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.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Lama Zopa Rinpoche.
Chapter 6. The Guru Is the Most Powerful Object
The sun of devotion, the stream of blessings

If the purpose of our life is to achieve sang-gyä—the total elimination of all obscurations and the completion of all realizations—we need to find a guru and then correctly devote to and follow that virtuous friend. There is a distinction between devoting and following and we need to do both. Devoting is just to do with the mind but correctly following the virtuous friend is to do with thoughts and actions. We need to not only develop the mind of devotion toward the virtuous friend but also to correctly follow the advice of the virtuous friend, which is the root of the path to enlightenment. Much depends on our goal. Khedrub Sangye Yeshe said,

Without a helmsman, a boat cannot take you across the ocean. Like that, without a guru, you cannot be liberated from samsara, even if you have complete knowledge of Dharma.30

Without a guru, we cannot be free from samsara even if we complete all the qualities and have all the education. That is very important to know. Even if we know by heart and can explain the entire Kangyur and Tengyur, if we do not have a guru we cannot be free from samsara.

Padmasambhava, who is like the second Buddha, also explained,

If you don’t recognize the guru as a buddha,
Your mind cannot be liberated by the blessings.
Therefore, reflect on the qualities of the guru
And then make requests to him.31

I’m not advertising myself as a buddha to you! You must know that. This quotation is what Padmasambhava has said; this is his instruction. So here, Padmasambhava is also teaching me as well as you.

Unless we realize that the guru is buddha, the guru’s blessings cannot liberate our mind, which refers to freeing ourselves from the bondage of delusion and superstition. That relates to the ignorance holding the I, aggregates and phenomena as truly existent, and to the self-cherishing thought and attachment to samsara as well. We cannot be liberated from those as well as from impure appearance and impure thought, the dualistic mind and the dualistic view, the ordinary mind-wind and the subtle mind-wind. When Padmasambhava talks of liberating the mind this is what he is referring to.

Our practice should be to think of our guru not from the side of his apparent mistakes but from the side of his qualities. We should think of the guru as having a buddha’s qualities and pray to him like that. This is the instruction of Padmasambhava.

Without a guru, there is no object of meditation to realize the buddha. Without that, we cannot receive the blessings of the guru. If we do not receive the blessings of the guru, our mind cannot actualize the path to enlightenment. Then we cannot liberate our mind from those delusions, from the disturbing-thought obscurations and the subtle obscurations, the obscurations to knowledge. For that reason, we have to think of the guru as having a buddha’s qualities and pray to him on that basis.

The fourth Panchen Lama, Panchen Lobsang Chökyi Gyaltsen, who composed the Guru Puja, texts on mahamudra and many other collections of teachings on sutra and tantra, also explained,

If you cherish yourself, don’t follow just anyone you happen to meet, like a dog seeking food in the street. Examine well the lama who reveals the holy Dharma, then follow him with respect.32

We should not be like an old dog who runs toward anybody offering food without checking, gobbling it down as quickly as possible. We need to carefully examine the guru who is revealing the Dharma and then follow his advice and practice well.

 There was also a great Kagyü lama called Kyobpa Jigten Gonpo33. From his holy mouth came these words,

If on the guru, snow mountain of the four kayas,
The sun of devotion fails to shine,
The stream of blessings will not arise.
Attend, therefore, to this mind of devotion.34

This means that we cannot receive realizations without the guru’s blessings. Therefore, we must pay very careful attention to developing the minds of respect and devotion to the guru.

For example, while we are doing something that pleases the guru, a retreat or something, we have a dream. Maybe we have not even informed our guru, but we have a dream in which he is very happy and gives us a present. He is so pleased, so joyful; he has such a happy face. This happens.

I think one thing is that all the buddhas are happy with us because of our karma with that guru, so all the buddhas communicate with us through the guru. Receiving a present or something like that is an indication of this. Because we have a connection with that guru, they use the aspect of the guru to communicate with us, to give us a blessing. This is definitely there. Conversely, if the guru is displeased, that means all the buddhas are displeased.

