment.” So, even before generating bodhicitta, you have the attitude of taking responsibility upon yourself for all sentient beings. 

Therefore, there is no doubt that enlightened beings, who have completed the development of compassion for all sentient beings, are working for us, guiding us. We should first make this point clear through use of quotations and logical reasoning, before considering our gurus. On the basis of certain faith in this, we can then consider our gurus. The subject of guru devotion will then have taste and meaning.

It is also helpful to remember the four reasons that a buddha is a worthy object in whom to take refuge: a buddha is free from all fears; a buddha is skillful in guiding sentient beings away from all dangers and liberating them from all fears; a buddha has compassion for all sentient beings, without discriminating some as close and others as distant; and a buddha works for all sentient beings, regardless of whether or not a sentient being has benefited him. In other words, a buddha’s helping a sentient being doesn’t depend on whether or not that sentient being likes or has made offerings to him. Therefore, the buddhas definitely have compassion for and guide us. 

Also, since buddhas guide even animals, who are dumb and mute, they must guide human beings. We, who have received not only a human rebirth but a perfect human rebirth, are intelligent and can communicate, so we are easy to guide. Since we can not only hear and understand the words of Dharma but have faith in Buddhadharma as well, there is no doubt that the buddhas must be guiding us. And who are these buddhas who are guiding us? None other than our present gurus. 

Again recite, “This guru is a buddha, this guru is a buddha, this guru is a buddha…” and again transform your mind into guru devotion, seeing the guru as a buddha. Do fixed meditation by keeping your mind for a little while in that pure thought of devotion.

Since the buddhas have all these qualities of omniscience, compassion and power and never lie, they must be working for sentient beings. The numberless past, present and future buddhas are working for sentient beings, which includes us. If our present gurus are not the buddhas who are leading us to enlightenment, who else is? There is nobody else to point out. We then reach the conclusion that our gurus are buddhas. 

We should come to this same conclusion, that our gurus are buddhas, with this and the subsequent outlines, the guru is the doer of all the buddhas’ actions and Vajradhara asserted that the guru is a buddha. When we come to the conclusion that our gurus are buddhas and our mind is transformed into devotion, we should hold that experience for some time in fixed, or single-pointed, meditation. First we do the analysis; second, when we have proved the point to our own mind and our mind is transformed into the devotion that sees the gurus as buddhas, we keep our mind in that state for as long as possible. With this transformation, we will experience much joy, as the nature of that mind of devotion is peaceful and pleasurable. 

We should then continue the experience, not only during the meditation session but after we stand up and walk out of the meditation room at the end of a session. We shouldn’t think that our ordinary life has nothing to do with what happens on our meditation cushion. The main point is to continue the experience, keeping our mind during the rest of the day in that state of devotion we achieved during our meditation session in the morning. We should live our life in that state of mind, in that experience of the path. 

This is called “taking the essence all day and all night.” It makes our life meaningful twenty-four hours a day because with this devotion we are constantly accumulating merit. Everything we do is done out of devotion and directed toward that devotion. This itself brings the greatest purification and accumulates the most extensive merit. 

Keutsang Jamyang Mönlam said,

The buddhas and bodhisattvas who descended in the past are still working now for sentient beings. If you are truly able to recognize this fact, they are all gathered in the qualified guru. 

This means that even at this present time the buddhas and bodhisattvas are working for sentient beings, including us, through the aspect of our guru. If we are able to recognize it, the root guru that we visualize on our crown or in our heart is all the buddhas and bodhisattvas who are working for us and for other sentient beings. This present guru embodies all of them. 

In Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo says, 

My guru said that there is a complete buddha sitting on the crown of each sentient being.

(iii) The guru is the doer of all the buddhas’ actions  

During our beginningless lifetimes until now, all the virtuous teachers we have met—those who gave us ordinations, initiations and teachings—are one being, the absolute guru, who has manifested in various aspects, with different names and forms. When the sun or moon rises, billions of reflections spontaneously arise in all the bodies of water on the earth—in oceans, rivers, ponds and even dew drops. Like this, effortlessly, spontaneously, buddhas work for sentient beings, by revealing the various means that suit them. All our virtuous teachers are the dharmakaya, the absolute guru, from where all the buddhas, Dharma and Sangha come. The absolute guru, the dharmakaya, the holy mind of all the buddhas, which is bound by infinite compassion that embraces all sentient beings, manifests in, or through, the ordinary aspects of our gurus. 

