Guru Devotion and Consultation

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche

Lama Zopa Rinpoche answers questions in this interview with a student.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche at the Twelfth Kopan Meditation Course, Kathmandu, Nepal, 1979. Photo: Ina Van Delden.

Student: Can one keep a dog in retreat?

Rinpoche: It just depends on the situation. When you do deity retreat, then I think cats and dogs are not allowed because maybe pollutions, spirits, or things like that will interfere. They are not allowed on your meditation seat because it can cause pollution, obstacles, or such things. It is in order not to have interferences when you are in retreat.

If it is just lam-rim it is not like that. If it is not a particular deity retreat, like Yamantaka or Vajrayogini, even lower tantra, or a puja, even a deity puja, dogs can come; it’s not a problem. It depends on the situation. In a retreat situation it is better not to have them, because of spirits or pollution; they might bring obstacles. But in a puja, even a deity’s puja, and lam-rim it is OK. Dogs can come as long as they don’t disturb other people, otherwise the people will get angry. As long as they don’t disturb anyone, if they just sleep, that’s OK. If you chant prayers then they can hear, and it plants the seed of enlightenment.

For example, in Tibet, I think there were four monks who had a dog. They chanted prayers, the dog heard them, and then after the dog died it was born in Tushita deva realm.

Student: When I am preparing, sometimes the dog comes inside.

Rinpoche: Yes, maybe the dog knows something. Maybe he also comes to do prostrations! (Rinpoche laughs.)

Student: I broke some samaya.

Rinpoche: Did you make a Dharma connection or not with the Rinpoche; a guru-disciple, Dharma connection? A Dharma connection is thinking, “I am a disciple, that one is my guru.” After that, if you hear even one line of teaching, two verses or three verses, or a mantra, or a lung, a relationship is established. The person doesn’t need to give an initiation or teachings.

Student: No.

Rinpoche: Then that makes it much, much easier for you. All that negative karma we have made, each negative karma of getting angry or of heresy, each negative karma in relation to the guru would be like the size of this earth. Even if it is a small action of disrespect, like thinking “He is too impatient,” that throws you into the hell realms for 60 eons, just from thinking the guru is so angry or impatient.

But you didn’t make the guru-disciple relationship by thinking, “He is my guru.” Because of your situation you were saved; the karma did not become so negative. The guru is the most powerful object, so even small disrespect creates very heavy negative karma.

You didn’t create that karma. Even though you created karma it did not become like that. It is much, much smaller, hardly anything compared with the negative karma if you had taken him as a guru. Then each negative karma becomes like the sky.

Of course, the other way is, if you have taken him as a guru but you have strong devotion, whatever he does it doesn’t change, because you always have the understanding, from your side, looking at him as Buddha: “This is Buddha, his mind is omniscient mind, dharmakaya, so there are no mistakes. What is appearing to me, all these things, are a reflection of my mistaken mind, and negative karma.” Therefore, it doesn’t affect your devotion. Whatever he does has no effect, and you think, “He acted like this purposely to guide me to enlightenment, to purify my negative karma.”

It is like Marpa. Whenever Milarepa came he never gave teachings to Milarepa, even if Milarepa came in with other people into the teaching. Then Marpa scolded and beat him, was always rough, with no sweet words. Of course, in the west, when hearing lam-rim teachings on guru devotion, there are many people who will call him a dictator or uncompassionate, or maybe call it abuse. But Milarepa never did.

Milarepa went there for teachings but Marpa never gave him them. As you know, Marpa asked him to build a nine-storey tower alone, then after he finished, to tear it down. After finishing it, Marpa didn’t even say, “Thank you, very good,” just “Take it down, put the stones back where you got them from.” Then he asked him to build it again. If he attended the teachings Marpa immediately scolded him.

Marpa’s consort couldn’t bear it, and she asked Marpa to please give Milarepa teachings. Marpa didn’t want to give him any teaching or initiation, he wanted to be harsh for longer, but she insisted, so Marpa gave an initiation. Marpa said, “Milarepa can become enlightened much more quickly if, according to my plan, I give more hardship for longer, then he will be enlightened more quickly.” But she pushed so much. He achieved enlightenment in a brief lifetime of these degenerate times, but it took longer. Milarepa never lost faith, and that’s why he became enlightened within a few years.

