E-letter No. 22: January 2005

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Aptos, California, 2004
Lama Zopa Rinpoche and Lama Yeshe, Lake Arrowhead, 1975. Photo: Carol Royce-Wilder.

Dear Friends,

Welcome to our first e-letter of 2005. Happy New Year!

First, I’d like to thank all of you who responded so positively to the advocacy of vegetarianism in our previous e-letter. Here is a related link that has come to light as a result: Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s Animal Liberation Sanctuary.

Last June we asked you to recite the Sanghata Sutra and the response was wonderful. Many of you expressed how happy and blessed you felt when doing this. Now there’s no specific request, but if you’d like another wonderful sutra to recite, try the Sutra of Golden Light. Lama Zopa Rinpoche briefly explains the benefits here.

It’s available on-line in several languages but not in English. If you would like to recite it in English, please email me.

Also, if you are interested in Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s recent tsunami advice, please go here. In fact, if you go to Lama Zopa Rinpoche's page on the FPMT site, you’ll find all kinds of teachings and advice, including a radio address Rinpoche gave last year in Mongolia, “What is Buddhism?”

Finally, a little appeal: For the past year we have been editing for publication Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s Vajrayogini generation stage teachings--several long commentaries and a few more short ones--given over the past 25 years or so. It has been a lot of work but the end is in sight. Please go here if you would like to contribute to or learn more about this project.

Thank you so much for your interest in and support of the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive.

Much love,

Nick Ribush

Guru Devotion

Since Rinpoche was unable to attend the 37th Kopan Course (Winter 2004), he gave this teaching for the participants to a small group of students at his Aptos House, California, December 20, 2004. It was later shared with the Kopan course participants.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche in Italy. Photo: Piero Sirianni.Guru devotion is the quickest way to collect the most extensive merit, the means to achieve enlightenment. Of course, the main thing is having the right motivation, bodhicitta, but having a pure mind of guru devotion, no negative mind arising toward the guru—which is very heavy negative karma—is also very important.

A negative attitude such as a thought of giving up respect, even just thinking, “What is the use of this teaching?” I think creates negative karma; one breaks the samaya vows. A kind of pollution comes and whatever you offer becomes negative and can invite sickness or obstacles. So, I think, most important is keeping samaya, not doing any wrong thing, not letting heresy arise, having negative thoughts or losing faith. Also, maybe, not having broken the root pratimoksha vows. Especially, lost faith is very heavy.

So much emphasis is placed on guru devotion because, with very strong guru devotion, there is no hardship in following advice; it becomes so easy to follow any advice.

If one sees Buddha, one feels incredible happiness, joy, pleasure in this life. We were trying the other day to find an example of happiness. I said “going to the beach” or something like that, “drinking nectar”; you said “having sex,” remember? We were looking for an analogy of something that is most exciting and happy for ordinary beings.

Here, Dharma practice offers the most exciting, highest happiness there is: following the advice, finding no hardship at all in whatever advice the guru gives, even things that generally seem hard in the view of other people, even impossible. That itself is guru devotion. Then, seeing your guru as Buddha, without any question, is incredible, the peak, the highest enjoyment. Nothing is difficult to accept. But if the devotion is not strong, if the devotion is, what’s the word, yacki yoki—what is that expression, yacki yoki? There’s one expression, it means a little bit there but not stable…wishy-washy! Wishy-washy, meaning not strong. If there’s no real devotion, if there’s only a little and it’s wishy-washy, then it is artificial, from the lips, no real devotion in the heart; or there’s something but it’s very tiny, not very strong.

When a fire has been burning a long time and there are only one or two fire sparks left, it can disappear very easily. That is what happens to devotion—one or two sparks left, all the fire gone. Then it’s very difficult even if the advice is very simple, nothing hard, not a great sacrifice. Even very small things, like something to bring or take away, some very, very small thing becomes hard. The mind doesn’t want to do it.