If you analyze the meaning of the prayers in Guru Puja you will see that the whole practice is based on this meditation that the guru is the doer of all the buddhas’ actions; and the doer of the actions of the buddhas has to come from the dharmakaya.

The Essence of Nectar says,

The virtuous friends who reveal the path 
Are like the one moon in the sky, reflected 
Without effort and at the same time 
In all the waters of this world. 

A sutra says, 

The transcendental wisdom of the buddhas 
Appears without effort in the holy bodies of 
Sambhogakaya, nirmanakaya and ordinary virtuous friends 
To the pure and impure objects who are to be subdued. 

In our past lives we have been guided by many different virtuous teachers, with many different aspects, but we shouldn’t think that they are separate from our present virtuous teachers. Our gurus enabled us to plant the seed of Dharma in our past lives; they guided us from the lower to the upper realms, including our present perfect human rebirth, by allowing us to create good karma. During beginningless lifetimes, these virtuous friends have been leading us from happiness to happiness to enlightenment. These same gurus who are guiding us in this life have guided us in the past and will still be guiding us when we are bodhisattvas on the tenth bhumi, about to achieve enlightenment.

The dharmakaya, the holy mind of all the buddhas, the transcendental wisdom of nondual bliss and voidness, is the absolute guru. This dharmakaya is eternal, with no beginning or end, and it pervades all phenomena. Because this holy mind is bound by infinite compassion that embraces all the numberless sentient beings, whenever the karma of a sentient being ripens, without even a second’s delay, it manifests in a form that accords with the karma of that sentient being. 

For those with pure minds, such as higher bodhisattvas, it manifests in the sambhogakaya aspect of a buddha. To lower bodhisattvas, those who have achieved the Mahayana great path of merit, it manifests in nirmanakaya aspect. It also manifests in ordinary human forms to guide sentient beings. It can manifest as an ordained or lay person, as male or female, as a child, as rich or poor. It can manifest in a beggar’s form to enable others to accumulate merit through making charity. For those with strong attachment, it can manifest in the form of a prostitute. The dharmakaya can also manifest in animals, spirits and various other forms. There is nothing fixed about the way it manifests. It can manifest even in material objects, such as bridges or water, in accord with the characteristics and needs of sentient beings. However, even though it manifests in all kinds of forms, they are all one in essence. 

When an actor wears the costume of a king, a beggar, a farmer or a trader, we recognize that the same actor is appearing in the different costumes. Remember how Shakyamuni Buddha guided sentient beings in various manifestations and also how Chenrezig subdued the sentient beings of Tibet by manifesting as the king, the minister, the translator, the judge and so forth. 

Many lamrim texts, especially Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand, use the guru is the doer of all the buddhas’ actions as the main logical reasoning to prove that the guru is a buddha. 

In du-ra, four different conditions are explained: the immediate condition;77 the self-condition, which could be the cause—for example, a seed produces its own result, a sprout; the causal condition;78 and the condition of seeing—for example, compassion is generated by the condition of seeing the sufferings of sentient beings. Since the object that you have seen becomes the condition for generating compassion, suffering sentient beings are the condition of seeing. 

All the teachings and other Dharma activities of our gurus are regarded as coming from the self-condition of the dharmakaya, just as a sprout comes from its seed. From where do all the teachings that guide us to enlightenment come? They come from the self-condition, dharmakaya. And in whom does the dharmakaya abide? There is no one to point out other than our virtuous friends. 

Also, the self-condition of all the virtues we have accumulated in our mind is the dharmakaya, and in whose mind does this self-condition of dharmakaya abide? In the guru’s holy mind. Therefore, our gurus are buddhas. 