Pleasing the buddhas through correctly devoting to and following the advice of the guru is not easy to understand but we have to think about it because it is an incredibly important consideration for our life. And not just this life but all our lives until enlightenment. Whether we can achieve enlightenment or not, that’s the highest success. It means completing purification of all obscurations and attaining all realizations. There’s no higher success. Only then can we do perfect work for sentient beings without the slightest mistake and free them from the oceans of samsaric suffering and bring them to enlightenment, the state of the omniscient mind.

What higher success can there be? And that depends on this alone, developing and maintaining a proper relationship with our guru. So it’s not easy. We have to be incredibly careful. We have to think and understand well. It’s not just playing a game. It’s not like having a boyfriend or a girlfriend where we decide to stay with that person if we like them or leave them if we don’t. I want to make that clear. This is a very deep thing, a really important matter.

To disrespect the guru is to disrespect all the buddhas

As I mentioned, after we have done something that pleases the guru, even if we have not informed him, we can have dreams that indicate the guru is extremely pleased, dreams in which he is very joyful or gives us presents. In the same way, if we do something negative, even if we do not tell the guru, he can show a negative aspect in dreams, such as appearing very skinny or sick. There is a message for us.

This is mentioned in Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo’s commentary on The Essence of Nectar,35 which is an extremely inspiring text by Yeshe Tsöndrü. It has a very good lam-rim outline and I often recommend it as a daily meditation guidebook. There is also a commentary by my guru, Geshe Rabten, a great scholar and meditator, which has been published in English as the Essential Nectar.

Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s younger tutor, is the root guru of Geshe Rabten Rinpoche and Lama Yeshe, who took care of me for more than thirty years. Both my gurus have the same level of tantric realizations: the gross and subtle generation stages and five stages of the completion stage; the isolation of body, the isolation of speech, the isolation of mind, the path of unification of clear light and the illusory body, and the path of no more learning. Both of them have clear light realization. Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche mentioned this.

Recently I was lucky enough to receive an oral transmission of the whole collection of Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche’s teachings from Kyabje Khyongla Rato Rinpoche, a Drepung Loseling lama who lives in New York and is advanced in both qualities and age. Then, in Sera Monastery after the recent teachings by His Holiness, I also received the complete transmission of Pabongka Rinpoche’s collected works from Kyabje Chöden Rinpoche.

A monk came to help me with the long-life prayer afterwards. I hadn’t met him before but he looked like somebody who was a very sincere practitioner. He was a reincarnation of Yeshe Tsöndrü, the author of The Essence of Nectar. When he explained his story I felt his coming to see me was very auspicious.

Anyway, in his commentary, Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo mentioned,

What are the gurus? They are the embodiment of all the Victorious Ones, those who have gained victory over the four maras. What are called the holy actions of the Victorious Ones and [the holy actions] of the gurus are just names; they are the same thing. And so, disrespecting the guru is disrespecting all the buddhas. There is no heavier negative karma than this. By thinking of the guru as your savior you become the disciple. Then if you belittle the guru you will always experience suffering.

That is the instruction. What are the gurus? We have to think of this quotation as an instruction to us. The buddhas are called the Victorious Ones, those who have gained victory over the four maras: the maras of the delusions, the contaminated aggregates, the Lord of Death and the deva’s son. This is victory over the gross and subtle maras, the disturbing-thought obscurations and the obscurations to knowledge.

We are not victorious over the maras but defeated by them. We are under the control of the maras. But the buddhas are victorious over the four maras because they are able to transform the self-cherishing thought into the thought cherishing others. The Buddha was the same as us, having all the problems and negative emotions and the same self-cherishing thought, bound by all the worldly dharmas. But that is what he changed. He was able to transform his mind and develop bodhicitta, and from that he was able to become victorious over all wrong concepts.

This enlightened quality manifests as our own guru, therefore, to disrespect our guru is to disrespect all the buddhas. There are numberless buddhas, not just one—not just Shakyamuni Buddha or just Tara—there are numberless buddhas. Even in this fortunate eon, there are a thousand buddhas who have achieved enlightenment or will do so. 

