Sun of Devotion, Stream of Blessings

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Leeds and London, UK (Archive #1963)

Sun of Devotion, Stream of Blessings is the record of a remarkable series of powerful and clear Dharma teachings given by Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche to students in Leeds and London, United Kingdom, in 2014. This book is now available in print and digital formats and as a free audiobook on Google Play.

Chapter 10. Seeing the Guru as a Buddha
The harm Dolgyal has done

I want to mention this story so you can get a better understanding of the damage Dolgyal does to the world, to Buddhism, to Tibetan Buddhism, and in particular to Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings. Some stories are from many years ago but this particular story is from recent years.

This incident happened in Ganden Monastery. There was a geshe, Jangtse Geshe Drati, who was an expert in philosophy. When we were in Buxa he was well known for his understanding of the five major sutra texts—Abhisamayalamkara, Vinaya, Madhyamaka, Abhidharmakosha and Pramanavarttika—and I think he became even better known in south India. He came to our class in Buxa to explain one of the texts.

After Buxa he was advised by His Holiness’s office in Dharamsala to change the way the monks studied into that of a school, like a university. Previously the subjects ran sequentially, one by one, with a different number of years for each subject, so what was studied depended on time. So he transformed the course of study into a university-type curriculum, where the five major sutra texts were taught simultaneously.

When Geshe Tsephel, who now has a center in America,76 was the abbot of Ganden Jangtse, he wanted to take teachings from Geshe Drati, especially because he was an expert in Madhyamaka, even though Geshe Tsephel himself is also very learned. He had prepared all the offerings in order to request the teachings the next day but, that night, he had very bad dream, so he did not go.

What happened was that Geshe Drati had criticized His Holiness. He said there were many learned lamas who were practicing Dolgyal and that they were very good, something like that. I didn’t see details of his criticism but Khadro-la told His Holiness that it was the worst criticism so far.

Ganden Monastery has two divisions, Shartse and Jangtse, and the letter criticizing His Holiness was read in public to the Ganden Jangtse assembly. I don’t know how many thousands of monks were in Jangtse but they were all there for a puja. Because of that, the staff and abbots of the monasteries gathered to decide whether to expel Geshe Drati from Ganden Jangtse Monastery, even though he was a great teacher with a thousand disciples.

They decided to ask Kalarupa, the main protector of Ganden Monastery, for advice. The power of all the buddhas is manifested in Yamantaka, Vajrabhairava, who is the most wrathful aspect of Manjushri. Kalarupa is the protector that Yamantaka orders to do activities. But this protector is not a worldly being; he is beyond samsara. There are three aspects of Kalarupa: outer Kalarupa, inner Kalarupa and secret Kalarupa. Of Lama Tsongkhapa’s two protectors, Kalarupa and Six-arm Mahakala, Kalarupa is the main one. Lama Tsongkhapa gave them orders and they fulfilled them.

The requesting ceremony to Kalarupa, which requires using small bowls, takes time because every bowl has to be weighed exactly, like when you buy gold. The answer to the question is inside the bowls—you ask the question mentally. So, each bowl has to be of equal weight; if any are lighter or heavier the answer becomes incorrect.

After the abbots and staff of the monastery did pujas and prayers asking whether this geshe should be expelled from the monastery or not it came out he should be expelled. His criticism of His Holiness was then read out to all the monks, who clapped their hands. Clapping hands in the West means joy and approval, like in football, to show you are happy. In Tibet, clapping hands in this way means the opposite of being happy or welcoming somebody. In the monasteries it’s something wrathful.

We also did it at Buxa in the very early times. A huge pot of black tea was made for the monks and they tipped all of it out, which was a sort of wrathful action, showing the unbelievable suffering of the whole of Tibet turned upside down. In the very early Buxa days the monks tipped the tea out and then beat it with the end of their zens.

The monks did that, but of course, although the action can be wrathful, it has to fit into Buddhist practice and be motivated by compassion, otherwise it becomes a worldly activity, which is the same as most countries do—fighting each other, killing each other. There is nothing different.

I heard that in Iraq, while Saddam Hussein was president, when somebody did something wrong they took him to the place of execution and laid him on the ground. His parents and relatives had to be there and when his head was chopped off they had to clap their hands as if they were happy with the execution.

The original motivation must fit with Buddhism; it must be great compassion for others, even for the enemy. Then, even if the action is wrathful, it is like parents punishing their child in order to help him. They send him to school to educate him so he can have a good life in the future, but if the child refuses to go they scold and beat him with compassion because they have concern for his future and they don’t want him to suffer later. This is like the monks tipping out the tea.

In Ganden, when the letter was read publicly, all the monks clapped their hands, indicating they wanted to expel that geshe even though he was an expert, especially in the Madhyamaka teachings on emptiness. They clapped their hands and kicked him out. Now he is in France.

We ordinary people don’t understand the extent of the harm that Dolgyal can do through the great lamas, those learned in philosophy. He harms them from the top and then they spread his influence to many people, getting them to practice him. He wants many people to practice him, to follow him, so he influences the geshes, the lamas, like this.