Why Marpa treated Milarepa like that was to purify the negative karma, because in that life he had killed many people and animals with black magic. Also, there were all the past lives. Marpa is an enlightened being so he knew how to guide Milarepa, how to purify all the heavy negative karma within two or three years.

Even if one makes a guru-disciple relationship one should have strong devotion. That strong devotion cannot be disturbed, is always so strong, because you have very firm devotion, looking at the guru as buddha, seeing buddha there. Outside is a human being but in his heart, his mind is omniscient, having all the attainments, all the knowledge. So, all that appears, any mistakes, are an act; they appear like that. You have this recognition, therefore devotion cannot be lost; it is always strong.

It’s interesting that you didn’t make that guru-disciple relationship. Why didn’t you?

Student: I didn’t need more gurus/guidance.

Rinpoche: Yes, I see. But you mentioned that you were angry.

Student: I don’t understand; nobody can help—I tried to see you and couldn’t.

Rinpoche: Yes. Were you also here this year? Last year? The year before? I was giving teachings, and you were sitting there?

Student: I was angry. I felt I didn’t get any help with my problem, with my suffering, and I was completely alone. I wanted to see you and couldn’t get an appointment and I said: “Nobody helps me and I don’t want any more Dharma.” But I met another Rinpoche.

Rinpoche: Oh, I know his past incarnation. Lama and myself went to see his past incarnation. He had a white beard. We stayed a couple of weeks there. Also I took a student there who wanted some teachings and I translated for her.

So, what did he say?

[There follows a discussion of the student’s visit to see the other Rinpoche.]

Student: He give me many practices to do, making tsa-tsas, etc.

Rinpoche: Because you explained about the other Rinpoche?

Student: No, I asked him why I had problems, etc.

Rinpoche: Then?

Student: Then he gave me some purification practices.

Rinpoche: What practices?

Student: 900,000 prostrations with Vajrasattva.

Rinpoche: Nine hundred thousand. That’s so good. I gave 900,000 to one person. For another person I gave 100,000 nyung-näs. Other people calculated it would take one person two lifetimes. But it is possible to do it in another lifetime. Somebody with very negative karma can continue the practice of purification for maybe even three lifetimes; it’s a question of karma. It could take three lifetimes. In reality it is very definitely possible that there is so much to do, because of karma. If you think there is the karma to be purified then it’s not strange.

If you don’t think of karma then it looks crazy. [Rinpoche laughs] Anyway, through divination, I give some people big numbers of practices to do in this life, 300,000 or so, some small, some big. Some people get many big numbers; it depends.

[Rinpoche is now talking about a Lama Tsongkhapa tsa-tsa.]

I saw this statue in Italy. I borrowed this from a Dharma center there to make a resin mold. A Tibetan boy made the mold, and I think I took it to Nalanda, now it is there. I took this to Nalanda and now you have made them. Thank you very much.

Student: I was going to put 100,000 in the gompa.

Rinpoche: Some time I might ask you to make some; I like it so much. It is very nice, so beautiful. I told the monk to make this little smile; that’s very nice. How many? One thousand?

Student: Five hundred.

Rinpoche: Was he smiling or serious? [Rinpoche laughs] I think the reason he said this is because he thought that Rinpoche was your guru. Maybe he meant seriously, because without the guru there is no buddha. That is what is said in the teachings, sutra and tantra teachings.

To understand that, you have to understand the absolute guru; if you can understand the absolute guru, then everything is a creation of that: all the different deities and buddhas. This manifests as Guru Shakyamuni Buddha and Vajradhara. It is Guru Shakyamuni Buddha if it is sutra, and Vajradhara and other deities if it is tantra: the four tantric deities to suit the needs of sentient beings, lamas, Medicine Buddha, the 35 Buddhas, all the thousand buddhas, Tara, Kalachakra, and numberless manifestations.

These manifest to guide you through an ordinary form, the conventional guru, or manifests in these holy objects. Actually, all these statues are the same. Without the guru there is no Buddha; that means there are no holy objects without the guru. All these help us to purify the mind and collect merit; that is due to the kindness of the guru. Looking at the guru as Buddha, you can see they manifest in the holy objects. If they manifest as Buddha we can’t see them, so they manifest as holy objects such as statues and scriptures, giving us an opportunity to purify and collect merit. Then it makes it possible to achieve realizations, liberation, and enlightenment. The root of all of this is the guru. All this benefit is the kindness of the guru.