I took some short teachings from Panchen Rinpoche in Tashi Lhunpo in Tibet. Just as His Holiness the Dalai Lama is regarded as Chenrezig, Avalokiteshvara, the Compassion Buddha, Panchen Rinpoche is regarded as Amitabha Buddha. At Tashi Lhunpo Monastery, outside in the courtyard, there are paintings of the thousand buddhas. To generate the cause to achieve bodhicitta and attain enlightenment, people offer flowers and conch shells. There is a particular homage to each buddha, each a cause to generate bodhicitta and, I believe, enlightenment. I asked the Australian monk Max Redlich, who was once director of Tushita Meditation Centre, Dharamsala, to photograph all the thousand buddhas, which he did. There are also texts like the Sutra of the Fortunate Eon that talk about each of these buddhas.

Being disrespectful to our own guru means we are being disrespectful to all the numberless buddhas. There is no heavier negative ripening karma36 than that. The quotation says by thinking of the guru as our savior we become his disciple.

Some people don’t like the fact I translate gön as “savior” because they think this is a Christian term and we should use “protector” instead. I don’t accept that at all. If we were to use “protector” as a translation of gön, then what about sung-ma, which means “protector” in Tibetan? Just as sung-ma is not “savior” but “protector” in Tibetan, gön is not “protector” but “savior.” This is just playing with words. “Savior” is the correct word. In Tibetan these two terms are different and we have to translate according to that. In English the words might have different connotations so we shouldn’t make everything solid, mixing everything up together, like making a soup.

Here the quotation tells us that by thinking of our guru as a savior we become his disciple. Then, if we belittle that guru we will always experience suffering and obstacles. It says “always” but that is a shorthand way of saying for many lifetimes, for thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of lifetimes. This is because the object we belittle is the highest object. We have to know that. Otherwise we will wonder why this is so, thinking it makes no sense, that it is illogical, just a belief.

The kindness of the parents

The Buddha gave teachings on the kindness of the parents, how our father and mother are unbelievably kind. This text was translated some years ago into English and I recently received it from a monk at Nalanda, but I haven’t seen the Tibetan translation yet.37

Of the unbelievable kindness of the father and mother, there are different types of kindness listed in the texts. There is the kindness of giving us our body. In this life our mother bore many hardships, carrying us for nine months in her womb and undergoing much suffering in order to protect us and save us from anything that might harm us.

This is not the first time; she has been doing this from beginningless rebirths. It would be impossible to repay that kindness, even if we were to sacrifice our bodies equaling the particles of dust of the earth. Even if we gave all our human bodies numberless times from numberless rebirths, it would not be enough to repay the kindness of our mother and father.

The second kindness is the kindness of protecting our life every day from hundreds of life’s dangers. Our mother and our father have both protected us so much. And this is not the first time; they have been doing this from beginningless rebirths. Even if we don’t remember, this is what has happened. We cannot remember this because our mind is so ignorant, so defiled, like a dirty cup or cloth that is so dirty that the many nice designs covering it are invisible. To repay that kindness, even if we were to sacrifice our lives for them equaling the number of dust particles of this earth, that is not enough; we cannot finish repaying the kindness.

Then there is the kindness of bearing hardships. Parents undergo so many hardships for their children. I just want to tell you about a couple from Hawaii who have now separated. This was at Vajrapani,38 on the first visit ever from Spain of Ösel Rinpoche, the reincarnation of my guru, Master Lama Yeshe, who was kinder than all the three times’ buddhas.

After Lama passed away the Vajrapani students built a stupa and the day it was finished and they were consecrating it the incarnation was able to be there. There was also Lati Rinpoche from Ganden Monastery, Dharamsala, a great lama, a great scholar, a great practitioner. Then there was Geshe Sopa Rinpoche, Lama Yeshe’s and my teacher, and the Ganden Shartse geshe, Geshe Gyeltsen, as well as other lamas and geshes who came there to bless the stupa. And Ösel Rinpoche, the incarnation, was able to come back to see the stupa.