This is the main logical reasoning normally used by His Holiness Ling Rinpoche and His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche, and it seems to be the same in Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand. Somehow I find this one hard to understand. It seems that when your mind is ready, which means more purified, you are able to feel that it is true, but when your mind is obscured, you cannot feel it. 

Our mind is so obscured that no matter how much the buddhas want to manifest to us in the aspect of a buddha, we don’t have the karma to be able to see them in that pure form. In order to subdue us, the buddhas perform their actions by revealing the ordinary aspects of our virtuous friends, which suit our own fortune, or merit. Since we don’t have the fortune to actually meet buddhas in the aspect of buddhas, the buddhas show aspects that are similar to ours, then teach us Dharma. Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo says that even from this we can realize that the guru is a buddha and that the actions of all the buddhas come to us through the guru. Even if we could see an actual buddha, there is no higher action they could do than our gurus’ present action of revealing teachings.

Since all we can see are impure aspects, the buddhas can’t appear to us in any other way than as ordinary beings, which means ones having faults. There is no meaning of ordinary being other than that.

If the buddhas manifested in purer forms than we now see, we wouldn’t have the karma to see them and receive teachings from them. Because our mind is obscured by impure karma, we can’t see a buddha’s holy body or hear a buddha’s holy speech. And if the buddhas manifested in forms lower than we now see, such as in the forms of animals, it would be difficult for us to recognize them and have faith in them. We also couldn’t communicate with or receive teachings from them. Therefore, in order to guide us, the buddhas have manifested in the ordinary forms of our virtuous friends, which exactly suit the level of our mind and our karma. In other words, our gurus are the ones who do the activities of all the buddhas, just as ambassadors act on behalf of their country. For example, the many American ambassadors around the world act on behalf of the American government and the American government works through those ambassadors.

The buddhas have to manifest in the ordinary forms of our gurus because they have no other way to directly guide us through teachings, advice and other methods. Through communicating with us, these ordinary aspects prevent us from being born in the lower realms, liberate us from samsara and lead us to enlightenment. Since these present ordinary aspects are the only ones that can directly guide us to enlightenment, the numberless buddhas are unbelievably kind to take these ordinary aspects in order to make it possible for us to see them and receive their teachings and guidance. Otherwise, we’d be totally lost.

After we have generated the definitive understanding from the very depths of our heart that all our gurus are buddhas, when we trace back, we find that the buddhas are the base of transformation of our gurus. And, if we trace even the buddhas back to their source, they are transformations of Vajradhara, so all our gurus are transformations of Vajradhara. Vajradhara is our own guru. If we wonder where Vajradhara came from, the great bliss of the dharmakaya manifested in the aspect of a deity. If we trace the base of transformation of our own gurus back to its source, it is the dharmakaya, the transcendental wisdom of all the buddhas. And what is that? That is the absolute guru. The transcendental wisdom of all the buddhas, which is of one taste in the sphere of the dharmakaya, manifests in the ordinary aspects of our gurus, the holy bodies of transformation. 

As Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo says in Calling the Lama from Afar,79 

The play of various emanations, suiting the dispositions of the many to be subdued,
Is itself the behavior of the sambhogakaya of the kind gurus.
I beseech you, guru, nirmanakaya,
Please guide me always without separation, in this life, future lives, and the bardo.

The play of the inseparable three kayas, appearing in the form of the guru,
Is itself one with the very essence of all kind gurus.
I beseech you, guru, the inseparable three kayas,
Please guide me always without separation, in this life, future lives, and the bardo. 

The Essence of Nectar says, 

Therefore, whatever appears to me, 
In fact their essence is that they encompass in one
Each and every one of the infinite Victorious Ones of the infinite fields, 
Having ceased all faults and perfected all qualities. 

The lineage lamas taught another practical technique for seeing the guru as a buddha and all the guru’s actions as the actions of all the buddhas. When a medium invokes a spirit, as soon as the medium thinks of the spirit, the spirit immediately enters the medium’s body and speaks through the medium. When the spirit speaks, we don’t say that the medium is speaking; we say that the spirit is speaking, even though it is using the medium’s body to do so. Until the spirit leaves the medium, we always relate any action that is performed to the spirit, not the medium.

