E-letter No. 57: February 2008

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

Dear Friends,

I hope you are well. Here we are busily sending out our new books: Lama Yeshe’s Universal Love and Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s How Things Exist and Making Life Meaningful. All three are automatically going to our Members, and Rinpoche’s two books are automatically going to our Benefactors. For details on our Membership and Benefactor programs please go here.

Books to our Members, Benefactors and FPMT Centers in countries outside the US (excluding the UK, Europe, Australia and Singapore) have just been sent via airmail. The remaining groups should be mailed according to the following schedule: US addresses in the next 1-2 weeks via Media Mail; UK, Europe, Singapore and Malaysia addresses (sent by local mail once they arrive via air shipment) in the next 6 weeks; Australia addresses (also sent by local mail once they arrive via sea shipment) in the next 2-3 months.

If you would like to buy a copy of Universal Love, the special LYWA online price is $10 (regular price $15). We offer a 50% discount to all FPMT centers and other retail outlets. Please contact us for more information. Thank you so much.

Our Supporters Speak!
When we notified you about our new books a couple of weeks ago we also mentioned a survey we're conducting about our free books. I’m very grateful to the many people who have already taken it. If you have not, please take the time to do so. Here are the survey results so far. Thank you again.

What's New and In The Works
Additions to Rinpoche's Online Advice Book this month were made to the section on handling problems that arise during one's practice. We have also just posted a Vietnamese translation of advices on daily practice which were first posted in the Preliminary Practices section of the Advice Book.

\"Speaking of translations, remember that many of Lama Yeshe's and Lama Zopa Rinpoche's free books have been translated into foreign languages; for example, Lama's Becoming Your Own Therapist has been translated into Spanish, French, German, Romanian, Chinese, and Italian; Rinpoche's Virtue & Reality has been translated into Spanish, French, and Chinese. See Lama Yeshe's Teachings Page and Lama Zopa Rinpoche's Teachings Page for a full listing of available translations from our fellow FPMT publishing houses and other publishers; more are always in the works.

I would also like to tell you about an incredible new book we’ll be publishing later this year, Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s Heart of the Path, a compilation of more than three decades’ teachings on guru devotion, expertly edited by our senior editor, Ven. Ailsa Cameron. At present we’re inviting all of you to contribute to this amazing project and if you would like to play a part in bringing these important teachings to the world, please do so. Thank you so much.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama's Travels
And speaking of incredible, amazing and important teachings, our friends Josh and Diana Cutler of the Tibetan Buddhist Learning Center are organizing a six-day series of teachings by His Holiness the Dalai Lama on the Lamrim Chenmo at LeHigh University this summer. There are still plenty of tickets left so I encourage you to try to get to this wonderful event. See www.dalailamajuly2008.com.

If you want to keep track of His Holiness’s travels in general you can see his schedule here. And, you can read many teachings by His Holiness on our website.


Final Notes
On a much sadder note, I just wanted to mention the passing of my very dear friend Henry Lau in Singapore on February 8. I first met Henry in 1983, just after I had taken over Wisdom Publications in London and was roaming the East looking for money. One of Lama Yeshe’s students in Singapore introduced me to some local Buddhists, one of whom was Henry. He immediately began to help and even in death continues to do so. Not long after we met, Henry also became a very devoted student of Lama Zopa Rinpoche, who guided Henry and his family over the last couple of years and through the death process. So please keep Henry and his family—wife Catherine and sons Yuan and Howie—in your prayers. Thank you.

This month’s teaching comes from Heart of the Path and we dedicate it to Henry’s quickly finding another perfect human body and another perfect Vajra Guru.

Much love,

Nick Ribush

Lama Zopa Rinpoche, Portland, Oregon, 2006. Photo: John Berthold.Why Do We Need A Guru?

In order to do the practice of guru devotion, we first have to have clear in our mind why this practice is important. Why do we need a guru? We might think, “Achieving liberation and enlightenment is fine, but why do I need a guru to do it? As long as books on the subject are available, I can read them, then practice. Why do I need a guru?”