This has even spread to Lama Tsongkhapa’s main monastery, Ganden, where his teachings are preserved; where the monks not only study the texts but practice their meaning as well. This was a great Lama Tsongkhapa tradition monastery in Tibet and is now located in south India. They preserve the excellent Buddhist education, which is like the Pacific Ocean, deep and vast, but it is not just faith. It is not like you are forbidden to check anything, to ask questions, that you must just believe what you are told. The monks are perfectly qualified to explain the Dharma to sentient beings, whether it is the vast teachings, the middle-level teachings or just the very essence of the lam-rim, depending on the level of the students’ minds. These monasteries—Ganden, Sera and Drepung—always produced highly qualified teachers and continue to do so.

So you can see that the harm Dolgyal can do is huge. If the top teachers, those who are expert in Dharma, succumb to Dolgyal’s influence, then many students, if they don’t check what their guru does, can easily follow. They might even think the reason the guru is so successful is because of Dolgyal.

But the guru is already successful; he already has great knowledge. The great lamas like Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, Kyabje Zong Rinpoche, Pabongka Rinpoche and all the other lamas have renunciation, bodhicitta, the right view of emptiness, and tantric realizations of the generation and completion stages. Even by just having bodhicitta, of course, they can benefit others greatly. Just by giving a spoonful of food to a dog with bodhicitta purifies the dog’s negative karma and makes a connection with that dog so that it will be able to meet the bodhisattva again and again in future lives. So, it’s not only by teaching that these great lamas benefit sentient beings. But so many people think that they’re of benefit because of Dolgyal.

The conclusion is that Dolgyal wants to harm others. He himself has no guru connection with His Holiness because he broke his samaya in the past, so he wants to make other people like that. He is harming Buddhism—particularly Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings—and harming the world.

Even though we might have learned the words of Dharma well by studying the scriptures, we can still make big mistakes in our practice by not correctly following our virtuous friend and even criticizing him. We might be experts in all the extremely difficult texts but because we have not done proper analysis we can easily believe things like that.

In that way Dolgyal particularly tries to harm Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings and create disharmony within Lama Tsongkhapa’s tradition. He is very sectarian; very, very sectarian. He wants to cause disharmony between the Tibetan Buddhist traditions, the Nyingma, Kagyü, Sakya and Gelug. To not make a connection with the other traditions, to not take teachings from them, is very sectarian; it brings great disharmony. Lama Tsongkhapa took the full ordination vows from the eighth Karmapa, Mikyö Dorje, and he took different teachings from lamas of the other traditions.

We must investigate any guru we want to follow

The root of enlightenment is correctly devoting to the virtuous friend. If that is done well, it brings every success up to enlightenment, to be able to free all sentient beings from the oceans of samsaric suffering and bring them to full enlightenment. If the root is wrong, if we are mistaken in how we devote to the virtuous friend, then there is no success and there is great suffering in this life and from life to life, for hundreds of thousands, or even millions of lives. For example, we have to experience the unbearable suffering of the inexhaustible hell realm for an intermediate eon.77

But even then our karma is not finished. Even when this world ends, even when this world becomes empty, which after a great eon it will, we must be born in the hell realm of another universe. There are numberless universes and in those universes there are hell realms, so we will be born there and suffer until our karma has finished.

Even in recent times it has happened that Dolgyal has caused incredible danger, particularly to Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings. For instance, many disciples have become angry or developed heresy to their guru, so he creates harm like this. In one second they have destroyed their ability to attain enlightenment, their realizations, their merit. Although I haven’t yet seen it with my own eyes, I have heard that the scriptures say that heresy toward the guru destroys hundreds of thousands of eons of merit.

The lam-rim outline is a bit different. It says that if we get angry with our guru, for however many seconds we are angry with him, we have to be reborn and suffer in the lower realms for that many eons. There is a contradiction in this outline. What I mentioned was that if we are not a bodhisattva and we get angry with a bodhisattva for one second, we destroy one thousand eons of virtue created by cherishing sentient beings and making offerings to the buddhas. That is also mentioned in the Lamrim Chenmo and A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life. I asked Jangtse Chöje, who thought it might be a minute but I think it’s a second.

These things are not small matters. Dolgyal destroys the root of the path to enlightenment, correctly following the virtuous friend, the most important thing in our life. You should know this. You should not think, “Oh, this is a Tibetan problem.” You have to know how harmful it is, otherwise you can get drawn in and then you won’t know you are getting cheated.

I have heard that Dolgyal followers in Singapore stick the Dolgyal mantra on their cars and leave them outside. They actually believe that by putting the mantra on a car or reciting it they can be successful in business.

We can very easily be cheated, so we must check everything. Guru Shakyamuni Buddha said,

Oh bhikshus and wise men, as one assays gold by rubbing, cutting and melting, so examine well my words and accept them, but not because you respect me.