It is similar with Dharma protectors. An oracle whose body is qualified to receive the transcendental wisdom of a Dharma protector can invoke that protector just by saying its name or reciting a prayer. The protector immediately enters the oracle’s body and then gives predictions or blessings or performs healing. We say that the protector is giving us predictions; we don’t say that the oracle is talking to us. Even though we see the ordinary human body of the oracle and not the form of the protector, in our mind we realize that during the time the protector is within the oracle’s body, it is the protector that is giving predictions and blessings and performing the other activities, not the oracle. 

If Dharma protectors and even ordinary worldly spirits, who are not free from karma and delusions, immediately come when we think of them, why not the buddhas? Of course the buddhas come. As soon as we think of a buddha, buddha is there. As soon as we generate faith that our guru is a buddha, buddha is there. 

Wherever we have faith that a buddha is, buddha is there. There is a saying, “Whenever we think a buddha is on the palm of our hand, on our crown, in our heart or in front of us, a buddha is there.” A tantric root text also says that a buddha abides wherever we have faith that a buddha is, whether on the muscles, veins, sinews, joints or other parts of the body. For example, in the Guru Puja merit field, we visualize many buddhas and bodhisattvas—the deities of the Guhyasamaja mandala—on the holy body of the guru. We should recognize that the guru’s holy body is covered with buddhas; every atom is covered with buddhas. With faith in this, we receive the blessings of the holy body, speech and mind of all the buddhas through the guru’s holy body.

Since even an ordinary spirit immediately enters the medium when the medium thinks of the spirit, as soon as we think that the guru is a buddha, there is no doubt that buddha is immediately in that holy body. Otherwise, buddhas wouldn’t have even the ordinary psychic powers that spirits have.

Since the buddhas have omniscient mind, infinite compassion for all sentient beings and perfect power, of course they will come as soon as we think of them. A buddha has omniscient mind, and all existence is covered by omniscient mind. There is no object that is not covered by omniscient mind. So, of course, when we think that our guru is a buddha, buddha will definitely be there. 

Just as all the actions of an oracle’s body, speech and mind during the time a Dharma protector is in the oracle’s body are the actions of the protector, all the actions of the guru’s holy body, speech and mind are the actions of the buddhas, whether they are giving us teachings or scolding or beating us. All the activities of the buddhas are performed through these ordinary aspects. Whether we see good qualities or faults in our gurus, it is all the act of the buddhas. 

If we examine this way of meditating on guru devotion carefully, it will become clear that the guru is a buddha and all the guru’s actions are the actions of the buddhas. The gurus, who reveal the teachings and guide us in peaceful and wrathful ways, are the doers of all the buddhas’ actions.

In In Praise of Dependent Arising, Lama Tsongkhapa explains that the highest action of a buddha is revealing the teachings to sentient beings. Of the infinite variety of buddhas’ activities to guide sentient beings, the highest activity is revealing Dharma. Giving teachings is the best way to free sentient beings from their sufferings and lead them to liberation and enlightenment. Our present gurus are the ones performing the highest activity of the buddhas; they are the ones revealing the various teachings that are needed to liberate us and lead us to enlightenment. 

Simply by giving us the oral transmission of the mantra OM MANI PADME HUM, our guru definitely takes us to enlightenment. Receiving the oral transmission plants the seed of the whole path to enlightenment by leaving an imprint on our mind. Sooner or later, in this or future lives, when we have accumulated enough merit, this imprint will enable us to actualize the path that is contained in OM MANI PADME HUM. Because of the planting of this seed, even later in this life, we will be able to understand the teachings more clearly and deeply. And this imprint eventually enables us to experience the whole path to enlightenment. 