You might think that to generate the path to enlightenment, it’s enough to read Dharma books and study by yourself. However, generally speaking, you can’t clearly understand the meaning of Dharma teachings, especially the hidden meanings that need clarification through commentary, without the explanations of a guru. There is a big difference between learning something from a teacher and just reading about it in a book. Listening to a teacher has a much greater effect on your mind. Being able to parrot the words written in books doesn’t mean that you really understand a subject.

Even to have intellectual understanding of a subject we have to depend on a teacher. And our goal is to have not just an intellectual understanding of the path to enlightenment but experience of it. Without experience of the path we can’t have a clear, complete understanding of any of its points. Having experiences or realizations of the path to enlightenment depends on receiving the blessings of the guru within our own mental continuum. The clear, strong feeling in our heart and deep benefit to our mind are what are meant by the blessings of the guru. Without a guru, we can’t achieve realizations. This is why it’s not sufficient to have just intellectual knowledge, like that gained from studying with professors in a university.

In Collection of Advice from Here and There, when someone asks whether the lama’s advice or the major scriptures are more important, Lama Atisha answers:

Even if you can recite the whole Tripitaka by heart, even if you know the entire Dharma, if you don’t have the guru’s advice, there will be a gap between you and the Dharma when you practice.*

Even if we can recite by heart all the sutras and tantras or have studied them at university and can explain them all intellectually, it doesn’t mean much in terms of realization because generating within our mind the paths revealed by the teachings has to depend on receiving the blessings of the guru. Receiving the nectar of the guru’s blessings depends on our having the devotion that sees the guru as a buddha. Without the blessings of the guru, there is no way we can have realizations, no way we can actualize the three principal paths and the two stages of tantra. For this reason, we need a guru.

Just to gain an intellectual understanding of Dharma from a teacher in order to write a book or get a degree, we don’t need to do the guru yoga practice of regarding him as an enlightened being. However, if our aim is not simply to obtain a degree in order to get a good job but to benefit our own mind—to transform it through subduing our delusions and develop it in the path to liberation and enlightenment—it’s different. This is a specific, special aim.

The point to understand is that the purpose of having a guru is not just to gain an intellectual understanding of Dharma. We need a guru for a special reason, to receive the blessings that enable us to develop our mind in the path to enlightenment. If we miss the point of having a guru, we can make many mistakes and many problems can arise. Just as if we don’t concentrate when driving a car we can run off the road, if we don’t concentrate on the main aim of having a guru when trying to practice Dharma we can create many problems for ourselves.

In America and other countries in the West, people involved in teaching meditation have held meetings to discuss whether guru devotion is necessary in meditating on the path to enlightenment. Some people think that while the subject of guru devotion might have been practiced in olden times in Tibet, it is not necessary nowadays. (This discussion might also have come about because of problems happening in relation to gurus in the West in recent years.) The people who say these things have missed the real purpose and importance of the practice of guru devotion; they have missed the usefulness and richness of it in life and the benefit, as infinite as space, that is gained from it. They have missed the very point of guru devotion. Guru devotion appears to them to be something cultural, without much value or importance. They think that it’s not necessary to practice guru devotion, that you can meditate on the path without it. People who say these things don’t understand the real purpose of guru devotion and how it is essential for realization of the path to enlightenment.

We can’t do the practices of listening to or reflecting and meditating on teachings on the path to enlightenment on our own. If we didn’t need a teacher to study and actualize the whole path to enlightenment by ourselves we wouldn’t need to rely upon a teacher even to learn such things as languages and handicrafts. We would be able to learn everything by ourselves without anybody else’s help.

Kadampa Geshe Potowa, a lineage lama of the lam-rim, said,

Even to learn worldly crafts, things we can understand by seeing them with our eyes, we need a teacher to show us. So how is it possible that we, who have just come from the lower realms and are entering a path where we have never been before, could travel it without a guide?