I was staying in a room in a student’s house in the bush while the other lamas were down at the center. The student, a carpenter, had the second highest house up the mountain from the center. The highest house was Baba-ji’s, a Danish student who once lived in Nepal a long time ago and cooked for Lama Yeshe. He painted thangkas in his house.

This is not to tell the story of Ösel Rinpoche, but he was just at the same place. While I was receiving the oral transmission of the Lam-rim De-lam, The Path to Bliss Leading to Omniscience,39 from Geshe Sopa Rinpoche, Ösel’s mother, Maria, was there with Ösel Rinpoche. He was so small. I think he was very handsome, very cute. While we were receiving the lung, even though he was very small he suddenly got up and did seven prostrations to Geshe Sopa. It was surprising. I didn’t tell him to, nobody told him to; he did it by himself. He was very small but this was the imprint from his past life because he is the incarnation of Master Lama Yeshe. It just shows about past life’s imprints.

The main story is about this couple. They had lived in Dharamsala for a long time and the last time Lama Yeshe was there they offered some land they owned in Hawaii. They had just opened the Shantideva Center there, and because of this they invited me for lunch. The man wasn’t there but the woman was, with their child. It was amazing. The boy could not sit still for one minute, running everywhere, never still. If his mother had failed to watch him for one minute he would have been dead. I thought about the patience she needed with him, to tolerate him. It was incredible. He gave his mother no peace at all.

I’m sorry; my mind is bad. I watch children at airports or wherever for five minutes, seeing how demanding they are, constantly demanding, demanding all the time from their parents. They never give any peace, always crying, always demanding.

Our mother, too, bore many hardships for us and this is not the first time. Even just as a human mother she has borne hardships from beginningless rebirths. This is without talking about the times she has been an animal mother, having to bear unbelievable hardships, such as a mother bird having to guard her eggs against predators coming to eat them. Can you imagine all the sacrifices that animal mothers have to make?

It would be impossible to repay the kindness of this current human mother who had to bear so much hardship for us, even if we gave up our lives equaling the number of dust particles of this earth. We can never finish repaying that kindness.

Then, fourth, there is the kindness of giving us an education, also called the “kindness of leading us in the path of the world.” Our parents educated us themselves and also sent us to school, right up to university, spending a great deal of money for all that education.

Of course, in this life they have also given us access to the Dharma. We’re able to read, write and study Dharma books because of the education they gave us. Then we come to know why we have to get sick, why we have to get old, why we have to die, why we have to be reborn. And we can understand that this is not the first time. For numberless times from beginningless rebirths we have had to go through that. And because of that education we know that if we cannot actualize the path in this life, especially the direct perception of emptiness, then we will have to again endlessly suffer. Through our education we come to know this. We learn the correct teachings from qualified teachers, from the four noble truths onwards.

We are unbelievably fortunate. We can see even this world, the southern world system, just how few people know about this. They do not know about the mind, reincarnation, karma or things like that. Most people have no awareness of death. Because they don’t know what to do, they put off thinking about death.

Even though at the moment we have not actualized the path to overcome death by realizing emptiness and so forth, we can still experience an incredibly happy death. We can use death in the happiest way, making it most beneficial for sentient beings, to free sentient beings from the oceans of samsaric suffering and bring them to full enlightenment. So while we have to experience death, we can use it for that through the practice of lo-jong and bodhicitta. 

People only think of this life, nothing else, only this life, only this year, this month, this week, just that. We all have to die but probably because they are unable to accept death, because they do not know what to do, they refuse to think about it. To learn about death is the most important subject in life, so it is very strange how people just put it off, just ignore it. It doesn’t help.

On the other hand, we are so fortunate to have this education and that is due to our mother’s kindness. She gave us this education. And this is not the first time. She has shown us the kindness of giving us an education from beginningless rebirths, even just by being our human mother. If we were to sacrifice our lives equaling the number of the dust particles of this earth or the sand grains of the Pacific Ocean for just this life’s mother, we could still not finish repaying her kindness.

