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.

Chapter 5: The Qualities of a Disciple

Basically, a disciple’s achievement of enlightenment depends upon both the guru and the disciple. The guru should be someone who is perfectly qualified to lead the disciple in the complete path to enlightenment, but if the disciple doesn’t have the fortune to be led in this path, she won’t become enlightened. If the guru is perfectly qualified and the disciple also has the fortune to be led in the complete path, enlightenment comes very easily.

The Seventh Dalai Lama, Kelsang Gyatso, said:

If a perfectly qualified guru meets a disciple who is a fit receptacle, enlightenment comes very easily, like printing a tsa-tsa in clay.

When you make a tsa-tsa from a perfect mold, the image of buddha comes out easily and perfectly in the clay, without any details missing. In a similar way, enlightenment comes easily and perfectly to a qualified disciple.

A perfectly qualified guru is one with all the necessary qualities to guide a disciple in the complete path to enlightenment. A disciple who is a fit receptacle is one who is able to bear hardships in order to practice the advice given by the guru, in order to practice Dharma.

In Ornament of Mahayana Sutras Maitreya Buddha describes the qualities of a disciple in the following way:

The disciple should be impartial and intelligent and yearn for teachings. A disciple who is a fit receptacle is also one who is able to bear hardships to accomplish the Dharma taught by the guru. One who is lazy and cannot bear even small hardships cannot accomplish the Dharma taught by the guru. When a disciple who has great will to achieve enlightenment in one brief lifetime, like the great Milarepa, and whose mind and body are both strong and able to bear hardships of hunger, thirst, heat and cold meets a perfect guru, such a disciple can achieve enlightenment in one brief lifetime.

In Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand, Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo mentions five qualities that a disciple should have. A good disciple is: impartial, intelligent, hardworking, has great respect for her guru and listens carefully to her guru’s instructions.

If we’re impartial, we’re able to examine and understand other views. If we’re willing to check both sides of an argument, we have the opportunity to learn through clarifying what is right and what is wrong.

If we’re biased toward our own wrong beliefs, on the other hand, we never even allow ourselves to examine other views and thus have no opportunity to learn. We don’t listen to what is said and don’t allow ourselves to examine and understand the teachings. For example, if we take reincarnation to be complete nonsense, no matter how much it is explained using logic and quotations, we won’t even take the time to understand the teachings on reincarnation. We will stubbornly hold to our own wrong view. If we don’t have an impartial mind, the teachings won’t benefit us because we won’t take them to heart. Stuck in our own philosophical view, we won’t practice the teachings taught by the virtuous friend, so it will be difficult for the virtuous teacher to guide us.

A disciple who is intelligent means one who is able to discriminate right from wrong.

Also, the tantric text Net of Illusion mentions that a disciple should like meditation and virtue, have devotion to the spiritual master and like to perform the daily practice of making offerings.