We need a teacher to learn even the ordinary activities of this life, such as learning the alphabet, mending a bicycle or baking a cake. Even to clean a room professionally, we need to learn how to do it from somebody. Even for simple things that we can learn how to do by watching somebody else, we need a teacher, somebody who knows how to do them.

Even to go to a place we haven’t been before, we need a guide, someone to explain to us how to get there. So, how is it possible for us to follow the path to enlightenment without a guide? We have just come from the lower realms and are trying to go along a new path, the path to liberation and enlightenment, where we have never been during beginningless lifetimes, so of course we need someone to guide us. We can’t do it alone. Since the path to liberation and enlightenment is totally unknown to us, we need to rely upon a guru, somebody who knows the whole path. There is no way we can go to the state of enlightenment without a guru.

This is why Geshe Potowa also said,

In order to achieve enlightenment, there is nothing more important than the guru.

In explaining why we need a guru, the highly attained yogi 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.

Just as a boat on its own cannot reach the other side of an ocean, we cannot be liberated from samsara without a guru, even if we have memorized and intellectually understood all of the sutra and tantra root texts and commentaries. Even if we have acquired all possible intellectual knowledge of Dharma, even if we have a whole library of texts in our mind and can recite them all by heart, without a guru, we cannot be liberated from samsara, let alone achieve enlightenment.

To be liberated from samsara, we have to generate the path within our mind, and generating the path depends upon receiving the blessings of the guru. Even if we have complete intellectual understanding of the teachings, we won’t be able to generate realizations unless we receive the blessings of the guru within our heart. This is why we need to seek and devote ourselves to a guru.

In the Hinayana, the fundamental practice to achieve liberation is to live in moral conduct and there is no way to receive the lineage of ordination without a teacher. Also, without a virtuous friend, we can’t receive the blessings in our own mind that enable us to perfectly understand the teachings.

Specifically, in tantra, there is no way we can achieve enlightenment without a perfectly qualified vajra guru planting the seeds of the four kayas in our mind through granting the blessings of the four complete initiations of Highest Yoga Tantra. Each initiation leaves a potential, or seed, in the mind of the vajra disciple. It is through the kindness of the vajra guru that these four initiations are given, thus planting the seeds of the four kayas and enabling us to meditate on the paths of secret mantra. If we try to practice Highest Yoga Tantra without a guru, we won’t achieve enlightenment.

With respect to tantra, and even sutra, without a teacher, we can’t have infallible understanding of the profound meanings of the teachings. Even if we have complete intellectual understanding of the scriptures, how can we reach enlightenment without a guru? We can’t even be liberated from samsara.

Padmasambhava, the second Buddha, explained why we need a guru in the following way:

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.

In the first part of this verse Padmasambhava explains why we need a guru and in the second part how to develop the devotion that sees the guru as a buddha once we have found a guru.

Padmasambhava is saying that if we don’t recognize, or realize, that our guru is a buddha, we don’t have devotion, and without guru devotion, no blessings will enter our heart. If we don’t have the root of the path to enlightenment, the devotion that sees the guru as a buddha, the door of the blessings is closed, and there is no way for us to receive blessings from the guru. Guru devotion opens the door of the blessings.

It is guru devotion that enables us to receive blessings in our mental continuum, which then makes it possible for us to develop our mind, to generate the realizations of the path by listening, reflecting and meditating. The blessings that enable us to liberate our mind come from our devotion. This guru devotion is not just some external pretence of devotion; it is the heart-felt devotion that comes through recognizing that the guru is a buddha. This realization comes by purifying obstacles and accumulating extensive merit, then meditating on the guru devotion section of the lam-rim teachings.