Even if it doesn’t happen in this life, in our next life the seed planted by receiving the oral transmission of OM MANI PADME HUM will sprout and we will become expert in the meaning of that mantra and the path it contains. Remember the story of Vasubandhu and the pigeon. In the past, a pigeon used to sit on the roof of the hermitage of the great Indian pandit, Acharya Vasubandhu, while he was reciting the Treasury of Knowledge text. After some time, the pigeon died. When Vasubandhu checked what rebirth this pigeon had taken, he discovered that it had been reborn as the son of a family that lived in the town down below his cave. Since Vasubandhu knew that this boy would become his disciple, he went down and asked the family if he could take care of the child. The family agreed to give the child to him. The child became Vasubandhu’s student and later a monk called Acharya Sthiramati (Lobpön Loden), who wrote four commentaries to the Treasury of Knowledge, the words of which he had heard recited by Vasubandhu when he was a pigeon sitting on the roof of Vasubandhu’s hermitage.

There are many such stories that show the incredible results from simply hearing the words of the Dharma. Just by hearing the words of the Treasury of Knowledge, this pigeon became expert in this teaching in his next life. Therefore, we should listen to oral transmissions by concentrating on the sound of the words, remembering that listening brings great benefit. 

If even the guru who simply gives us the oral transmission of OM MANI PADME HUM takes us to enlightenment, there is no doubt about the others who give us vows, initiations and commentaries and perform other Dharma activities. Our gurus give us the three levels of vows—pratimoksha, bodhisattva and tantric—oral transmissions, initiations, sutra and tantra commentaries and personal advice. Their actions definitely lead us to enlightenment. The lamrim teachings explain that these are the actions of the buddhas, of the dharmakaya, the holy mind of all the buddhas. Therefore, since their holy mind is dharmakaya, our gurus are buddhas.

Everything our gurus do for us protects us from delusions and karma, the cause of suffering, and thus from suffering. Every single thing that they do, even scolding us, purifies our negative karma. Everything they do also plants seeds of the path to enlightenment in our mind, causing us to achieve realizations of the path. By planting seeds in our mind, they definitely bring us to enlightenment. 

So, if our present gurus are not buddhas and if their actions are not the actions of the buddhas, there’s nobody else to point out as the buddhas that bring us to enlightenment. Therefore, our gurus have to be buddhas. 

When we have transformed our mind into the devotion that sees our gurus as buddhas and their actions as the buddhas’ actions, we should maintain that experience for a while by doing fixed meditation on the conclusion that each of our gurus is a buddha and the doer of the actions of all the buddhas. 

Also, if the actions of our gurus—giving us vows, oral transmissions, initiations, commentaries and instructions—are not the actions of the buddhas guiding us to enlightenment, we have to conclude that all our gurus are ordinary beings and ordinary beings are revealing Dharma to us and guiding us to enlightenment. After promising to guide us, the numberless past, present and future buddhas have disappeared. If these ordinary beings are the ones guiding us to enlightenment, it looks as if all the buddhas are sleeping or taking a holiday. Something is wrong with the way the superstitious mind thinks because it comes to the conclusion that the numberless buddhas of the past, present and future are not working for and guiding sentient beings.

This would mean that the buddhas don’t have omniscient mind, don’t have compassion for us or don’t have the perfect power to guide us. Or it means that there is no such thing as a buddha. According to this way of thinking, it looks as if the particular sentient beings who are teaching us are much more capable and skillful in guiding us than the enlightened beings of the three times. There is no way this could be true. A buddha has omniscient mind, infinite compassion for all sentient beings and the perfect power to guide them. Only a being with all these three qualities receives the name “buddha.”

The buddhas having to rely on ordinary sentient beings, our gurus, to accomplish their works for sentient beings would be like a king having to rely on beggars for his food. And, since ordinary sentient beings would then be more powerful and skillful than the buddhas in accomplishing the works for others, there would be no need to attempt to achieve enlightenment.

Also, if even an ordinary person with a compassionate, sincere nature doesn’t deceive us, how is it possible that the buddhas would deceive us? There is no way that buddhas, having trained their minds in compassion, would promise to guide us and then not guide us. There is no way the buddhas would lie to or cheat sentient beings. Their great compassion would never allow it because the function of compassion is not to harm sentient beings. Harm to sentient beings comes out of delusions and buddhas have no delusions—even arhats don’t have delusions.

