Finding a Spiritual Guide

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Kopan Monastery, Nepal (Archive #089)

Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche gave this teaching on finding a spiritual teacher at the Eighth Kopan Course held at Kopan Monastery, Nepal, in 1975.

This teaching is an edited excerpt from Lecture 15 of the course.

Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche at  the 8th Meditation Course, Kopan Monastery, Nepal, 1975.

Someone is not necessarily the right guru for us just because he has a good reputation and many followers who respect him. This does not prove that he is the right teacher or guru. There are many stories about the wrong teachers who take the wrong path and have millions and millions of followers. They are easily followed and it is easy to accept their path. Even great yogis with perfect accomplishments and realizations of the path, who attain enlightenment in this lifetime—who see the absolute nature of existence and realize the absolute nature of the mind, and who can show the right path—have very few followers. The followers cannot see that person’s knowledge. They see whatever their mind projects, that’s all.

Some wrong guides show a path that agrees with our delusions and makes our delusions and attachment happy. I’m not saying anger is happy, but the wrong guides show a path that agrees with our delusions and develops the delusions rather than decreasing them. That guide says, “Oh you can do this, you can do that, it doesn’t matter. You can do everything, all the actions of the delusions you can do,” and many people come, without any announcements in the newspapers or on the radio or television. Many, many people easily follow that guide, because he is easy to accept. It is a confused path, but people don’t feel this, due to ignorance. It is easy to listen, but difficult to understand this confusion.

If we question “Why am I doing this? What benefit do I expect? To give a solution to life? Happiness in the life? Just this life, without talking about previous or future lives? Does it help my mind become more and more quiet, with less anger and less impatience? Does it make my life more satisfied?” If the wrong path is questioned like this, it is difficult to answer. Then the follower may say he didn’t receive any benefits by following that path, and it is difficult for him to say, “Yes, I received the benefits and I received more satisfaction. I became less impatient and I have more benevolent thoughts.” If we question this, the person goes completely silent. I have had this experience with other people. This is my feeling that I am talking about now.

Most sentient beings are not aware and their minds are not free from ignorance, so it is natural that this happens. Also, many times people follow this path because of the techniques that have been taught. It doesn’t matter what path has been shown, it is harmonious with their delusions and it is something which the delusions like and have interest in, so people believe it is benefiting them, helping them, and they think, “It helps my mind, it benefits my mind. It’s fantastic!”

Many people do this without really knowing their own mind. Many times in Delhi, businessmen selling gold will say “I have gold to sell, do you want to buy it very cheap?” They take another businessman downstairs to a dark room where there is not much light, so the other person cannot see well and they pretend they have real gold. They have to be careful, showing much emotion and trying to show that it’s real gold. So they make business in the dark room and the buyer is so happy, and he thinks, “Now I have a good friend, he sold me gold so cheap.” His mind is extremely happy.

While it is in his pocket, he believes he has real gold and he is very happy. Then he arrives at his house with the gold, which he has been carrying very secretly and very carefully, without letting other people know, and in his room he checks up and finds it’s brass, not gold! [laughs] It has a similar kind of appearance, but it is not gold, it is brass. The conclusion is so much crying, worry and upset, and his life becomes terrible. So, it is like this.

Many people are following a wrong path, like this, because it is harmonious with delusion. It is something that delusion likes, so we think, “It is benefiting me.” For a while we have so much excitement and surprise and we think, “How fantastic it is.” However, that does not continue, and our happiness is just like the person who believes that false gold is real. We are betrayed like that. I’m just clarifying my experience. So, it’s good to be careful in the future.

In order to control the mind, finding a teacher who knows just one meditation technique is not sufficient for us to receive nirvana or enlightenment. If the spiritual guide, or teacher, knows only one meditation technique, that is not sufficient for us to receive enlightenment and it can’t help us complete the practice of the graduated path. If the teacher only knows the shamatha meditation technique, that is not enough.

Student: What about more profound teachings of a teacher, like, for instance Sri Aurobindo and the Mother? What do you think about them?

Rinpoche: I have no power to see their minds, so I can’t say. You check up.

To receive enlightenment we have to complete the realizations of the graduated path. There are many levels of realizations that we have to receive and there are many delusions that we have to control, to exhaust. So, to be able to make this aim successful, it is not sufficient to have a teacher who knows just one technique like shamatha meditation, but has no idea of other meditations; who knows only how to teach breathing meditation, but has no idea of others. It’s not sufficient.

The teacher—the virtuous friend or virtuous guide—must have perfect, correct understanding to be able to lead the disciple on the lower graduated path and to show the teaching on the graduated path. To teach on the graduated path, first the teacher must have perfect understanding, or at least correct understanding, no misunderstanding. The most perfect thing is having the experience.

Secondly, the teacher who shows the graduated path to enlightenment and who leads us on this path, as well as leading the disciple on the lower graduated path, he can also lead us on the graduated path of the middle being and show this correctly. To show this graduated path of the middle being, he must first have a correct, perfect understanding, at least.

Finally, to be able to lead others on the higher graduated path to enlightenment, the guide has to show that he is reaching the higher graduated path. In order to show this, he has to at least have perfect understanding of the higher graduated path, or it is not sufficient.

If the teacher doesn’t have perfect understanding of the higher graduated path, he can’t show it to us and he can’t lead us to enlightenment. If he doesn’t have perfect understanding of the teaching of the graduated path for the middle being, he can’t show that teaching and he can’t lead us even to the cessation of samsara. He can’t lead us even to the lower nirvana. He can’t make us, the disciples, free from samsara. And if the teacher doesn’t have the perfect understanding of the basic teachings of the lower graduated path, then he can’t show this path, so he can’t lead us. The teacher who doesn’t understand the basic teachings of the lower graduated path can’t lead us, and he can’t help us receive the perfect human rebirth in our future lives. If he doesn’t have a basic understanding of the teachings on the lower graduated path, starting from meditation on the perfect human rebirth down to the impermanence of life and death, the sufferings of the lower realms, refuge and karma, those basic things, then he cannot lead us.

Understanding refuge and karma is among the most important things. If the teacher doesn’t have that basic understanding of the teachings on the lower graduated path, there’s no way he can save the disciple from the suffering of the lower realms. He can’t save the disciple from being born in a suffering lower realm. If what he does is opposite to good karma—the virtuous action, moral action—if that’s the path that he shows, there is no way to help the disciple to be happy even in the present life.