These are the four kindnesses as explained by Kyabje Khunu Lama Rinpoche, from whom His Holiness received extensive commentary on Shantideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life.

Wasting our life, we waste our parents’ lives

This life’s parents are more powerful objects for us than other people. Ordained people are more powerful objects than our parents, though. By serving the Sangha we collect much merit and purify much negative karma, more than with this life’s parents, but still, our parents are very powerful objects for creating merit and negativity as well.

Many older Western students have received teachings and initiations from Kyabje Zong Rinpoche. Now his incarnation is an expert because he was an expert in his past life, like the former past great yogis such as Nagarjuna and Asanga. The incarnation is young but he has already finished his geshe studies in Ganden Shartse Monastery. A long time ago, I was fortunate to able to help with some of the expenses and make offering to the monasteries. I told him that I believed he would be able to offer service to the monastery, to take responsibility like an abbot for all the monks, for their education and their practice in the monastery. It is easy to go to the West to teach, but it is very important in the monastery to look after the discipline and to give the monks an education and take care of them. I said that I felt he would be able to do that. He told me jokingly he would take that as a prediction from me. He is very famous in Ganden Shartse Monastery.

Kyabje Zong Rinpoche was a very high lama in his past life. He became the abbot of Ganden Shartse, where there were many thousand monks. Once, when his parents came from Kham to Lhasa and he was able to stay with them, he wanted to serve them, to clean the house and get rid of the garbage, to make food and so forth. In his heart he really wanted to do everything a servant would do as a way of repaying their great kindness. He told me he was able to do some of those things—not everything, just cleaning the room and the like—but because of his position as a high lama somehow it was not appropriate. In his heart he really wanted to serve his parents because through having learned the Dharma he understood the kindness of the parents.

Understanding the kindness of our parents, we should practice Dharma and use our body, speech and mind to not create negative karma. If we harm other sentient beings and ourselves it completely wastes our parents’ lives. For many, many years they served us, took care of us and gave us an education, and if we then waste all that, we have wasted their lives, made them empty. There has been no positive result from what they have done.

We must serve others. Even if we don’t practice Dharma, we must develop a good heart and live a good life. We must become good human beings and serve others with a sincere heart, with compassion. His Holiness emphasizes nowadays that even if we lead a secular life rather than practicing Dharma we must still live an ethical life; we must bring happiness to others and ourselves.

We need to explain this to people who don’t know or practice Dharma, to show them how to live their life. If we want to bring peace and happiness to others, to not harm them but to benefit them, we need to lead an ethical life. And if we do that it will have made our parents’ lives meaningful. They suffered so much for us, therefore we must make it all worthwhile, otherwise we have not given them any meaning in return for all the work they did. That would be very sad. It’s very important to think about these things.

The guru is the most powerful object

As I mentioned, our parents are very powerful objects but the ordained Sangha are even more powerful because of the number of vows they live in. By being of service or making offerings to them we collect much more merit and purify many more defilements than we do with our parents.

After this come arya beings, arhats, who have freed themselves from the oceans of samsaric suffering and attained the blissful state of peace for themselves. By making material offerings or offering service to them we collect unbelievable merit and purify vast amounts of negative karma and obscurations, much more than we would in connection with ordinary ordained people.

Next, when we compare the numberless arhats with one bodhisattva, if we offer service or make offerings to one bodhisattva, we collect much more powerful merit—unbelievable, unbelievable merit—and purify much more negative karma collected from beginningless rebirths. So many eons of negative karma and obscurations are purified. It is unbelievably more powerful offering service or making offerings to one bodhisattva than to numberless arhats.

Now we compare numberless bodhisattvas with just one buddha. By serving or making offerings to one buddha, we purify the most unbelievable negative karma and obscurations collected from beginningless rebirths and collect the most unbelievable merit—more than having served or made offerings to numberless bodhisattvas. That becomes very small compared to serving or making offerings to one buddha even just once.