The Buddha himself said that.78 We have to examine his teachings just as we would examine a metal to see if it is gold, to see whether it is false, mixed or pure. There are three ways you test for gold, by cutting it, rubbing it and burning it. He said we should accept his teachings only after examining them and seeing they are correct. That means we are most welcome to investigate whatever question we have. Once we have investigated and found the teachings to be correct and, on the strength of that, have decided to follow them, then we are not doing so through blind faith. It’s my view that, among all the religions, only Buddhism gives us the opportunity, the freedom, to examine the path completely.

In the monasteries the special way of studying is debate. Acceptance of the Buddhadharma is not just through belief but also through debate, through questioning—you can ask any question and then decide for yourself whether the answer is correct or incorrect. Even if it is correct, you can still debate. If you are good debater, even if somebody has given a correct answer you can still try to change that person’s mind.

Buddhism is very logical, very perfect, and examination of it leads to a deep, clear understanding of the teachings. We are not asked to accept something on blind faith. We are never told we are not allowed to ask questions but must just accept what we hear. This is how it can become when somebody doesn’t have an answer.

I’m bringing this up in the context of Dolgyal. What I’m saying is that if we are allowed to check what has been revealed by the guru, then why not with Dolgyal? That is my question. A Dolgyal practitioner might be an expert in debate but has never checked on Dolgyal. That is very strange. Especially seeing how Dolgyal is clearly so harmful to the world, to Buddhism, to the success of Tibet, to His Holiness’s wishes and, particularly, to Lama Tsongkhapa’s teaching. This is extremely clear. That is what Dolgyal’s influence is like, even for learned lamas and geshes. It leads many people to no longer follow His Holiness but to follow Dolgyal instead, to go in the wrong direction.

If you are following Tibetan Buddhism, learning and practicing tantra, you have to understand this. If, as a non-Tibetan, you think that this is purely a Tibetan problem, you are mistaken. Tibetan Buddhism originated from the Buddha himself and from those who were like second Buddhas—Nagarjuna and all the great pandits from Nalanda and the many enlightened Tibetan lamas, such as Lama Tsongkhapa. Because what you are learning comes from this great lineage, the Dolgyal problem is also yours.

Seeing the guru as a buddha

A sutra says,

From your side as the disciple, think that the guru who reveals the Dharma to you is a buddha, always abiding in front of you, blessing your heart. By thinking this way, the buddha constantly blesses your mind, liberating you from all wrong conceptions and mistaken ways of thinking.

It is very important to remember these words whenever we do the guru devotion meditation. Think that the virtuous friend who reveals the Dharma is a buddha. From our side as a disciple, we should think of him as a buddha. Then the buddha is always abiding in front of us in the form of the one who reveals the Dharma to us, as the guru. Even if we have only received an oral transmission of OM MANI PADME HUM or one verse of teaching, still the connection has been made. We are the disciple; he or she is the guru.

Any time we think “buddha,” the buddha is always there in front of us, blessing our mind, our heart. This is not our physical beating heart but where the mind is. Scientists often talk about the brain. That is quite natural, isn’t it? Don’t you sometimes feel that thinking happens in the brain? When you think of some problem or something, don’t you feel it’s in the brain rather than anywhere else?

On the other hand, emotions such as compassion, patience and anger don’t seem to come from the brain but from the heart. When strong negative emotions come, that is where we feel them. So my question is, why do we feel them there? Why not in the brain, when scientists talk about the brain as being everything? I think many of you have investigated and rejected the scientific notion that the brain is everything. There are even instances where a person has been able to remain alive without a brain.

In Phagri, where I lived for three years, Kyabje Zong Rinpoche—who gave me many initiations and teachings—saw a person without a head, with only a neck. To feed him the family spooned the tsampa in through his neck. He managed to communicate. When he wanted to be out in the sun or when he was hungry he talked with his fingers, like rubbing his stomach for hunger. He had no head but he lived. This sounds unbelievable but you should know that my guru, Kyabje Zong Rinpoche, actually saw this in Phagri. There is no reason why my guru would lie to me.

He also told me that he had heard about a chicken that lived without a head for two or three years. Perhaps he saw it on TV. The person who fed the chicken took it all around the world to make money but then after three years it died because he forgot to give it food or something. It means that even without a brain there is still a basis for the mind to function in the body; it is still possible to be a living being.

Later, I saw something similar in a text by a great lama from Amdo, who had many collections of sutra and tantra teachings. He said in the teachings that in Amdo he saw a person without head. I don’t know what scientists would say. If I were in a meeting with them, I would ask that question.

This is all just to do with the notion that the mind is the brain. These examples show that there is more to reality than what scientists believe. They need to change their ideas, to refine them so that they become closer to reality.

Wherever we consider the mind to be, think of the guru as a buddha who always abides there, blessing us and liberating us from all the wrong concepts, especially the ignorance that is the creator of samsara, believing that the I and the aggregates are truly existent. This is a very important practice. If we want to achieve enlightenment and liberate sentient beings from the oceans of samsaric suffering, if we want to lead them all to sang-gyä, the total elimination of all obscurations and the completion of all realizations, we must practice seeing the guru as a buddha.

This is the very essence of how to follow the virtuous friend, how to devote to the virtuous friend through thought and action. Devoting through thought is looking at the guru as a buddha and devoting through action is receiving the guru’s advice and fulfilling his wishes.