Since there is no doubt that buddhas have infinite compassion for all sentient beings, the buddhas definitely have to guide us. Since the actions of our virtuous friends are guiding us to enlightenment, if they are not the buddhas guiding us, there is no one else to point out. 

Again reach the conclusion that your gurus must be buddhas and that they are the doers of all the buddhas’ actions. Do fixed meditation on this conclusion, keeping your mind in the devotion that looks at each of them as a buddha.

The actions of all the buddhas are received in the mind of the disciple through the guru. During a retreat or at other times when we are doing powerful Dharma practice, we might dream that our guru is very pleased with us and gives us a present or some advice. The interesting question is, Why did this dream happen? Even though we haven’t directly informed our guru about what we are doing, at times when we perform some great purification or some practice of great benefit to the teachings or to other sentient beings, we dream that our guru is very happy with us. This happens when we have done something very positive, something that is very pleasing to all the buddhas. Because we did something that brought great purification or accumulated extensive merit, we pleased all the buddhas. 

At other times, when we have committed or are in danger of committing a heavy negative karma, we might dream of our guru being upset or ill or scolding us, even though he doesn’t directly know that we have done anything wrong. 

Such dreams of the virtuous friend have deep meaning and can be related to the sutra and tantra teachings on guru devotion. They help us to understand that the ordinary aspect of our guru is the manifestation of all the buddhas and that all the buddhas are working through this aspect to guide us. Through the aspect of the guru, the buddhas can communicate with us even in dreams. 

Sakya Pandita said,

Even though sunbeams are very hot, 
Without a magnifying glass, they can’t ignite a fire. 
It is the same with the blessings of the buddhas:
Without the guru, they cannot enter the disciple.

Dawö Rinchen, a disciple of Gyalwa Götsangpa, said a similar thing:

When the intervening obscurations are purified, 
The power of the sun focuses on the tinder 
By the dependent arising of the clear magnifying glass. 

When the thought of faults is purified, 
The blessings of the buddhas of the ten directions 
Enter the mind of the disciple 
By the auspiciousness of the perfectly qualified guru.

In Solu Khumbu in the past, when there were no matches, people made a fire by using a flint and a stone to give a spark, which would then cause some dry grass or leaves to catch fire. Sakya Pandita used the slightly ¬different example of a magnifying glass. No matter how hot the sun is, if there is no magnifying glass, the sun cannot make a fire. Like that, no matter how many buddhas there are, without the guru in this ordinary aspect, the buddhas can’t guide us. No matter how many qualities and how much power they have, the buddhas have to depend on this guru in ordinary aspect. Only through this aspect can they cease our delusions, the cause of suffering, and the defilements on our mental continuum, then bring us to liberation and enlightenment. 

Even if the sun is shining and we have dry grass or tinder, without a magnifying glass we can’t start a fire. When sunbeams hit tinder through a magnifying glass, however, fire comes effortlessly. In a similar way, the blessings of all the buddhas, who are like the sun, come through the guru, who is like a magnifying glass, to the minds of the disciples, who are like the tinder. Even though the fire comes about through the beams of the sun passing through the magnifying glass, the actual function of producing fire comes from the magnifying glass. Like a magnifying glass, the guru burns the delusions in the disciple’s mind. 

Without these gurus in ordinary aspect, there is no way that we can receive the blessings of the buddhas; there is also no way that we can receive the buddhas’ actions of teaching and so forth. Even though the buddhas have omniscient mind, compassion and perfect power, they cannot destroy our disturbing thoughts and develop our mind without the gurus. All the buddhas can guide us only through our gurus. Therefore, even though there are numberless buddhas, without the ordinary forms of our gurus’ holy bodies, we would be lost. These aspects become so important and so precious to us because without them there is no way for us to receive guidance.

The sutra Stainless Sky also mentions,

We should regard the virtuous friend as more precious than the tathagatas. Why? Even though buddhas are very compassionate and skillful beings, without the self-condition of the guru, the buddhas’ actions cannot enter the mental continuum of the sentient beings, who are the objects to be subdued.