Finally, we compare the numberless buddhas with one guru. By offering to the numberless buddhas, even just some candy or a glass of water, we collect the most extensive merit and achieve the most powerful purification of negative karma and obscurations collected from beginningless rebirths. So many eons of negative karma and obscurations are purified and so much merit is created by serving or making offerings to numberless buddhas, but even though that is unbelievable, it is tiny compared to serving and making offerings to the guru.

Being able to follow the guru’s advice or fulfill one of his wishes just once creates the most powerful merit and is the most powerful purification. Doing the same for the numberless buddhas, although great in itself, becomes very small in comparison.

Having a relationship with a holy being where we are the disciple and he or she is the guru is a dependent arising. The second after that connection is made, the guru becomes the most powerful person in our life and one from whom we can collect the causes of happiness and purify the causes of suffering, negative karma and defilements.

Buddhism came from the Buddha, from India, and then from the great pandits, Nagarjuna, Asanga and all the Nalanda pandits and so forth. Then it went to Tibet, where the four traditions—Nyingma, Kagyü, Sakya and Gelug—developed, depending on the place and the lineage lamas. The essence is the same but there are different presentations according to the minds of the disciples. That is the evolution.

In the Sakya tradition there are five great masters, including Sachen Kunga Nyingpo and Sakya Pandita. I have mentioned that if you please one guru you please all the buddhas. With respect to that, Sakya Pandita said,

Even though sunbeams are very hot,
Without a magnifying glass, they cannot ignite a fire.
It is the same with the blessings of the buddhas:
Without the guru, they cannot enter the disciple.40

Just as we need a magnifying glass to ignite wood using the sun’s rays, in order to receive the blessings of the buddhas we need a guru. Even though all the buddhas have incredible qualities such as unbelievable compassion, without a guru we cannot receive their blessings.

Sakya Pandita also said,

All the merit you accumulate by practicing the perfection of charity for a thousand eons—giving not only your head and limbs to other sentient beings but even the merit you receive by offering your body in this way—is accumulated in an instant with the path of the guru. Therefore, offer service and feel happy.41

We can practice the perfection of charity or any of the six perfections for thousands of eons but fulfilling the guru’s wishes for even a second equals this. The merit we gain from practicing the charity of giving our hands, our limbs, our head and so forth for thousands of eons and even giving away the merit we gain from that is much less than what we could accumulate in an instant by following the guru’s advice and fulfilling his wishes.

For example, if we are in retreat following our guru’s advice to recite OM MANI PADME HUM, then each second we recite it we collect the same amount of merit that we would in a thousand eons of practice in connection with sentient beings. This is because we are following the advice of the guru and fulfilling his wishes. Whether we are ordained or lay, when we keep the vows given to us by our guru, every day, every hour, every minute, every second we purify unbelievable amounts of negativity and collect unbelievable merit.

Say we follow the guru’s advice to do the preliminary practices every day. In the morning, when we clean the meditation room—not even the guru’s room but just our own—even if the room is spotless, each sweep of the broom we make to purify our own and other sentient beings’ negativities, is incredible purification and creates extensive merit because we are following the guru’s advice.

Our Dharma study is similar to this. When we are memorizing or reciting texts, because each word we memorize is following the guru’s wishes, we collect the most unbelievable merit every day, every hour, every minute, every second. As Sakya Pandita mentioned, what takes a thousand eons to collect in connection with sentient beings, we collect here in connection with the guru in one second. We have to recognize that all this is due to following the guru’s wishes and advice.

While going somewhere or returning, if we are following the guru’s wishes, his advice, with each step we collect the most powerful merit and purify an unbelievable amount of defilements and obscurations. It’s the same thing if we are the guru’s secretary, serving him. With each letter we write, we collect the most unbelievable merit and do the most powerful purification, each minute, each second.

Our life is so continuously fortunate. If we think about what Sakya Pandita mentioned I think we can see that. When we recognize what we do as guru yoga practice, our life is only filled with incredible joy all the time. There is no time for depression.