When we invited Kyabje Chöden Rinpoche to Vajrapani Institute79 he said that the reason we, as disciples, see the guru as a buddha and follow his advice is because this is the sole way to enlightenment. If we are able to fulfill these two things, correct thought and action toward the guru, the result must be that we will achieve sang-gyä. Otherwise it is impossible; there can be no sang-gyä. That was his conclusion. Rinpoche did not use that term, but that is what it is, sang-gyä.

Many people think that to serve the guru we have to be with the guru. This is not so. Whether we are far from the guru or near we can still serve the guru. It doesn’t matter whether we’re living in his house or on the other side of the world. We could be on the moon or the sun and still be serving the guru by keeping purely the vows he has given us: refuge vows, pratimoksha vows, like the five lay vows or the eight Mahayana precepts, and higher vows, such as those of monastic ordination or the bodhisattva or tantric vows. If we are keeping those vows we are following the guru’s advice, fulfilling his wishes; we are serving the guru.

Also, meditating, studying such things as the lam-rim, the commentaries and the philosophical teachings—learning the Dharma and integrating it into our practice—is what the guru wishes us to do, and doing all that is also serving the guru, fulfilling his advice. Whatever else the guru has advised us to do, such as retreat or to teach the Dharma, is also service to the guru. So we do not have to be with the guru. We can be far away, on another planet or wherever.

In general, anything that benefits sentient beings and helps liberate them from suffering is service to the guru because that is exactly what he advises. That is fulfilling the guru’s wishes. 

We also need to recognize any physical or verbal action of the guru, even dancing, as an action of the buddha’s holy body. Whatever the guru does is the holy action of a buddha; whatever the guru says is the holy speech of a buddha.

Rather than having a mind thick with attachment, we have to shake our mind, we have to be aware. We have to enlighten our mind. When the guru talks to us, we need to see it as the holy speech of all the buddhas. This is Shakyamuni Buddha talking to us, this is Maitreya Buddha talking to us, this is Tara talking to us, this is Manjushri talking to us, this is Heruka talking to us, this is our own particular deity talking to us. This is our practice. This is what we have to do. 

We also have to think that whatever the guru says or does, which is the action of the guru’s mind, is the action of all the numberless buddhas’ holy minds.

Every single atom of the guru’s holy body is all the buddhas’ holy bodies. We have to think like that; we have to meditate on that; we have to realize that. If we do, then it is like the sutra says—any guru we think of as a buddha in that way, the buddha always abides there and always blesses our heart, liberating our mind from all the wrong concepts.

If we want enlightenment, then this is how and why we should practice. We shouldn’t practice just so that we can space out like we do on drugs, on LSD—not that I know if anybody here has taken LSD or not.

In the very early times at Kopan, before we built the monastery, Lama Yeshe and I were staying in the old British-style house built for the Nepalese king’s astrologer. We had a small room, just big enough to fit two people, with Lama on one side and me on the other. There was a door and a window, but I can’t remember whether there was a table or not. I remember a Western student at that time was smoking what he called “Buddha grass.” There were many drugs around then. LSD had just come out. Everywhere you went in Kathmandu, on every corner you could see Western people, coming from here, coming from there, their faces unhealthy and pale because of the drugs they were taking. Once a student gave us some bread with LSD in it but we didn’t eat it. If we had taken it, I would be able to describe our experience, singing the mandala or maybe visiting hell, I’m not sure.

Offering to the pores of His Holiness

Even though you have read many other lam-rim texts, when you read any of Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings you think, “Oh, I should have read this at the very beginning, as my first teaching. I wish I had seen this when I first encountered Buddhism.” When I read one of his texts it strikes me like that. His advice is very concise but so vast, so deep. That is the way Lama Tsongkhapa explains the teachings. For example, with the mandala offering, he said it is very important to make a good-quality visualization. Good quality means visualizing the mandala in the most extensive way we can and then making the offering.

Offering the mandala is one of the exceptional methods of collecting extensive merit, so doing it purely, doing a good-quality one—the best quality—is very important, as is doing the greatest number of mandala offerings possible. He mentions that these are the two ways to collect the most merit, the quality of the mandala offering and the number of times it’s made. Other lam-rim texts describe the details of the visualizations but Lama Tsongkhapa just makes this main point.

Those meditators who have achieved the eighth, ninth or tenth bodhisattva bhumi can manifest billions, zillions, trillions of mandalas. They can do prostrations in the pure land of the buddhas. They can do so much, while we are unable to manifest even one. We have mountains of obscurations and negative karma, which high-level bodhisattvas do not.

Lama Tsongkhapa said doing prostrations is another way of collecting extensive merit. He said we should visualize many bodies, as if we have numberless bodies covering the whole ground, and then, with those millions of bodies, prostrate to the merit field.

Visualizing two bodies prostrating gains us the same merit as if two bodies were actually prostrating; visualizing ten bodies prostrating gains us the same merit as ten bodies doing it. If we are able to visualize the whole earth full of our bodies, filling the four directions and the intermediate ones, all prostrating, we get the same merit as that many of our bodies prostrating. This creates unbelievable merit.