It is very good in everyday life to think all these buddhas are the guru’s manifestation. It is very good to meditate this way and realize that oneself.

You are making the statue but actually it is manifesting. For example, His Holiness the Dalai Lama is Buddha, but of course it can be also our father or mother, appearing like normal people, but actually reincarnating. You are making statues but actually it is allowing you to purify negative karma and collect merit. OK? You are very lucky.

Student: While I was doing prostrations, I saw Yamantaka.

Rinpoche: When?

Student: In Spain, doing nyung-näs. When I was prostrating I saw Yamantaka. After that I felt like Yamantaka walked on my back.

Rinpoche: Before or after?

Student: During the prostrations.

Rinpoche: Did you feel the pain before or after Yamantaka walked on your back?

Student: After.

Rinpoche: You feel pain?

Student: Yes. I don’t want to do prostrations any more.

Rinpoche: That’s positive, not negative. It’s very positive, it’s purifying. It’s like the story I told you about Marpa. You have pain because you have negative karma. If you don’t have negative karma you won’t have pain, there is no reason to have pain. The pain is purification, exactly the same as the prostrations. Why are you doing prostrations? To purify negative karma. So Yamantaka is purifying you. The pain is purification. You have double purification. It is very powerful.

Student: Rinpoche asked me to do 900,000 Vajrasattva mantras with prostrations.

Rinpoche: Nine hundred prostrations or nine hundred Vajrasattva mantras?

Student: Together, at the same time.

Rinpoche: You count the prostrations or you count the Vajrasattva mantras?

Student: Both together, the long Vajrasattva mantra with the long prostration.

Rinpoche: That’s very good. Are you planning on doing that?

Student: When I finish here I will start.

Rinpoche: What else did he advise?

Student: When I visualize the guru I can’t see the guru, I don’t see anything, just a dress. I see some crystal. When I explained to the Rinpoche, he said to me “It’s your Manjushri, including wisdom.” And he said to ask you for an explanation because he doesn’t want to explain this.

Rinpoche: You cannot see the face of Geshe-la or His Holiness the Dalai Lama? That shows negative karma and defilements. That needs purification.

Student: Because I can’t see the guru?

Rinpoche: Yes.

Student: He said I must first go to Nechung. He showed me a thangka with no face, with a dress.

Rinpoche: Is this the Nechung Oracle?

Student: Yes. The Nechung Oracle in Dharamsala.

Rinpoche: It is like that. The face is covered with cloth. This is decoration, they don’t show the face, they use brocade. This is the part of the offering, a coat. There are five or seven things: shoes and other things. It is in tantra, in the Guru Puja, as part of the offering.

What else did the lama advise?

Student: He said it is good to serve, to practice patience, and to continue to run the Dharma center because that is very good.

Rinpoche: You told him you want to stop running the center and he said, don’t stop.

Student: Yes. He said even if only one person comes to meditate in the center you must continue.

Rinpoche: Great advice, very good. This is what I normally say. Even if two or three people come, it’s worthwhile. In the centers, of course, you get very discouraged if only two or three people are at the teaching.

Student: I tried to continue but he said if there are less than 35 people he doesn’t want to come.

Rinpoche: That means he wants you to use your intelligence, on how to bring people to the Dharma. He doesn’t want you to be sloppy. He wants you to use your intelligence when doing the advertising, it is his technique. (laughs)

Student: He also, advised me to do 14-40 nyung-näs per year. And 15 days of Vajrasattva every year. I wrote to His Holiness.

Rinpoche: So His Holiness, asked you to make this Buddha? His Holiness had this statue in his room in America when he was doing the Heart Sutra. How much did you tell His Holiness Dalai Lama about the Rinpoche?

Student: I said he was sick and I did a puja for him and now he is better. I asked if I chose the right place to do the puja. I said Rinpoche doesn’t want to give any more teachings except to those who pay him. I told His Holiness that Rinpoche only wants me to go and see him when he is alone. I don’t know a lot of Dharma. I took lam-rim teachings with another Rinpoche.

