E-letter No. 95: April 2011

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

Dear LYWA friends and supporters,

As you quite likely know by now, our precious guru, Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche, whose kindness to us is impossible to comprehend and impossible to repay, has taken the aspect of having suffered a stroke. The story as it has developed can be found on the FPMT website and you can subscribe to that page's RSS feed.

There’s more on the FPMT and Lama Zopa Rinpoche Facebook pages. Also on Facebook students have organized a time for synchronized prayers which happen daily. 

Rinpoche's Teachings to Guide Us
Some people may wonder why we generally don’t say "Rinpoche has had a stroke" but things like "Rinpoche has taken the aspect of having suffered a stroke" or "Rinpoche has manifested having a stroke." The answer lies in the Buddha's teachings on guru devotion, a topic on which Rinpoche has taught numerous times.

In our Online Advice Book we have advice from Rinpoche specifically on how to understand "When the Guru is Ill." Directly following this advice on the same page is further advice on "How to Think When Your Guru Shows Signs of Aging."

You can find a teaching from Rinpoche about the ordinary aspect of the guru in the appendix of the book Kadampa Teachings.

Also, in Teachings from the Vajrasattva Retreat Rinpoche discusses which mantras and prayers are most effective for recovering from strokes. While these mantras haven't been specifically recommended to be done for Rinpoche, it is interesting to read how these mantras were done for Lama Yeshe's benefit when Lama had a stroke.

And of course there are the extensive teachings from Rinpoche on guru devotion found in Heart of the Path. We have posted an excerpt of the chapter on "Why We Are Able to See the Guru as a Buddha" in which Rinpoche explains why the Buddhas manifest as ordinary beings. There is also an excerpt from the chapter titled "How to See the Guru as a Buddha" on why the Buddhas show ordinary sufferings.  

And below is another excerpt from Heart of the Path from the chapter on "The Benefits of Correct Devotion to a Guru".

This is a difficult time for all of us students of Lama Zopa Rinpoche, but we are praying, reciting the recommended mantras and doing the prescribed pujas frequently, with the strong wish that Rinpoche will quickly return to his previous manifestation and that his nectar-like teachings will soon start flowing again. Thank you for your support.

Much love,
Nick Ribush

Heart of the Path : The Benefits of Correct Devotion to a Guru

Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche on the veranda at Tushita Retreat Centre, Dharamsala, India, 1973. From the collection of Adele Hulse. Dromtönpa correctly devoted himself to Lama Atisha for seventeen years. From the time Dromtönpa met Lama Atisha, he never left Lama Atisha in the dark at night: every night he offered a butter lamp in Lama Atisha’s room.

When Lama Atisha was showing the aspect of old age and sickness, he became incontinent; he couldn’t control his bladder or bowels and would urinate and defecate in his bed. With a continuous feeling of guru devotion and without any superstitious thought that it was dirty, Dromtönpa would clean away the feces with his hands and take them outside.

One day after he had served Lama Atisha in this way, Dromtönpa spontaneously went into a state of concentration. When he arose from it, he had suddenly developed clairvoyance and was able to read clearly all the thoughts in the minds of sentient beings—even ants—up to a distance that it would take an eagle eighteen days to fly. Dromtönpa’s mind became so clear because of the purification that came from serving Lama Atisha, including cleaning up his excrement.

This didn’t come about through Dromtönpa’s simply understanding the words of Dharma. Dromtönpa sacrificed himself to serve Lama Atisha and by doing so he purified some of his obscurations. This is why he suddenly developed this clairvoyant knowledge.

Because Dromtönpa correctly devoted himself to his virtuous friend in this way, he became the head of the Kadampa tradition, the successor of Lama Atisha, and his holy name became renowned in the ten directions. Also, Lama Atisha’s holy actions, as vast as the sky, to benefit the teachings of Buddha and sentient beings in the arya land of India and in Tibet came about only through his having correctly devoted himself to his virtuous friends.