Lama Tsongkhapa explains things like this so concisely, giving just the essence. Just using one or two words he explains the contradictions in the arguments of many famous contemporary and previous meditators. Then he spends more pages on practices such as the preliminary practices. 

Just as visualizing countless bodies prostrating brings great merit, so too does thinking that, while offering something as small as a cup of water to the guru, we are offering it to the numberless buddhas; we get the benefit of actually offering water to numberless buddhas. We can think how every atom of our guru’s holy body contains numberless buddhas and we are offering to all of them. Whatever we are doing—offering service, offering robes, cleaning or washing—if we think we are doing it for the numberless buddhas, we get that amount of merit. Even if we do not consciously think that, we still get much merit.

For example, when attending our guru’s teachings we can think that this is Tara giving the teaching, this is Guru Shakyamuni Buddha giving the teaching, this is Manjushri giving the teaching, this is our deity giving the teaching, this is the numberless buddhas giving us the teaching. Similarly, whenever our guru gives us advice, whatever it is, we should think that this advice is coming from all the numberless buddhas. This is Tara giving us advice, this is Maitreya Buddha giving us advice, this is Guru Shakyamuni Buddha giving us advice, this is Mahakala giving us advice, this is all the thousand buddhas of the fortunate eon giving us advice. All the merit field, all the dakas and dakinis, all the arhats, including the sixteen who are buddhas, the Dharma protectors—everyone is giving us advice. The guru’s advice is everybody giving us advice.

In that way, we never feel abandoned; we are always connected with all the numberless buddhas, up to the Dharma protectors of the merit field. In the same way, the merits are unbelievable when we make offerings to the guru’s disciples, the guru’s “pores.”

This is an example you can keep in mind. When I make offerings to people who have received teachings from His Holiness, even lay people, even Westerners, but especially in the monasteries such as Sera, Ganden, Drepung or Kopan, first of all I try to generate bodhicitta motivation, thinking, “To achieve enlightenment to free the numberless sentient beings from the oceans of samsaric suffering and bring them to full enlightenment I am going to make these offerings.” Even without bodhicitta, the merit of offering to the many fully ordained monks is unbelievable. The higher number of vows they live in, the more unbelievable merit we collect by making offerings of food, tea, money or whatever.

Even offering to one monk with bodhicitta motivation collects skies of merit. There are thousands of monks in each monastery—Sera Me, Sera Je, Ganden Shartse, Ganden Jangtse, Drepung Gomang and Drepung Loseling—so after generating bodhicitta, I think, “I make this offering to achieve enlightenment for sentient beings.” If you offer to each monk in this way you collect more than skies of merit.

After that, I think they are all His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s pores. Literally, pores are tiny holes in the skin of the body but these pores are different. Pores here means not only the disciples of the guru but, if the guru is a layperson, it can also mean his or her spouse, children and any animals he or she has, dogs, horses and so forth. Even the guru’s neighbors are pores.

After generating bodhicitta, while making the offering, I think wherever they are, whatever college or khangtsen they belong to, they are His Holiness’s pores. So I offer to all the thousands of monks in Sera Je and Sera Me thinking that they are all His Holiness’s pores.

By generating bodhicitta at the beginning and thinking of the monk to whom we are making an offering as one of His Holiness’s pores, we collect inconceivable merit. The merit of offering to just one statue of the Buddha is utterly beyond our comprehension, yet we collect far more merit by offering a glass of water, tea, money or whatever to a monk we see as a pore of His Holiness than we do by making offerings to the numberless Buddhas, the numberless Dharma, the numberless Sangha, the numberless statues, the numberless scriptures and the numberless stupas combined.

Now that is by thinking of just one monk as a pore of His Holiness and making an offering to him. Of course, this is multiplied when offered in this way to all the other monks. They are all disciples, or pores, of His Holiness, so when we make offerings to them we can think that we are making offerings to the guru’s pores. If offering to just one monk brings greater merit than offering to the numberless holy objects in all the universes, now there is not just one monk but thousands of monks and many of them are fully ordained. By thinking of them all as the pores of the guru and making offerings, the merit we create is utterly unimaginable.

It’s the same at the centers, even in the West, when we make offerings to students who are disciples of His Holiness. If they have received teachings or initiations from His Holiness and see him as their guru, can you imagine the merit we create by offering them just one cup of tea? Or a milkshake! In the West there are many things we can offer, not just momos. We can offer ice cream or hot apple pie. By thinking of those students at your center as pores of His Holiness and offering them something, you create incredible merit, even if there are only three students. So it’s not just in faraway monasteries that you can create this kind of merit.

What a great opportunity we have to make ourselves beneficial for sentient beings, to help free them from the oceans of samsaric suffering and bring them to enlightenment. Even if we just offer a little candy, the merit can be unbelievable. The opportunity is always there.

When I was in Tibet I visited Tsurphu, the Karmapa’s monastery. I had not planned to go there because the Karmapa had fled to India some months earlier, but our Sherpa travel guide included it in the itinerary because he usually took tourists there. Since I’m a Sherpa the guides made Sherpa food for us, millet tsampa mixed with water.