Rinpoche: That was your first contact with the Dharma? Did you take that Rinpoche as a guru or not?

Student: He already wrote a letter. He said I will always be your guru. I want to know what is the purpose of all these things, why all this happened with the other Rinpoche?

Rinpoche: You are talking about karma. There is no other creator than that. I use as an example a movie camera. You take film and put it in a projector. Karmic imprints project 24 hours from birth till death, remember?

Student: I asked His Holiness for a name for the center. His Holiness said he will give me a name but I haven’t received one.

Rinpoche: Yamantaka center. [Student laughs] You say, “I am the incarnation of Yamantaka.” ([Rinpoche laughs]

So what’s the next question?

Student: Regarding my financial problems, what can I do?

Rinpoche: Every day you should practice the extensive offering practice, the one that I put together, with water bowls and meditation, offering everything to all the gurus and the merit field, Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, statues, scriptures, then all the holy objects in India, Nepal, and Tibet. Put offerings on the altar.

This way material goods and money will come. At the end you must do the dedication well, otherwise the merit can be destroyed by heresy and anger or become very small, so it’s very important to dedicate the merit.

Say: “Due to all our merits, past, present, and future, all others’ merits of the three times, of sentient beings and Buddhas.” If you say it like that then it becomes very powerful and inexhaustible. Then say: “May I achieve [whichever deity’s] enlightenment.” Then, you dedicate to enlightenment: “and lead all sentient beings to enlightenment by myself alone,” by seeing emptiness: “Due to all the three time merits collected by me, by all sentient beings, and Buddhas, who are empty from their own side (or you can say who are merely labeled by the mind), may the ‘I’ that is empty from its own side (or you can say merely labeled by the mind, imputed) achieve the deity’s (add the name of the deity here) enlightenment, which is empty from its own side, (or you can say merely labeled), and lead all sentient beings, who are empty, to that enlightenment, which is empty, by myself alone, who is also empty from her own side.”

That is very important. Then you dedicate to whatever else you want, like a long life, all those things. You dedicate the merit and pray to the deity to pacify the problems, to solve the financial problems, and for you to be able to pay the money back. You can dedicate like that or for other things. Then, dedicate for yourself, in this life, to be like Lama Tsongkhapa, to have all the qualities, and to benefit sentient beings.

I will explain how to do prostrations. Did you receive teachings on how to do prostrations?

From making the Buddha statues, you collect mountains of merit and then all your wishes are fulfilled.

Student: When I give people a buddha must I first carve the mantra or can I give it without the mantra inside?

Rinpoche: Either way, but if it has the mantra, make sure the mantra is not upside down. Do it carefully. First, if possible, put some incense in, then the mantra. You put in a cloth like that, then it is most important not to put it in upside down. If you can do that it is very good. Some people don’t know about this. In the text it is said you are not supposed to keep statues empty. So if you can do it, that’s very good.

You can give them to other people. Depending on the size they can put them inside a statue or stupa, and keep them in their house on the altar. If you make small, clear print then you can put in many, many statues.

Read the Diamond Cutter Sutra four times every month and print it ten times every month, for success. It collects so much merit; it is so powerful. If you read the Diamond Cutter Sutra, if other people are causing you problems, like somebody making a court case against you, you will win if you read the Diamond Cutter Sutra ten times.

I am writing the Eight Thousand Stanzas in gold. I started maybe six years ago. It is real gold, for the Maitreya Project, to put inside the heart of the statue. I finished writing the Diamond Cutter Sutra in gold. A nun is writing the Eight Thousand Stanzas in silver. Another monk is writing the Prajnaparamita in gold. Do you have the text?

Student: Rinpoche gave the lung for the Eight Thousand Stanzas over three days.

Rinpoche: You are very lucky.

Student: I know.

Rinpoche: This Chenrezig is for the gompa.[Rinpoche giving gifts] Printing the Diamond Cutter Sutra accumulates merit like the limitless sky. Each time you read it, so much can be purified.

More teachings from Lama Zopa Rinpoche on these topics:

Practices for Success, Rinpoche's Online Advice Book
Guru Devotion, Rinpoche's Online Advice Book