Examples of offering service to the guru

I’ll give a few examples of disciples offering service to their guru.

Before he met Marpa, Milarepa followed his mother’s wishes and learned black magic from a lama in the area who practiced it. When he had learnt it and gone to the mountains, after digging a hole and doing a seven-day retreat, he returned home to kill his uncle and aunt and their family in revenge for the mistreatment of his mother after his father’s death. While his aunt and uncle’s family was celebrating a wedding in their house—dancing, drinking and enjoying themselves upstairs—he made the whole house collapse. Stones and rocks fell down on top of them, killing thirty-six people and the many animals that were downstairs. Milarepa himself was not injured and later regretted what he had done, so the black magic lama advised him to go to see Marpa if he wanted to practice the Dharma.

Marpa was an enlightened being but he refused to give teachings to Milarepa, only scolding and beating him. He did this for years. Even if Milarepa came with the other students for teachings, as soon as Marpa would see him he would publicly scold him and kick him out of the teachings.

Marpa asked him to build a nine-story tower by himself, refusing to let other workers help him. When Milarepa had finished, Marpa made him put the stones back where he got them and then build the tower again. I haven’t seen the tower yet. I wanted to go to Lhokha to see it when I was in Tibet but it didn’t happen. 

Marpa made Milarepa build the tower and tear it down three times. The skin on Milarepa’s back became thick and bluish in color from carrying so much stone. Then Marpa’s wisdom mother—not his real mother—insisted that he give Milarepa teachings, so, because Marpa was the enlightened being Heruka, he immediately manifested a mandala and gave Milarepa all the teachings he needed. He then advised Milarepa to go to the mountains where he could do retreat in different holy places like Lapchi or Sipri. There are the three holy places of Heruka, representing Heruka’s holy body, holy speech and holy mind—Mount Kailash, Tsari and Lapchi—and Sipri combines all three.

Living on no other food than nettles in those mountains, Milarepa followed Marpa’s advice exactly and was able to complete the path. He ceased not only the disturbing-thought obscurations but also the obscurations to knowledge, the subtle obscurations, and so completed all the realizations and achieved buddhahood in that very brief lifetime of these degenerate times. Even though he had created so much negative karma in his early life, in later life he became enlightened.

Marpa had wanted to make Milarepa bear even more hardships before he gave him teachings so that he would become enlightened even more quickly, but his wisdom mother intervened so he gave the teachings earlier than he wanted to. But still, he made Milarepa build the tower three times. That was extremely harsh.

In the West, if the guru were to speak harshly or use ugly words or do something like strike the disciple, the very next day the disciple would put him into prison. Here, it wasn’t like that. Milarepa was able to achieve enlightenment in a brief lifetime of degenerate times because of the incredible, unbelievable purification from Marpa, particularly accepting every scolding and having to build the tower three times.

There is another story that illustrates the guru-disciple relationship. Losang Dhargye Gyatso was a direct disciple of the Sixth Panchen Lama, Losang Palden Yeshe, and Arik Geshe Jampa Özer.42 He was very learned and gave a commentary to Lama Tsongkhapa’s important teaching, Drang-nge-legshe-nyingpo, The Heart of the Good Explanation of the Interpretive and Definitive Meaning.43 During the commentary he mentioned this story about how the geshe Chenpo Sumra Mitupa had pleased the Seventh Dalai Lama, Kelsang Gyatso. I think Chenpo Sumra Mitupa is a nickname meaning “one who doesn’t have a shortsighted mind.” The Seventh Dalai Lama was so pleased with this geshe for not having a shortsighted mind.