We were actually on our way to Reting, Dromtönpa’s monastery where many of the Kadampa geshes had their hermitages, and the road passed through Tölung Dechen, the place west of Lhasa where Lama Yeshe was born and where his family still lives. The Karmapa’s monastery was not far from there, so they arranged for us to go for a day to visit. The monastery is situated in a narrow valley, with a hermitage on the hill. We camped where there was running water.

We went into the monastery and made money offerings. I tried to offer the money to each monk myself and I was wondering what to think when suddenly I decided to think of each one as my guru. They were not my guru but I thought of each one as Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, my root guru, and then made the money offering to them as my guru. They were not my guru’s pores, but by thinking like this, thinking of offering to the guru, can you imagine the merit? As I mentioned, the guru is the most powerful object, the most holy object, so offering in this way becomes the most powerful purification and the best way to collect the most extensive merit, much more than by making offerings to the numberless Buddhas, Dharma and Sangha. Offering to the guru creates unbelievably more merit than that. I’m just telling you this so you know how to think to collect the most merit. This is just a small good experience I had.

We also visited Tashi Lhunpo, His Holiness the Panchen Lama’s monastery. When we circumambulated the monastery there were many dogs, each with its own place, like a personal hermitage, and a pot to eat its food from. The old mothers from Shigatse carried tsampa and water in buckets to give them. Sometimes they gave the dogs big pieces of the tsampa from their home. By going around the monastery giving food and water to the dogs they were also circumambulating all the unbelievable number of holy objects and holy beings inside. I was really happy seeing those mothers being so kind and compassionate, giving food like that. They were very, very kind.

Before visiting Tshurpu we had been to Tashi Lhunpo, His Holiness the Panchen Lama’s monastery. I had taken a short teaching from the Panchen Lama in Dechen Ling, which is just below Tashi Lhunpo, during the previous trip to Tibet with Geshe Lama Konchog. At that time Gen Wangdu, a meditator from Sera Me, was there and he was the main person who wanted to meet the Panchen Lama and ask for teachings. I had to lead the mandala offering before the interview and, as I had never taken teachings from the Panchen Lama before, I was wondering whether to make the guru-disciple connection or not as I began chanting the prayer. It was in my hand whether to take him as guru or not. I did not want to feel that His Holiness had one view and Panchen Rinpoche another, because then you get into difficulty and can create heavy negative karma. Then I thought they are one in essence. His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Panchen Rinpoche are one in essence, one buddha, so there was no problem. Toward the end of the mandala I had decided to take the teaching and take him as a guru. It was a short teaching based on the Buddha’s advice that we often recite, the verse that starts, “Do not commit any unwholesome actions.” He gave a very powerful teaching on it.

Anyway, I wanted to tell you about the dogs. When we were circumambulating the Panchen Lama’s monastery we saw that there were many dogs, each with its own place, like a personal hermitage, and a pot to eat its food from. The old mothers from Shigatse carried tsampa and water in buckets to give them. Sometimes they gave the dogs big pieces of the tsampa from their home. By going around the monastery giving food and water to the dogs they were also circumambulating all the unbelievable number of holy objects and holy beings inside. I was really happy seeing those mothers being so kind and compassionate, giving food like that. They were very, very kind.

In the same way that I visualized the Tsurphu monks as my guru, you can do that whenever you throw a party for your family or friends. If you can also invite your enemy, that is the best party! That is something that worldly people don’t do. Worldly people usually harm the enemy, insulting him, shooting him and things like that. If you are a Dharma practitioner, you can invite your enemy and offer him apple pie or momos or whatever.

At a party, if you think of each guest as your guru or His Holiness the Dalai Lama when you offer them food or drink, you are making offerings to your guru or His Holiness. In that way you collect the greatest merit and make the most powerful purification. It is much greater than making offerings to the numberless Buddhas, Dharma and Sangha and the numberless statues, stupas and scriptures. Such merit is comparatively small. As I mentioned, in themselves, such offerings are unbelievable—even offering a small grain of rice or a tiny flower to a stupa, a statue or a picture of a buddha, the benefits are beyond our concept, just like the sky. But now, offering to the guru, the merit is much greater than offering to all those holy objects. You collect the highest merit, the most powerful merit. 

So, by imagining all the guests at your party as your guru, as His Holiness, that is your Dharma practice, your guru devotion practice. Not everybody can go to the Karmapa’s monastery in Tibet and make offerings to the monks while seeing them as the guru, but you can collect a huge amount of merit even in your own home by having a party and serving your guests food or drink, seeing that as an offering to your guru; that becomes your Dharma practice. It is such a quick way to achieve enlightenment.

The guru is more precious than a wish-granting jewel

The Kalachakra Tantra says,

Even making offerings to the Three Rare Sublime Ones of the three times for eons
Or saving tens of millions of creatures,
You will still not attain enlightenment in this lifetime,
But if you please the guru by devoting yourself with a devotional mind,
Then you will definitely attain the common and sublime qualities in this lifetime.