Just as the sun can perform the function of burning tinder only in dependence upon the self-condition of a magnifying glass, all the past, present and future buddhas can perform the function of guiding sentient beings to enlightenment only in dependence upon the guru. Even the buddhas themselves cannot happen without the guru; they are born from the guru. As Buddhajñana explains, “Before the guru there is not even the name ‘buddha.’” Therefore, we should regard our gurus as more precious than all the buddhas of the ten directions. 

Another effective way to meditate is to think of the guru as being like a rope and ourselves as being down in a deep pit of fire. Being in samsara is like being in a fire. When we have fallen into a fiery pit, the people standing at the top of the hole can’t rescue us without a rope. In a similar way, without the guru, all the buddhas of the three times and ten directions can’t guide us to enlightenment. 

Correctly devoting ourselves to the guru is like grabbing hold of the rope that is sent down to us by the buddhas. If we hold onto the rope, there is no doubt that we can be saved from the fiery pit. If we hold onto our gurus, if we correctly devote ourselves to our gurus, there is no doubt that we can be saved from the sufferings of samsara, particularly those of the three lower realms, and also from the lower nirvana. 

Not devoting ourselves correctly to our gurus is like ignoring the rope that is sent down to us. If we don’t grab hold of the rope, we can’t be saved. Even though there are numberless buddhas, if we don’t devote ourselves to our gurus, no matter how much we devote ourselves to those other buddhas, they have no means to directly guide us. If we don’t correctly devote ourselves to our gurus, these aspects in whom all the buddhas of the three times have manifested in order to guide us, there will be no method to save us from samsara and guide us to enlightenment. 

(iv) Vajradhara asserted that the guru is a buddha

In the second chapter of the tantric text Two Investigations, Vajradhara says,

In the degenerate time, I, who am called Vajrasattva, will abide in the form of the spiritual master. With the aim of benefiting sentient beings, I will abide in ordinary forms.

In the tantric text Vajra Tent, Vajradhara says,

In the future degenerate times, I will manifest as a child and in various forms as a means.

In the same text, Vajradhara also mentions,

In the final five-hundred-year period,80 I will manifest in the holy body of the leader of disciples. At that time you should believe it is me and generate devotion.

Another tantra says,

At the end of time the All-Pervasive Lord81 himself will manifest in the ordinary body of the holy virtuous friend and guide the transmigratory beings of the degenerate time.

While these quotations come from tantric texts, there are also quotations from the sutras. Once on a high mountain in south India where Guru Shakyamuni Buddha was teaching, bodhisattva Amoghadarshi asked Buddha, “At the moment we can receive teachings from the Buddha, but what shall we do in the future when you have passed beyond sorrow? Who will guide us?” Guru Shakyamuni Buddha replied, “Amoghadarshi, in degenerate times in the future, I will manifest in the forms of spiritual masters and abbots. In order to ripen the minds of sentient beings, I will also show birth, old age, sickness and death. Don’t worry that you will not meet me in the degenerate times. At that time I shall manifest as the abbot or as the teacher.”

In other words, Guru Shakyamuni Buddha said that in the future he would take ordinary forms and manifest experiencing the samsaric problems of birth, old age, sickness and death. Amoghadarshi asked this question on behalf of all sentient beings and Buddha’s reply was meant not only for Amoghadarshi but for all sentient beings.

Also, in the sutra Great Gone Beyond Sorrow Buddha explains,

Even though I have shown passing beyond sorrow in this great land of Dzambu, in the end I have not gone beyond sorrow completely. Even though I have shown being conceived in a mother’s womb in this land of Dzambu, it is just for my mother and father to recognize me as their son; my holy body wasn’t born from the gathering of attachment. My holy body does not have sufferings of hunger and thirst, but in order to fit with the beings of this world, I also show hunger and thirst. Other than that, I also show myself as an ordinary being to individual beings. I have had profound wisdom for countless eons. Even though I have passed completely beyond the world created by grasping, I show walking, sitting and other conducts. I show having headaches, stomach aches, backaches and boils. I wash my legs, hands, face and mouth, and clean my teeth with a tooth stick. Even though individual ordinary beings believe I have all these problems, my holy body has none of these problems.