In the presence of the Victorious Omniscient One, the Seventh Dalai Lama, this geshe asked him to predict his next rebirth. The Seventh Dalai Lama told him that immediately he died he would be reborn as an ox with blue horns. When Geshe Chenpo Sumra Mitupa heard this he laughed and laughed and laughed. The Seventh Dalai Lama asked him why he had laughed like that and he replied, “O lekso.” That’s a debating term used when the debater is asking for reasons, meaning “it’s not easy to believe.” He then went on, “Our path is a path of the reasoning. Even if I were to be reborn as an ox in the next life, first I would have to go through the intermediate stage; then the father and mother ox would have to meet and I would enter into the womb. Then gradually my body would develop and hairs would come out. Then, after all that, I would get horns. You told me I would be reborn as an ox with blue horns ‘immediately I died’ without any time to do all this—the bardo, the male and female ox meeting, and then developing in the womb. So I was laughing at the absurdity of it. Without time to go through all these processes, to just immediately be born as an ox with blue horns—I was laughing at this.”

When he heard this, the Victorious Omniscient One, the Seventh Dalai Lama, also laughed and laughed. He then said, “Now in your next life you will be born as a bhikshu and you will be in my entourage.”

Then Geshe Chenpo Sumra Mitupa replied, “Maybe I’m thick-skulled, but this seems unknown and doesn’t fit into our path of reasoning. You said before that I will be born as an ox but now you say I will be born a bhikshu. And yet I haven’t done any confession, any practice, I haven’t collected any merit. There have been no changes, so how can I transform from an ox to a bhikshu?” That is what he said.

His Holiness the Seventh Dalai Lama answered, “For us, for you and me, I have become a special object. I have the blessing of Arya Chenrezig.” What that actually means is that he is Chenrezig, but he is expressing it in a humble way.

The main point is this. By laughing so much when he was told he would immediately become an ox and laughing again when he was then told he would become a bhikshu, questioning His Holiness’s prediction by using his logic, he made His Holiness very happy. So right there, within that moment, his rebirth changed from animal to human being. He had no need to do many hundreds of thousands of prostrations or mandala offerings or to make many statues or do all the many other practices that are normally needed. No, just there it happened.

Do you understand the point I’m trying to make? Just within that moment, his future rebirth changed because he was able to make the guru happy. The moment we are able to please the guru our rebirth changes, even if we were going to be reborn in the lower realms before. We have to bring stories like that into our life, into our practice. That is my conclusion. 


30 Khedrub Sang ye Yeshe (1525–91) was Gyalwa Ensapa’s closest disciple. Quoted in Heart of the Path, p. 7. [Return to text]

31 Quoted in Heart of the Path, p. 8. [Return to text]

32 Quoted in Heart of the Path, p. 26. [Return to text]

33 Drigung Kyobpa Jigten Rinpoche (1143–1217), better known as Jigten Sumgön, was the founder of the Drikung Kag yü lineage. [Return to text]

34 From Song of the Fivefold Profound Path of Mahamudra, quoted in Khenchen Konchog Gyaltshen, Opening the Treasure of the Profound: Teachings on the Songs of Jigten  Sumgön and Milarepa, p. 79. [Return to text]

35 For the text of the guru devotion section, see Heart of the Path,  appendix 5, pp. 407–14. Pabongka Rinpoche’s commentary on The Essence of Nectar has not been published in English. [Return to text]

36 Ripening karma is the karma that propels us into the next life. [Return to text]

37 The sutra that Rinpoche is probably referring to is the Filial Piety Sutra,  a sutra revered by Chinese and S.E. Asian Buddhists, in which the Buddha lists ten ways a mother is kind, directly paralleling the Tibetan listing in the kindness of the mother bodhicitta teachings. See  [Return to text]

38 Vajrapani Institute, the FPMT center in California where Lama Yeshe was cremated. [Return to text]

39 Composed by the First Panchen Lama, Lobsang Chökyi Gyaltsen (1570-1662). Included in Path to Bliss, by the Dalai Lama. [Retun to text]

40 Quoted in Heart of the Path, p. 239. [Return to text]

41 Quoted in Heart of the Path, p. 95. [Return to text]

42 See , Shingza Pandita Lobzang Darg ye Gyatso (1752–1824). [Return to text]

43 See Robert Thurman’s The Central Philosophy of Tibet for a translation of this text. [Return to text]