This is something you should know. The usual translation of kon-chog sum is “Three Jewels” but I think that is a very poor meaning of the term. I prefer to translate it as exactly as I can according to the Tibetan because it is very important. We say the “Three Jewels” in relation to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha but “three jewels” what? Three jewels what? It’s nothing; it doesn’t give us anything. I prefer to translate kon-chog sum as “Three Rare Sublime Ones”—the exact Tibetan translation—because it has great meaning.

Why should they be called kon-chog sum? Among all material objects, gold, silver, diamonds and sapphires are the most precious. But rarer than these is the wish-granting jewel. After being in the world a long time, at the end, the buddhas’ relics go into the ocean and become wish-granting jewels. I saw this evolution mentioned in a medicine book. That is one explanation; I don’t know if there are any others.

A universal king is a bodhisattva who has collected the most unbelievable merit. They only appear in the world one at a time, never two, and when a king does appear his people are able to live their lives in the ten virtues.80 This happens by the power of the universal king.

Universal, or wheel-turning, kings—great bodhisattvas who have unbelievable merit—are able to find wish-granting jewels in the ocean. The jewels are cleansed of mud in three ways and on the fifteenth of the month are placed on top of a banner. Then, whatever material needs of this life you pray for you can have.

This is something Sai Baba was said to be able to do. He made a hand gesture and produced gold chains, watches or things like that for people to have. These were not magicians’ hallucinations, things you took back home and they then disappeared. You could use them for a long time. Because Sai Baba had a lot of merit he was able to produce material gifts for people.

For example, Ming Ming, one of my students and the godmother of Sangye from our labrang in Sera, had a special connection with Sai Baba. She has been inviting the monks in Sera to do puja every year on Sai Baba’s birthday for ten years. She also invites them to do puja on Chinese New Year. I heard that Sai Baba produced a gold chain or something for the head monk.

It’s very strange, because usually, in other places, Muslims would never think of reciting mantras; they might even become infuriated. But many Christians and Muslims come to Singapore and her son recites the mantra of the bodhisattva Ksitigarbha, which I gave to him and his mother to chant. They have special karma. They made a CD of their chanting, but they recite it so fast I couldn’t follow. It is very interesting how the mother and children do this. One time when the son chanted it there were thirty-one thousand people there. Everybody, including all the Muslims, chanted. That is very special. There was no discrimination, no sectarianism, just everybody chanting the mantra. For Muslims, chanting is the most difficult thing in the world. And after they left Singapore they continued to chant the mantras.

Even though a wish-granting jewel is much rarer than diamonds, sapphires or gold, it cannot purify our past negative karma, the cause of lower realms. Only the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha can guide us from the lower realms to the upper realms, from the upper realms to nirvana, liberation from the oceans of samsara, ultimate happiness, and from there to sang-gyä, the total elimination of all obscurations and the completion of all realizations. Wish-granting jewels can give us whatever material comfort of this life we ask for but they cannot do what the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha can.

So, kon-chog sum, the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, is much rarer than a wish-granting jewel, much rarer than numberless wish-granting jewels. Even skies of wish-granting jewels are nothing compared to the value of the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha and what they can do for us. Kon-chog sum has a very deep meaning, but “Three Jewels” is very loose; it becomes like a plastic apple.

I don’t know if they do this in the West, but in Pathankot81 there is a shop that sells fruit. Above the fruit there is a big mirror that reflects all the fruit back. From a distance it looks like there is a lot of fruit but when you look closer you seen that the top part is only a reflection. Anyway, it’s kind of like that.

It says in the teachings that even making offerings to the Three Rare Sublime Ones, kon-chog sum, for three eons and saving the lives of ten of millions of creatures isn’t enough to achieve enlightenment in this lifetime, but if we devote ourselves to the guru who has oceans of qualities we can definitely attain both common and supreme qualities—“supreme” here means mahamudra, enlightenment—in this lifetime.

The tantric text Yeshe Gyatso, Ocean of Transcendental Wisdom, says,

For the wise fortunate one, skill in doing activities for the guru is much more meaningful than doing prostrations to all the past, present and future buddhas for ten million, six hundred thousand eons. If you accomplish whatever your guru advises, all your desires will succeed.82

Compared with doing prostrations to all the past, present and future buddhas for ten million, six hundred thousand eons, being expert in serving the guru and fortunate and wise enough to do so is much more greatly meaningful. If we can accomplish whatever the guru advises us to do, all our wishes, our desires, will succeed just like that and we will collect unimaginable merit.

Seeing apparent mistakes in the guru

There is also a very important practice to remember that helps you develop your mind and prevents what has already developed from degenerating. A verse by the Fifth Dalai Lama explains how important it is:

When mistakes appear in the guru’s actions you should recognize them as your own distorted, hallucinated mind, which sees the opposite of reality. Understand these as your own mistakes and abandon such thinking like poison.83

This is such an important guru devotion practice. Our mind is hallucinated, distorted, and sees the very opposite of reality. To that mind, our own faults appear as faults in the actions of the guru. We must recognize this, understand how these are all our own mistakes and abandon the mind that sees them as faults in the guru.