With that attitude one cannot obtain the advice, there’s no thought that it is precious, so precious, and there is no thought that “this is a task for me,” that this is a dependent arising, that this advice is purification of negative karma accumulated from beginningless rebirth up to now and is collecting the most extensive merit. Seeing it as a path to achieve enlightenment, that this advice brings you to enlightenment. Then one doesn’t see that every single advice that is given, whatever service one does, every single task is the most powerful one, the best method to fulfill all your wishes, the best cause for your highest wish to be fulfilled.

Here, from among all your wishes, the highest, most important wish is to achieve enlightenment for sentient beings and this is the best, most powerful cause to be able to enlighten numberless sentient beings, to do perfect work for sentient beings.

The proof [of the power] of guru devotion is found in many stories. Such-and-such a lama, such-and-such a yogi served, obtained advice, spread Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings, was able to offer skies of benefit for sentient beings and teachings of Buddha, and gave explanations—all those stories. Incredible, that root of guru devotion, seeing the guru as buddha, grew into stable realization, through advice obtained from correctly devoting to the virtuous friend in thought and action.

Many people can understand, have admired the life story, or have heard how Milarepa achieved enlightenment in one brief lifetime in this degenerated time. That’s because he was given advice by Marpa, before receiving teachings or initiations, not only to build a tower alone, without any help, but then to tear it down and put the stones back from where he brought them. Again rebuild, again put back. That is unbelievable, it’s almost impossible, what Milarepa did without losing faith or devotion. Not only that, sometimes Milarepa came with other students to receive teachings—I guess he maybe sort of sneaked in—but the minute Marpa saw Milarepa among the people, he scolded him and asked him to leave. Yet there never arose one single heresy from Milarepa’s side. His devotion was always very firm, he never lost any faith. Because of that, correctly devoting with thought, then with actions, following every single word that Marpa said, he achieved enlightenment in that very lifetime.

It’s the same with Gyälwa Ensapa, Chökyi Dorje and numberless beings such as Naropa and Lama Tsongkhapa. It is said that Lama Tsongkhapa could have achieved enlightenment in one brief life in this degenerated time with the wisdom mother practice, with a consort, but out of concern for the Vinaya teachings, in order to preserve them and be an example to others, he achieved enlightenment in the intermediate state.

There are many inspiring stories, such as the story of the bodhisattva Sadaprarudita, “Always Crying One.” I think Sadaprarudita must have reached the great path, the third level, of the bodhisattva’s path of merit because when you achieve that level, wherever you are, it just happens that you see numberless buddhas in nirmanakaya aspect. Sadaprarudita was able to see and could have received teachings from many other buddhas but he was not satisfied, he wanted to see the buddha, the guru with whom he had a karmic connection.

He went to see the bodhisattva Dharmodgata, the one he had past karmic connection with, but bodhisattva Dharmodgata was in retreat. Always Crying One stayed seven years in that temple, cleaning outside the temple. The day bodhisattva Dharmodgata was coming out to give teachings, he set up the throne and cleaned the place. When he was cleaning, he wanted to prevent dust from rising but as maras had created obstacles and the place did not have water, he took blood from his body and sprinkled it on the ground. That is just a very rough outline of the story.

Generally, without practicing tantra, only following sutra, the Paramitayana, one has to collect merit for three countless great eons, but Always Crying One finished collecting the merits of one countless great eon within those seven years. Why so fast? Because he had incredible strong devotion to his guru, cherishing bodhisattva Dharmodgata more than his own life. That means achieving enlightenment more quickly.

Another one is the Kadampa Geshe Chayulwa. Normally the teachings mention him as an incomparable example, one that we should pray to be like. Bodhisattva Shönu Norsang is one and Chayulwa is another—incomparable, like an Olympic champion, a world champion, like Tiger Woods. Those world champions—bodhisattva Shönu Norsang, Always Crying One, Kadampa Chayulwa and Milarepa—are very common examples, incomparable in giving their life to their gurus, cherishing the guru more than their own life.