There are many such quotations where Guru Shakyamuni Buddha said that he would manifest for the benefit of sentient beings. Even though Buddha himself has no suffering, he manifests having suffering; even though Buddha has no faults, he manifests having faults.

Also, in the past when Shakyamuni Buddha was the bodhisattva Brahma Samudraraja, he generated bodhicitta and made five hundred special prayers in the presence of his guru Ratnagarbha. He prayed, “In the future quarreling time of the five degenerations, when the lifespan of human beings in this world will be one hundred years, I will guide and subdue the sentient beings of that time, who the other thousand buddhas of the fortunate eon found too difficult to subdue.” Buddha voluntarily took this responsibility upon himself. This quotation, usually found in the section on the kindness of the guru, can also be related to this outline.

Now, our age is the quarreling time and we are the sentient beings for whom Buddha generated great compassion and promised to guide. There is no doubt that Buddha must be guiding us. We should ask ourselves, “Who is the Buddha that is guiding me to enlightenment in this quarreling time?” The Guru Shakyamuni Buddha who is guiding us is none other than our present gurus, who are showing us the path to enlightenment. There is no one else to point out except our gurus. Therefore, our gurus are definitely Guru Shakyamuni Buddha. 

There are many quotations from Guru Shakyamuni Buddha and Buddha Vajradhara explaining how, in order to guide sentient beings in the future, they would manifest in the forms of virtuous friends and in various other forms. Who else can that be but our present virtuous friends? If the teachers that we have visualized in the merit field are not the embodiments of Vajradhara, who else can we point out? There is nobody else to point out as the ones guiding us to enlightenment except these virtuous friends. Therefore, our virtuous friends are definitely buddhas. 

Such stories and quotations give us more feeling and make it easy for us to generate devotion, the root of the path. They help us to lean more to the side that the guru is a buddha. They help to change our mind from the wrong conception that thinks the guru is an ordinary being and not a buddha. 

Meditate on this outline then come to the conclusion that each of your gurus is a buddha. Completely decide that each guru in essence is Guru Shakyamuni Buddha or Vajradhara, who promised to subdue the sentient beings of the degenerate time, who are so difficult to subdue. Once you have reached this conclusion and proved to your mind that each of your gurus is a buddha, keep your mind in that state of guru devotion.


70 For an explanation of the twelve links see The Meaning of Life or Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand, pp. 479–86. [Return to text]

71 On every atom are buddhas numberless as atoms,    
Each amidst a host of bodhisattvas,    
And I am confident the sphere of all phenomena    
Is entirely filled with buddhas in this way. (“King of Prayers,” v. 3. See Essential Buddhist Prayers, Volume 1, p. 249.) [Return to text]

72 Bile disease refers to jaundice and other liver diseases. [Return to text]

73 Wind disease, or lung, refers to states in which the wind element within the body is unbalanced; it is similar to a stress- or anxiety-induced state. [Return to text]

74 Lhamo Lhatso is a lake in Tibet that is associated with Palden Lhamo, the protectoress of Tibet. It is an oracle lake and is usually consulted in the search for the incarnations of the Dalai Lamas. [Return to text]

75 An FPMT center in Pomaia, Italy. These teachings have been published in The Bliss of Inner Fire. [Return to text]

76  Skt; Tib: mu-teg-pa. Forders—early Indian followers of non-Buddhist systems. See Meditation on Emptiness, p. 320 ff. [Return to text]

77 The immediate condition in generating compassion, for example, would be the moment of consciousness immediately prior to generating a motivation of compassion. [Return to text]

78 The causal condition in generating compassion could be the suffering of other sentient beings or the same as the immediate condition. [Return to text]

79 See appendix 4. [Return to text]

80  Shakyamuni Buddha predicted that his teachings would endure for ten 500-year periods. [Return to text]

81 This is an epithet of Vajradhara. [Return to text]