We must abandon that mind like poison. If we encountered poisonous food and knew that by eating it we would die, we would immediately throw it away, without a second’s delay. Like this, we must recognize the mistakes we see in our guru as results of our hallucinated mind and abandon that mind immediately.

When we see an apparent mistake we cannot see that it is completely the reflection of our own mistaken thinking. We are unaware of that and see it as coming from the guru’s side, that it is his mistake. It is like having dirt on our forehead and being unaware of it until we look in the mirror and then blame the mirror for the dirt. That way of thinking is totally false; the reality is not like that. This is exactly what the Fifth Dalai Lama said: we must recognize that this is our mistake and abandon such wrong thinking like poison.

Guru devotion is like a jewel; it’s the most important jewel in our life and we can destroy it in an instant by seeing any apparent mistakes of the guru as coming from him. For as many seconds as we think like that, we must suffer for that many eons in the lower realms; for that many eons our virtue is destroyed. Even though we might be just about to attain bodhicitta or renunciation or the realization of emptiness, that is delayed for the number of eons equivalent to the number of seconds we had heresy or anger.

When mistakes in the actions of the guru appear to our hallucinated mind, there are two ways of utilizing this. The first way is described in this verse from the Fifth Dalai Lama. When we recognize that the appearance of a mistake is our own mistake, instead of destroying our guru devotion, it strengthens it. We use apparent mistakes to develop our devotion. We see that the mistake is a projection of our hallucinated mind, our negative karma, and there is no mistake from the guru’s side. Because the guru is a buddha, the mistake cannot be from the guru’s side. If we think like that our devotion will not be disturbed and will, in fact, be made stronger.

The second way is to see that in order to guide us to liberation, to free us from the oceans of samsaric suffering of the lower realms, the guru manifests in an ordinary aspect, as having mistakes, especially for us. Showing an ordinary aspect is his method of helping us.

When His Holiness the Dalai Lama first gave the mahamudra commentary84 I asked him what “showing an ordinary aspect” meant. He explained that showing an ordinary aspect means showing mistakes. It is very important for the guru to show us an ordinary aspect and appear to have mistakes in order to guide us. If he were to show himself in the aspect of a buddha we would not be able to see him because our mind is so impure. Without pure karma we cannot see him in an enlightened aspect. With a mind such as ours, a mind full of obscurations, we can only see mistakes. As His Holiness said, the guru can only guide us by appearing to have mistakes. But it is a manifestation of our own mistakes, our hallucinated mind. Therefore, showing the ordinary aspect, showing mistakes, is unbelievably important to us. It is mentioned in the Lama Chöpa,

Adorned with a sugata’s three bodies and ornamental wheels,
You manifest from an alluring net of skillful means
In ordinary form to lead all beings.
Compassionate refuge savior, I make requests to you.85

That is very important. The guru is the essence of the three bodies of all the buddhas gone to bliss, the sugatas, the skillful means that is like a net cutting through appearance. His actions, like a blissful dancing gait, guide transmigratory beings to enlightenment in an ordinary form, not in a pure form.

This means that when the guru appears, he purposely shows us this mistaken, ordinary aspect in order to guide us and all other transmigratory beings to enlightenment. The conclusion is that without the guru guiding us in this ordinary aspect, we would be without a guide, totally lost in samsara. We would be like a baby left out in a hot desert with no food or water, surrounded by dangerous animals. Or we would be like somebody lost in the nighttime in a forest full of tigers and many other animals around that could eat us at any time. We would be totally lost in samsara, totally without a guide, without a protector.

Because of that we live our life creating only negative karma, nothing else, creating only the cause to be born in the lower realms. It is terribly sad, just living our whole life day and night to create the karma to be born in the lower realms. The lower realms are where we have just come from and now all we are doing is creating the cause to go back there and to suffer for eons.

Every second that the guru appears to us in an ordinary, mistaken aspect to guide us is more precious than the whole sky filled with wish-granting jewels. This is a very important meditation. 


76 Land of Compassion Buddha in West Covina, California. [Return to text]

77 See Heart of the Path, p. 155. [Return to text]

78 A well-known saying of the Buddha from the Ghanavyuha Sutra,  this version is found on a plaque next to the Buddha statue in the Tsuglhakhang , His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s temple in Dharamsala. [Return to text]

79 The FPMT retreat center in Boulder Creek, California. [Return to text]

80 The ten virtues are the opposites of the ten nonvirtues and so, instead of killing , the first virtue is not killing or saving lives and so forth. See Rinpoche’s forthcoming book on karma. [Return to text]

81 The railway town in the Punjab where you alight for the bus to Dharamsala. [Return to text]

82 See Heart of the Path, pp. 97–98, for the rest of this verse and a commentary upon it. [Return to text]

83 See also Heart of the Path, pp. 194–95. [Return to text]

84 In Dharamsala at the FPMT’s first Enlightened Experience Celebration, March, 1982. Published as The Gelug/Kagyü Tradition of Mahamudra. [Return to text]

85 V.49. [Return to text]