With that kind of strong guru devotion, cherishing the guru more than his life, every day Kadampa Chayulwa offered service to his guru, Chengawa, cleaning Chengawa’s house and many other services. It is said that even while he was offering a mandala, when Kadampa Geshe Chayulwa heard his guru calling, he would stop in the middle of the mandala and run to offer service, even in the middle of writing the (Tibetan) letter nga. This is expressing how the mind had such strong devotion, cherishing the guru and actualizing the guru’s advice, that kind of thing.

One day, after cleaning and dusting Chengawa’s room, while going down the stairs, as he reached the third step, because of all this incredible purification—sweeping having become unbelievable purification of the impure mind, defilements and negative karma, each sweeping collecting the most extensive merit—the karma that blocked seeing buddha was purified and he saw numberless buddhas in nirmanakaya aspect, just there, while going down to throw the garbage. Of course, it can be another thing, whatever service you are doing, like cooking or serving, especially following whatever advice is given, every second one moves closer to liberation, becomes more distant from samsara, closer to enlightenment, each time coming closer to realizations of the path to liberation and enlightenment.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche in Italy.  Photo by Piero Sirianni.Another example is Sakya Pandita. When Sakya Pandita’s guru, Dragpa Gyaltsen, took the aspect of having a very heavy sickness, Sakya Pandita offered service so selflessly that he had no time himself to eat food or sleep. He offered one-pointed service day and night, bearing hardships in order to offer service to his guru. His guru, Dragpa Gyaltsen, was extremely pleased and said he would give him Manjushri guru yoga practice. After he received the guru yoga practice, Sakya Pandita actually realized and was able to see that his guru was Manjushri.

That was the same, you see, all the negative karmas and the impure mind that had blocked him from seeing Manjushri before were purified by doing service, day and night, without even sleeping. Then Sakya Pandita became extremely learned. His name became world-famous as the most expert logician, expert in the five sciences: crafts, logic, grammar, medicine and philosophy, or inner knowledge. Buddhism falls into inner knowledge. He was far-famed in Tibet, China and all those countries. He was able to offer the most extensive, incredible benefit, like lotus blossoms, by seeing Manjushri. This came by serving the guru. The knowledge blossomed by having purified the defilements, the blockages, through service.

Then there was Dromtönpa. One time Lama Atisha took the aspect of being sick with uncontrollable diarrhea. When he lost kaka in the bed and was making pipi, Dromtönpa, without any thought of it as dirty, cleaned and took care of Lama Atisha with his own hands, like a mother, cherishing him more than his own life. As he was doing service like this, one day he was able to read the minds of insects, ants and worms, even from the distance it takes an eagle eighteen days to fly. After taking care of Atisha like that, he actualized one of the six types of clairvoyance, the ability to read anyone’s mind, very clearly. The potential is there in everyone to attain those qualities but is blocked by karma and defilements. Dromtönpa, by having one-pointed guru devotion to Lama Atisha and doing service, purified and those qualities arose within him by the blessing of the lama, having received lama’s blessing through devotion and service.

One story is how Lama Atisha, with his clairvoyance, one day saw that Kadampa Geshe Gönbawa was thinking, “I must have greater realizations than the translator Dromtönpa. Why? Because he doesn’t have time to meditate, he’s always so busy translating. I have so much time to meditate so maybe I have greater realizations than him and the cook, Amé Jangchub, who is always busy cooking.”

So Lama Atisha invited all three of them to line up in front of him and checked who had higher realizations. Dromtönpa’s realization was much higher than Gönbawa’s—no comparison, much higher. No way to compare. Even Amé Jangchub’s realization was higher than Gönbawa’s, even though he didn’t have time to meditate like Gönbawa.

This story clarifies one point. Generally people have the idea that retreat and meditation are good and doing service is not really the best practice to develop the mind. What really develops the mind, what can give realizations from path to path is meditation, only meditation. But in reality it is not necessarily like that. One has to analyze which of these collects most merit, which becomes the most purification, which is more powerful. Amé Jangchub, the cook, and the translator were so busy offering service, I think that is why their realization was higher.