What we want is to liberate our mind from all our delusions and obscurations and to achieve enlightenment. To do this, we need to liberate our mind from all our wrong conceptions, which prevent achievement of liberation and enlightenment, and to generate all the realizations of the path. Actualizing the whole path and thus completely liberating our mind depend solely on receiving the blessings of the guru within our mental continuum. The guru’s blessings enable us to generate the path to enlightenment and that path liberates our mind from all delusions and obscurations, even the subtle obscurations that prevent our mental continuum from becoming omniscient mind. If we don’t receive the blessings of the guru, our mind can’t be liberated from all our delusions and obscurations.

Our mind is liberated from obscurations through actualizing the remedy of the whole path to enlightenment, which depends on receiving the blessings of the guru within our mind, which in turn depends on having the cause of blessings, the devotion that sees the guru as an enlightened being. The more we are able to see the guru as a buddha, the more blessings we receive.

Just as a seed cannot produce a sprout without water, there is no way for us to generate the path to enlightenment within our mind without blessings. To experience the path within our mind, we have to receive the blessings of the guru. Unless we receive the blessings of the guru, our mind cannot be liberated from wrong conceptions. And if our mind is not liberated from wrong conceptions, we cannot achieve the state of enlightenment or fulfill all the wishes of sentient beings, freeing them from all their sufferings and obscurations and leading them to the peerless happiness of the state of enlightenment. Without the blessings of the guru, we cannot accomplish this extensive benefit for other sentient beings.

How do we receive the blessings of the guru? We have to train our mind in the devotion that sees the guru as a buddha and then make this devotion stable. Our own devotion makes it possible for us to receive the blessings of the guru in our heart. To do this, as Padmasambhava says, we need to reflect on the qualities of the guru. We should think of the qualities that we can now see and also of all the other qualities of a buddha, even those that we can’t see with our present obscured mind. We should think that our own virtuous friend, the one with whom we have made actual Dharma contact, has all the qualities that a buddha has, which means looking at our guru as a buddha. We should also think about the relevant quotations and lines of reasoning in the sutra and tantra teachings, but especially in the lam-rim.

We should look at our guru only from the side of his good qualities and not from the side of his faults. Looking only at the guru’s good qualities means seeing the guru as a buddha, as having ceased all faults and possessing all good qualities. (It doesn’t matter whether or not the guru actually is a buddha.) In this way, we will see only qualities and no faults, because reflecting on the guru’s qualities helps to stop thoughts of the guru’s faults. Devotion will then develop and this devotion will cause us to receive the blessings of the guru. With the devotion that sees the guru as a buddha, we receive the actual blessing of buddha within our heart. In this way the root of all the good things up to enlightenment is established within us. This is the psychological method that enables us, as disciples, to succeed in all our wishes for happiness.

With that guru devotion, we then make requests to the guru to grant us blessings to pacify all our obscurations and to generate all the realizations of the path. We make requests to develop our own mind in the path to enlightenment. The ultimate request is, recalling the qualities of the guru, praying for our own body, speech and mind to become one with the guru’s holy body, holy speech and holy mind. The main way to receive blessings is to request to receive all the qualities that the guru has.

Receiving blessings from the guru depends not on our physically being with the guru but on how much devotion toward the guru we have. Even if we spend our whole life physically living with our guru, it’s not certain that we will be receiving his blessings. If our mind is empty of devotion, we won’t receive any blessings, just as a flower hidden under a rock doesn’t receive the rays of the sun and so can’t grow. On the other hand, even if we are physically distant from our guru, if we have great devotion, we will be mentally close to him and receive his blessings. We are then like a flower out in open sunlight.

His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche gave this advice to a nun, a student of Lama Yeshe, who said that she felt very distant from Lama. I don’t know whether she understood or benefited from this advice, but it was very effective for my mind.

Excerpted from Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s Heart of the Path: Seeing the Guru as Buddha, edited from the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive by Ven. Ailsa Cameron. Forthcoming from the LYWA in 2008.

*NOTE: See Door to Liberation, page 83. [Return to text]