If you understand the actual meaning of the guru, you don’t see any difference between the deity and the guru; you can’t separate the deity and the guru. If you understand what the guru really means, you discover that they’re one. Therefore, when we hear the word “guru” or think of the guru, we shouldn’t think that it is something separate from the deity—and this is not only during guru devotion meditation when we are doing analysis, by using logical reasoning and by remembering quotations, to try to prove to our mind, which sees the guru and buddha as two separate things, that they are one. The main meditation is trying to discover that the guru and buddha are one. Even though there are two different names, they’re one thing.
You train your mind by doing analytic meditation on how the guru is buddha; when you come to the conclusion that the guru is buddha, you then keep your mind one-pointedly in that discovery or experience, understanding that these two are one. You then keep your mind on that conclusion for as long as you can. This is fixed meditation. By training your mind in this way, by doing analytical and ﬁxed meditation together, your realization that guru and buddha are one gradually becomes stable. It doesn’t change. For your mind it’s unshakable, indestructible. Your devotion seeing the guru as buddha becomes very stable.
When day and night, all the time, this is what your heart spontaneously, effortlessly, experiences, this is the realization of guru devotion. This is what causes you to receive all the blessings of the guru or of the deity, which is the same thing. From that you are then able to achieve all the realizations from the graduated path of the being of lower capability, which starts with perfect human rebirth, to the graduated path of the being of middling capability, to the graduated path of the being of higher capability, which includes the tantric path, up to enlightenment.
When you see the guru, when you think of the guru, when you recite a prayer with the word “guru,” the understanding should come in your heart that this is the dharmakaya, the buddha’s holy mind, the primordial mind which has no beginning and no end, which pervades all phenomena, and which is bound with infinite compassion for sentient beings. Whenever the karma of a sentient being to receive guidance has ripened, no matter where that sentient being is, without even a second’s delay, this can manifest in any form that accords with that sentient being’s karma and give guidance. Without any superstitious thought, this works spontaneously, effortlessly, for sentient beings, even though they are numberless. It is like the sun. There’s only one sun in the world, but when it rises it is reﬂected in every body of water—oceans, rivers, and even drops of dew—as long as it isn’t covered. The sun doesn’t have the motivation, “I’m going to be reﬂected in all the drops of dew in this beautiful garden or in this country.” The sun doesn’t have such a plan.
This is the example usually given in the teachings: there is only one sun but when it rises it is reﬂected in every body of water that is uncovered. Like that, the guru is able to beneﬁt all the numberless sentient beings. Therefore, the guru manifests as Shakyamuni Buddha, founder of the present Buddhadharma in this world. The guru also manifests as all the lineage lamas, as well as the deities of the four classes of tantra, and reveals the path to achieve enlightenment of each deity. The guru manifests as the thousand buddhas of this eon; as the Medicine Buddhas, who are very powerful for success if sentient beings pray to them, make offerings to them, or recite their names or mantras; as the Thirty-ﬁve Buddhas, who are very powerful in purifying negative karma. The guru manifests in all these aspects of buddha, who have different functions. Even among the Thirty-ﬁve Buddhas, each buddha purifies speciﬁc negative karmas.
Relate all this to yourself. The guru has manifested to you in all of them, including Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, who taught 84,000 teachings—pratimoksha, Mahayana sutra (Paramitayana) and Mahayana tantra—and revealed the whole path to enlightenment. It manifested also in the forms of bodhisattvas, such as Chenrezig, Manjushri, Ksitigarbha, and the rest of the eight bodhisattvas. It manifested in the forms of arhats, such as the Sixteen Arhats. It manifested in the forms of dakas and dakinis, and it manifested in the forms of protectors. To guide you, the guru manifested all the many beings in the merit ﬁeld. They are all manifested for you. The guru manifested in all these many aspects to perform different actions to guide you, to help you to actualize the path and cross the ocean of samsara, to bring you to enlightenment.
The guru doesn’t manifest in only the merit ﬁeld that you visualize for meditation. The guru manifests in any form that’s needed by you and by any other sentient being. The guru manifests in all sorts of forms, even animal forms. The guru manifests in the forms of beggars, who cause you to collect merit. The guru manifests in all kinds of forms to guide you, to help you.
So, this is the absolute guru. This is what we have to remember here. The real meaning of guru is the absolute guru, the dharmakaya, the holy mind of all the buddhas.
There is the absolute guru and the conventional guru. We need the ordinary aspect of the conventional guru to guide us because we don’t have the karma to be able to see the guru in the pure aspect of a buddha, without any faults, sufferings, delusions, or mistakes in their actions. Since we don’t yet have the karma to see the guru in the aspect of buddha, we need an ordinary aspect to guide us. Ordinary aspect means having faults, having the sufferings of old age, sickness, and so forth, having delusions, and making mistakes in their actions. This is what ordinary aspect means. Since we have only the karma to see and receive guidance from an ordinary aspect, the only way that the absolute guru, which is bound by infinite compassion to us and to all other sentient beings, can directly guide and save us is through the conventional guru, this ordinary aspect. This aspect has manifested exactly according to the present state of our mind, which is impure. It is only from this aspect that we can receive guidance. Even though there have been so many lineage lamas in the past, we didn’t have the karma to see and receive direct guidance from them. Even though there are numberless aspects of buddhas, they can’t give us direct guidance because we can’t see them. The only one left from whom we can receive direct guidance is this ordinary aspect, the conventional guru.
The absolute guru, by manifesting in or through this ordinary aspect, then directly guides us and saves us from suffering, from the sufferings of the lower realms and of samsara. The way this is done is by enabling us to abandon the negative karmas of killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, and so forth. Starting by abandoning these negative karmas, we are then able to gradually actualize the path, removing ﬁrst the disturbing-thought obscurations and next the subtle obscurations. It brings us to enlightenment by causing us to actualize the path. The guru reveals the teachings, shows you the path, and from your own side you do the practices of listening, reﬂ ecting, and meditating. By actualizing the path and ceasing the disturbing-thought obscurations, which liberates you totally from the oceans of samsaric suffering, you are brought to liberation. Then, by actualizing the Mahayana path and ceasing even the subtle defilements, you are brought to enlightenment.
This just happened because I mentioned that you yourself become the guru-deity and that you have to realize there’s no separation between the guru and the deity. That’s similar to saying that you have to realize there’s no separation between your guru and buddha. Because this topic came up, I just expanded on it a little. But this understanding is the very point of guru yoga, of guru devotion. This is the very heart; this is what we have to discover, to realize.
The absolute guru manifests in all the deities. With this realization you don’t see any difference between Maitreya Buddha and the guru or between Tara and the guru. You don’t see any separation between Manjushri and the guru. And it is the same with all the rest. It’s all one being. No matter how many different aspects there are, all the buddhas, in reality, are one. Why are there so many different aspects? Because sentient beings have different karma. However, in reality, they’re all one, and that one is the guru, the absolute guru.
Excerpted from a teaching given by Kyabje Zopa Rinpoche at Root Institute, Bodhgaya, India on December 29, 2006. Transcribed and edited by Ven. Ailsa Cameron; published in Roots of Wisdom, the Root Institute newsletter. Read and listen to the whole teaching online at Bodhgaya Teachings 2006, Day 4.