I don’t know the explanations, but my guess is that it might be along these lines: that what matters is whatever is most pleasing. I think that’s the main point—whatever is most pleasing. One should realize that is the quickest path to enlightenment, I would say. That is, of course, based on the mind keeping devotion one-pointedly, not arising negative thoughts and not breaking samaya with the guru; based on correct devotion to the virtuous friend, as is mentioned in the eight disadvantages of making mistakes and eight advantages of correctly devoting to the virtuous friend, in the guru devotion section of the lamrim.

Doing something one would like but which is not following what the guru said—breaking the advice, or giving rise to negative thoughts of anger or heresy—can make you lose any qualities you may have, such as some experience of compassion or renunciation, even the actual realization of bodhicitta, maybe even an experience or realization of emptiness.

It is explained that even if one has achieved actual realization of bodhicitta, there is the possibility to lose it, so it may be similar with realization of emptiness. Whatever experience one has one loses and no new experience can happen. It’s very difficult, the mind gets stuck, thick-skulled and like a stone that has been in the ocean many tens of thousands, thousand years. No water goes into it, it is so hard. Or like the hot desert, which doesn’t get one drop of liquid, wetness. The mind becomes like that. Nothing grows. Whatever thoughts arise are negative, it is so easy for negative thoughts to arise, the mind becomes kind of covered by them, like being covered by mud or kaka, filthy dirty. It becomes very difficult for positive thoughts to arise, such as thinking of the qualities of the guru. Even if the guru is an enlightened being, one cannot see even as a bodhisattva, only seeing as very selfish or seeing mistakes, mistaken actions or suffering body and mind, like that.

Not only the realizations but even the Dharma understanding one had before becomes meaningless, degenerates, one can’t remember. It becomes difficult to learn new things even when one listens to teachings. Before, one could concentrate and it was easy to understand, now it is difficult, one can’t keep up or follow. That is the result of actualizing mistakes in guru devotion; a negative thought arising and then giving up on the object of respect.

Now the opposite: by correctly devoting to the virtuous friend in thought and actions, even if one doesn’t have intellectual knowledge, understanding and realizations come, even if one didn’t study.

There was an attendant of Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo, author of Liberation in the Palm of the Hand, whose name was Jamyang. He had never studied the Tibetan alphabet, couldn’t read Tibetan. Before Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo passed away, he told this attendant that eventually he would be able to read the entire Guru Puja by himself, without being taught. And that’s exactly what happened. After going into exile from Tibet, Jamyang finished up at the refugee camp at Buxa, where I lived for eight years and received philosophical teachings from my three gurus, Geshe Rabten Rinpoche, Lama Yeshe and another lama, also called Gen Yeshe.

Buxa had previously been a concentration camp when India was under British rule. This was the place where Mahatma Gandhi-ji and Prime Minister Nehru were imprisoned. Nehru-ji’s place of imprisonment became the Sera Monastery prayer hall. It was a very long house and the monks also slept there on beds made from bamboo, cut from the forest. Between the roof and the wall was a space and sometimes snakes fell down on the beds. Where Gandhi-ji was imprisoned became a nunnery for some Kagyu nuns.

At Buxa, the incarnate lamas lived on a mountain high above the rest of the camp. The abbot and main teacher at Kopan Monastery, Lama Lhundrub, who supervises the education and discipline of the three hundred Kopan monks, used to live up there in the same building as Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo’s incarnation, where the attendant Jamyang also lived. When Jamyang first arrived at Buxa, he couldn’t read a thing, but suddenly one day he was able to read the entire Guru Puja. He himself told Lama Lhundrub that Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo had predicted that this would happen.

(Rinpoche said this teaching is still to be finished.)

Transcribed by Vens. Gyaelten Yarphel and Thubten Labdron and lightly edited by the latter.

For more teachings on the topic of guru devotion see Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey’s long and short commentaries on Ashvagosha’s classic text, the Fifty Verses of Guru Devotion.