There is a similar story about how Kadampa Geshe Chayulwa served his guru, Geshe Chengawa. Chayulwa was originally a disciple of Geshe Tölungpa, who offered him to his own guru Geshe Chengawa because Chayulwa was such a good disciple and had served him so well. Geshe Chengawa was extremely pleased by this.

Every day Chayulwa served his guru Geshe Chengawa by cleaning his room. And whenever Geshe Chengawa called, even if Chayulwa was in the middle of doing something, as soon as he heard his guru’s voice he would immediately stop what he was doing and go to serve him. If Chayulwa was offering a mandala when Geshe Chengawa called him, he would stop before he had finished offering the mandala and run to serve him. If he was writing the letter nga, not even waiting to finish the syllable, he would immediately run to serve Geshe Chengawa.

One morning, after Chayulwa had finished cleaning Geshe Chengawa’s room, he collected all the dirt in the lap of his robes and went to carry it down the stairs to throw it out. When he reached the third step he suddenly saw numberless buddhas right there, a sign that he had reached the level of the great path of merit, Concentration of Continual Dharma. When you achieve the Concentration of Continual Dharma you see countless buddhas in nirmanakaya aspect and are able to continuously receive teachings from them. Before this Chayulwa had not been able to see even one buddha. Like heaping up grain, realizations then came in his mind. That was the result of his having purified his negative karma and obscurations through offering service with a pure mind of guru devotion.

Seeing or not seeing buddhas doesn’t depend on the buddhas but only on our mind. It is not that the buddhas were normally not there but on that particular day they came to the steps. The buddhas were always there, inside and outside the room, but Geshe Chayulwa saw them only when he had purified his obscurations by his strong practice of guru yoga. If we purify our mind we can see buddhas wherever we are. It’s not necessary for us to be in a holy place because there is no place where there is no buddha. We don’t see buddhas at the moment only because we haven’t purified our karmic obscurations.

When his guru Jetsun Dragpa Gyaltsen showed the aspect of heavy sickness, Sakya Pandita nursed him day and night. He bore many hardships to take care of Dragpa Gyaltsen, going without food and sleep, day and night. Sakya Pandita completely sacrificed himself to take care of his guru, cherishing him more than his own life.

Dragpa Gyaltsen was extremely pleased with the way Sakya Pandita had dedicated himself to serving him and later taught Sakya Pandita the Manjushri guru yoga practice, involving meditation on the inseparability of the guru and Manjushri, the embodiment of the wisdom of all the buddhas. When he did this practice, Sakya Pandita actually saw Dragpa Gyaltsen in the aspect of Manjushri. All the service that Sakya Pandita offered his guru when he was sick brought incredible purification. Because he pleased his guru, he was then able to realize that his guru was Manjushri.

Sakya Pandita then achieved many realizations and became very learned. He became famous and highly respected for his learning in Tibet and China and liked everywhere, not only by human beings but even by gods and spirits. He was invited to China by the Emperor, who became his disciple. He became a great pandit, highly learned not only in the inner knowledge of Buddhadharma but in the five fields of knowledge, which include poetry, logic, handicrafts and languages. Expert in the entire Buddhadharma and confident in explaining it, Sakya Pandita was thus able to offer extensive benefit to the teachings of Buddha and to many sentient beings.

Another example of developing realizations through the practice of guru devotion is Trichen Tenpa Rabgye, one of the Ganden Tripas. When his teacher Ngawang Chöjor was very sick, Trichen Tenpa Rabgye himself almost died of worry. Because he served his teacher perfectly during his illness, Trichen Tenpa Rabgye purified great karmic obscurations and then realized emptiness, actualizing the Prasangika right view. Before that, even though Trichen Tenpa Rabgye had studied and meditated a lot on emptiness, no realizations had come.

Excerpted from The Heart of the Path: Seeing the Guru as Buddha, edited by Ailsa Cameron. You can read more excerpts here. If you would like to subscribe to the LYWA Monthly E-letter, please go here.